I’ve been wanting to write something for a couple of days but I haven’t know how to put everything in words. I’m still not sure I do. I’m torn on healthcare, on opening up the country too early, on what kind of job I want to look for now…
You see I have asthma and as such am high-risk for COVID. I was placed on leave at work for that but it turns out that being asthmatic and wearing a mask all day in a procedure area where I was working is not ideal either. After exploring options, I have decided I need to look elsewhere. And with this, my body’s rejection of bedside PPE, my clinical nursing days are over. Anything at the bedside would require me to wear a mask for isolation patients. So I’m at a crossroads, halfway through my career, where I’m asking myself “what kind of nursing do I want to pursue? Do I even WANT to be a nurse anymore at all?”
This questions haunts me. It nags at my soul. You see being a nurse has been a huge part of my identity for 20 years. It has spawned stories and experiences and nicknames in my family. Being the only nurse in the family used to mean more but now everyone is a damn expert because they googled it…whatever ‘it’ is. Anyway, I have memories, good and bad, that I will hold in me until my death. I have friendships that were forged in the fires of an insanely busy ICU on bad days when we left our shifts bruised and exhausted and weary. I have experiences, like throwing a patient a wedding before he died, that will lift up my spirit forever because that kind of teamwork and grace and love to our fellow man is why I became a nurse. I have secondary trauma, PTSD, from too many violent patients and from being asked to juggle impossible emotional situations without a chance to be human and process. Just keep going, shove it down, just keep going… trauma lives in our bodies. Those feelings don’t disappear, they are just shoved deep down with alcohol or medication or sleep or distraction or with other things. I am hypersensitive to sound and jump with really loud noises, and I immediately tense up and become ready to fight when someone stands a little too close or raises their voice a little too loud. How crazy is it that those reactions were conditioned in me by nursing, by caring for other humans and trying to save lives?
I feel like nurses today are asked to be robots. Click the box. Scan the band. Foam in. Foam out. Explain. Update the white board. Wash. Rinse. Repeat in the next room and on and on and on. Don’t say ‘no’. Don’t make anyone mad. Every day at those huddle boards you’ll be reminded of all the things you’ve done wrong. You’ll be reminded that bonuses and raises are tied to metrics and you don’t want to be responsible for the whole unit not getting their money. Toward the end of my last ICU job I remember standing there in a fog at 6:45am listening to this information and my inner self was screaming at me “THIS IS A HOSPITAL”. I wanted to throw my badge on the table and walk out yelling that I don’t work for the Ritz Carlton.
I left that ICU and the trauma behind only to go to another department where I thought I would be able to help people but without the physical exhaustion. Wrong. After only three months of having to tell family members that their loved ones had to go to the crappiest LTAC or SNF because that’s all their benefits paid for, or the homeless guy got discharged to the street, again, I was traumatized in a different way by feeling like no matter what I did, it wasn’t enough. There was never enough; not enough time, money, resources, beds, help, back up, patience… just never enough.
I love nursing. I loved being a nurse. I believe in what it is supposed to be and the people on the front lines who are risking their lives to do what we do, I love you all. You are my heroes. I have guilt for not being in the thick of it with my people, but I have gratitude that I don’t have to be, and that I’m safe and breathing comfortably at home. When the dust from this settles and life goes back to our new normal, I’m not sure I even want to go back into a hospital. When another surge of COVID happens because we relaxed restrictions too early, will I still feel bad that I’m not in the ICU helping? No. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want to be in a hospital again at all, but it’s all I know. It pays the bills. How do I use my experience and my heart and my skills to serve people in a way that actually matters? Because sadly, for me, the bad of hospital nursing far outweighs the good at this point. Our lives are too short and precious to be miserable every day at work. And these feelings were all pre-COVID. I feel even more strongly about that. I know not all will agree with me, they’ll find the beauty in this situation and I think that’s great. I love the people who can always find the silver lining. I think that I’ve been looking into the clouds for that bright silver lining for so long now that I’m blind to it. It’s time for me to look at a different sky.
I wish I had a better sense of what to do, but I don’t. No one knows what the future of anything will look like at this point. I hope that this PPE shortage and the impact of this will cause some change in healthcare administration and how our system runs but I doubt it. Money talks and I fear hospitals will go back to the same old way of doing business, which is money-making; totally forgetting that our ‘product’ is people and if you don’t have nurses, you can’t run a hospital. Best of luck, friends. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but it will be something that brings me joy.