Well, today was the day…..I am now officially retired from clinical nursing. As I passed my meds, performed the usual feeding-tube rituals and did treatments, I felt a bit wistful because I knew I was doing them for the last time; but honestly, my primary emotion is relief.
I should’ve done this a couple of years ago……and probably before that. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was tapped out long before I made this last ill-fated attempt at floor nursing, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced me to understand that I really WAS done. As some of you may know, I’d toyed with the idea of leaving nursing for some time, but it wasn’t until this past summer that it became crystal clear that I had no choice anymore—it was time for me to go.
And I won’t be back. I hope and pray that this new job will be the one I stick with until full retirement age, but even if it’s not, I know I’ll find something else to do outside of the clinical arena. One of the more amazing things that’s happened in the past few months is learning that I can push myself beyond some of my limitations and take risks I was too afraid to take even a short while ago. However, that works only if those risks are calculated ones, and with a lot of help, I’ve come to recognize which are too dangerous to attempt.
Remaining in clinical nursing is one of them. Yesterday I almost committed a serious medication error when I got distracted by too much noise and activity in the hall. (Yes, that continues to be a problem, even though my concentration has improved somewhat now that I’m well again). Every nurse makes mistakes now and again (and narrowly escapes making many more), but this was yet another time when only the grace of God and one more quick glance back at the med record sheet saved both my patient and me from disaster. Needless to say, the near-miss scared the daylights out of me, and it only reinforced the conviction that I’m doing the right thing by getting the hell out of direct care before my luck runs out.
It feels so weird to be hanging up my stethoscope after almost two decades in healthcare, but it’s good that this part of my career is over. I’ve no doubt that I’ll miss it—at least a little—but not enough to return for an encore, even if something were to go sideways during my second act.
While I have countless good memories of favorite patients and co-workers, I’ve paid dearly for the privilege of being a nurse. I’m far older than I should be on the inside, and my physical body is shot to hell from years of lifting, bending, transferring, pushing wheelchairs and heavy, occupied beds, and walking on hard surfaces. And we ALL know what it’s done to me mentally (even though I was never wrapped too tight anyway). But nursing has also given me countless stories to tell about both the best and the worst of humanity, humbled me by allowing me to witness feats of incredible strength and acts of mercy, and proved to me that we human beings are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made”.
Yes, this is the end of my career as I know it and part of me will always long for the days when I had a passion for nursing; but as somebody once said, the last step of one stage of life is but the first step of another. It’s just that when you spend a good chunk of your life caring for your fellow man, you learn in the end that it was the other way around all the time.