Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fear, Faith, and the Pasta Sauce Aisle

“Today is so full of blessings!”
That’s what I exclaimed to Matty yesterday afternoon as we sat at Starbucks after my loooong day of orientation. Just a couple hours later, he was rubbing my back as I cried in the pasta sauce aisle at Walmart, because I was overwhelmed and missed my mom.
And if all that isn’t an accurate representation of these past couple months, I don’t know what is.
Truly, for as much change as these past few months have brought me, they’ve brought equal doses of mood swings—overwhelmed by blessings, then fear, peace, fatigue, excitement, doubt... I’ve gone through more attitude adjustments than I’d care to recount. And I’ve learned and grown. I’m still terrified of what’s ahead—of being an RN and getting an apartment and getting married—but God relentlessly assures me, through countless ways, that I am exactly where He wants me. That I’ve been in daunting situations before, and He has always proven Himself faithful. He may not provide in the way I expect or the way I think I want Him to, but I can rejoice in the knowledge that His way is always, always best.
I’ll be starting on a Palliative care floor—a far cry from anything I ever thought I wanted; yet I find myself excited. I feel such assurance that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. And I think most of that assurance comes from the fact that the circumstances that got me this job were so clearly orchestrated by God and not by me.
On July 29th, right before I opened the envelope that would tell me whether I got a job at Lakeland Regional or not, I prayed, “Lord, whatever is in this envelope is Your best for me. Help me to have peace in that, even if Your best isn’t what I was wanting. Help me know that this is your will—because it is.” I opened that letter to find out that I had not been hired on at LRH; instead, I was put on a waiting list. And in that moment, amidst the pain and confusion and humiliation, it was like God was urging me—“THIS IS my best for you. You have to see that I am in control here—not you. Your will is not mine, and I’m forcing you to have to trust me more. I will provide—My ways are higher than yours.” And, to be honest, my response was, “I know God—but that doesn’t mean that I like it.”
Then, through God’s hand (and He used the body of Christ to provide in a beautiful way), I got a job at LRH. On a Palliative and Acute Care floor. I wanted women’s health or pediatrics or emergency department—and I got Palliative care. But because God provided in a way that was so obviously through His mighty power and not my own faulty will, I have such peace that this floor is the best possible floor for me at this time of my life—that He has some great things to teach me there.

Yet I’m still terrified. I still sit in my orientation sessions thinking, “I take it back—I take the past two years back. Please let me just go be a barista at a coffee shop or something. I can’t do this.” But I also wanted to quit after my first semester of nursing school, but God provided. And these past two years have shown me His provision in ways I had never experienced before. So even though I’m so nervous I want to turn off my 4:45 AM alarm and pretend that I never decided to be a nurse, I’ll set that alarm. I’ll get up tomorrow morning and put on my crisp black scrubs. I’ll clip my name badge on and look with disbelief and overwhelming gratitude at the words “Registered Nurse” under my name. I’ll go to my new floor and meet my manager. I will be scared. And I will find, like I do every day, that God’s mercies are new every morning—great is His faithfulness. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Yours Honestly, NS: The biggest lie about nursing school

We’ve all heard it, and the majority of us have said it: “I have no life—I’m in nursing school,” “Nursing school is my life,” “I have no life outside of nursing school,” or some variation. We say it as a complaint, but, deep down, we all kind of wish it were true. Because, even deeper down, we all know it’s not. No matter how much we wish we could just take these couple years and tackle this torment that is nursing school, life insists on continuing around us—and we are forced to keep up.
Ben Rector (my favourite artist, but that’s irrelevant), has a song that states (pardon the terminology), “Here’s the truth: life sucks sometimes. When it hurts so bad that you can’t go on, life keeps moving on.” I wish that all I had to deal with were nursing school. I wish that I didn’t have other aspects of life to handle as well—but I do. I have relationships to maintain, I have work to go to, I have dishes to put away. Sometimes we feel like all those are put on hold, but they’re not. Every mother in the program that has to care for her sick child when she could be studying for a test knows that. The one whose house was destroyed by a natural disaster… the one whose family member died… the one whose family member was rushed to the hospital… the one who got engaged…the one who broke up…. They all know it. We all know it. Life won’t stop, so neither can we.
I don’t mean to be pessimistic—it’s not just the bad stuff that butts its head in. It’s the good stuff, too. Sometimes, it means forfeiting study time so you can go see one of your best friends get married. Or to babysit your nephew. Or, for some, to have a child (those girls are straight up HEROES). “If it’s good or bad, if it’s slow or fast: life keeps moving on." 
Sometimes, you have to say, “this test is important, but this person is more important.” Because we know, in 20 years, we won’t care if that test was a 70 or an 80. We’ll care that we have precious memories with the people that we love. I’ve yet to regret a movie night or cup of coffee that I’ve squeezed into my schedule.
So, new nursing students or those who aspire to be ones—don’t believe the lie. Yes, when school starts, you’ll be busy. You will have to sacrifice a lot. You’ll feel, at times, that all you are is a nursing student and that’s all you ever do. But it’s not. And life will make sure you find that out. So be prepared for the bad; be excited for the good. Life will find it’s way into all the mess of assignments and tests—and you can do it. You can cry yourself to sleep one night and get up and do school the next (you may need a power nap, but you’ll make it). Don’t feel guilty when you do something other than school—you need that. You are human. And you are more—much more—than a nursing student. No one that has gone before you has been perfect—so don’t feel like you need to be. Sometimes life hits you like a truck; sometimes, life makes you feel like you're flying. “And it’s beautiful and tragic, different verse but same old song. Sometimes the only thing you learn is that life keeps moving on.”

Yours honestly, NS.


(all lyrics from Ben Rector’s “Life Keeps Moving On”)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Yours Honestly, NS: Fragile Facades

            I believe one of the most challenging things about being in nursing school is how little anyone can relate to you besides nurses and other nursing students. The moment nursing school begins, you’re plunged headfirst into a world—an education system—extremely different from any you have ever experienced before. Some of the differences are subtle, others outstanding; they compound to mold you and change the way you view yourself. Before, classes were gen-eds. The most set-apart were the sciences, but you were still among various majors. Aside from college acceptance and a passing grade in any pre-required class, there was nothing weeding people out of your classes; the levels of academic fervour amongst the students were significantly varied. However, when you look at the faces around you in nursing school, you know that each and every one of those people earned his/her seat, just like you did. They had to have gotten good grades and a good TEAS score to make it into a program this competitive. You’re looking at fellow “top of the class” students, so there’s nothing particularly special about you anymore. Unless you’re completely consumed with your grades and very forthright about your vigor for the class (there are those students), you’re just another good student working hard to do well. Yes, a hierarchy develops; not everyone is on the same plane. As I said, you still have your go-hard grade-obsessors (you can refuse to believe me, but I am not amongst them), and there are those who are barely scraping it out. But the middle class is vast and is made up of those who were likely once viewed as “top-notch” students. Everyone in the class is smart, though not all in the same way. You never realize how much you were accustomed to being the top of the class until you’re just another number in the middle.
            Then there’s the fact that nursing abilities are not the same as academic abilities. Yes, you need to be strong intellectually to be able to do nursing, but test grades coming easily is no indication that nursing skills will. It does not help that I did not grow up around any nurses, nor have I nor any of my family members ever been hospitalized for any substantial amount of time (at least, not during my lifetime). Because of this, I often feel as if I might as well be illiterate. Nursing uses a language of acronyms, multi-syllable words, and medication names, both generic and trade. Having taken Medical Terminology at CCC (thank goodness!), I’m decent with terms that use the Latin word parts, but these people speak letters and abbreviations and drug names. And they expect you to be familiar with them, especially since a good chunk of the class is. I’m in class with CNAs, EMTs, LPNs, etc. who hear this stuff every day. The instructors insist that this does not give them an advantage, because they probably picked up bad (lazy) habits that they’ll have to break while in school. But at least they can understand what is being said at the front of the classroom. And it seems like, if you’re not already in healthcare, then you probably chose nursing because you sat at your loved one’s side in the hospital for a year and absorbed everything via osmosis. I’m about as clueless as new nursing students come, and I’m not quick to pick things up.
            It’s hard, knowing that so many have great expectations for me. I’ve always been this “A” student that loved science and just got it; when I said I was going into nursing, first reactions were always, “Wow! What a great field! You’re going to be a great nurse!” It was encouraging.
But nursing school is not encouraging, and it steals the encouragement out of others’ statements.
Because, suddenly, I don’t just get it. I panic through my drug calculations. I fumble through tasks and end up squirting water over my entire sterile field. I go to school, smile and nod, pretending that I understand the stories people tell me about the drug or surgery or whatever so-and-so had. I go through lab, desperately trying to catch on and complete my skill before moving on to the next one (I often don’t succeed). I often go home feeling defeated, unworthy, and embarrassed. When I go somewhere that’s not school, I am asked how school is going: cue the conflict of deciding whether or not to sugar coat and bend the truth to prevent discomfort for both parties or to just state the painful fact that school is hard, and I’m discouraged. I usually settle somewhere in the middle, and people tell me that they’re sure I’m doing great and am going to do so well. I seem ungrateful and rude, I know, but you have to understand that those comments don’t help in the way they were intended to. Because, all the while, I’m thinking, “how can you know that?” How can they know how good or bad I am at placing a Foley catheter or assessing my patient or doing vital signs? They can’t. It makes me feel lonely and misunderstood.
            Growing up, my mom (and other teachers) would always say to ask questions, because if you’re wondering it, odds are another student is too. If you feel lost, you’re probably not the only one. But being placed somewhere where you feel like the minority, you get that false idea that you’re the only one who’s lost. The only one who didn’t understand. The only one who sobbed at clinical. So you keep it to yourself so people don’t think you’re incapable. The problem is, lots of us get lost. Lots of us don’t understand. And I know I’m not the only one who cried at clinical.
            The girl I ate lunch with one day—she cried at clinical as well.
That guy who works at a hospital and is good at it—he struggled with his shift assessment too.
            Goodness, someone even threw up!
Yes, I’ve had at least three category 5 meltdowns—two that my mother is aware of. My mom told a nurse she knows about them, and the nurse’s response was “Only two!?!”
            Anyone who has ever heard about nursing school is familiar with the infamous nursing school meltdowns, but I don’t think they really understand what they entail. They’re not your run-of-the-mill stressed out meltdowns: the ones when you’re tired and cranky and just want a good long nap. They’re more than that—at least, mine are. They involve the deepest levels of self-doubt.
What if I fail? What if I keep going, and my incompetency hurts someone? What if I ruin—or end—someone’s life? What if I have wasted all these hours, all this money, on this childish dream that I could accomplish something so great—so heroic? What was I thinking? I’m going to be a disappointment. An embarrassment.
            It takes a nurse looking at me with sympathy and strength, telling me that “You’ll get it; it comes with time,” or another student’s confession that she was terrified as well, to remind me that, just because everyone looks put together, doesn’t mean that they always are. And just because it doesn’t come as easily or quickly for me as it does for some other people, doesn’t mean it’ll never come.
          
           
I didn’t write all this to pout. I didn’t write all this to gain pity (please, anything but pity!). And please know, to all who have given me encouragement, I don’t want to make you feel bad about trying to encourage me. I sincerely understand and appreciate your intent. Why did I write this, then? Part of me is asking myself that same question right now—like I usually do when I write a blog post (you might be surprised at how many posts get started and/or completed, yet sit unread in my documents). I think I wrote this, because I know I would like to hear a fellow nursing student admit these things. It’s comforting to know that you’re not the only one who doesn’t have it all together. Who wonders if she made a mistake. Who has to summon every inch of her will to bolster up a smidge of confidence. Who even chants, “I will not drop out of nursing school. I will not drop out of nursing school,” on her way in, some days. Who is mastering the art of carrying on a conversation in which she doesn’t understand 10% of what the other person is saying.
Maybe I am the only one who feels like this. If so, I guess this will be an embarrassing post. But what if I’m not? What if there’s another aspiring nurse out there that has hit his low point and just needs to know that he is not alone? Who knows, deep in his gut, that he will get there; he just needs someone who actually understands how he feels to be honest about it.
Yes… I guess that’s why I’m writing this.
And if nursing school has taught me anything, it’s that we all go through it differently. No one’s experiences are the same as another’s. And that’s okay.
Yours honestly,

            NS

Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Overdue Thank You Note to Teachers

Sometimes, I wonder what teachers are thinking when they write little encouraging notes on students’ assignments. And what I mean by that is, I wonder if they expect them to make any impact. So many teachers go into the profession hoping to change and shape students’ lives—to lead them to success and teach them to thrive. But, more often than not, they see an entire class fail a test (that the previous class did fine on), a student cheating, a generation whose writing abilities are seemingly growing extinct, or another parent complaining about her child’s grades. Meanwhile, there are those few students that never miss class, always come prepared, obviously study, and consistently do a good job. The teacher puts a small comment on the (probably too long) essay and moves on. The student continues doing what he/she always does. Nothing is said (though the kid who pulled his answer out of thin air has plenty to say about his grade).
Several teachers throughout my schooling career have been faithful commenters. The comments are usually small. Took five seconds of the teacher’s time, max. But they have had lasting influence on me, not that those teachers have ever known that.
She probably never realized that the smiley faces she put on the top of my paper when I did well made my entire day, because I was struggling with the adjustment from homeschooling to “normal school,” I felt behind when it came to math, and her class was the hardest class I had (and she was one of the teachers I admired the most).
There is no way he could have known that it took me three hours to complete that assignment, because I cannot be anything but nauseatingly thorough, even if I try. He could not have known that it was actually done from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., because I had dinner, church, and dorm devotions before I could ever even touch my pile of homework, and, halfway through, I had to take a few minutes to sob, because I was sleep deprived and homesick. All he knew was that I did my best, and he wrote “Your usual excellent work,” not knowing that doing assignments with a headache, minimal sleep, and an accompanying cry-fest was how I usually accomplished that work.
When she wrote “an excellent critique,” she could not have known I downloaded the assignment to Dropbox, thinking “I know my instructor will hate this. I have never done APA, and I had to cut out the majority of what I had to say to make it as short as she wanted. This is terrible work, and this will be the first impression she has of my writing.”
I doubt my teachers know how comments like “Wow!” “Excellent!” and “Great work!” have motivated my academic career.
Because, a lot of the time, it is the “A” students that get the least recognition. We work hard, and nobody expects anything else. “A” is so normal, not many think to congratulate you on it. The attention must be directed to the student who might not pass or the one who does not make use of intrinsic motivation.
Student gets an “A.” You do not congratulate him. He still gets another “A.”
Student gets an “A.” You do congratulate him. He still gets another “A.”
It is hard to see your actions making any difference, but believe me, they do. It was those smiley faces that let me know you were proud of me, and that I was going to be okay. It was the little comments on my discussion forums that motivated me to keep doing my best, even though I knew that people who worked half as long as I did got the same exact grade. I wanted you to know that I would keep working at the top of my game, because you noticed. It was that comment on my first article critique that has kept me from giving up hope on all future writing assignments. It is the little “wow’s” and “excellent’s” on my homework assignments that have made your other homework assignments from being so tedious, because I know you notice and appreciate thorough work.
So, what are you thinking when you write those comments? That they will be overlooked? Fleetingly appreciated, then forgotten? That maybe they are not worth your time?
They are. Please, do not stop. You never know when your “A” student is on the brink of giving up hope—and his/her GPA. And you never know which comment may be the little tug that pulls the kid back and gives him/her the motivation to keep going. Because we respect you. We appreciate  you.
We thank you.