Before I started my most recent travel nurse position in a Cardiac Critical Care Unit, I had to complete some online education and checklists to prove I was proficient in the knowledge and skills I claimed. As I went through the skills checklist marking “very experienced” on almost all of them I felt a surge of adrenal. Seeing the scenarios in print made me feel like I was almost doing them, and I realized I was excited at the thought.
I frigging love this stuff, I thought.
And it surprised me a bit. At the time I was back home on vacation, lounging in my pajamas, with hardly a care in the world other than the email from my compliance office of things I needed to complete for my next assignment. But rather than being perturbed over the intrusion of my off time, I was eager to get back at the bedside. I suppose that’s what really surprised me. I wasn’t dreading returning to work as an ICU RN. I was eagerly anticipating it.
It’s not that I didn’t love my time off. Of course I did! But I also loved taking care of my patients. The thing is, it had not always been this way.
Don’t get me wrong, now. It’s not that I hated my patients. I had always enjoyed caring for people, but somewhere in the frustration over increased charting requirements, low staffing, and bosses who forgot what it was like to be at the bedside, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. In fact, some days I had right near hated it. Some days I drug myself home and wondered how much longer I could make myself stay at the bedside. It became an exhausting, exasperating exercise in what felt like futility. Between the noncompliant patients and family members you couldn’t please, I was burned out. This made me sad. Not only sad for myself, but also my patients. They deserved more from me.
It got to where every little thing made me furious. Another “mandatory” meeting? Oh please. The double charting of restraints made me fume. New policies caused me to roll my eyes, and I got on the bus that no one cared about the bedside nurse. No one! I was a body, a number, a workhorse to be used and abused by surgeons with a god-complex. Whatever.
I dreaded going to work, and I didn’t want to be a nurse anymore. It broke my heart. I had always wanted to be a nurse, like my mother, but I told myself the field of nursing had simply changed. It wasn’t the same, and because of that I’d lost my spark.
I ended up taking a step back. I cut down my hours, and thankfully financially I could. I focused on raising my babies, and that was where my joy was. It worked for me. But I was still sad about the time I did work. Something wonderful would happen. A patient would tell me how I had changed their life. A family member of someone who almost died would spot me in the store and suffocate me in a grateful hug. A former patient would bring a gift by my husband’s work for me, and brag about the care I had provided in their worst time. I felt overflowing with pride at theses situations, but I also felt like a fraud. If these people could see how frustrated I had become at the field, they probably wouldn’t feel the same about me. No matter how kind and cheerful I remained at the bedside, I wasn’t blind to the bitterness that had crept unwanted into my heart.
And then came the time for me to return. Seasons changed, circumstances altered, and I found that a full-time return to the bedside was required.
I can do this, I thought.
I wanted to do it. But I also wanted to not hate it. One day I stood in the hot shower, extremely exhausted from my prior shifts, and I began to pray.
“Give me a joy for it, Lord,” I prayed.
That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to just get by. I didn’t want to just be able to endure. I didn’t want to do like so many other of my fellow Americans and just countdown the days until I could retire. I wanted to love my job again. We weren’t made to trudge through life miserable. I mean, life is not easy. That’s the reality of it. But it does make a difference how you view what’s before you.
The fact was nursing had changed. I had seen it change drastically just in the past decade. There were frustrating things about the field. But there were frustrating aspects of anything. My kids could ruin a fun day with fighting and complaining, but I didn’t stop taking them places. I focused on their happy smiles, not their tired whines. I focused on their “thank you’s” and “this is the best day ever’s” rather than the pulled hair and dirty tears. That’s how I had found joy in the difficulty that’s parenting. It’s how I could find joy in Nursing too.
I began to see things differently. Instead of focusing on frustration solely, I focused on the parts that gave me happiness. I counted it all as joy. I saw myself as a servant, not a slave. I saw myself as a helper, not a doormat. I saw myself as a lifter of spirits, not one crushed by my own bad mood. I recognized the gift of what I did. I had the privilege to care for people when they needed it the most. I had the lofty task of saving lives, of changing lives. I had the opportunity to positively impact people at a time when they were at their lowest and most vulnerable. I had a chance to shine.
Did some days still suck? Of course! But underneath it all was joy. Joy that I got to be a part of something pretty darn amazing. I could make a scary situation a lot less frightening for someone. I could pull someone from the brink of death and watch them walk out of the hospital a week later. I was a ringside witness to amazing technology that could give a goner twenty more years. I got to be a part of some pretty spectacular stuff, and I got to smile and be loving to people along the way. It was a choice. And I chose joy. By God, I chose joy.
That was just the beginning, though. It was like, the more I walked in joy, the more I felt joyful. The more I focused on the good stuff, the less I saw the bad. When people griped, I walked away. I sang a happy song to myself, I had a conversation with a lonely old lady, I taught someone something new about their health, I lent a hand to a drowning, new nurse. I smiled. It wasn’t that I was blind to the problems inherent in my field. I wasn’t sticking my head in the sand. But I was seeing more than the suck. The joy was there all along. I had just forgotten how to see it. I had been blinded by my own indignation, side swiped by injustice, defeated by the doomsday talk, the wind sucked right out of my sails. But then I found it again. I found my love for nursing again.
Again, it had always been there. I hadn’t changed. The field had changed, but I didn’t change along with it. I didn’t adapt. I stood rigid. And yeah, some things I needed to stand firm on. Nurses did have rights. But we also had responsibilities. It wasn’t the dying man’s fault the budget had been cut. It wasn’t the lady with a STEMI’s fault that Medicare had changed. They still needed my best. They needed a woman who wanted to be there; not just a woman who wanted a paycheck. To be that woman, the one they needed, I had to put my focus on the people who needed me. I still saw the things that needed fixing in healthcare, but I didn’t let those overshadow the joy that came with making someone feel better.
Making someone feel better! That was the best of it. That’s where the joy was, and that’s where I found it. I reckon you can find joy in almost any circumstance. You just have to be willing to look.