Once a Nurse…

I’ve thought about writing this post probably once a day for the past six months. But, I haven’t been able to bring myself to put pen to paper, in a manner of speaking.

8 years. I’ve been a registered nurse for 8 years. Taking care of some of the sickest, most critical patients in the hospital for the majority of my career. Rewarding? Yes. Exhausting? Totally. It takes a certain, dare I even say special kind of person to be a nurse. If you or someone close to you has ever been a patient in the hospital, you might have picked up on this. Nurses are the lifeblood that keep the system running smoothly.

Contraband coffee at the desk! Don’t tell!

So why am I writing about this? Well, you see, I haven’t donned a pair of scrubs since August of last year. My second maternity leave started August 23rd and at that point, I had every intention of going back. Or at least I thought I did. But I haven’t.

Caring for people has always come second nature to me. I was always the person people would ask random medical questions to…long before nursing was my chosen path. Back in the day, I thought I was going to be a doctor. We’ll just say that going into nursing was a blessing in that regard (after seeing how a hospital really functions and what a doctor’s residency really looks like). So naturally, motherhood and caring for a child would be a piece of cake, right?

Right?

Ummm…

No. Not for me, anyways. Becoming a mom was the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Nothing prepared me for it. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Colic. Screaming. Incessant screaming. More emotions than I’d ever experienced in my 28 years before it. No sleep. And I mean none. I mean being so tired that there were times I was afraid I’d fall asleep holding the baby. My husband and I felt like we had been bashed in the face repeatedly with a baseball bat. How did anyone enjoy this? How could something we created, this genetic jumble of the two of us, be so completely difficult and foreign in every sense of the word?

Ugh. So tired. Still screaming. If there weren’t pictures, I would have blacked out the first 5 months.

It got better. Eventually. But not before I went back to work. No. It was still really hard at that point and looking back I have no idea how I was doing 12 hour shifts back to back and basically being awake for the 10ish hours I was home in between. No freaking clue. Ah nursing, so flexible…you can make it work for you. It’s true. So I dropped my hours. And for the next 2 years, it was good. It worked for us.

Then, we tempted fate again and miraculously (and that’s a different story) but miraculously, I was pregnant again. Another girl. Lord help us all.

And I changed my hours again…per diem. Even more flexibility. So now you’re all going, but you were per diem. You could work when you wanted to, as much or as little as you wanted to- why give that up?

I’ve had some time to think about it. The baby, my last baby, will turn one in a couple of weeks, so I’ve had about a year to think about it. And I think I have some answers.

A different kind of chaos

Let me preface this by saying that I am so completely grateful and lucky that I have the choice in this matter. That I can choose to be home. That isn’t something that’s financially possible for many people.

First, logistically/financially, if I was working, most/all of that money would be paying someone else to take care of my children. Some moms need that. Need their career. Need that time to be their own separate entity outside of being a mom. And I respect that totally and are there days I also want that? Yeah. Mhmm. That sounds heavenly sometimes.

For me, the days are, at best, totally chaotic and at worse, a complete disaster, but there’s always a part of me that wants to be the one dealing with it, the one in the thick of it with them. I sometimes wonder if my career was outside of nursing, if I would feel differently. No matter whether I’m at work or at home, I’m always taking care of someone. It’s different in some ways obviously. Hopefully there’s no cdiff or gowning up to enter a precaution room and far less medicating, blood draws and documentation. But, there’s drama and tears and poop and vomit and someone on their call light for snacks and drinks. The similarities are uncanny.

People say, don’t you miss it? And I know it’s rude to say no. Are there aspects of it that I miss? Yes. Of course. The critical thinking, the catching a problem before it becomes a bigger problem. The camaraderie- the friends I’ve made through work are lifelong true friends. The relationships you develop with families and patients. Being the light in the darkness, helping them navigate the murky waters of the hospital.

But, do I miss pouring my heart and soul into 12 hours with a patient and family and coming home totally depleted and then scraping the bottom of the barrel to try to be the mom my kids deserve the next day? No. I don’t miss that. I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel some days even without being there! Nursing is HARD. Critical Care is HARD. End of life…is HARD. Having daily discussions with people about dying and death and then mourning alongside family member takes its toll.

I’ll always be thankful of the time Meryl had with her great grandparents. They were really the best.

I’ve had time to ruminate on things and I’ve come to a couple conclusions. Looking back, especially thinking about this time last year, is really eye opening to me. For about 4 or 5 years, I’d taken a more hands-on approach in helping my mom take care of my grandparents. They were in assisted-living and at first, doing quite well. But, then things began to change, as it typically does when you reach your late 80s- if you’re lucky enough to make it to that point.

Hospitalizations became more frequent for my grandmother and eventually end of life discussions started coming up. As a nurse, you start to develop some extrasensory perception when it comes to death and dying. You can see what’s coming down the plate before anyone else. And, as difficult as it is to have these discussions with your patients and their families, it’s even harder to look into your mother and grandmother’s eyes and tell them what’s happening.

But, that’s what I signed up for when I became a nurse, right? And I’d never take it back. Being able to be the translator between the doctors and my family is something I would do and will continue to do. Years of these discussions has taught me not to sugar coat things. Sometimes, as painful as it is, it’s so much better to be a straight shooter and tell it like it is. At least I can say I’d prefer it that way.

After my Babci passed, that left a hole. A hole that I filled with taking care of my grandfather. I approached it as if I was at work, this was my assignment. There are times when you lose a patient. That doesn’t mean that your other patients don’t still need you. You have to keep going. Despite the emotional pull and need to process things, you often don’t have the time, so you compartmentalize and move on, quickly.

 

For me, I didn’t want to process it. I just saw my next task and that was making sure he was okay. Which, for the most part, he was for a good while. But, as I’m sure you can see the writing on the wall here, that changed. And what I will say is that I will always carry guilt for how the end went down with my Gramp.

As a nurse, one of the core principles driven home is that we are patient advocates. We are the voice for those who cannot speak. We keep their needs in the forefront of the conversation. And that’s what I tried my best to do for my grandfather, but the healthcare system let me down. Man…insurance? What a joke. I’m horrified that semantics and a lack of common sense and caring, frankly by numerous healthcare providers, made what should have been a peaceful ending a complete shitshow. Excuse my French, but there are no other words. That’s what it was.

I find peace in knowing he finally did pass on his own terms, but the entire experience soured me. Big time. What good is it if I can’t even take care of the ones I love and be their advocate, be their voice when they need to be heard? What a horrible feeling to be helpless when this is supposed to be my turf, my expertise.

I think closing the chapter last summer with his death and then having a baby the next month flipped a switch in my brain. It made me realize that this is such a unique time in my life. Never again will the girls be little. Never again will they need me, physically, as much as they do now.

And as hard and long as the days can be, and many of them are- this time in my life is transient. It is a season and like seasons do, they pass and change. And there will come a point where I will reassess the situation.

For now, I’m here with them. On the good days and the bad days. I’m answering their call lights for crackers and juice. I’m changing soiled diapers. I’m tending to rashes and bumps and bruises. I’m monitoring vital signs, treating fevers. I’m staying cool, calm and mostly collected when someone falls or gets slammed in the face with a swing, constantly assessing the situation. If it’s not gushing blood and I can’t see bone, we’re usually okay. As they say, once a nurse, always a nurse.

Portrait of a Stay at Home Nurse Mom

In this season, I’m trying on the title Stay at Home Nurse Mom. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?