I saw my last patient last week. My last patient in 20 years of service as a nurse. This individual made an appointment for vague symptoms, didn’t appear ill and when bluntly asked what was needed, stated a note in order to skip a mid-term. Knowing that this would be my last patient, I felt a real sense of sadness, grief and also some fear. When have I not been a nurse? I remember my first patient and now, I guess I will remember my last. In that moment, I realized that I did not need to spend any more time grieving the end of this career because what was evident was how truly unsatisfying this career has been for the last 10 years. Ten YEARS. My memories of caring for patients in which there was meaning and difference are around a handful. My career advanced in a way in which it was exactly supposed to based upon my skill, my talents and the needs of the organizations at which I worked. Should there be any satisfaction based upon that? Well, my initial intent was to help people, but in the long run, it just didn’t allow for enough energy to help myself.
I have had difficulty in saying goodbye to this career that I once LOVED. The satisfaction of being technically great at managing multiple drips, starting neonatal IVs and caring for the most vulnerable patients left me exhausted most of the time, but really happy. I remember working nights on 5E and in SICU at St. Luke’s Boise, looking out over a quiet, sleepy town feeling a real sense of peace and contentment. While nights was one of the most physically challenging shifts I had to work, I loved leaving the hospital at sunrise, that moment between light and dark and being present with the stillness that surrounded me. I loved my 16 hour shifts in the OR. Circulating in a dimly lit Operating Room with a highly skilled surgeon making precise burns of brain tissue with his bovie (cautery knife) and gently suctioning the blood away from his view under a microscope. There was deep compassion and calm in my voice as I made an hourly phone call to a 2-year old’s parents to let them know surgery was progressing as expected. I tried to shoulder some of the responsibility and pressure of the intensity of the environment by playing good music and keeping the room steady. I loved taking care of post-open heart surgical patients. Technically and mentally, these patients were the most challenging with lots of IV drips, tubes and machines and a responsibility to know your shit. The aspect of a TEAM working together for the patient was something that the OR and ICU had in common and the bonds that were created with these individuals are for life. It is the most ON, I have ever felt in my life….until now.
I needed to find a way to transition from grieving the end of this career to moving wholeheartedly into my new career. The overall definition of a nurse is one that “takes special care of, especially to promote health or well-being” and “tries to cure or alleviate by treating it (injured, etc) carefully and protectively.” After reading this definition, I realized that I still am practicing as a nurse, but that the focus of how I devote my healing energy has changed. You see, the invalid, the sick, that energy is not something an individual wants to absorb. You heal, you give, your energy is spent when caring for the sick. In my new role as a yoga instructor, you heal, you give and the energy is ultimately reciprocal. My soul is not only filled with this type of nursing, but it is allowing for healing and an authentic connection to myself. The satisfaction isn’t important, the identity isn’t important, but the connection is.
For now, my stethoscope hangs in my house as a reminder of those years and maybe one day, I will use it again. As caregivers, as nurses, as healers, we need not worry about how our “professional” career comes to an end. The only concern is knowing that from that end a new beginning will present itself and that our work as healers will change and evolve as we do.