Can I Please Be Excused?

I have my bachelor of nursing and a certificate in critical care nursing.  I have been a registered nurse for the past five years.  Recently, I have come face to face with the ugly truth that I have been denying a secret desire that has been whispering in my ear for years.  I am quite certain that I have always known my truth in the very core of my being, but repeatedly dismissed my creative urges because I was filled with self-doubt.  To be blocked in this way is to feel a frustration like no other…I lost my way.   My compass became external reference points…what I “should” do versus what I “wanted” to do.  A chance encounter last fall provided me the map back to road.  Thankfully, I was open enough to accept it.

I went back to school in my late twenties, and, having a child, and a set of some very unfortunate circumstances, I enrolled in a program that I knew I could complete and end up with a full time job upon graduation. I remember the disjointedness I felt in school when clinical time came around every term.  While I loved and craved the patient interactions, learning, writing and studying aspects of my program, I was a wreck when it came to implementing the skills.  I can clearly remember driving to the hospital on clinical days praying that some event large enough to cause respectable damage, but small enough that I would only be slightly  maimed would occur.  I always felt so at odds with myself over this…I have always strived to maintain a cooperative relationship with my inner voice.  This time, I was telling the inner voice to take a hike-I had a degree to complete.

Subsequently, the degree was completed, four years on the Dean’s list was attained, and I even received an award at our graduation dinner for “excellence in clinical skills”.  Obviously, I did miss my calling-perhaps it should have been acting if I fooled them that well!  I remember thinking to myself while accepting the award that they either had absolutely no other graduating nurse to give the award to, or else I had done such a great job, I even fooled myself.

I began work on a medical/surgical floor hopeful that the “passion” for nursing was just going to smack me in the face with the passage of time and experience.  I chalked most of my misgivings up to the fact that I was new…and in a profession that carries a big burden of responsibility-people’s lives.  While it is no secret that the health care profession in Canada is in a crisis situation, the reality and impact of that crisis becomes quite personal when you are living it.  Staffing shortages and overtime are the norm.  Burnout is a way of life.  There was no period of “initiation”-you were thrown into the bathwater that was often ice cold with frustration and resentment.  Please do not misunderstand…I do not refer to everybody in the nursing profession in my descriptions.  As in every job, there are good days and bad days.  There are many system constraints that can sometimes be a hindrance to fluid delivery of health care.During my studies I had had great visions of the caring, holistic, respectable profession I was entering into.  Nursing is one of the most trusted professions after all.  It made me feel good to know that I was doing something…ahem…noble.  I was helping others and making the world a better place.  The only problem I could see with this deal was that I felt stressed to the limit in the process.  If I could just tweak that little detail, I would be alright.

Like the good little soldier I am, I convinced myself that more education would help rid this anxiety I felt every time I was put into a situation that was beyond my realm of comfort.  This feeling of discomfort most often occurred during staffing shortages-frequently if you are familiar with our health care situation at all.   At one point, I even considered becoming a doctor so that my ideal little mind would know what to do in EVERY situation.  You see, at the heart of my anxiety was my ever-present perfectionist complex that has been my buddy for as long as I can remember.  Not only did I want to do it, I wanted to do it the most perfectly, efficiently, and effectively.  I wanted somebody to write a song about the beautiful way I nursed.  I attended in-services, education sessions, lunch ‘n learns, and even put myself through the rigours of a critical care program because I thought if I knew more, I would feel better.  I did quite well in everything I attempted.  I still wanted to run for the hills every time I went to work.   Despite my quest for excellence I neglected to realize one important fact-my issues actually had nothing to do with me and everything to do with system issue-issues totally out of my control.

We have a conference room on our floor where we listen to the shift report about the goings on of all the patients prior to the start of every shift.  This room had been formally used as a patient’s room before a big remodel took place several years ago.  On the wall there is a switch plate with a little cord.  Below the switch plate read the words “pull cord for help”.  I read those words every time I enter the room.  I have fantasized about the outcome of pulling the cord…would the room suddenly transform into an Aruban beach with a strawberry daiquiri and a lawn chair?  Would a dozen of the world’s finest physicians pop out of the air and help me through my shift?  Would I ever be able to just make it simple by helping myself out by acknowledging that I am actually enough on my own, and that the other issues are beyond my scope of control?

Enter serendipitous encounter with aforementioned “tour guide” who showed me the map back to me.  I was gently guided to the fact that nursing satisfies many of my thirsts in life.  Despite many system pitfalls, I have been so unbelievably blessed in my interactions with patients, and my privilege to be present in people’s lives during their weakest times.  There is something very raw about illness-people tend to lose their “outer” reference points and become very intertwined in their own body, mind and spirit.  Exactly the way it should be.  Although writing is my passion, nursing has opened a channel for enriching experiences that I would never have otherwise.  The two are interconnected and feed each other.

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