The new year is well under way and my Asia adventure has come to an end. I am now back in Flagstaff and I have been thinking more and more about what kind of year I want it to be. I realize that in my heart I’m just a homebody with a little touch of wanderlust. I love the safety net of the routine and familiar, but on occasion I get a wild idea in my head. I know that for me, aimlessly traveling the world is not a sustainable lifestyle. I think one big lesson from my journey is that sometimes it really is ok to be completely ordinary. Right now I intend to enjoy all the simple things that make my life extraordinary like community, family and every day joyful moments.
This has, however, been a much needed break for me. I am surprised at how rapidly I had become completely jaded and cynical about my work as an ICU nurse. After only two years in the profession, I was already feeling like my job was at times futile and I was just a part of a machine that wheeled patients in and out on a conveyor belt of misery. I needed to take a step back, get some perspective and think about my options.
Maybe it was the break or all the inspiring medical books I have been reading, but after five months I am feeling more hopeful. Yes, our medical system is broken in a lot of ways. Yes, we make mistakes and sometimes our mistakes hurt the patients who put their trust in us. Yes, the medical field is full of uncertainty. But this is the system we have and until there is something better, the only way to make changes is to get involved. We as nurses have the unique power to stand between the machine and the people. Sometimes more than administering medications or titrating drips, our job is to help our patients retain their humanity in the face of overwhelming adversity. Being down in the trenches of floor nursing makes it hard to remember that, but I want to try. I want to do better. I want to learn from my mistakes, improve my practice and somehow work to make the system better.
In order to accomplish this goal I think I need to find a way to have a better balance. It is pretty hard to feel motivated when you are exhausted all the time from stressful night shifts. It is also hard not to hate your job when it takes away so much from the other things in life that bring you joy. Maybe this just means being more mindful in my work and getting more involved with the medical community. Maybe this means working part time, changing what unit I work in or moving to a different hospital.
Whatever I do with nursing, I want to make some goals to be more mindful and present. I want to remember to be less cynical even when patients are throwing punches and the system is actively trying to make everyone’s job harder. I figure I can either complain and let the situation make me angry, or I can let it go and just try to make things a little better. In the end, I really don’t have much to complain about. I can drink the tap water, have an insulated home with heating in the winter, the air is clean to breathe, I am financially secure and am I am surrounded by the love of friends and family.
Sometimes I feel like maybe the Universe has a funny way of telling you things. On my journey back to the States I was prematurely reintroduced to nursing by a medical incident on my flight over the Pacific. Somewhere over Russia, while I was attempting to uncomfortably sleep in my seat, an overhead page went out for anyone medically trained to come to the back of the plane. Myself and another ICU nurse on board headed back to find a passenger slumped on the floor with pale, cool, clammy skin, chest pain and shortness of breath. The flight attendants had already put oxygen on. I felt a weak, slow radial pulse and braced myself for maybe more than I had bargained for. Thankfully, our little patient started to come around with the oxygen. The flight attendants got their on-call MD on the phone and handed us their fairly impressive first aid kit. I pulled the AED out and put it on the floor close by. Have to ward off those evil spirits you know. My new ICU nurse friend gave the patient an aspirin per the on-call MD. The next hour was spent sitting on the floor of the plane taking vital signs and chatting with the flight attendants. If you think nurses have crazy work stories you should talk to a flight attendant sometime! After a while our patient felt well enough to take the oxygen off and went back to their seat. Considering the only thing they had consumed since departing the airport was a little bit of wine, we all concluded it was probably more of a vasovagal episode than an MI. I still hope they see a cardiologist sometime in the near future. As I returned to my own seat my mind ran through the usual lists; discharge concerns and studies I wanted like a STAT EKG, troponins and a cardiology consult. This was the moment I remembered I do love nursing.
Back in Flagstaff I am working on putting my life back together. I forgot how hard re-entry can be! Find a house to live in, get hired back at the hospital, open five months worth of mail, navigate the pitfalls of relationships. For the time being I have ended up in a per diem position in my old ICU and have just started picking up some shifts in the ED. It does feel funny to have landed back where I started especially because I feel like a different person, with different goals and many new lessons learned. But as I was preparing to leave Asia, nothing else made more sense than Flagstaff. It is home, after all, and a good jumping off point for whatever comes next. As for what that is, I’m still not sure.
It is in my personality to dislike uncertainty. I like to have things planned out. But if this trip taught me anything, it is to be more flexible and more willing to go with the flow. As Matt and Brandy will tell you, I struggled with this the entire time and I’m sure it could be annoying. I’m practicing sitting with the uncertainty and just letting life unfold. Maybe that was the real lesson of driving a scooter in death defying Chinese traffic. Flow like water, embrace the chaos and know that eventually everything will turn out ok.