Pinning

It all began with a plain piece of 8.5 x 11 paper. A little more than two years ago, a lump sat decidedly in my throat as I nervously opened an envelope from a school. My eyes searched that simple sheet of paper, finding the only words that mattered: “Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into our nursing program.” That summer seemed to crawl by as I anxiously awaited the beginning of my nursing career.

On a late spring evening in 2014, I sported a traditional white scrub dress and goofy-looking cap, as my mother pinned the hard-earned nursing school pin to my chest. I stood before my family, my closest friends, and my classmates as I lit my candle and recited the Nightingale Pledge. I promised to be the best nurse I could be, and to serve my patients above all.

The two years in between were the most difficult I’ve ever endured, and were fraught with more challenges than I’d ever imagined. There were unfair, condescending professors. There was the one instructor who looked me dead in the eye and said, “EMS is for people who aren’t smart enough to get through nursing school.” There were cut-throat classmates. There were absurd policies, forcing students to choose between missing a family member’s funeral or paying $850 to make up their schoolwork privately. There was the ever-looming threat of failure, made all too real by the steady loss of 62% of my classmates. Some friendships drifted apart–some probably irreparably so. There were brutal shifts on the ambulance. There were calls and incidents that shook me to my core and made me question things I was so ignorantly secure in. There was the loss of my only living grandparent–a loss that was unexpected, and occurred with a simultaneously shocking speed and a heartbreaking slowness. There was my father’s diagnosis of cancer. There were plenty of all-nighters, tears, and swearing I could not take another day in this program.

If that dark picture entirely described my two years of nursing school, there’s no way I would have made it. The nursing cap and pins on my bookshelf would never be there. There were people who gave me strength to give it just one more day, to try just one more time. There were professors who pulled me aside and told me I was going to be a great nurse. There were classmates who would vent with me, give me incredible words of wisdom, and drive to Chipotle for dinner while blasting music at an unreasonable level. There were instructors who tried to fight unfair policies that put students in unreasonable positions.  There were new friendships that were forged under the hot stress of school, and older friendships that were strengthened. There were shifts at work that were filled with camaraderie and fun, and were absolutely vital to keeping my sanity. The calls and incidents that had caused me so much pain are sewn into the fiber of my being, making me stronger and wiser than before. And there were calls that reminded me why I love taking care of people so much. The loss of my grandmother brought my family even closer. My father’s illness is allowing me to reorganize my priorities, to think less selfishly. I’m learning to look for the things I can change and help with. And, I’m learning to accept that some things are out of my control. Above all, the love, support, and compassion I’ve received has absolutely astounded me. All I can do is say “Thank you,” although words could never adequately express what these selfless kindnesses have done for me, and what they continue to do.

My nursing pin is a celebration of all that has happened, all I have pushed through, and everyone who was there along the way. It is for the bad as much as it is for the good.

And now, for better and worse, on to the next…

Hey, Guys, I’m Back! Guys! …Guys?

Firstly–Surprise! I’m still alive, functioning, and capable of writing (or what I’m trying to pass off as “writing”, anyway.) Between surviving school, trying to work, dealing with the stresses of caring for a very sick loved one, and other personal craziness, I’ve had pretty much zero time to write. I miss it dearly, and I hope to be writing with much more regularity soon!

But first, some big news! Late this evening, my final grades were posted. And with that, I am both relieved and pleased to report that I am now officially done with nursing school. I graduate and attend my pinning ceremony later this month. Hopefully, within a month or so, I will make the journey to our local testing center, and sit for my boards. And, with a lot of luck, I’ll be working as a nurse while pursuing my BSN this fall.

To describe my nursing school experience (especially this last semester), I’d have to quote a friend of mine. We stood out in the sharp, late-winter evening breeze. She puffed thoughtfully on a cigarette while I quickly vented about the latest school had thrown at me. She exhaled a stream of smoke into the frigid air, before delivering the smoothest verbal combination of wisdom, indestructibility, and indifferent bad-assery.

“When life–especially life with nursing school–punches you square in the face and knocks you flat on your back…you know what you need to do? You need to stand up tall, brush yourself off, spit out the blood and a few loose teeth, and tell Life-With-Nursing School, ‘You hit like a bitch.’ ”

I carried that funny, tough little mantra with me through every obstacle and pitfall. And, here I am. I’m a little worse for wear, but that experience has taught me and changed me so much.

Some of those changes were good. Some were bad. Others, unforeseen; and still more were long awaited for. But one thing that has not changed is my passion for EMS. If anything, working my way through nursing school has reaffirmed my passion for EMS, my drive to figure out that puzzle, and my desire to help people in whatever little way I can. Rest assured, I’ll be in this line of work for the long haul. This is where my heart truly lies. And I really look forward to sharing that with you guys again.

So, thank you so much for all of your patience and support! I’ll have some new things for you to read shortly. Stay safe out there!

I Guess We’ll Find Out

I’ve officially passed in my last final. The backseat of my car still has my duffel bag full of extra scrubs. A dozen or so textbooks and study guides are still sitting on the kitchen table. A few beat up notebooks full of lecture notes are still loaded into my backpack. My laptop is still loaded up with old PowerPoints. And my brain is still guilt-tripping me for indulging in fun things. But, slowly, it’s starting to dawn on me that the year has come to an end.

I’m still reflecting over everything that’s happened. Obviously, I’ve learned a lot about physiology and nursing care. But, as cliche as it may sound, I’ve learned so much about myself, and I’ve grown into a much stronger person.

At the beginning of the year, I found myself crying. Like, a lot. There were two main reasons for this: academic work, and social challenges.

For the most part, school has just been something I’ve been fairly good at. Some people can learn in a classroom, and others can’t. I could, and without too much difficulty. For the first time in my life, I’ve had to really really work at something academically. I couldn’t breeze into the lecture hall on exam day and crank out a decent test score. I spent hours upon hours of studying, hoping to get a grade that would somewhat reflect all the work I’d been putting in.

Like I’ve ranted about so many times before, many of the students were just plain mean. As a pretty sociable person, I’d always been able to make at least one friend wherever I was. But for much of that first semester, I was struggling to even find people to be friendly with. Nursing school was far more cutthroat than I’d anticipated. It ranged from petty name-calling, to blatant verbal attacks. I’m a pretty sensitive person…and suddenly, there was all of this stress and drama, and I had no one to lean on. Well…no one to lean on but myself. But I didn’t realize that at the time.

Many all-nighters, tears, and near-breakdowns later, and I find myself almost finished with this year. One day, right before lecture started up, a few students asked the professor about an assignment that they felt was being graded unfairly. I’ll spare you the boring details, but it basically boiled down to a discrepancy in the rubric. I attempted to help explain the confusion to the professor. As I was the last one who had spoken, the teacher looked directly at me, and, in front of a lecture hall full of students, said this:

“You know, it’s a nurse’s ability to look at the tiny details and draw conclusions. It sounds to me like you’re unable to do this. I don’t know, but I’m not sure how you’re going to make it in the real world without that skill.”

The entire classroom went silent. The professor probably felt attacked, which was totally unintentional. A few months earlier, I would have probably teared up right there, and bowed my head in an ashamed silence, panicked self-doubts running through my head. But, for some unquantifiable, unnameable reason, the past few months had built me into a stronger person. I’m not sure how or when it happened, but it all culminated in that moment. The moment when a crooked half-smile pushed onto my mouth, and I evenly said:

“I guess we’ll find out.”

Somehow, my skin had gotten thicker. My doubts, while still there, were quieter. The process by which this happened was painful. It was exhausting. It was draining. Worse, it wasn’t just that way for me, but for anyone who knew me. Anyone who I trusted enough to share the details of my crippling doubts. To many, I boldly declared that I wanted out of this school; this program that I worked so hard to get into. I came up with a thousand reasons why I didn’t belong, why I couldn’t do it, why I’d never be good enough. I lunged at these opportunities to work in another field, quickly polished them up, held them high and said, “No, this is what I really want to do. I’d much rather do this. I’m going to quit nursing school and do this instead.” But these confidants, they knew me better. They calmed me down. They smoothed out my ruffled feathers. They pulled me into their strong shoulders and let me cry. They listened to me rant about all the “mistreatments” I’d been “enduring,” and spew out self-pitying statements. And, they gave me some little thing to hold onto. They gave me a little push, a little spark, to keep me going just a little bit further. Just when I’d swear I was through and wouldn’t budge one more inch, they’d convince me to take one more baby step. Soon (probably not soon enough for them), I was taking these steps by myself. I’d tell a story or two about school when they asked, but not much more. I learned to rely on myself. I learned to motivate myself, believe in myself, and get through this on my own. And I can’t thank those people enough for what they’ve done. You know who you are.

To all of you who stayed with me throughout this crazy year, to all of you who posted an encouraging word, to all of you who liked or shared one of these posts, and to all of you who contacted me privately…thank you. You’ve helped me grow, strengthen, and change in ways I’m not sure I could ever truly explain. You guys are the best.

As I decompress over the next few days and start to soak in my newfound freedom, I’m sure I’ll come up with more self-examining posts. It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and I haven’t beaten this dead horse nearly enough.

So, again, thank you.

Finals Week

 

 

 

Chocolate

 

Why, yes, it IS finals week! How did you know?

This, incidentally, is just the junk food I have left over. I’m hardly even mildly ashamed of this. What can I say? I like to give all that stress-related cortisol something to work with.

Anyone, posts will be kind of spotty until I have officially survived my first year of nursing school. I know, spotty has been kind of my new norm lately, but I hope to change that soon. I’ve got plenty of things I’m looking forward to writing about.

Anyway, thanks for your continued support! Wish me luck! See you on the other side 🙂

An Eraser-Free Exam

Everyone takes tests differently, using different strategies and tactics. When I take an exam, I try not to change an answer after I put it down on paper, unless I realize I read the question wrong. In fact, I rarely go back and review my exam for this reason…I always psych myself out. And, usually, this strategy works out well for me.

One friend, however, does the exact opposite. She essentially takes the test twice. She goes back, reads through her answers, panics, and changes like half of them. When the tests are returned to us, she finds that her score would easily be 10 points higher if she hadn’t changed her answers.

“You’ve got to stop doing that. You know this stuff. Just trust that you do, finish your test, and turn it in. Be done with it,” I tell her.

“I know. I’m trying. I just get so panicked when I’m taking the test!” She says, nervously drumming her fingers on the desk.

Our teacher is going around, passing out exams to each of us. She also hands us a simple calculator and a pencil. She comes around to our row, and methodically sets down a paper exam on the desk. Then comes the calculator. Finally, she passes a pencil to my friend. And, without any warning, smoothly pulls out a pair of scissors and cuts the eraser clean off the top of it. She winks at my friend, and carries on as if nothing ever happened.

My friend and I exchanged glances, with wide eyes and shocked smiles. Did that really just happen?

But, hey, it worked out. My friend got a 90 on that exam.

Teachers can be pretty cool, even if their methods seem a little crazy at first.

Unprofessionalism in Education

We’re gonna play a little game today. Yep. You and me. I’m going to write a quote here that took place at school the other day, and you’re going to guess who said it. Okay? Great!

“So Elise emails me this question the other night, asking me about complications of placenta abruptio. (laughs) Seriously? How do you not know this? Like, really? How about bleeding out, Elise? That’s gonna be a pretty big problem pretty quick if you don’t see what’s so wrong with having placenta abruptio. I can’t believe she asked me that.”

You probably have a decent picture in your head. Some mouthy nursing student (similar to ones I’ve previously posted about here and here) that has nothing better to do with her time than put down the others, most likely because she’s insecure herself. But you’d be wrong.

That quote was from one of our teachers.

That really grinds my gears. I am somewhat shy, but I used to be much much worse. Speaking from experience, shy people can get incredibly uncomfortable about asking questions in a public forum (ie, a classroom.) Why? Because we’re afraid everyone’s going to think we’re stupid. At least that was my fear. So emailing a question is a nice, private way of learning while successfully avoiding judgement. Right?

Wrong, apparently. I guess now it’s okay to make a mockery of a student by name–who fully intended to speak with you privately–and flaunt it to other students. I’m proud to say that none of the students in this room so much as chuckled. No one said anything. We all just stared at her, occasionally exchanged glances with others, and waited for her to finish her rant. When she was done, there was an instantaneous understanding amongst all the students in the room. We could never feel comfortable asking her questions without fear of her making fun of it to other students. Creating an environment that discourages questions from being asked is to essentially kill off the possibility of gaining a full and comfortable understanding of subject material. Inquiries are at the heart of learning. And now, everyone is afraid to ask. Super.

I’m completely disappointed and continuously discouraged every time something like this happens. To any of you educators out there, I am begging you…please never do something like this to your students. Ever.

Are You Taught To Hate Your Field?

Why on earth is the healthcare provider education system so hell bent on burning people out before they’ve even got their license in hand?

At least that’s the way it seems. Maybe it’s just a regional thing. Maybe all the schools in my area are teaching using similar techniques, and all the teachers subscribe to a similar mindset. Or maybe I’ve officially lost my mind (I am certainly not ruling that out).

This post is going to mostly be about nursing school, because that’s what I’ve experienced. But, any new-grad paramedic I know has talked about similar problems.

For any of you that actually read my rambling, babbling, nonsensical drawl, you know that I am unhappy in nursing school. Yes, I do feel absolutely miserable. Every week, I find myself up in the wee hours of the morning on the verge of a mental meltdown. Every drive to school is filled with anxiety, and every drive home is filled with discouragement. It feels almost like a trap some days. The further into the program I get, the worse I feel, but the more obligated I feel to finish it. At my worst, I find myself panicky, physically sick, unable to sleep, and waking up with horribly graphic and disturbing nightmares. Sometimes I start wondering why I ever decided to go into nursing. In my stress, I start to look for other careers I could do. Maybe I’ll find my calling in something else. In the past, I’ve considered going to paramedic school. Currently, I have some wild aspiration to go into law enforcement…which I’m sure would be greatly discouraged by anyone who actually knows me. I have to stop and wonder if these aspirations are real, or if I’m just looking into them because it’s something other than what I’m going through right now.

I’m in an associate’s degree program, so it’s only 2 years long. Most paramedic programs are about that long as well. It’s a short amount of time in which to learn a lot of important things. It’s not like earning a typical degree…after we get out of school, our decisions could greatly impact the lives of others. The stakes are very high, and it’s incredibly important to learn as much as we can in the short time that we have. Maybe these programs are just too short to be reasonable. I find that students in these shorter healthcare degrees/certification programs are just so stressed out and inundated with schoolwork that they find themselves discouraged or disliking the career they are about to enter. It’s heartbreaking to work so hard towards something, and then to be almost directed to hate it.

Maybe I just don’t love my potential career enough. Maybe I’m not dedicated enough. And like I mentioned before, maybe it’s purely a regional thing. Regardless, something should change here. Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s the healthcare system. Or perhaps something in between.

Are any of you having problems similar to this? Or did I really just plain old lose my mind.

Quote of the Day

My professor during my maternity lecture:

“Let me just tell you now that I really don’t recommend Googling ‘nipple pinch test.’ I had a very specific result in mind…and it certainly wasn’t what came up.”

Instead of asking, “Why?”

You don’t have to be an EMT to experience tragedy. Although, we tend to bear witness to it more often. We are professionals at maintaining a level of calmness in the face of crisis. We were called to help, to fix, to save, to salvage; not to participate. We protect our bodies with gloves. We protect our psyches with adrenaline and “it’s not my emergency.”

After the adrenaline subsides and the call is over, you’re left with the aftermath. Sometimes the stories can’t be stripped off with your gloves, or the memories thrown away with the syringe wrappers. Sometimes they stay with you. In this messy and hectic career, you’re bound to get some of the shards of people’s lives embedded in your skin. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something massive and catastrophic. Your partner on that call may not even remember it today. These stories stay with everyone for different reasons.

Eventually in your career, you will find yourself carrying around a few faces, names, dates, or addresses forever. And they will not all be war stories you will flaunt or boast.

With many of these stories comes a simple and powerful question: “Why?” It’s a big impenetrable wall between you and (what you assume will be) peace. If you ever find the answer, it may not be good enough to excuse or explain what happened. More often than not, though, the answer will never come. It will never be clear.  “Why” will haunt your dreams and shadow your days. You will bludgeon yourself with it over and over in dizzying circles, searching for answers that may never come, only to find yourself exactly where you started–if not even worse off. You will kill yourself with “why”.

I try to make peace with my “why’s.” In fact, I try not to ask the question at all. Instead of asking, “Why?” I try to say “Thank you.” Thank you for giving me the chance to help you. Thank you for letting me learn from this, and using it to help my patients in the future. Thank you for asking me to be there to do the best I could at that time with those resources. Thank you for allowing me to look at what I have.

I have a warm bed. I have a roof over my head–and a fairly nice one at that. I live in a safe community. I work at a job I love, and one that challenges me every day. I work with awesome coworkers that I care very much for. They make me laugh and grow, support me, challenge me, and encourage me. Although I complain about it, I’m well on my way to a great and exciting career as a nurse/paramedic. I have a knack for writing. I have a blog that people read, and has allowed me to make connections and friends I never would have dreamed of. I have a wonderful family that cares about and for me. I have friends that love me. As for the things I do not have: I have tomorrows to earn and attain them. I am not perfect, but I am better, and I am enough.

Scary Semester–Begin!

If you’ve been following/putting up with my whining lately, you’ll know I’ve been seriously debating leaving nursing school and going to paramedic school. Thanks to you, some good friends, and my family, I’ve decided to stick it out and finish nursing school. I think I’ll always see myself as an EMT. It’s become a huge part of my life, and a big piece of my identity. For a whole host of reasons, I figured I might as well get my RN now while I’m in the program, and bridge over to paramedic when I’m out–quite possibly through Creighton, which I hear is a phenomenal program. First things first though. Gotta buckle down and survive nursing school.

About half of our class from last semester made the cut to this semester. However, our class size is back up to the original starting number, because of transfer students and people having to retake these particular classes. Speaking of which, guess what my classes are this semester? My two least favorite things! Pedi’s and OB! Yayyyyyy!

Pedi’s scare me to death. In my 2.5-ish year EMS career, I think I’ve had maybe 4 or 5 pedi calls. Until I get to know them, I get nervous around healthy children, to be totally honest. I never know how to act. I do my best, but I spend a lot of time wondering, “Was that okay? Do they like me? Do they trust me?” and basically over-analyzing everything. My pedi clinical will be filled with very very sick kids, most of them who are unable to communicate. That scares me. A lot. On the bright side, I did recently take care of a friend’s kids for a few hours, and all of the kids (and myself) are still alive and happy. Not to brag (seriously…there’s nothing here to brag about. Like, at all), but it went much better than I expected, and we all had a great time.

As for OB/Maternity, learning about all the things that go wrong (and, okay, even all the things that go right!) with a pregnancy, labor, and delivery makes me squirm a little in my seat. I think I’d like to get married and settle down and do the whole family thing one day in the pretty distant future…until I have maternity lecture. It just…ugh. It sounds so painful. And…well…squirm inducing. Let me tell you, the quickest fix for that “Aww, all the rest of my friends are in relationships and having children. I’m so jealous” bug is a 3 hour maternity lecture. There have been a couple moments where I’ve wondered why anyone ever has kids. Ever.

That probably makes me out to sound horribly immature and childish. Fine. I have no problem putting on my big girl pants and helping with an OB call or a delivery or whatever. But that’s when you have the adrenaline pumping, and you simply have a job to do. Learning about it? Simply not enough adrenaline flowing through my veins to make that completely comfortable.

So, that’s where I’m at. I’ll keep you posted. Hoping actually starting my clinical will ease my anxiety about some of this stuff, but it’s not looking likely. I feel like I’m the only one that’s going to have a hard time with this, seeing how the majority of my classmates are parents and have done this themselves already. I feel wayy behind, even when we’ve just barely started. Here’s to hoping I can keep up! My goal is to end this semester feeling much more comfortable with both of those specialties.

Thanks for being there for me through all this!