Have you ever had a day when the truth comes barreling out of nowhere and T-bones you? Happened to me today at work.
As my blog’s “frequent flyers” know, I recently made an extremely difficult decision regarding my career, and even though I knew it was the right one, I’ve been flirting with the idea that maybe I could go back to active nursing duties eventually. Even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, I told myself it was possible…..all I had to do was remain stable, and then figure out some way to reverse the cognitive problems I’ve developed in recent years.
Today that all went to hell in the proverbial handbasket. I went in to audit the medication records, and it wasn’t half an hour before the heightened tension of the skilled nursing wing began to bleed into my consciousness and cause my anxiety to start bubbling threateningly just below the surface.
WTF??! I wondered.
At first I couldn’t understand what was happening; there was no reason for me to be stressed—all I was doing was proofing med sheets. Then I went down the hall to my old unit to do theirs, and the charge nurse was running around the floor like her hair was on fire and her ass was catching, and I realized that this was what nursing was like all the time. I’d seen it, done it, gone home exhausted, gotten up the next day to throw myself against that wall all over again….for over sixteen years. And I’d literally paid for it with a good portion of my sanity.
Suddenly it all became as clear as the runoff from a snow-covered mountain: I will never be able to do this kind of work again. Something inside of me gave way at some point in the last couple of years, and it can’t be fixed. Yet I’ve done my best to ignore the insistent little voice that whispers to me in the silence when I can’t sleep: You’re done, it likes to say, even as I try to tune it out. If you don’t give it up, you’ll be crazy for real. Get out now, while you can still make a graceful exit.
Which makes me feel a lot like the washed-up quarterback who retires at the end of the season, only to change his mind and attempt a comeback the following year, with predictably bad results. (Brett Favre comes immediately to mind here.) Far better to go out on a high note than embarrass myself, or worse, make a mistake that winds up hurting somebody.
That’s what my mind says. But as M’Lynn says in the movie Steel Magnolias, I wish someone could explain it to my heart.
Oh, not to worry—I’m going to keep my part-time job. I love this little old nursing home and the people who work there, and I’ll stay as long as they’ll have me. But I’m finished as a REAL nurse. If I can’t even handle the ambient air at the nurses’ station without hyperventilating, or if I struggle just to pass meds to nine people (even if they do take 20 pills apiece), it’s time to hang it up. This is not a profession for sissies!
I find it amusing that people still think of nurses as altruistic, gentle souls who love nothing better than to help others—that ‘angel of mercy’ stereotype is very much alive and well here in the twenty-first century. But in reality, nurses have to be both physically and mentally tough to endure the heartbreak, loss, abusive patients and families, grumpy doctors and other healthcare professionals, understaffing, and petty bullshit that we face every single day.
I’m not that tough anymore. And one day—hopefully in the not-too-distant future—that’ll be OK.