15 March 2010

I was a Nurse.

I became a CNA in the late 70s. I attended a single-semester (15 weeks/8hours per day) program in northern California, my first four weeks in a classroom and lab, where our instructors (RNs) showed us how to check vitals, wash hands, and give proper backrubs. For good measure they threw in a wee bit of anatomy. They taught us how to make beds.

The final 10 weeks were spent in clinical. Depending on your standing in the class, your acute : long-term experience ratio could be portioned anywhere from 2:8 weeks to 8:2 weeks. I was scheduled to a long-term care facility for two weeks, and to one of the local hospitals for eight.

To say I loved my work at the hospital is an understatement - I felt as though I'd found a new and better religion. At the end of my third day on the medical ward at Fremont Hospital, I was offered a job. And the day after I received my certification I started getting paid for doing something I would have done for the rest of my life for free.

For a few years I worked as a nurse's aide, both in northern California and in northern Montana. But the economy went south, and Tom got laid off. A man who could not not work, Tom went back into the Corps.

We moved to Camp Pendleton/Oceanside, where btw, there were no immediate openings for CNAs. Even for one with a few years post-surgical experience and a bevy of references. So I took a job as a cook, and I stayed a cook for the entirety of Tom's re-enlistment. And while at Pendleton, I attended a local community college, and started working on my general education requirements. (expository writing, chemistry, biology...)

As soon as his new obligation was fulfilled, we came back to Montana. But with no shortage of LPN and RN students, the hospitals in my area were not interested in a CNA who hadn't worked acute-care for over four years. So I settled for long-term. I hated it, but I stuck with it till we could afford the tuition for the LPN program.

It was a vocational program lasting four quarters (48 of 52 weeks). The first two were didactic, and the balance was made up of clinical rotations through the different wards of both hospitals, and in OB, Psych, ER, OR, and even a week in a doctor's office.

I started the program with 22 classmates, but only 5 of us made it to clinical. The first two quarters were like finals week the entire stretch. I felt as though I'd crammed the first 6 months of school. My brain was full. And as I hit that wall, I wondered - Was this a stupid idea? Am I going to have wasted all this money and time, only to find out I hate nursing?

[But] my very first day, my very first hour, on 4-south (a post-surgical ward) at Saint Patrick's Hospital, it was as though the Holy Spirit, Himself, had washed through my body. I'd come home.
- - - -

I took the long way to my RN. After graduating from the Vo-Tech, I re-enlisted in the Army. And even afterwards, when I got back home, I still worked for another year or so as an LPN.

And then, even as I attended university, I didn't focus on a Nursing degree. The Course Catalogue was a candy store. There wasn't a subject I wasn't interesting in learning. Overall, in addition to my non-transferable Vo-Tech credits, (and my post-graduate credits), I racked up some 170 undergrad-credits, only 64 of which were part of my nursing component. If I had been independently wealthy, I would have stayed in school till I exhausted the entire catalogue.

Okay. So this entry is to respond to something an LVN (whom blogger.com had to bar from stalking this blog) wrote: that I never discuss my experiences as an RN. I'm not sure what she's looking for. Something exciting? Something extra? I can't help but notice from her posts that she names names of patients she's had that were celebrities. Hm. Did I assist in any surgeries on any well-know personalities/politicians or their families? Yes. Will I drop names? No, and hell no.

Did I participate in exciting, complicated procedures/surgery? Sure. Did my RN make a difference? Absolutely. Did all that extra schooling help? Yes. Did any of it become old hat? No. Every evening before any scheduled procedures, I would review the patients' charts, I would review their pathologies, and I would review the procedure itself (including imaging myself going through the motions). Every single time.

But it's redundant to post about it. I am a nurse. These things are what being a nurse is all about.

So, what does she want to hear? Something extraordinary? How about the time several of us brought party balloons into an empty OR on April Fools Day, and breathed in the gas before calling the front desk to report a Helium leak?

Or maybe time I sank to my knees sobbing, because an old man I recognized from choir died before we could stop his spleen from spilling the 8 units of whole blood the 2 circulating nurses were squeezing into him?

Or the time I climbed into bed with a 3-day, post-MVA alcoholic, screaming in terror at snakes in his water pitcher, so that I could prevent him from further gouging his lips and eyes?

I'm sorry to disappoint, but while nursing is an extraordinary profession, it is not a profession for those who seek the extraordinary. Our work is honest, simple, no matter the scope/extent of our education. We solve problems. We figure out best how to keep a patient oxygenated, nourished, eased from pain, rested, healing...safe.

Not 6 months before I was diagnosed with this stupid IQ-stealing tumor, a student RN rotating through the OR wanted to observe the open reduction and repair of a Le Fort II fracture. I let her scrub in and stand beside me. (As first assistant I stood opposite the surgeon, and our scrub tech stood beside him.) The student was so excited, I thought she was gonna wet herself. She was fascinated by the itty bitty-ness of the implants. A woman after my own heart, I appreciated what she was going through.

She had hundreds of questions about Advanced Practice nursing, but only one do I remember clearly. She asked me, "What do you like best about Nursing?"

I told her, "Making beds."


studio lolo said...

Nurses don't get enough credit. Not the good ones anyway.

I'm sure you're a nurse in your heart first.

It's nice to see you back. I nearly fell over ;)

I hope you're doing okay. I've popped in here and there but I'm sure you know that already. Just letting you know you're presence has been missed in blogland.

And I hope she's not stalking you anymore. Creepy.

andrea said...

As someone who sees what the nurses and care aides put up with in my dad's extended care facility I LOVE you. I can't say enough good things.

fat B said...

A lovely commentary. Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

I just love how you tell a story. I come from a family of nurses...they all love nursing and are the reason, I look to nurse's in medical situations far more than doctors for answers I can understand and compassion that is always so forthcoming.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you posted this but not glad to hear you have a tumor.
RNs are heroic, as I know from experiences as a CNA and ward clerk.
I hope you will keep on blogging.

Patia said...

Yes, a lovely post.

I'm so grateful people like you exist. I could never be a nurse. I'm not selfless enough. Thank goodness there are all kinds of people.

Cindy said...

You're wonderful - and I love reading your story! Welcome back - sending you love.

fredwrite said...

This flows so nicely. I devoured it. You connect so well with people in print. I imagine you do even better in the medical setting. I'm glad to see you back. I've gone missing myself, but I'll check in more often, now. Love you, Babe.

tsduff said...

I've been away from blogging myself for a while, though I have a full list of those folks to which I became attached to when I was actively participating. You are a huge one of these - and I'm stunned to hear you have a tumor. I know you won't share much more than you have, leaving us in the dark, but please just know I've been a fan for a long time, both of your art, and of the way you described your loss (you and I lost our husbands roughly around the same time). I love that you are a nurse though, completely not surprised, given your giving nature.

Ces said...

Haha! You said it sister! And I know how you feel about someone stalking you! Ugh! Cyberstalker...Ack!

Hobbes said...

Good essay, and an especially nice ending.

gream said...
This comment has been removed by the author.