Friday, February 14, 2014

Waiting to exhale

It's funny. This thing called life. The last three years have led up to this moment. About threeish (maybe three and a half) years ago. I decided that I was serious about trying to get into nursing school. I decided that I was going to take a math class, the last semester of my senior year, 2011.

Then I graduated with my BA. Took three weeks off and started a human growth and development class online, the next class in the coming year and half of prerequisites. I worked through anatomy (twice), chemistry, microbiology, stats, and physiology. Well I was in the middle of physiology when I found out I'd been conditionally accepted to a 16 month BSN program. I finished that up. Took about a week off and then started my first semester of nursing school.

They tell you it all goes by so fast. And it does. Especially in a 16 month program. It's so fast and yet achingly slow. Every 8 hour day spent studying. Every 6, 8 and 12 hour clinical day. All of the paper writing, care plan writing, studying for tests. It all seems to take so long and yet it flew by. First I was celebrating the first hellish semester being over. Then being halfway through. Then done with the summer, one semester left. Then done. Racing towards finals and pinning.

I learned so much. And yet, I feel like I barely scraped the surface and there is so much more out there for me to learn. I shoved lab values and disease processes into my head, learned therapeutic communication techniques, all of the book smart things you have to have to pass tests and graduate. But very little prepares you to take care of patients. To talk to them and know how to answer them when they ask you questions. Nothing prepares you for the combative patient who had been perfectly fine all morning but now, wants to leave the hospital THIS VERY SECOND.

No one tells you how to interact with the mother on the postpartum unit who was told she could never have a baby, but here she was with a little boy only a few hours old. Struggling to breastfeed because she didn't think she could. Didn't seem to think she deserved all this happiness after a self professed "wild life" until she gave her life to God. Then she was pregnant. And after an hour of being in her sweltering room with her and her baby and the lactation consultant, she expresses some breast milk. She cries over the fact that SHE HAS MILK. And you almost cry from the fact that she's so happy and you're so sweaty.  So you learn as you go.

No one tells you how to care for the 30 something man in the ICU who had a long history of alcohol abuse and ended up with a Mallory Weiss tear and almost bled to death in the ER. No one tells you how to hold his hand and calm him down and tell him it will be alright as the RN does an arterial blood draw. He's supposedly sedated, but you know that he's in there, aware of what's going on. Because he's opening his eyes and struggling against the restraints and squeezing your hand.

No one tells you how to deal with the confused man that tells you there is woman sitting on his bed, and that he's seen big foot. The guy who tells you to enjoy giving him his perineal care (bathe his penis, for the uninitiated). Or the textbook Bipolar patient you talk to in the throes of mania who waxes poetic on a machine that lifts your head up, to lengthen your spine and take the pressure off your bones. Who if, you weren't both standing in a psych ward, you would think he had a PhD in some science you've never even heard of.

No one tells you how to react when you take care of a woman all day, a day when nothing particularly out of the ordinary happens and she tells you that you are going to make a wonderful nurse. How to react when the daughter of a different patient wants to speak to you on the phone because she's heard that you took amazing care of her mother. How do you tell them that you're only a student. That this is your only assignment. That you get to stand around all day and talk to this patient because they're the only one you have.

No one tells you about the smells, and the curses, and the attitude. From patients and other staff members, from the doctors to the nurses to the housekeeping staff. People want to show you things, to teach you because you are student but they also don't trust you. They probably shouldn't trust you. Because God knows you don't know what you're doing.

But then its all over. You're not a student nurse. You can't tell people that you are student because you've graduated. So you say "I just graduated nursing school". Because its a safe place. Everyone congratulates you on finishing! And you thank them and tell them it was hard. Because it was. The hardest thing you've ever done. Then they ask where you're going to get a job and you tell them you don't know that, that you're applying lots of places.

And then suddenly after one interview, you have a job. And still you don't dare to hope that this will actually happen. Because what if they don't wait, what if they don't really want you. What if you fail boards.

So you keep studying. Because you only have to pass a test that encompasses everything you learned in 16 months. All the diseases and meds and therapies and nursing processes. And you barely let yourself get your hopes up because IF you don't pass, then what was the use of dreaming about your new job and your new city and your new life?

But then, the day is here. You've stopped studying because if you don't know it now, you won't learn it in a day. And you try to calm down and remember everything you ever learned. You sit down at the computer. And take your time. And try to think through each question logically. And you still feel like you're getting every other question wrong. And maybe you are. But it shuts off at 75 questions, the lowest amount possible. So you think you either passed or failed spectacularly. But you're done. So you don't care. And you read the newspaper. Something you haven't done in two years.

Then you watch tv and read books and sleep. And when you wake up the next morning, your results are on the state board website and you somehow managed to pass. As if you slipped through the cracks unnoticed. As if by some accident of fate you made it through.

Your family tells you they had no doubt. You're friends say, well we knew you were brilliant. But there was always that niggling fear. That this would be the time your luck fails. That this would be an immensely embarrassing time to be exposed for the fraud that you are.

And you finally exhale. Because you've done it. You are an RN, a nurse. You passed all the tests and did all the paperwork and prayed or sacrificed or whatever it was that enabled you to succeed.

So, you drop an email to HR of the hospital that has hired you. A "Hey by the way, I actually passed boards. So you guys still want me, right?" type of email.

And you exhale again. Because it's kind of nice, after all this time.

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