ER nurse Sarah Jividen was working in medical sales when she first met her husband John in 2007, but she felt unfulfilled. In 2010 ― the same year the couple got married ― she decided to shift gears and went back to school to get a degree in nursing. She began working as a registered nurse in a neuroscience and stroke unit in 2013 and moved to the emergency room at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center four years later.
The grueling 12.5-hour shifts and the unpredictability of the ER make the job challenging ― especially on top of the demands of parenting two young kids, ages 2 and a half and 6 months. John said he’s in awe of all his wife does, both on the job and at home.
“Sarah is an amazing person,” said John, the director of equity and diversity at the University of Southern California. “She seems to get more than 24 hours out of a day. She’s a great nurse, mother, partner, friend and inspires those around her to be better people.”
To learn more about what it’s like to be an ER nurse and what it’s like to be married to one, read on.
How did you feel when Sarah first told you she wanted to go into nursing?
John: I was excited for her. I thought it was a smart choice for her because she has a background in the medical field and a loving, caring personality. I thought the job would be a great fit for her. Nurses are some of the most respected professionals because of their selfless care before becoming a nurse. Now I see just how much hard work and sacrifice goes into the work.
I see just how much hard work and sacrifice goes into the work.
Sarah: My husband was very supportive of my decision to go back to nursing school. He knew I was not happy in my career in sales and wanted to do something more fulfilling. The three years I spent in nursing school were very stressful for us, as I was not able to work as much and I was taking on student loan debt. In addition, I was constantly stressed out about homework and tests. Nursing school was way harder than I thought it was going to be.
What does a typical day as an ER nurse look like for you?
Sarah: I wake up at 5 a.m. and shower, get dressed, pump or breastfeed our son. I try to get out of the house by 5:45 a.m. to miss the L.A. traffic.
We have our huddle at 7 a.m., where we get our assigned patients. The ER moves very fast and is different from other units in the hospital. One minute you have three patients, then an hour later you have three completely different patients. There is always a wait in the waiting room, sometimes up to 30-plus people.
Our plan for each patient is different depending on why they came in. After they are triaged, we have a better idea of what to do for each patient. I usually start at least one IV and draw labs, get them into a gown, give meds, review their medical history and communicate with doctors on a plan. With traumas, we know five to 10 minutes in advance before a patient comes and we have a general idea of what to expect.
The days are long and busy. According to my Apple Watch, I often walk as many as 20 miles in a shift. I’m exhausted and achy when I get home at 8:30 p.m.
What’s something people wouldn’t realize about being an ER nurse?
Sarah: I have had friends comment that I get a “break” from being a busy mom. But being an ER nurse can be even busier and more frustrating at times. The exhaustion I feel being an ER nurse and mom is no joke. I get less sleep and drink more coffee than ever before in my entire life. Sometimes I just feel like I am powering through as best I can.
Also, people come into the ER for things they should have gone to urgent care for. ERs are for more serious conditions, not sprains, small cuts or most fevers. We get a lot of patients who should have gone to urgent care.
And John, what’s something people wouldn’t know about being married to an ER nurse?
John: That you will barely see your spouse on the days he or she works. Before Sarah started as a nurse, I didn’t know they worked 12-hour shifts. Those are very long days for her and ones when we don’t see each other except on her way out the door and briefly before going to sleep.
What is the most rewarding part of being an ER nurse?
Sarah: Getting to help people when they are in some of the lowest points of their lives. It sounds cliché, but I really do like that I get to make a positive difference in the world.
I also feel a lot of gratitude because my family is healthy. Being an ER nurse constantly reminds me to be grateful for what I have now because I have healthy children. Not everyone is lucky enough to have that.
John: The best part of being married to an ER nurse is the flexibility it allows her and the professional satisfaction she gets from the work. When your spouse has a job that is challenging and inspiring, it fulfills her and makes you want to be equally as engaged.
Sarah: Since I had children, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for me to see babies and children in the emergency room in critical situations. As a parent, I really have a hard time with it.
John: The time away from home. Even though she only works two to three days a week, those are very long days and we barely see each other those days.
What effect does this career have on your marriage and home life?
Sarah: The biggest effect is that I am extremely vigilant about safeguarding my kids against serious injuries. I am less concerned about a broken bone or bruises, but I am concerned about things that could seriously hurt them or possibly kill them. For example, a traumatic brain injury from a fall, getting hit by a car or drowning. My house is very child-proofed. The little things don’t faze me, like when my daughter gets a scratch. It’s the big, life-threatening things that freak me out.
We took our kids to the pool a few weeks ago and I made sure that my daughter had a life vest on the entire time. Even when she was not close to the pool. My husband is a little more relaxed about that because he thinks there is no way our daughter would go in the pool without us. But I have seen firsthand what can happen when a small child is left alone and accidentally falls into a pool and drowns. No one thinks it can happen to them until it does.
I think it irritates my husband that I am so paranoid of something bad happening. I just want my kids to be able to play, learn and grow in a safe environment.
John: Finding time to be together with the whole family is tough. Because of our work schedules, we don’t get to all be around each other much except for the weekends.
She sees accidents and other mishaps that change people’s lives in an instant. Those things could happen to anyone so I always remember to be grateful for things others may take for granted.
John, when you tell people what your wife does for a living, how do they typically respond?
John: People are almost always impressed when I tell them Sarah is a nurse. I have never had anyone say anything negative about nurses. Everyone understands how great they are. And when I tell people she is an ER nurse they are amazed. They know she must be a special person to work in the field of nursing.
What have you learned about health or life in general from being married to a nurse?
John: I have learned how fortunate I am to have good health. Sarah sees people every day who have not lived a healthy lifestyle and who have serious difficulty because of that. I have also seen how quickly things can change. She sees accidents and other mishaps that change people’s lives in an instant. Those things could happen to anyone so I always remember to be grateful for things others may take for granted.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.