Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Keep your eye on the prize

On a boat, in the ocean, I will likely get seasick. I prefer the mountains and the forest. Some friends of mine just returned from four months of sailing their boat to the Caribbean. One of them recently shared the following words of wisdom with me, in response to my litany of complaints about my very expensive nursing school.

When sailing, one chooses a destination, and then charts a course. If the winds or currents change, the navigator must chart a new course. You don't have to change your destination, but if you don't adapt to the changing winds and currents, you will not get there. And you just might sink.

I've been staying away from the keyboard because the only thing I had to write about was how frustrated and disappointed I've been this past month. Just about everything that could have gone wrong with my pediatric rotation indeed did, and I've been committed to being angry and unhappy about this situation. It's interfered with my friendships, dating, my sleep, and most unfortunately, my experience of pediatrics. So while a small part of me would still like to rant and rave about how this has not lived up to my expectations, I am DONE complaining about this school. Really!

Another one of my sea-loving friends said to me, "It's so obvious that you're passionate about becoming a pediatric nurse, and I know you will be one. Don't let these problems, or anything, distract you from your passion. Adapt, but stay focused on why you're in school." Wiser words could not have been spoken. So here is me sharing about my passion, about why I know I will soon be a pediatric nurse.

On the first day of the first weekend of our pediatric rotation, I was standing in the hall, waiting for some real action. I heard a noise from behind me. Turning around, I saw a young girl approaching me. She was the seven-year-old sister of a patient, and we had not yet met. As she walked by, I said, "Excuse me, are you a doctor?" Frowning, she replied, "No." I said, "OK, listen. The next time someone asks you if you're a doctor, you say, 'Yes, how can I help you?'" She said, "OK." We high-fived and said goodbye. An hour later I saw her again and said, "Excuse me, are you a doctor?" She furrowed her brow, closed her eyes for a minute, and said, "Yes. How can I help you?" I asked her what I can do to not get sick. She said, "Eat healthy foods." I said, "Thanks, doc." She said, "No problem." We high-fived and said goodbye. I went to see my patient and she went off to save a life or maybe get a sticker.

My patients have been amazing. They are suffering; their young lives have been forever impacted by the chronic diseases that inflict their growing bodies. My six-year-old patient has a kidney disease, and may need a transplant. My two teenage patients, young women with amazing resilience, have chronic diseases, one of the intestine, the other of the blood. These massive health challenges have been piled atop their adventures of adolescence. I could tell they were sad, maybe depressed. And still they laughed with me.

A five-year-old girl, my favorite patient, is three days recovered from spinal surgery when I meet her. I tell her that today she will take her first steps since the surgery. It takes one hour to get her to put both feet on the floor. Another hour and she’s walking across the room to her mother. I felt so proud of her, a child I had known for a mere two hours, I could have cried, shouted, and danced. I wish I had.

While only in my life for a day or two, these children have forever transformed me, and unknowingly cheered me as I traverse the path of becoming a pediatric nurse. I wish I had written about these miracles as I experienced them, but I was too wrapped up in my own anger, self-pity, and victimization.

This past weekend was our last of the rotation, and I was determined to learn as much as I could. I told my nurse I would like to take three patients instead of two. She was incredibly supportive, telling me she was going to show me how to do everything my instructor had neglected to teach me. I left the nurses' station filled with confidence and enthusiasm.

I stopped by each room to introduce myself to my patients and their families. The kids were just waking up, so I mostly spoke with their parents. I then returned to my first patient, a four-year-old girl, to take her vital signs and do an assessment. She was incredibly shy and withdrawn, but after a few minutes of talking and playing, she started to open up to me. Just as I was putting the blood pressure cuff on her arm, another student walked in and said, "We have to leave the hospital. Our instructor is still not here."

I was in shock. I said goodbye to the family and walked to the nurses' station. The other nursing students were waiting for the elevator, and the nurses were just staring at us. For the entire rotation, our instructor had been lazy and negligent to us, and annoying to most of the nurses. Her not showing up this morning was the last straw, and our entire group now had to leave the hospital. We were told we could return for the rest of our weekend, but only with another instructor. My school did absolutely nothing to remedy the situation, so we lost yet another weekend of clinical time. Our first weekend (out of five) had been canceled because this same instructor called in sick. Needless to say, she is history, and so is my pediatric rotation.

I share this because the sadness I felt at having to leave the hospital was profound. And while I first responded to this incident (and how my school ignored it) with anger, I now see the ironic gift in it all. Being ripped away from those children hurt so deeply because I was so goddamn happy being their (student) nurse. I've been angry at my instructors and my school because it's seemed like their incompetence and negligence were endangering my chances of becoming a pediatric nurse. That was just my fear talking, and I'm done listening. I am going to be a pediatric nurse, and no bungling school or instructor is going to get in my way. And I'm done being resentful, and am instead focusing on being of service, which is where this all began.

I'm keeping my eye on the prize and letting passion fill my sails.

That's just how the Macho Nurse rolls.