One of my friends texted me this morning and said:
“TGIF!… oh wait… we’re stay at home moms… Never mind.”
Hahahaha *sob* It’s SO true though!
In my attempt to celebrate Friday I often go to a local coffee shop that roasts the beans in store and has Karen Eland’s beautiful coffee art on the wall. (When I figure out how to post links I will post a link to her work! Otherwise google Karen Eland coffee art. She’s amazing- think “The Last Supper” but painted with only coffee!)
Anyway, when I was there I ran into one of my previous nursing students (Nice running into you Amber!) and thought of my nursing career so far.
Yes, one day, when my kids get old enough, they will be shocked and amazed that there was a “before kids” phase of my life and that I actually had a professional life (that I would love to return to one day).
The bulk of my professional time was spent working as a Registered Nurse in the ICU of a hospital that served the insured and uninsured alike. I loved my job, a nurse fulfilling my calling- caring for the homeless, the vagabonds, the addicts, the sick, the dying, the beautiful. This job gave me purpose, importance, and value. I felt important, intelligent, and vital…
But not at first.
When I was hired for a full year I was the youngest nurse in the hospital, let alone in the ICU. I remember feeling like I was tricking everyone because despite graduating with honors after 4 years of university level study, 2 ½ years focused on my nursing major, I felt grossly underprepared. (I also felt like a zombie because new grad= night shift.)
Despite all my studies and hard work at a great nursing program I just don’t think anyone can truly be fully prepared for the weight of a job that seems to holds the responsibility for life and death. One mistake or oversight can lead to injury or worse, and as a firstborn type A personality I was acutely aware of my lack of knowledge and know-how. The best I can compare it to is knowing where the destination should be in one of those labyrinth mazes, with clues at each turn, but I was walking through a deep fog attempting to not only see each clue through the fog but also remember which clues meant which direction to turn.
At first I felt like I was in over my head. I felt like maybe I really wasn’t cut out for this.
But I am stubborn. And occasionally, stubborn can work to my advantage.
My response was to dig my heels in and keep learning, almost obsessively asking questions and never ever faking like I knew more than I actually did. It was very humbling and tiring, but I told myself “It’s better to look like an idiot than possibly kill somebody.” I kept a notebook and wrote down every question I had during my shifts and if I couldn’t get an answer while I was at work I would go look it up after work. I would ask to watch a “new-to-me” procedure or take care of patients with medical problems that I had never seen before so I could become familiar with them. I looked for the experienced nurses and doctors and gleaned from their wealth of knowledge. I am almost completely sure that I was super annoying (and very likely looked like an idiot) to many of these experts in their field who expected a level of assumed knowledge that I just didn’t have as a new grad. I have the sneaky suspicion that I was fairly annoying too. I think being asked too many questions does grate on the nerves. I have a 3 year old and I’m pretty sure my questioning seemed like the equivalent of her never-ending question sequence- “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?… etc for infinity!!!
I would ask for simple orders to be clarified, I would double or triple check correct medication administration, and if I wasn’t 100% sure about something a doctor was asking me about I would take way too long looking up the unfamiliar lab values just to make sure I didn’t make a mistake.
I felt the weight of health and sickness, life and death, in my actions and decisions.
I felt everyone else knew better than and more than me. They probably did.
The other thing that I did was pray. In my car, every day, on the way to work.
“God, give me the patients that you want me to care for today. Please stop me if I begin do something incorrectly that could hurt or harm them. Help me to care for them as if I was caring for You. Help me be your hands to them, to be your presence to them. Please heal them and help me be a part of that healing process.”
Slowly but surely I built up my confidence. I asked less questions because I recognized the answers. The fog in the labyrinth dissipated and I could recognize the clues and follow the directions. Patterns started to emerge. The interconnectedness of medical diagnoses, medications, therapies, symptoms, lab values, and more all began to solidify in my mind, like a new language finally becoming recognizable and even familiar.
I finally began to trust my ability to reason clinically and make good decisions. I also began to develop a good rapport amongst the staff; they would trust what I was doing because they knew if I had a question I would ask it.
I also kept praying that prayer because even the best, most knowledgeable person can miss something on a busy shift, and I firmly believe that it is important to actively invite God into our daily lives.
There was once I had a patient who was being observed for any signs of an allergic reaction to a previous latex exposure. I completed my full assessment and he said he was completely fine with no complaints; he was tired from going through the ER and being admitted to the hospital so he wanted to take a nap. After assessing my next patient I was about to sit down and chart, but for some reason I felt like I should check on the first patient. When I went into his room realized that his throat was beginning to close up and he needed immediate breathing help and the doctors and respiratory therapists were able to help before the patient stopped breathing. Looking back, I recognized the small voice of God whispering to check on that patient.
Another time we didn’t have enough staff so I had more patients than normal. I was in a hurry to check on all the patients and give them all their medications. Right before giving one patient her potassium pill I realized that I had forgotten to check her potassium levels (too high of a potassium level can cause irregular heartbeats or even stop the heart). Even though I was running late and it would make me even more behind, I recognized God’s still voice stopping me from what I was doing. I checked the potassium level and realized they were too high. I called the doctor and the medication would not be given.
I knew that listening to those little “hunches” was God answering my prayers. And I remembered the clues: double check on patients before charting and always check potassium levels before giving potassium. And these are only 2 out of thousands of “clues” in a very complicated nursing labyrinth.
At first, I just liked my job; it was a meaningful challenge to learn how to truly care for people. It was also a challenge to keep going despite feeling “less than.” I felt like I was faking being a nurse because everything was so new, but my nursing license affirmed the truth that I was (and still am!) a real nurse, albeit inexperienced at the time. My lack of experience isn’t what could disqualify me- How I chose to respond to the requirements of my work environment could. How I chose to approach personal and professional growth could.
After some time and finally reaching a deeper level of understanding and ability, I really started to love my job. Even though there will always be more to learn I finally found my footing and was able to navigate the patient care labyrinth with confidence. I began to help others on this journey; I took on students during their clinical rotations, and eventually helped train new grads and other nurses who were new to the ICU setting. I eventually got my Masters in Nursing Education so I could share this expertise and encourage the next generation of nurses. I could sense the same insecurities and inexperience in my students and I wanted to be a part of walking them through that process of growing into their full potential. As a new-grad I had never imagined myself capable of feeling this confident and being this competent, and actually sharing that with others.
All this has been put on hold in my life since having kids, but through it all I learned a few things that have helped me in the transition from full-time nurse to full-time mom.
1-Take count of your knowledge and skill level, and work from there. The lack of knowledge or skill isn’t an excuse to quit. It’s a foundation to strengthen and build on. Work with what you have, and seek help with what you need. If you want a garden but only have 2 seeds, plant and tend the 2 seeds while looking for more seeds.
2-Never pretend. Admit if you don’t know something or can’t do something. This may be humbling but it is essential for growth. What is the point of watering soil that has no seeds? You may save your pride at first but eventually people will notice something is missing and you will end up wasting your energy/resources all the while limiting yourself from true growth and maturity.
3- Actively pursue growing your knowledge and practicing your skills. If you want growth, then you have to do something. Examine yourself. Find what you need- more information? More understanding? Finer-tuned skills? More experience? Ask questions. Seek answers. Even if no one else is asking and the answers are hard to find. Practice. Seek opportunities. Find experts.
4-Actively invite God into the process. Ask Him to cover the areas you may miss and strengthen the areas you are good at. Ask God to come along for the ride. Ask Him to select the projects you are involved with or the patient you are caring for or the trips you are going on. Then look for Him when He shows up. Listen to the quiet voice. Respond to the nudges.
5- Share your story, share what and how you have grown. Some of my greatest times of growth and even fulfillment, both in a professional or personal sense, were when I was helping others along their journey.
I remember leaving the hospital with my first newborn. I actually didn’t want to leave. It meant that I had to be an adult, for real, for the first time in my life. I had to be fully responsible for this tiny helpless human.
Did they know I had never done this before? I was horribly inexperienced and felt like I was faking it. I’m a mom. It didn’t feel true except I was carrying this unfamiliar yet familiar baby around like a mom. I had taken a couple classes but very grossly underprepared at parenting (still do sometimes! haha!).
I had to put on my big girl panties (literally… THE biggest underwear are those weird stretchy postpartum mesh things) and say OK, I don’t feel like a mom because I’ve never been one, but now I am one. Now what?
I felt so overwhelmed and unsure of my care for her- talk about a labyrinth! But I began to study my child for clues, and listened to her, and learned to give her what she needed. Luckily as a newborn it usually went as follows:
Eat. Burp. Diaper. Sleep. Check. Check. Check. Check.
When I needed help I would admit it and ask for it. Real life example- asking my friend Kristy to go to the grocery store with me because I was afraid my newborn might cry or poop. See previous blog for more details. Also meals, laundry, housekeeping help. All things I felt responsible for taking care of but also things, at the beginning, that I just couldn’t keep up with. And help came, through beautiful family and friends and even unexpected acquaintances.
I reached out to other moms and asked them questions. I read books and articles online- although I wouldn’t recommend TOO many books or articles online (unless it’s my blog, of course bwahahaha) because there is a ton of conflicting information out there! But you know what I mean, however you learn, you learn.
And most importantly, I invited God into this. I prayed pretty much the same prayer as for my patients- God, thank you for choosing this child to give to me. Prevent me from making mistakes that could hurt her, Help me treat her as I would treat you, Help me love her care for her and how you love and care for me. I am learning to listen and respond to the nudges when I care for both my kids, and not only tend their growth but mine as well.
I never knew the process was so similar, and until I saw it I never knew how valuable being a stay-at-home mom was for me. In a later post I’ll go into this with more detail. But for now, I feel like I am finally growing into a comfortable place, where everything doesn’t feel so overwhelming, where I feel more confident in my decisions as a parent. I realize in this current parenting gig I still care for the sick, the beautiful. I still have purpose, importance, and value. I am able to start sharing with others, recognizing the same struggles that I had at the beginning and pointing out a few clues in the parenting labyrinth.
You may not be a nurse or a stay-at-home mom like me, but are you experiencing anything that resonates with this process of learning and growth? I’d love to hear about it!
Until next week!
PS- RN= Registered Nurse BSN=Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing MSNE= Master’s of Science in Nursing Education MOM= mom
PSS- I am starting an e-mail list for those of you who would like to be notified of new posts! Keep on the lookout!