In Honor of Nurse’s Week…

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!

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18 thoughts on “In Honor of Nurse’s Week…

  1. Thanks for sharing your story [snort]. I really appreciate it as I am also a recovering Rx addict. You are very brave to put this out there and congrats on 2 years…awesome sauce! In the most non snarky way 🙂

  2. Thank you so much, and congrats on your recovery too! I have until very recently kept my drug addiction on the down low, but I'm ready to share my story. It was actually SWSNBN who gave me the inspiration to tell the truth about my life after seeing how her's has drastically devolved with her constant lying, cheating, and wordsmithing. I am who I am, and it has taken me 33 years to be able to say that I am ok with that 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing. I can relate. I'm a former CNA. I've been on depression/anxiety meds since the month I finally quit. I loved my job. I worked exclusively in elder/long term care facilities. I could no longer physically or emotionally handle it. Hats off to those who can and do.

  4. I have been silently laughing along to your posts on MWOP. I read there several times a week but only posted a handful of times. Funny that you have no idea who I am but I feel like I know you! 😉 I love you in a very not scary, unBMM way. My baby is hospitalized right now and I would love any ideas from you on what treat you think the nurses would enjoy as a thanks for their wonderful attentive care.Finally, I am so glad that you got the help you needed to overcome depression and anxiety. You are a strong woman!

  5. I both hate and love that you can relate. My parents always thought I was just "whiny." Unless you have worked in healthcare you just won't get it. I hope your depression and anxiety are doing better since you left your job 🙂

  6. OMG, what a sweet and lovely post! I love you too in a very non-stalkerish way 🙂 I'm glad I provide a few laughs. What's wrong with your little one? I hate when babies are in the hospital; they are just such vulnerable little beings. It is really wonderful that you want to take the time to thank your child's nurses—I wish more people thanked nurses. I will be perfectly honest: don't do food. Most families provide donuts, pizza, cookies, etc. and alot of times nurses don't get to enjoy them because they are busy. What will make the most impact is a simple card that lets the nurse know exactly what you appreciated. For example, "Snort, you are a good nurse!" is nice, but "Snort, thank you so much for checking on us often, always taking the time to try and make the baby smile, asking if I wanted coffee, etc. Thank you for explaining procedures in a way that we could understand them, etc." It is sad, but nurses very rarely get positive recognition from patients/families let alone management. Just a suggestion 🙂

  7. My mom was an ICU RN for most of childhood. She work 3-11pm I never got to see her. At about 14 she went 7a-7p it was the only way to get days. We never had a holiday and spring break trip because she could not get off work. By the age of 7 I was 100% sure I would never ever be a nurse!!!! The stress was bad for her. It is sad to say it aged her! Glad you are doing better and happy 2 year! Ps I lurk, but do not post on that other page 🙂 you are funny!!!!

  8. Hi Snort! I mostly lurk on the other page but comment rarely. I am an LVN and I agree with everything you wrote and then some… And can I add that I'm so tired of other people implying that I'm so privileged to clean up their waste! Burned out? Yes! I am! And you are so right when you say that people who don't work in healthcare just don't get it!

  9. I'm sorry your mom worked like that when you grew up; it killed me to miss stuff with my oldest son even though he didn't know the difference. And thank you for the well wishes!

  10. Seriously! My mom and dad, who both have amazing work ethics, would give me shit for calling out of work or complaining. "But you make $40 an hour! What's the problem?" What wasn't the problem! You're right; non-healthcare workers just don't get it. And I'm sorry you're burned out too, but take it from [SNORT]: don't do drugs.

  11. Thanks for the response! I wrote out a personal thank you card and bought a bunch of cookies, cheesecake, fruit tray and chips forvthe break room. These nurses made Alice's stay as easy as a hospital stay CAN be. 😉 I am lucky to have a healthy little girl in general, but she had to be in the hospital since Saturday thanks to an awful tummy bug that dehydrated her fast. She is just three monthsvold so couldn't fight it on her own. Poor thing had a kdney infection by Sunday too. Thankfully she got discharged tonight and is laying next to me in bed right now! 😉

  12. From the literally over 100 nurses who have cared for me throughout my life, I only met two that were awful. The others were awesome and… yea, sometimes the only difference between their knowledge and the doctor's was that the nurses had better bedside manners. 🙂 Nurses rock.

  13. Dear Snort,Love your humor and am grateful you have found recovery and peace. I am a nurse, nearly 26 years, all in oncology, mostly Peds oncology and ran the Peds bone marrow transplant ICU at one of the largest centers on the world. I have had a very different experience. It is my PASSION. I LOVE being a nurse and am grateful that I can still do it despite the horror I have been witness too. You are right there is very little glamorous about my chosen profession. It is long, hard, heavy labor. Then there is the intellectual and emotional exhaustion. What I really wanted to say is that I respect you for recognizing that it wasn't for you. I genuinely mean that. Nothing hurts me more than a nurse who is burned out, doesn't recognize this. They take their frustration and anger out in patients and that quite frankly pisses me off. You are right not every patient or family is grateful. Just like every child who gets cancer is not a cherubic, bald angle. Brats get cancer too. With that said nurses who burnout and don't leave misrepresent what the art and science of nursing is all about. Anyway. Thanks for aknowledging that nurses week exists. P.S. Happy Mother's Day!

  14. Dear Auntie Mip,Thank you so much for your kind words. Nursing was no longer right for me. Some of the things I saw and had to deal with left me unable to sleep. I have a scar on the left upper chest where a mentally ill patient burned me with a cigarette when I informed him that he was not allowed to smoke in the emergency room. I watched a man with a ruptured AAA die before my eyes and to this day am haunted by his panic and fright because he didn't want to die. I could go on forever telling stories. I did, however, always put my best face on for my patients and their families. I held hands with them; I cried with them. I gave so much of myself over the years that I didn't have anything else to give. Sad, I know, but it's the truth. I am very happy that you find nursing to be your passion and calling. I know oncology has to be a tough area to work, especially with kids. I am thankful to know nurses like yourself who are so devoted to the profession. Happy Nurses Week. (And Happy Mothers Day as well!)

  15. I'm so far behind reading on MWOP but I wanted to say "HEY" and tell you how much I adore your blog! This post really struck home for me because 4 years ago I was a patient in a residential program for PTSD and two of the people there with me were nurses who abused pain medication on the job. I had never thought in my wildest dreams that such a problem existed but after sharing a room with one brave woman, I had my eyes opened. Good for you for recognizing your problem and voluntarily surrendering your licence. I can't wait to read more… you are a terrific writer!J.

  16. Wow, thank you for the compliment! I don't fancy myself a writer, but if you do I won't argue. LOL. Substance abuse among nurses occurs more often than people think. I have friends who go home and drink heavily (never on the job or before work). When I heard that 18% of nurses have substance abuse issues I was stunned. In a way it made me feel like I wasn't defective or alone, but it also made me feel really bad. I hope you got the help you needed for your PTSD and are doing well 🙂

  17. Similar story involving a cigarette. I was in nursing school and doing my psych rotation. Psych is NOT for me. Anywho, a slightly confused gentleman who thought himself to be our Lord and Savior was ready for his next smoke. I calmly and with my best therapeutic listening voice informed Jesus that he would have to wait until 1pm when he would be allowed his next smoke break. He felt otherwise. I shit you not in 1.6 seconds he scaled a 5 foot barrier wall, picked a security lock and had me flat on my back, precious savior hands around my neck choking the life out of me…then I blacked out. I woke up with about 20 people, docs and nurses screaming to call a damn code and Jesus in the corner saying….and again I shit you not, "Forgive her Father, she knows not what she's done". Well hell?

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