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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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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How the Cardiovascular System Helped Me Find My Purpose

Music played from my laptop next to the couch. I pulled my blanket up to my chin and listened and prayed. A friend came to mind, and I thought about how she was a conduit, a vessel for the Gospel. My mind turned over the word "vessel" and since my friend is also a nurse, wandered to thoughts of blood vessels and the body's vasculature.

All at once, something clicked inside me, and I sat straight up. When I thought of my friend—and myself, and everyone—as blood vessels, something suddenly made sense to me. Bear with me while I give some backstory.

It's been a year since I have moved back to the United States. A year full of struggles, depression, hope, and growth only reentry could bring (it was so crazy I even wrote an ebook on it). One of the things I struggled with during the transition from life overseas to life in Waco, Texas, was finding purpose in my location and vocation Stateside.

While in Cambodia, I learned the missionary lifestyle is not so different from—or more important than—the lifestyle of a believer back home. However, this knowledge didn't prevent guilt from creeping up on me when I moved to the States. I felt guilty for abandoning those I loved in Cambodia, and I questioned whether I was weak for not staying there. The attention and applause the American church gave to missionaries no longer applied to me. Without a clear-cut outline defining my goals and my purpose, I felt lost, out of place, and particularly unimportant

Though the Lord has since provided incredible community, a sense of purpose and contribution, and relentless reminders of His love, in the back of my mind I have still believed that what I am doing here in the United States is less important—less vital—to the Kingdom than what I was doing in Cambodia. We often call missionaries the people on the "front lines," but where does that leave the rest of us?

When I thought of people as blood vessels, as conduits supplying life to other body parts, I realized it didn't matter what my location was. I could be a capillary in the pinky toe all the way in Cambodia, where the vasculature isn't as dense, or I could be part of the aorta at the hub of the heart. I could be a coronary artery, feeding the heart itself and keeping it strong so it could continue sending out blood to the body. I could be a femoral artery, a little farther from the heart but not in the boonies of the fingertips. Regardless of where I was, I was neither less important nor "more" vital than any other vessel. "More" and "less" do not exist as long as I pulse with the heartbeat of the One who gives life.

blood-pixabay.jpg

The goal of the cardiovascular system is to keep the body alive—all parts of the body. The aorta has no purpose if no arteries supply the brain; likewise, capillaries in the brain have nothing to give if the carotid is not functioning. My purpose is the same in both places, though it may look different. It may involve giving more of my financial resources (now that I have a paying job again!) and less time traveling to remote villages that have no blood supply yet. It may look like resting and soaking up the extra access to life-giving friends and community, hearing the Gospel preached in my own language every week, and feeling the pulse of His heartbeat, strong and regular as it reshapes my attitude and habits and life to be more like His.

When I was in Cambodia, I thirsted for community and soaked up every bit I received. I treasured phone calls and found Jesus to be my closest companion as I sought Him on my knees (in front of the oscillating fan, of course). I desperately hungered for the encouragement and prayers sent to me through friends and family and strangers, all the way from the heart of God to mine. I could not have survived without this. I am forever grateful for those who served as vessels at every step of the way: from the aorta to the arcuate artery, allowing hope to flow to me in the pinky toe of Kratie, Cambodia.

Here in the States, I am deeply grateful for community, for the people who draw near to the heart of God and who urge me to do the same. My soul feasts on the abundance of spiritual resources, and I am refreshed and restored. And I hope I too am a conduit. I hope I too am a vessel allowing hope to flow through me straight to the one who needs it, or to trickle from me to another to another to another, eventually reaching a girl on the other side of the world who is on her knees seeking the One who fills our deepest needs. I hope I get to play a part in her experiencing community and purpose and forgiveness. I hope she would know there is One who loves her, and this One who loves her most is there with her, on the floor in front of the fan, ready to refresh her soul.

 

To those who have been and to those who are conduits and vessels, thank you. What an honor to serve Jesus alongside you.

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