Thursday, April 14, 2005

A place I never imagined I'd be.

So I'm sitting on the couch, reading the local nurses' news magazine (they're very unhappy about unions, but more of that in a later rant) and wondering how much Zappo's is charging for Danskos these days, when I realized:

I'm a nurse.

As in, an actual nurse. Jo, RN. I can sign my name with those initials, and sometimes do, by mistake, on checks. I ache all over after a busy shift, I eat things for breakfast that would make most normal people cringe, I speak a language that only a few people really understand. I'm a nurse.

Back in the day, fresh out of school with a BA in music performance and sociology, I had no clue what my life would be like. I'd had an interest in health and health-care for years, but I couldn't see combining that with the music degree that Dad had his heart set on my getting. I spent ten years working in bookstores, recording voice-mail mazes, and singing commercials before I got a job at Planned Parenthood and realized that I was really good at this odd thing. For some reason, people relaxed when I walked in the room; they told me secrets and embarrassing things without a qualm.

So I gave in and fell in love with my job. Rabid advocate? That was me. Trying to empower people to ask questions and take control of their care? Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Wanting to know more, to learn more, to have more input? Yep. And so it was off to chemistry, and a harrowing microbiology class, and several semesters of maths, both basic and advanced, and finally, Nursing School.

I've been a nurse now for just about three years--a "new nurse" in a lot of people's eyes, still. I remember my second semester of clinicals, wondering what it was about nursing that made these women I worked with tough, impatient, and unwilling to say something more than once. It got to the point that I could pick out a nurse, even if she or he was in civvies at the grocery store, just by the way they looked.

Now I'm one of them. My sense of humor hasn't tanked completely, and I'm not willing to fake a kidney stone attack to get out of working with students, but I'm a nurse. Jo, RN. Looking through catalogs, wondering exactly who it is that buys avacado green scrubs. Wondering if the liver function profiles on that undiagnosed patient ever came back. Setting my alarm for four-twenty in the morning, then explaining things once to everyone I meet and expecting them to get it.

If you'd told me when I was 21 that I would be doing this, I wouldn't have laughed. I would've gazed at you in utter disbelief, wondering what planet you hailed from. At 31, I wondered if I would survive nursing school (yes), if my marriage would survive nursing school (no), and if I would ever get to the point that "Nurse" became a part of my personality.

I did. It did. And here I am.

Two of my fondest memories from my career so far: Hearing a patient say, "Thank you, Nurse" as I left the room, a raw fresh-grad preceptee, and having another patient tell me that I reminded him of a nurse he'd had during World War II.

It's a fortunate person who falls into what they were born to do. If I'd continued singing commercials and saying "To speak with an operator, press zero", I would've been good at it. I could've been good at any number of things, without thinking about it much. This is a challenge and a joy and a source of pride. The fact that I'm good at it, the fact that I feel like I was born to do *this thing*, is an extra benefit. I'm a lucky girl. A lucky Jo, RN.


Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...

I've been a nurse for almost ten years now, and I very much enjoy your perspective on the profession. As a young-adult art student and aspiring painter and printmaker in the early 80's, I would also never have believed that I would willingly go to nursing school at age 30! Yikes!

I have posted a link to your blog on my own blog so that my readers can enjoy yet another nurse's singular view of life from the bedside. I find my work to be a maddening yet enlivening priviledge, as you seem to as well. Thanks for your writing.

Anonymous said...

If I counted right, you were finishing first grade when I graduated from nursing school. Yep. Been doing this a long time.

I still love being a nurse. I gripe sometimes, but mostly it's about being short-staffed and the fact that cocaine and heroine don't make women sterile. They should. Sorry, I'm a NICU nurse. It would just make my job so much easier.

Keep finding things to treasure about your work. That will get you through the tough days and nights. If you ever start to hate being a nurse, take a good look around and make sure it isn't just the current job you hate.

Anonymous said...

Judy, I sure hope you didn't count right, as I'm a second-degree nurse. That would make you...oh, around retirement age right now.

I agree with you on the cocaine/heroin thing; I saw plenty o' that at PP. The other big gripe I have is that they don't let us have a margarita machine in the nurses' station. I ask you.

Anonymous said...

"It's a fortunate person who falls into what they were born to do"

jo- i am an RN also although definitely a newbie - been on the floor for almost a year now...and yes. a few years ago if you'd told me THIS is what i'd be doing, i would have laughed. now i know that i am doing precisely what i am meant to be doing. and i love it. and i am grateful i fell into it, and that there ARE other folks who feel the same way about nursing! lots of love and luck to you and keep fostering a modern, positive nurse identity for those around you. we're NOT angels in white caps. we're a hell of a lot more than that.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading your post. I can really relate. After being an LPN for almost 12 years, I feel as though Nursing School was inevitable, it's the only career that I have ever wanted. I'm a junior now and I've survived a divorce during school and I'm raising two kids on my own, but I'm still hanging in there. My grades are good, but my stamina is lacking.

I thought I was the only one who could pick out a nurse in public... It's so funny!