I am a Nurse

A couple of years ago, my dad was getting ready to move, and so he needed to go through all the stuff our family had collected over the twenty years or so that we had lived in that house. I came across a pile of mementos from my grade eight graduation. One of the things our teachers had done for us graduates was ask the younger kids what they thought we would be when we grew up. When asked about me, one of the children had responded with ‘pediatrician’- ooh, so close, kid! I am not a pediatrician, and though I have nothing but respect and admiration for the many pediatricians I know and work with, I would not want to be one. Because I am a nurse.

To me, and to many of my colleagues, nursing is not just a job. It is not just a profession. It is a calling. It is part of who you are at your very core. I did not get into nursing for glory or for money. I did it because I felt called to it.

I think I first realized I wanted to be a nurse when I listened to my sister’s stories about nursing school. Something deep inside me said, “You would be good at that. You should be a nurse.” But I was too scared to listen to that voice at that time.

A short while later, my mom’s health went into steep decline. She spent years in and out of hospital. In all that time, as much as I appreciated the care she received from the physicians on her health care team, I could see that it was the nurses who had the most impact on her health and on her quality of life. They were the ones who made sure she got her showers or bed baths (my mom adored her showers and hated to go more than a day without bathing). They made sure her medications were tailored to reflect the latest lab results. They talked to her and to us and they listened and they advocated. One of my mom’s good friends, Lise, was a nurse, and she went above and beyond the call of duty by coming to our house to my mom’s bloodwork so that Mom wouldn’t have to venture out to a lab- an outing that could take her days to recover from. Lise did that, not just because she was Mom’s friend, but because that is what nurses do.

Over the years, as I saw, time and time again, the positive impact that nurses had on my mom and our family, that voice inside me got louder and more insistent until I finally couldn’t ignore it anymore- I applied to a nursing program and I am now living my dream- truly, I am. I wish my mom had lived to see my graduate, but I feel her presence with me, and I know she would be happy and proud.

Nursing is not glamorous. There are no red carpets, unless you count sheets stained with the blood of the patient who fought you like crazy when you were inserting their IV. There are no fans clamouring for autographs, only patients asking for help. There are no endorsement deals, just overtime because you cared for an acutely ill patient and supported their family. And I love it, because I am a nurse.

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January

Oh, January. It is by far my least favourite month. Most years, January and I are not friends. It is cold and grey and dismal and cold and depressing and cold and there’s the post-holiday letdown to deal with and did I mention that it’s cold? The past few years in particular I have found January to be especially difficult, for all these reasons and more. This year, though, things are different. It’s January, and I actually feel…happy.

It is a strange sensation for me to feel happy in January. Ok, yes, there was a little blip in my mood last week, but that is behind me now. Some days, I get lost in thought, thinking about how well things are going at the moment and about how content I am feeling and then I look at the calendar and can’t believe that I am feeling this way in January. I have attributed my elevated mood to several factors:

1. The back-to-work transition has gone really well. I was very worried about how it would all work out, and it actually couldn’t have gone better. Penelope is happy with our nanny, Mark is dealing with the morning chaos like a champ, and I love being back at work. My part-time position is providing me with a great balance of feeling fulfilled with my career and still enabling me to stay on top of things around the house. I am lucky to have a job that I love, and the support I have received from my coworkers has been incredible.

2. The weather this January has been tolerable. Yes, there have been some very cold days, but there have been warmer days mixed in there. We recently had a thaw, so although it’s cold, there isn’t even much snow or ice here at the moment. This means that I don’t have to worry about trying to finagle the stroller through mounds of snow and ice, which is not an easy feat. Last year was terrible- the sidewalks were so treacherous, even the short walk to drop Charlotte off at preschool was a complicated endeavour.

3. My healthy lifestyle initiative has given me more energy and boosted my self-esteem. I can now fit into clothes that I haven’t been able to wear in years. I have improved my tolerance for high-intensity cardio activities and it feels great to go to a class like Body Attack and be able to keep up with the instructor. This is the longest I have kept up with a fitness regime and I’m proud of the way I have been able to fit this into my busy life.

These three factors add up to something which I haven’t experienced in some time: freedom. I am no longer Penelope’s main care provider. Mark, our nanny, and my in-laws are all very involved in her care now, and I can spend time outside the house without worrying. I am enjoying returning to my role as a nurse- I mean, I have a job where the dress code is basically pajamas and running shoes. It is THE BEST! The nice(er) weather means that I can go outside with the girls fairly easily, and we don’t have to spend days cooped up in the house. And my improved level of fitness has freed me from the feelings of shame and guilt that plagued me before I started trying to get healthy.

Hanging out with Penelope after work

Hanging out with Penelope after work

So right now, I am feeling free and happy and I’m going to enjoy it. I don’t know what is around the corner, but that’s okay. Good or bad, I am able to handle it. And anyway, it won’t be long til it’s spring, and who can’t be happy about that?

How can I not be happy right now?

How can I not be happy right now?

Day One

I was prepared for the worst- truly, I was. I was prepared to receive frantic texts and phone calls, from both Mark and the nanny. I was prepared to hear that Charlotte was late for school and Mark was late for work and that Penelope cried all day and didn’t nap. But you know what? None of those things happened.

My first day back at work went about as well as possible. Mark seemed to easily cope with the morning rush. I don’t think Charlotte even noticed that I was at work. Penelope was happy and playful with the nanny all day, though she did burst into tears as soon as she saw me, as if she felt like she needed to make me feel bad for leaving her all day. I didn’t feel like I was going to collapse with exhaustion the moment I got home- I was able to get lunches packed for the next day and dinner on the table and things tidied up before that happened.

And as far as work went: I felt like I had been away forever and yet nothing had changed. Well, actually, one thing had changed- me. I am a different person than I was before I went on maternity leave. I am a different nurse. Before I had Penelope, I would have said that caring for babies with feeding issues and NG tubes was one of my weaker areas- now, it is the strongest. I have a different perspective on things. I am more patient and understanding of parents who have a lot of questions and concerns about the care we are providing for their child. I know what it is like to be in their position, and I know that most of them are just trying to figure out what is best for their little one. That’s not to say I wasn’t patient and understanding before, I am just better able to truly understand where these parents are coming from.

I think about the health care providers who didn’t listen to my concerns about my baby and who dismissed my worries as those of an overtired, anxious mother, and I remember how awful it made me feel. I felt isolated, overwhelmed, and helpless. And then I think about the doctors and nurses who did listen to me and who treated me with kindness, empathy, and respect, and I remember how that helped an awful situation feel less terrible. I felt comforted, empowered, and confident that my child was being given the best care. And that is the kind of nurse I vow to be. I want the parents of my patients to feel that they are being listened to, and to believe that their child is receiving the best and most appropriate care.

I am hoping that things will continue to go smoothly, but I am also remaining prepared to face bumps in the road, both at home and at work. It does feel good, though, that my return to work has so far gone well. I think my biggest challenge will be to not compare Penelope to every baby I see at the hospital. It’s just not helpful for anyone, and I need to set that aside. Today, I am enjoying spending time with her, and looking forward working again later this week.

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This Is It

It’s official. My maternity leave is coming to a close, after eighteen months off work. A couple days ago, if you had asked me how I was feeling about my impending return to work, I would have told you I was a bit nervous about making the transition, but overall felt fine about it. By Saturday evening, however, my confidence in my decision had wavered significantly, and I started feeling increasingly anxious about this upcoming change in our lives.

I’m not sure what triggered the change in my attitude. One minute I was feeling great about all of it, and the next I was almost in tears at the thought of leaving Penelope with another caregiver. I just felt completely overwhelmed and stressed out by the magnitude of the situation.

What if I have made the wrong decisions? What if Penelope is unhappy with the change and she regresses? What if the chaos of the morning rush is too stressful for Mark when I’m working days? What if I’m not working enough hours for paying a nanny to be financially viable? What if, what if, what if?

Once these thoughts entered my head, there was no stopping the tidal wave of anxiety that followed. Every worst case scenario ran through my head, along with the memory of every bad decision I’ve ever made, which provided proof that I make bad decisions and that this would turn out to be a disaster. My favourite imaginary outcome involves Mark having a meltdown while trying to deal with the morning time-crunch, and the nanny attempting to sell Penelope on the black market. I did not get much sleep on Saturday night, and when I woke up to darkened skies and pouring rain, I felt that Mother Nature was illustrating my anguish.

As the day wore on, I sunk deeper and deeper into my funk. Mark tried to reassure me that everything would work out okay, but it felt kind of hard to believe him when he had difficulty getting out of the house to get Charlotte to soccer at 10 a.m. I felt lost, scared, and overwhelmed. Desperate for a distraction, I headed out to the gym once Penelope was down for her nap.

Honestly, the minute I started to feel overcome with anxiety, I should have headed to the gym. The workout completely changed my mood and my perspective. Somewhere in between sweating through my cardio workout and working on my core exercises, I became calm again. I could see that I was worrying too much about all of this. Not only are those worst case scenarios unlikely to come true, but even if things aren’t working out for whatever reason, we can always reassess the situation and find a different solution that will work for our family.

And so I will head into work this morning with relative calm. I will resist the urge to text the nanny every five minutes to find out if everything is okay. As most of you are reading this, I will probably already be at work, trying to shake the dust off my nursing skills.

I will miss these faces, though.

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The Decision

I started my maternity leave on July 5, 2013. When I left, I fully expected to return to work after the leave expired in a year. A lot happened over the course of that year, though, and as the year drew to a close, I knew I was not yet ready to go back. I am very fortunate to have an employer that was more than willing to accommodate an extension on my leave. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to go back.

There have been a lot of ups and downs in the five months since I extended my leave. Penelope had her G-tube inserted, and is really turning into a sweet and happy baby. She is now at a point where I feel like I can leave her to go back to work. I miss my job, and I know I have a lot to offer as a nurse after everything we have dealt with since Penelope’s birth. I looked into many different daycare options and chose an arrangement that I feel will work best for Penelope and our family right now. I will return to my part-time position in pediatrics on January 5, 2015 (exactly 18 months after I started my maternity leave) and we will have a nanny here part-time to care for Penelope. I regretfully had to leave my position in the Genetics department because juggling two jobs is just not feasible right now.

I am excited and nervous about this upcoming change in our lives. I hope I have made the right decision. I am vowing to be flexible about it- if it doesn’t seem like it’s working out for any reason, I will re-evaluate the situation and find a different solution.

Over these next few weeks I will be soaking up my last moments on leave. I will prepare for this change as best I can. Oh, and I guess I should start digging out those scrubs I have packed away…somewhere. It may take me a good chunk of my remaining time off to find them, because of course, I did not label the box they are in, thinking, “I will totally remember where I put them!” I never learn, do I?

Big changes ahead, but she doesn't seem too worried about it

Big changes ahead, but she doesn’t seem too worried about it

Instincts

When Charlotte was born, I was amazed at how instinctual her behavior was. Before she came along, I worried about how I would teach her things. How will I teach her to eat? How will she know what to do? I thought about it all the time. I was reassured by people that she would just know what to do, but I didn’t really believe them- it seemed impossible to me. And yet, that is exactly what happened. Okay, sure, there were a few bumps in the road with breastfeeding at the start, but her instincts (and mine) took over, and we figured out how to make it work together. I was constantly in awe of how this little baby somehow just knew that we were her parents and she trusted us to take care of her. All the things I had worried about teaching her- eating, crawling, walking, talking, and even toilet training- happened much more naturally that I had thought possible. It became crystal clear to me that human beings are born with instincts on how to survive and grow.

What happens to those instincts as we get older? My instincts are still present, but I now possess the ability to doubt myself, and I constantly silence my instincts. At home, at work, everywhere- I just can’t seem to trust myself anymore. Working as a nurse, I might have a feeling about what was wrong with a patient, but I often lacked the confidence to voice those feelings, especially as a newly practicing nurse. When Penelope was born, I immediately felt that things were not right with her, but for months, I let others convince me that everything was fine. And of course, as it turns out, I was right. Just yesterday, I had to replace Penelope’s NG tube when it got pulled out, and when I was checking the placement of the tube, I felt that something was not right, but I still wasn’t confident in my instincts. Luckily, my aunt, who is a nurse and who knows me very well, could tell that I was unsure about the placement of the tube, and helped me figure it out. We pulled out the tube again, and saw that the end had coiled back on itself- so once again, my instincts were bang-on, and yet I doubted myself.

A rare photo of Penelope without the tube after it came out yesterday

A rare photo of Penelope without the tube after it came out yesterday

Am I alone in this? How do people silence their doubts and tune out the negative voices to really trust themselves? What will it take for me to be able to do this?

One thing I know for sure- when I return to work, I will strive to always take a parent’s instincts about what is happening with their child very seriously. I will strive to never dismiss it as the ramblings of an overly anxious parent, the way in which I was dismissed.

I hope that I can overcome this self-doubt that has plagued me. I hope I can gain the confidence to trust my instincts again. I hope I can find a way to do this.