Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Once a nurse, always a nurse?

I just updated my Blogger profile to read "former critical care nurse." I believe the timing of this to be appropriate because a year ago today, I resigned from my nursing job. I didn't, as so many people assume, retire. I am not drawing any money from my retirement funds. I didn't retire; I changed careers. 

To say I haven't missed nursing is an understatement. For all of you out there who are still active within the nursing profession, my hat is off to you. With all the changes healthcare has undergone in recent years--particularly the changes to our hospital--I just plain couldn't take it anymore.

I'm probably not alone--in fact, I KNOW I'm not alone--because the burnout rates among nurses have always been high. That I lasted for thirty-six years in critical care is probably a statistical anomaly. Yes, there are many who have been active in that specialty for even longer than I was, but there are probably more who didn't last anywhere near that long.

The only thing I miss is the people. I miss the nurses and the other staff members I worked with. I even miss the doctors. I miss the sweet elderly ladies and gents, and I miss the patients who retained their sense of humor even when they felt like crap. What I don't miss are the arrogant, the confused, and the combative. Those were the ones we had to deal with whether we liked it or not--and keep smiling.

The toughest part about being a nurse is not being able to react the way that most humans do. When someone hits you, your instinct is to hit back. When someone insults you, you either return the insult or you avoid that person completely. When someone tells you to go away and never come back, you do it.

Nurses can't do any of those things, and sometimes it frustrates us beyond belief.

And then there is the responsibility. True, nurses are well-paid. If I could earn as much as a writer as I did as a full-time nurse, I would consider at least one of my goals to have been achieved. But are nurses paid as well as they should be? Probably not, and the reason I say this is because when anything goes wrong, the nurse is responsible. When an error is made that affects a patient, the nurse is to blame for allowing it to happen. Nurses stand between their patients and the entire healthcare system. A good nurse is a patient's best advocate--the one who will argue on their patient's behalf, even if it means going toe-to-toe with their doctor or family. I'm not sure a price can be put on that, but if it could, it would probably be more than most nurses currently receive.

Nursing wasn't all bad. I enjoyed those times when I was able to use my creativity and skill to find a solution to a difficult problem. I look back on the times I was able to share what experience had taught me with newbie nurses with pride. There were patients who touched my life and whose names and faces I can still recall even after more than thirty years. I've watched a lot of people die despite my best efforts, but I also watched many of them go on living because of something I did. When lives are saved, quite often, that saving was done by a nurse. I'm proud to have been counted among their ranks, but it was time for me to move on.

I met a lady at a booksigning who was thanking all of the authors whose books had helped her through her cancer treatment. I was one of the authors she thanked. I've received emails from readers who thanked me for writing books that gave them a few hours of respite from their troubled lives. It's not quite as dramatic as being the one starting the IV that enables life-saving drugs to be administered or knowing which drugs to give, but it's not bad.

Once a nurse, always a nurse? Maybe. Either way, I'm touching people's lives, and it feels pretty good.


  1. My husband just changed his career from Information Technology to Nursing. Today is his first day on the job, though it is just nursing orientation. I hope he finds it a satisfying career and doesn't get burned out quickly. I'm actually concerned about that, knowing all the changes in healthcare at the moment. I know it isn't going to get better.

    I want to thank you for all you did helping people all those years. I do not have the personality to be a healthcare worker, and I applaud those of you who are so patient when people can be at their worst. Also, thank you for providing me hours of escape from my very stressful life!

  2. I admire that you were in nursing for so long, Cheryl. I'm sure you changed many lives.

    I also admire your work as an author. You found a balance between the two and now, we can admire you even more for being such an incredible author.

  3. Interesting that your husband's first day as a nurse is the anniversary of my last day, Shauntih. I wish him well. We need good nurses. I just couldn't be one of them anymore, but I'm pleased to be able to provide you with an escape.

    Thanks, Ana! The potential for reaching other lives is much greater as a writer than it was as a nurse. I only hope my new career has as positive an impact.

  4. I tip my hat to you and all nurses. Well, Maybe not the Wicked Witch of the West who was the head nurse for my first full knee surgery. She thought this was the Army and her boot camp. I never seen one ounce of compassion. Her Motto: Shut up and Bear it. No one doesn't get to 90 degree bend during her watch. My knee didn't heal right. I ended up going back and have the scar tissue busted up. If she would have listened to me. Instead of hollering. She'd realized. I wasn't getting any pain medicine in the IV. Until 4 hours after the Surgery it was discovered, by another nurse. That was the worse experience in my life. Nurses like that are few and far between. The second Knee Surgery was a breeze. The nursing Staff Super.

  5. Yeah, there are always a few bad apples in every bunch. Glad your second surgery went well!

  6. Oh Cheryl I don't even know where to start with this post...
    You see I just spent the last 2 years in hell with caring for my parents end of life. I must say the nurses and care workers were the ones who kept me sane. My Momma's passing was a slow decline of emergency room to hospital stay to rehab to new care facility (rinse and repeat), The end was not "pretty" thanks to an arrogant non-communicative ass-hole doctor who decided he should be god. I'm not angry at all about it, huh?! My Daddy passed quickly (thank you God) under the care of another palliative care doctor who was just awesome. The contrast between the two couldn't be more. It was the nurses who cared for my parents who made such a difference in their lives and our lives, and I for one want to thank you for your service in such a difficult finger of medicine. I can only hope you mentored many to be your replacement.

  7. I'm sorry you had such a time with your mother's illness, Glittergirl. I can only hope that for every bad healthcare experience, there are many more that progress as smoothly as they possibly can. Watching your parents decline is never easy, and arrogance makes it that much worse. Like I said, that was one thing I don't miss. (((HUGS)))

  8. I consider it an honor to not only be your friend but your critique partner! Yes, you're still touching lives! You always will!!

  9. You know what since I was a little child I always dream of becoming a nurse but I didn't make it.