I believe we all have a story.
I grew up in a small town about 30 miles outside of Harrisburg. When I say small town, I mean we only had one high school with about 60 kids in each graduating class. We had one red light, one Sheetz, one grocery store and a few banks.
My whole life I grew up around what was, at the time, “normal” to me: the same people, the same few Friday night activities and the same day-to-day routine. My parents always reminded me that there was a big world out there, but I didn’t fully grasp what they meant until I got a job the summer after I finished high school.
I remember my first day at work pretty clearly. I was hired as a “Patient Safety Companion” at a hospital in Hershey about 45 minutes from my hometown. My job was to sit in a room with patients who needed a little more attention. In my mind, “a little more attention” meant maybe they were sad, upset or trying to rip out medical equipment. Never did I imagine that “a little more attention” actually meant patients who were suicidal, depressed, angry and crying out for help.
My first patient was a white man in his mid-50s. His diagnosis was attempted suicide by overdose of prescription pain medication. I thought to myself, “Man, this guy must be nuts.” But then he started talking to me, telling me about his wife and two kids who were in college—a life that seemed so normal, so genuine and loving. Our conversation went on, and the reasons for his suicide attempt became clear to me: what you see on the outside isn’t always what’s happening on the inside. This man had struggled with anxiety and depression all his life, despite his supportive family and good home life. I was shocked that someone who seemed so put together had a much deeper story. To this day, I remember this “aha” moment. It’s when I realized the world is different than my small town, where everyone seems happy and there’s rarely a tragedy.
That job gave me a new mindset. I viewed each individual as just that: a distinct person with a unique story. I came to college that fall and was thrown into a totally new world… again. I met new person after new person, each with a different childhood, personality and plan after college. I entered a world where everyone had dreams and goals that were different than mine, and they were from all over the world. The idea that everyone has a story became even clearer to me, and I started to realize that I have my own story, too.
As a nursing student, I’ve seen so many different patients, each with their own story. To say they’ve taught me a lot is an understatement. I forever value each and every patient I come in contact with, because their stories have helped me to grow as a person. And I hope their life stories are improved by their interactions with me.
I believe in the value of our different stories.
Molly Smith is a junior at Penn State majoring in nursing.