Recently I was listening to a podcast by nurses, and they were answering questions posed by a high school student. One of the questions was something along the lines of, “Why did you choose to become a nurse?” While the hosts were telling what led them to their career paths, I couldn’t help but think of my own.
My grandmother was an LPN (licensed practical nurse) in Arizona. A divorcee, she put herself through school because she felt it would be the best way for her to put food on the table for her four children, and because she had taken care of other people her entire life. She was good at it.
I have vague memories of her graduation, playing with her stethoscope and sphygmomanometer (fancy word for blood pressure cuff), and wearing “nursing caps” she would make for me from newspaper. (I couldn’t play with hers; she had to keep it crisp and white for work!) Five year-old me would always say, “I want to be a nurse just like you, Mama.” Ten year-old me would say the same, when she was diagnosed with hypertension, and she taught me how to check her blood pressure the old-fashioned way – no fancy battery-powered monitor. But for some reason, when I reached high school, I stopped saying it.
I don’t even remember why. Somewhere between watching the movie Sybil and trying to understand my schizophrenic uncle, I decided I wanted to major in psychology. Boy, was that a great idea.
I changed my major twice – from psychology to english to communications/journalism – before finally dropping out of college in disgust. I saw I could do any of those things, and do them well, but they weren’t what I felt I was born to do. What was my true purpose? It seemed like I knew once, but had forgotten. It would take some major events to help me remember.
After dropping out of uni, I fell into a depression. Not “I’m feeling blue”, but major “I should probably be on medication or even hospitalized” depression. It was never discussed, but my Grandmother knew. She’d been there herself. But she was a Texan. She pulled herself out of it by doing something. So when she saw me going through it, she figured I could do the same. She sent me to live with my aunt, who had a two year-old daughter and a son that was due “any day”. I went reluctantly. But within a few weeks of waking up to my cousin’s sweet, smiling face, I slowly started to see my way out of the dark cloud. And I learned I liked taking care of someone else. I was good at it.
I stayed with them a few months before I decided it was time to get a job. I went to Kelly Temporary Services, and was placed in a busy court clerk’s office. I was told my assignment would be six to eight weeks. A year and a half later, I was hired as a permanent employee. This is where I learned that I could look anyone in the eye and not feel intimidated. Lawyers, judges, the guy on trial for murder. People are people.
Later I was promoted, and I worked there for 12 years before I again realized I wasn’t happy. I was making great money, had everything I needed. But I still wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I didn’t believe this was my purpose. I still couldn’t remember what it was.
New Year’s Day, 2005, I received a call from a coworker. Had I heard about “Lou” and “Doe”? They were in an accident last night. They’re both in bad shape.
Lou had suffered two spinal cord injuries – one incomplete, in her lower back, and one complete, in her neck. Doe’s right arm was fractured in multiple places, and her scapula (shoulder blade) was shattered. Doe was transferred to a hospital in another town. Lou remained at a hospital two miles from my home.
Once she could accept visitors, I was there every chance I could get. I was single, with no children. All I would do once I got home was watch Law & Order reruns. I might as well to that in the hospital with her.
Her nurses got to know me, and I felt comfortable asking questions about what they were doing. So you flush the PEG tube with water before and after medications and feedings to keep it clear. Ok. This is the best way to do range of motion for her hands? Got it. Several of them commented, “You should think about nursing. You’d be great at this!” “Me? Nah. I wanted to be a nurse when I was a little girl, but I grew out of that.” They’d shrug and walk away. When Lou started saying it, I started thinking. Why had I “outgrown” the idea of nursing? I had no idea. But now it was starting to sound like the right direction.
Lou moved on to a rehab unit, and ultimately home where she was cared for by her parents. I got serious, and started taking prerequisite courses at my local city college. By 2007, I had completed all except one of the requirements for an ADN, microbiology. But I was getting antsy. I applied anyway, to both the ADN program and the vocational nursing program. I was actually accepted to the part-time VN program on the first try. The part-time program would take two years to complete. When she called, the assistant from the office of the School of Nursing told me that I had a chance of being bumped up to full-time. I figured they told a lot of students that.
Well, on the first day of the semester, I went to work at the courthouse as usual. I was at my desk a little before noon when my mobile phone rang. I recognized the number and literally hid under my desk to answer it. It was the SON office assistant again, calling to say a seat in the full-time VN program was available, and asked if I was interested. Of course I was! When do I need to be there? In one hour. See you soon! I informed HR, and (again) literally ran out of the building. Can you imagine? This interaction actually took place:
Me: Bye, Julie!
Julie: Bye! Where are you going?
Me: To nursing school!
Julie: Great! When are you coming back?
Me: I’M NOT!
I don’t regret any step of the winding path I took to begin my nursing career. I learned something valuable about myself all along the way. And this is just the beginning of my journey. My next goal is my RN (either ADN or BSN), and ultimately I would love to become a nurse practitioner. Now that I’ve finally remembered and reconnected with my purpose, I can’t let anything stop me now.