Nursing

Jesus, Colonoscopies, etc

The day I was supposed to show up at the clinic for an interview, I had a panic attack.

Yes, that’s right…I was interviewing at a clinic for a nursing position—that dear, difficult profession that has brought me so much grief and so much growth. The profession I swore I never wanted to return to, at least “not as long as I can help it,” as I often quipped when asked about nursing.

Yet here I am, a year and a half into my purely non-clinical life as a nurse, and I find myself interviewing at a clinic. It started with a blog post…about what I’d learned from quitting nursing (ironic, isn’t it?). I posted a graphic on Instagram, and somehow a stranger in town stumbled upon it and direct messaged me because in many ways, she could relate to my story.

We eventually became friends (this is the beauty of social media—when screens lead to person-to-person relationships), and she’s the one who told me about this PRN job at a gastrointestinal clinic that does outpatient endoscopies and colonoscopies. The more she described the job, the more attractive it sounded: 1:1 or 1:2 patient ratios, healthy patients, 8-5 hours… She had emailed the manager, she told me. I should too, she said.

To my surprise, I did.

During the past year and a half outside the nursing world, I’ve battled thoughts of insecurity. Am I crazy for not working as a nurse? Am I going to lose my clinical skills? This one was the real kicker: Am I selfish for not using my skills to help others?

Each time these thoughts crowded my head, I came back to the moment in Cambodia I decided to quit nursing—that single, simple moment of clarity that gave me peace and confidence in my decision. I considered various PRN positions (where I could work on an as-needed basis when extra staffing was required) every once in a while, but anxiety always rose up, and I always backed down.

This time, however, anxiety sat quietly by as I emailed, called about the job, and set up an interview—that is, until the day of the interview. The reality of going back to nursing came crashing down on me, and panic rose up in my chest. I remembered the stressful days and long hours, the hurtful comments from patients and their families, the constant strain of expectations from “the people upstairs” (which is what I called the people who controlled the budget and sat in offices on the top floor of the building).

To be quite honest, the anxiety was overwhelming. I canceled my interview. A couple weeks later, with my therapist’s mantra “Exposure reduces anxiety; avoidance increases it,” ringing in my head, I rescheduled the interview simply so I could face the anxiety of walking into a nursing setting and then probably not take the job.

After praying about it, I took the job—once again to my surprise. As I began training, I was nervous, and I found all my insecurities voicing their concerns in my head. I found that my inner critic was coming out in a way I hadn’t experienced since…I had worked in nursing at the hospital. Even though the clinic setting was extraordinarily calmer and more peaceful than the hospital, in the same quiet moments of changing out a linen bag, the old, familiar voice of my inner critic showed up.

“You’re not good at this. What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. You’ll never be enough. Just give up,” the voice grumbled.

As I processed my struggles with a dear friend from nursing school, she asked two questions about this inner critic that guided me to great insight and the beginnings of peace (and grief).

First, she asked, “Do you think the inner critic has to do with your experiences at the hospital?”

“Yes,” I replied immediately. “I’ve been so stressed because all these memories of hard things from the hospital have been coming back up.”

We discussed this for a while, noting how the mindset of me being “never enough” was intertwined with my work experience at the hospital.

Then she asked the second question. “I’m pretty sure the answer to this question will be yes too, but I’ll ask it anyway,” she said. “Do you think the inner critic has to do with your experiences in Cambodia, too?”

This time I hesitated, and then replied affirmatively again. It had been a long time since I dredged up those memories from the Cambodian hospital. Quite honestly, I didn’t want to bring them back up to the surface again; I didn’t want to grieve again.

So I tried to push it back down, but I couldn’t avoid it. Each time I went to the clinic, I felt major anxiety and stress that couldn’t be explained by just starting a new job. So once again, I opened back up my memory bank; the memories come flooding back, even now:

I remember how hard volunteering in that Cambodian hospital was.

I remember how hard watching the woman with the upper GI bleed was.

And this is when it hits me. The woman with the upper GI bleed.

What broke me most about this woman was that I knew the treatment but did not have the capabilities or equipment to help.

Years later, continents apart, I show up to work at a specialty clinic—a clinic that only does two things: EGDs and colonoscopies. Things that could have saved this woman’s life.

Out of all the places I could have ended up working, I wonder at the fact that I am at a GI clinic. A place where for which GI bleeds are routinely screened.

As I reflect on this, marvel at this, grieve over this (oh, the healthcare disparity!), I notice how I call this patient, “the woman in the Cambodian hospital” or “the woman with the upper GI bleed.”

The verbiage reminds me of another famous woman, one who was also acquainted with pain and suffering. One whose name I still don’t know, yet one who has taught me much about the kingdom of God. Among church-goers, she is known as “the woman at the well.

I wonder if that woman knew, if she had any idea, how others would learn of Jesus through her. I wonder if she imagined how people would read about her encounter with Jesus and be drawn to the Messiah as well.

I wonder if the woman in the Cambodian hospital had any inkling of how she would help me encounter Jesus in a new way. I wonder if she knew I would one day write about her and remember her, over and over and over, and every time return to the conclusion that Jesus is present, and Jesus is enough. I wonder if she knew her experience would live in my memory and impact every patient interaction I ever had again.

I remember her lying there. I remember her coughing up blood. I remember desperately wishing for EGD and cauterizing capabilities. I remember the desperation as I watched her suffer.

And I remember the presence of God. I remember that Jesus was with the woman in the Cambodian hospital, and I hope she’s in His presence now. I remember that He was enough then, and I remember that He is enough now.

In the hospital. In the GI clinic. In the country with EGDs and colonoscopies. In the place without any scopes at all. In the town with the woman at the well, rejected and shunned by society. In the town with the nurse at the GI clinic, plagued by an inner critic as she works. In the town with the woman in the Cambodian hospital, slowly losing blood from an upper GI bleed.

He is there, and He is enough. For my needs and for yours, He is enough.

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3 Things I Learned From Quitting Nursing

It's been a year—a whole year!—since I quite my job as a floor nurse. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago that I worked those long shifts and cleaned up poop (among other things) for a living. Yet in other ways, I'm still learning to adapt to a new career and figure out what's best for me. Here are three things I've learned over the past year from quitting nursing.

1. I needed to learn to make mistakes.

As a recovering perfectionist, I hate mistakes. I've always hated them: mistakes in school, mistakes in social situations, and most of all, mistakes on the job. I hated mistakes because for a long time, I didn't believe in unconditional love. I couldn't imagine love not based on performance.

In the hospital, there was a lot of pressure to get things right. It was simply the nature of the job. And while certainly some pressure came from administration, coworkers, and patients and their families, most of it came from me. Part of that originated in natural bent towards perfectionism, and part of it was added on by depression and anxiety.

Eventually, I realized I was at a point in my life where I needed to learn about grace. If I was going to move forward and grow as a person, I needed to learn how to make mistakes. I needed an environment that was more low-stakes when it came to mistakes. I needed to quit working at the hospital.

For the past year, I've kept busy with freelance editing and writing jobs. It's been a beautiful example of how attention to detail matters, but it isn't life or death. It's given me the space to make mistakes and learn how to handle them. To be honest, it's still makes me cringe a little to admit that it's okay to make mistakes (like forgetting about the time difference when scheduling a call), but in the past year I've learned to embrace this part of being human more than I ever have before.

For that alone, quitting nursing has been worth it. But that's only reason number one!

nurse carrying hospital gurney to emergency room

2. It's time to stop hustling.

In many ways, the business world is all about hustling. When I first launched into the world as a freelancer, I bought into it completely. I learned I had to work overtime, network like crazy, and make a name for myself. I thought hustling was simply part of the entrepreneurial spirit.

As time passed, however, I've come to see a bigger picture. Entrepreneurship is much more than hustling. Hard work is definitely part of the package, but chasing success at all costs doesn't have to be. 

For example, as a pragmatic person and introvert, "networking" often seemed forced. When I focused on networking, I felt like I need to express interest in people of influence just in case they could help me later in life. I felt like I always had a hidden agenda. I know networking isn't like this for everyone, but I've learned I simply don't have the social capacity to connect with everyone—and usually the people I'm naturally drawn to are not the wealthy and well-connected (you know, the people you're supposed to network with so they can get you great, well-paying jobs).

I quit nursing to find a truer version of myself, and hustling was taking me away from that. If I feel like a fraud networking the usual way, it's not worth it. If I feel like I'm losing myself in pursuit of an audience and more "likes" or "views," it's not worth it. If I start to care more about the numbers than about the people they represent, it's not worth it.

I realized it's time to stop hustling, and it's a lesson I keep learning again and again. The data says I should be less successful since I stopped hustling, but I've found the opposite to be true. I may not be making as much money, but I consider a life of authenticity and integrity to be far more successful than losing my sense of self for potential riches.

3. Quitting my job didn't solve all my problems.

When I was working as a nurse, I would rise early before my shift, brew a cup of coffee, and then sink to the floor, totally overwhelmed with the thought of the day ahead of me. I'd sit there, with my back against the wall, and voice desperate prayers for help to get me through the day.

A few days ago, I found myself sinking once again to the floor in my kitchen, overwhelmed by life. With my back against the refrigerator, I was breathing out prayers for help when I realized I was feeling the same way I had when worked at the hospital. Even though I had radically changed my lifestyle, there I was, feeling the exact same way as the year before. I was discouraged and frustrated, to say the least. 

Yet wise words from a friend came to mind in that moment; he had mentioned that measuring progress by feelings wasn't always accurate. Measuring progress by what we've learned and how we've grown, however, was completely different. It was then I remembered I had radically changed my lifestyle so that I would be healthier, not so that I would feel better. While the change in career did decrease my anxiety and depression, it wasn't a quick fix to the hard work of getting to know myself and learning to listen to my emotions.

It did, however, provide a healthier environment to work through the hard parts of life. Another thing I've learned is that part of learning to love and care for myself means creating a healthy, nurturing environment. From quitting nursing to drawing boundaries to joining a gym, each choice I make to create a healthy environment has the potential to change my life. 

When I look back on the past year, it hasn't all been chocolate and naps (because aren't those things better than butterflies and rainbows?). It's been tough, and it still is, but in many ways, quitting nursing has allowed me to learn who I am as a child of God. It's allowed me to embrace grace through trial and error, explore the world and principles of freelancers, and celebrate progress in a more meaningful way. I've grown and changed and learned—and that, to me, makes quitting nursing absolutely worth it.

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Nurses, Spirituality, and Why We Should Pee Our Pants

It happened a thousand times at the hospital. I scurried from one room into another, where a patient lay on the bed and sighed loudly when I walked in.

"Well you're too late now," began the spiel. "I done peed in the bed."

Sometimes it came with an apology, sometimes with embarrassment. Often it came with anger and blame.

Our reply as nurses was consistent. "It's okay, we'll have you cleaned up in no time."

The rebuttal from our patients was also consistent. "If you would just let me get out of bed by myself...but they told me I had to push this call light and now it's too late."

"It's okay," we repeated. "It's no problem to clean you up. We'd rather do this than you fall on your way to the bathroom."

I can still picture my patients' faces, confused and concerned as I cleaned them up and changed the sheets. They probably often thought, "This is the worst thing that could have happened."

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

Yet as nurses, we worked hard to prevent bad things from happening to our patients. We had specific, evidence-based practices helping us determine when patients were safe and healthy enough to get up on their own. The worst case scenario in the eyes of a patient (peeing their pants...or rather, their hospital gown) wasn't all that bad to us.

"Bad" was falling and breaking bones, coding and needing resuscitation, or developing complications and needing to be transferred emergently. It was a matter of perspective.

Most of the time, patients couldn't see their condition from the outside—they weren't equipped to assess their physical condition and the potential dangers of trekking to the bathroom alone in a hospital room. (And there are many! The slippery floor, the equipment, the cords, the IV pole and tubing...)

Patients cannot always see these dangers; they simply know their pride is wounded. These patients remind me of someone—someone who cannot always see the larger picture but who complains loudly when pride is wounded.

These patients remind me of myself.

Often, I have lacked the perspective to see potential dangers in the path to reach my goals. Often, I have only been concerned about my pride and my dignity—they seemed so important at the time! Often, I have treated God as though He is purposely neglecting what I deem my greatest needs.

I am the patient who's peed my pants. Over and over and over.

Like the patients who have yelled at their nurses, I have hurled accusations at the One who enters the room to clean up my sense of self-worth when I'm embarrassed and ashamed. Like a hospital patient, I cannot see past my the bed and the calamities He kept me from. I cannot see the tragedies that never happened. I only see the mess in my bed and my messed up pride.

Just as a nurse's heart is not to make patients pee in the bed but to protect them from greater harm, I'm starting to see God's heart is the same. His heart is not to hurt but to mend; His direction is not to limit or humiliate but to protect. He, like nurses, would rather our pride be wounded than our whole selves be broken.

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

When I look back, I can see this. Not getting my dream job brought me to a better opportunity. That difficult summer in Cambodia wounded my pride but led me to the Healer of my soul.

Over and over and over, I've peed my proverbial pants. I've experienced disappointment, prayed unanswered prayers, and lost what I thought was my dignity. Yet the Lord gently reminds me dignity is not determined by how I hold myself or view myself but is upheld when I see myself as I truly am: broken and needy and dependent, yet worthy of love and honor and respect because He has made me and calls me His.

Nursing has taught me many things, and today it teaches me to trust. It teaches me not to be the rebellious patient who thinks she knows best, but to be wise and humbly dignified as I thank God for letting me pee my pants and for always cleaning me up.

If it teaches us more about Christ and brings us closer to Him, I'd rather pee my pants any day, and I'd rather you pee yours too.

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The Life I Couldn’t Save as a Nurse

The Life I Couldn’t Save as a Nurse

Over the past two and a half years, my entire career has centered around life. I’ve rejoiced with people, and I’ve grieved with them—with parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren. Nieces and nephews and teammates and soul mates. 

I’ve promoted life, comforted at the end of life, and walked people through the steps to return to a healthy life. In my pursuit to add to the lives of others, nursing added innumerable things to my own life.

It added perspective and gratitude, as I witnessed the brevity of life and the miracle of each day I’m still alive. It added humility, as it brought down my pride and revealed my superhero complex. It added friends who became family and a quirky sense of humor only nurses understand. It added richness and heartbreak.

Nursing introduced me to the essence of humanity. I am thankful for that.

Yet here I am, two and a half years later, and I have come to the conclusion that, despite all my efforts and hours and tears and sweat, there is one life I cannot save as a nurse. In fact, the harder I try, the more she suffers.

This life is mine.

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