Monday, July 7, 2014

Saying Goodbyes

I only have five shifts left at the only hospital where I've been a certified nursing assistant then a patient care technician and finally a registered nurse.

It was all a dream 7 years ago.

I was working in Washington state as a development associate (aka fundraiser) when I realized that I needed to do something else.

In high school, I wrote my first research paper on the destruction of rain forests in the Amazon.

That was it.

My second research paper was about Greenpeace, and my high school English teacher introduced me to Edward Abbey's, "The Monkey Wrench Gang." (I never was an extreme environmentalist, but to a high school girl in a town of 3800 in southern Illinois...I was excited and energized by this new world that was foreign to me.)

I was introduced to a part of me that I never knew existed. I was overwhelmed and emotional and passionate about protecting our environment. One day I was going to work for an environmental non-profit. What I would be doing, I had no idea.

When Singles came out on video, I rented it. I think after I watched it, I was in a post-movie emotionally-vulnerable state. I was probably quiet and contemplative. I might have even gone for a walk in my small hometown in my blue flannel plaid shirt.

My goal? One day I would have a job like Linda Powell's (Kyra Sedwick).

That movie (even if it's dated) is still one of my favorite movies.

Like Linda Powell (Bridget Fonda), I often would think to myself (paraphrased), "If I can throw this crumpled paper towel, and it makes it into the garbage, that means that so and so likes me. Ok...two out of three." well as..."I like it when someone says...bless you."

I moved to Washington state to pursue a college education on environmental studies. I thought it was the. best. place for my passion. My family was mostly supportive (even though this new fascination of mine was probably a bit mind-boggling).

I ended up getting a job like Linda Powell's. In Seattle. In an awesome historical building in the same office space that Greenpeace had once rented. My job wasn't scientific, but it was for an environmental non-profit.

A few years later when I was working for that same non-profit, I found myself in front of the apartment building featured in Singles. I have to admit that I was ridiculously excited about knocking on doors and telling people about the non-profit where I worked.

While working for that non-profit, I ended up meeting many kindred spirits and friends who are still dear to me. One of those kindred spirits loved the movie Singles, too. We also had the same love for an obscure poem by Sara Teasdale - "There Will Come Soft Rains" and often became contemplative and quiet after watching emotional movies.

Fast-forward six years and five positions later (after being laid off because of financial director mismanagement), I secured a job in the same building. In the only other office on the 5th floor. Which also used to house Greenpeace.

Then after two more years of fundraising with the addition of auction-planning, I wanted more. I wanted to help people more directly. The further I became involved with environmental non-profits, the less connected I felt to people. The logical next step in my career would have been pursuing a position as a development director, but I had no interest in asking rich people for lots of money. Give me a neighborhood of average income people and $15-$35 donations (and the occasional $100, $250, or $1000 donation), and I could raise some money. A neighborhood of well-to-do folks? Generally they aren't as keen on door-to-door fundraisers. I usually failed miserably in those areas.


In high school, I contemplated the field of nursing for a high school assignment researching a potential future profession (this assignment was BRP - before the research papers). But, I wanted to push the envelope. I was a small-town girl who wanted to break free. I didn't want to play the flute in band. It was the obvious choice. What did I choose to play? The French horn. Nurse? I shrugged that off as "too traditional." Environmental advocate? That seemed much more racy.

Eight years later? I was done with racy. I still loved environmental issues, hiking, moss, hot springs, camping trips on the oceans...but I didn't want to have to defend to others what I did for a living anymore. I'm a peace-maker and don't like confrontation. My profession often came up in conversations, and I often felt like I was defending what I did for a living. The thought of an uncontroversial position was really tempting.

The organization where I was working advocated for limiting the toxics in our environment. It looked at the relationship between chemicals in our environment and our health. That was the link I hadn't realized I was seeking.

My thoughts kept leading me in the direction of becoming a registered nurse.

Health. Helping others. I had flashbacks to being in high school in the library researching the nursing profession. I thought of many people who I most admired, and many of them were nurses.

Yes. Nursing. Of course.

My sister's family was moving to Arizona and invited me to live with them while going back to school to switch careers. While I had an incredible support system of friends in Seattle, I was single and couldn't imagine ever affording a house of my own in Seattle. I packed up my apartment (with the most awesome packing crew EVER. I'll still never forget my beautiful friends who helped me pack & CLEAN!! Teri - I'll always remember that even though I didn't know you very well that you scrubbed my kitchen for me. It still makes me shake my head in amazement that you cleaned my kitchen. I never liked that part of moving.) and carried my two kitties into the cab of a Penske truck. I was off on the adventure of a lifetime.

I had no idea what all the next few months would hold - living with my nephews, sister, and her husband; taking a CNA class; working at Starbucks; meeting my future husband through eHarmony (while I didn't know it at the time, he also worked for Starbucks); and starting a job as a CNA.

I was hired on the rehabilitation unit of the hospital. Up until then, I only thought rehab meant drug and alcohol rehab. I didn't know how many patients I would meet and how many lives I would touch (and how many lives would touch mine) as I worked with patients (and their family members) who had experienced strokes, heart attacks, traumatic brain injuries, motorcycle accidents, car accidents, falls, aneurysms, brain bleeds, fractures....and the list goes on. Helping people? I had definitely signed up for the right profession.

It's all that I've known as a nurse. My patients and my job still give me goosebumps and bring me to tears - goosebumps when a patient comes back and is a totally different (in an amazing way) person than the one I cared for in the hospital bed; tears when comforting family members through life-thrashing experiences and when my empathy gets the better of me. Even today I was brought to tears when I listened to a family talk about their health and financial situation & wished I could do more or wave a magic wand and make everything (and everyone) better.

The first time I realized that stroke patients didn't always recover 100% was a shocking experience. It was one of the first stroke patients who came back to see us (since I had started). I had somehow been under the illusion that patients left us and kept getting better and better (which they do...just not often to 100%). His arm was in a sling because he never regained function. We're really good on our unit, but we aren't capable of miracles & we aren't God. My naiveté left that day, but I still want to imagine that my patients will all get better. Since most of them do to some extent, it makes it that much harder when a patient doesn't get better.

Tonight I sit typing at my computer after working four 12 hour shifts in six days. I'm physically & emotionally exhausted. My work is draining, rewarding, amazing, sobering, and so much that I can't put into words. And, I'm so thankful and proud to say that I'm a rehabilitation nurse.

I've already worked for the last time with some of my coworkers (I can feel the tears brimming), and I hate that I'll have to say a lot of goodbyes over the next five shifts (and that I might have worked with someone for the last time and not realized it.)

One of the things I don't like about moving? It's saying the goodbyes. It's so hard.

Because no matter how much you want to stay in touch and stay connected, it's not going to be the same. It doesn't mean it won't be good, it's just different.

So, here's my goodbye. It's so much safer and less vulnerable at my kitchen table in front of my laptop.

Thank you to all of you who I've worked with during my time as a nursing assistant and nurse. All of my patients. All of my coworkers. All of the students. All of the doctors and physician assistants and nurse practitioners. I've learned something from all of you. My life will never be the same.

Thank you.

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