It’s Nurses Week, or as I celebrate it, “Thank Heaven’s I’m No Longer A Nurse Week!.” I was a practicing RN for 10 years. TV shows and “Chicken Soup” books give the impression that nursing is the most wonderful career in the whole wide world. Patients and their families smile and say thank you. The nurse is always happy to care for someone. Hospitals are softly lit, nice and clean, and nurses have all the time in the world to devote to their patients. Yeah……whatthefuckever.
Nurses are overworked, rarely appreciated, slaves to management, walk a legal tightrope, and are on the receiving end of frequent verbal (and sometimes physical and even sexual) abuse. My nursing career was spent working mainly in high acuity (“really sick”) and high stress areas: the ER, the ICU, telemetry, and post-open heart surgery. It was the norm to not get a meal break, pee once during a shift, sometimes not be able to stop and grab a drink, stay an hour after work to finish charting, get called repeatedly during our days off being asked to come in for extra shifts, and catch hell from doctors when we had to call them in the middle of the night. Working two weekends a month is standard, and you are allowed to choose which ONE holiday you want off per year. Plus, there is always the unspoken worry of being sued for everything you’re worth if someone dies or you make a severe enough mistake.
After 5 years or so of working night shift (because we needed the extra money), messed up sleep schedules, a poor diet, and stress I started a downward spiral of professional burnout and depression. In the early part of 2010 I was in such a run-down, depressed state that I started using drugs. Specifically, I started abusing pain medication. I never used before work or at work, but when I got home it was the norm for me to get stoned, mostly so I wouldn’t have to feel anything for a few hours. Sometimes the things I saw at work haunted me when I got home; the drugs provided a light-headed, floating feeling of euphoria that turned off my thoughts and allowed me to fall asleep before getting up later that afternoon to go back to work.
When I was confronted by management at the hospital several months later, I confessed to having a problem and needing help. It was my rock bottom moment. Most of my adult life had been spent caring for other people, my husband, and my oldest son. Nobody took care of me, and I couldn’t manage it anymore. I voluntarily went to an intensive outpatient rehab program and confessed all to my husband and family. I started seeing a psychiatrist who told me that the reported rate of alcohol and/or substance abuse among nurses is estimated to be 18%. I was floored. She was compassionate and got me on the right cocktail of medications to treat my depression and anxiety. The nursing board offered me a chance to complete their nursing-specific rehab program for the next three years, but I turned them down. I was done. I voluntarily surrendered my license. It is possible for me to get the license back should I ever want it, but I don’t.
I have been clean for just shy of two years. I am still on my medications for depression and anxiety, and I have not functioned this well since I was in my mid-twenties. My husband and I welcomed our second son 9 months ago. We were a two income family, and my job loss hurt us financially. We teetered on the brink of bankruptcy for several years (not due to irresponsible spending, but credit card debt amassed during illness when we were unable to work and my husband’s college expenses); we bit the bullet and declared bankruptcy about a year and a half ago. We have totally started over with a clean slate. I am a stay-at-home mom, and I dig it. I even clean the house; that is kind of a big deal because for years I was so depressed and tired that I didn’t do anything on my days off except sleep. I function well now. I am happy and content. I am blessed.
There are those that love being a nurse more than anything; they have found their passion and their calling. I am happy for them, and I wish them a Happy Nurse’s Week. For me though, I am so happy to be where I am and learned the lessons I have learned. Happy Thanks Heavens I’m No Longer A Nurse Week to me!