Empathy

Today, I’m primarily addressing my white, Christian loved ones. I’m doing so out of love and encouragement, though many of you will likely not readily receive the piece of perspective I’d like to offer up. Once again, I see and hear your earnest expressions of anger and disgust at athletes who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. I know you are defending your country and the sacrifices that have been made to make our lifestyles possible. I know that these feelings come from a good and honest place in the heart of a patriot. That being said, I fear that we the majority are not understanding this act for what it truly is. Not an act of anarchy or of hate, but it is the start of a conversation. A conversation that maybe this group of people have been asking us to join for a long time with little results. We have an opportunity here to better ourselves first on an individual level, an opportunity to examine and correct our own biases and flaws. But first, we must recognize that we have dropped the ball. We are so quick to be proud of what we as a country have done right, I’m afraid we wear blinders to the problems that still exist. As a white woman, I know what is said behind closed doors, when our colleagues of color aren’t there. Just in my professional career, I’ve seen their hard-earned accomplishments belittled. I’ve heard tasteless comments by the droves. I’ve seen people of color used as scapegoats and workhorses when, in fact they had SO much to offer. And yes, behind closed door, and even in front of our children, many of us aren’t the equality preaching humanitarian we claim to be on social media. These issues add up and reach beyond the individual level and cause serious systemic problems. If you are angry because these displays suggests that our beloved country, and perhaps you as an individual may have some flaws, then I’m afraid nothing is going to ease your rage, as this kind of denial is exactly why these individuals are going to such “extreme measures.” They are advocaring for a group of AMERICANS who are disproportionately being killed and socially brushed to the side. If you are angry because these displays are “unamerican,” I encouraged us, the majority to step up to bat. The ball has been thrown, lets seize this opportunity instead of dwelling on how offended we are. I’m asking no one to apologize for their skin color. I’m not sympathizing  with hateful radicals on any front. I’m  just asking that we exercise our Christian values on a very basic level and listen to those who have walked a very different walk than ourselves. Which do you love more? Your fellow countrymen? Or a piece of cloth? 

Beer and Shampoo

     Today, I was reminded how great it feels when someone helps you feel “pretty” when I went to the hair salon for the first time in well over a year. My wonderful hairdresser acted as both a cosmetologist and therapist as she pampered my wild mane. I told her beforehand that if a tumbleweed and a rastafarian conceived a child in a clothes dryer, my hair would be the offspring.
     When my appointment was fulfilled, and my pocketbook wasn’t hit quite as hard as I had anticipated, I made a “treat yo’self” trip to the beauty supply store. It was my first visit ever, and I was incredibly anxious. I browsed for approximately two minutes before my lost expression caught the attention of the clerk working.
       Now, I have a very strong, deeply inbedded anxiety about talking to retail workers. My armpits sweat out, my face melts off, and I start talking really fast, and I get overly, unnecessarily honest all the sudden… it’s bad juju.
However, even though I had to admit that I had been using Walmart shampoo, the lady was super nice and helpful and I got out of there with several products (that all smell like Heaven, by the way.) Again, the bill was way less than I anticipated. So, I rewarded my frugal self with another “treat yo’self” trip to the beer store where I payed way too much for some delightful Arkansas microbrews.
     I got home, spent the evening with some of my favorite folks, played outside, ate leftovers, wiped some boogers… had basically the perfect Saturday night.
      My thoughts as I wind down this evening though, I feel need shared. I see too many people who seem to be putting a lot of effort out, and it’s all for naught. If you truly think that the most valuable attribute a person could have is their beauty, by all means, continue spending the bulk of your time and effort towards your looks. If you honestly believe that having a certain kind of house or vehicle shows one’s worth, keep on with your hustle, friend. I really hope you win your rat race. But, I don’t really believe you. I love you, and I want you to see your true value. So, if you value kindness, spend your time serving others. If you value knowledge,  crack a book. If you value a hard days work, there’s lots to be done, be that worker. Stop wasting your resources on trying to impress other people and live to your own standard. With that being said, don’t forget to “treat yo’self” every once in a while. You deserve it!

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Dirty laundry

As nurses, we have to occasionally wear a mask. No, it’s not always that awful paper inducer of claustrophobia that you find outside of isolation rooms. Nurses have to often mask our emotions for the good of our patients. It is never fair that the family of a dying patient has to console the nurse because she is crying the hardest. It is never right to put the burden of your personal troubles on your patient.  It is never okay to retaliate against the family member who is verbally abusing you, no matter how white-hot your rage burns on the inside. We can’t laugh at the expense of our patients, no matter how weird their genitals look. We have to keep a good poker face, and it takes lots of practice. Early on, I discovered that if I could stay rock solid long enough to slip into the clean linen, that it would be alright. That room became my alter where I’d lay my heavy burdens. If I needed to, I’d drag a buddy in there with me. We’d vent, have a laugh or a cry, and regroup, and be on our way. It’s also a great place to devour that candy bar that’s been riding around in my pocket all day.
I’ve kicked packages of chux against the wall. I’ve spewed profanities into the linen cart. I’ve wiped snot and tears on the white towels. I’ve laughed to tears over severely inappropriate circumstances. I’ve even hidden from disgruntled coworkers and family members, cowering among the clutter. I think it is important to claim a safe place where you can fix your face and pull yourself together. I feel no shame for needing it. It helped me be strong for people who needed me. What better place to air your dirty laundry than the clean linen?

*Side note: Linen rooms, along with med rooms and supply closets are not appropriate places to hide and pass gas. It strictly goes against nurse etiquette.

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Surviving the Novice Nurse

There is this chart that they love to drag out early in our nursing education. It was published by a nursing theorist named Patricia Benner who wrote an entire book on this concept of “novice to expert.” It is plenty interesting if you are into nursing theory. You can take a look at it here.The abbreviated chart looks something like this:

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It is supposed to kind of outline your competency over your nusing career, starting as a student nurse. For some reason it really intimidated me and sticks with me still. I remember thinking “I’ll be taking care of patients for years before I’m even considered a competent nurse?!?” before taking a big hit of Dr Pepper. This is basically what I read:

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I think I’ll publish my version as “The Christmas Tree of Nursing Insecurity. ”

You’ll notice where I put myself.  That is five years after I started nursing school. That is three legal, liscenced years of trying not to kill anybody.
As far as I know, I’ve been successful. But I have to credit the bulk of that success to the more experienced nurses that I’ve leeched onto during my short time in this field. I’d encourage any new grad to seek these nurses out as soon as you can and bond with them. My personal favorite strategy to to find the ones that are a little more tart than the rest. I love an acquired taste. I’ve found if you are willing to work a little to get through the shell of ice, you’ll often find that they are the most authentic, loyal, and wise nurses with the biggest hearts. Do the work, make friends, watch them, and soak in everything.  Listen to their stories, they’ll try to save you from making their mistakes. Laugh with them, they will have a dark sense of humor that you will need to aquire. Thank them when they teach you how to slip on compression stockings without breaking a sweat, or how to keep brittle veins from blowing. They have the tricks to the trade. I’ve often felt like they were the brains and I was the running legs, so we work well together. Nursing is special because even if you do it for 50 years, there will be more to learn. You never stop growing and improving. First, we gain knowledge, then, with experience, judgement. The more we learn the more there is to learn. In fact, I would I would like to respectfully respond to Dr. Benner’s theory with a chart of my own. I present to you,
“Reeves’ Infinite Cone of Nursing Wisdom”

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This leads me to share with you another article of my nurse law. I KNOW LESS THAN I DON’T KNOW.

When I drop the ball

The idea of failure, I think, is pretty well universally feared. For a nurse, failure can have some truly devastating implications.  A nurse’s failures can cause pain to others. It can cause death. I believe it took most of the first year to rise above the complete paralyzing grip that the fear of failure had on me as a brand new nurse. It never went completely away, and I pray it doesn’t.
I remember this ritual I had, sitting in my vehicle in front of the small hospital where I worked. I’d pull up around dawn every morning before my shift, kill the engine, and pause. I’d hone in on the song the birds were chiming in the trees, I’d breathe in the smell of bacon as it wafted from the lower level kitchen. I envied whoever was down there. If they should fail their job today, we get burnt bacon. If I should fail, it could end in manslaughter. I really had to just give it to the Big Man, because I knew that I failed daily, and still do. I pray he guides my hands and feet, I pray that He graces me with wisdom and good judgement. I pray for His forgiveness and for the forgiveness of my patients and their loved ones when I fall short. And I have fallen short often. I’ve botched dressing changes and torn skin. I’ve forgotten pain medication and given wrong medication. I’ve over medicated. I’ve missed more IV sticks than I’ve gotten. I’ve let arms swell to twice their size before finding that the IV had infiltrated. I’ve neglected to turn patients and to pull down their stockings, resulting in skin breakdown. I’ve spoken when I shouldn’t and I’ve stayed silent when I should have blown the whistle. I have been the nurse you’ve cursed for leaving your Grandmother’s arms bruised and bleeding. I very nearly once hung the wrong antibiotic on a patient that was severely allergic to that antibiotic. These are the faces that haunt you when the day is done and your head hits the pillow. These failures are hard to live with, but in each there is a lesson. Don’t make the same mistake twice and ask forgiveness when you get the chance.  Forgive each other, and most importantly,  try to forgive yourself. You do good work. Give it to God. He will see you through.
It is also important not to hide your mistakes.  It takes courage to admit them and diligence to correct them. Several times, I’ve recieved the brunt of a particular surgeon’s “wrath” over various mistakes I made. The last time, he gained a great deal of respect from me when he said “You know, I’ve made my share of mistakes, severed ureters, caused bleeds, among other things, but is imperative that we pay attention. We are dealing with people’s lives.” Suddenly, I no longer a surgeon with a “God complex,” but a man who was there” as we all are, striving for excellent patient care. Through the decades he has been practicing medicine, learning from his mistakes. He is proud, but not too proud to be accountable for his errors. I think that is an excellent example for anyone to follow. Seek opportunity for growth and never let fear of failure cripple you.

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Nothing special

By the end of my time as a student nurse I had entertained the idea of working in several specialties. Okay, A LOT of specialties. Honestly, I think at some point or another I had decided that every single specialty I rotated through was surely “my calling.” I mentioned that I started out ready to join the world of women’s health, maybe become a nurse practitioner or even a midwife. That is, until I got to my psych clinicals. Psych was so neat and I really enjoyed it maybe that will be it. Oh, hospice and palliative care! That’s it, I belong there! (Rhyme not intended) Surgery, critical care, home health, I can honestly say they all appealed to me for some reason or other. By the last semester of nursing school I was pretty certain that critical care was going to be “the one.” I was all hot to snatch some folks from the jaws of death and it was time to start our three month long preceptorship. I submitted my top three preferences, noting only that I absolutely COULD NOT work overnights because my real actual paying job was a night job and I had to be there. Well, it just so happens that the only ICU slots were over nights, but they had an empty day space in a decent sized emergency department with a very good, seasoned nurse. Now, I’m pretty sure the only time I had spent clinicals in the Emergency Department was on my first day when I ended up being a patient. A little bummed, I told them to go ahead put me in the slot.
I could write a book on my experiences in the ED and my wonderful preceptor who was always so encouraging, kept me laughing, and was way more confident in me than I was. It was there that I learned the beginnings of how to be a nurse, stuff that you will never find in a textbook.
I believe I could have probably built a very fulfilling career starting out in the ER. But, that did not happen either.
Soon, it was time to start submitting job applications.  I sent in a few to several different facilities, some were up to an hour commute.  As a backup, and not very seriously I might add, I submitted one to our small local hospital. GENERAL NURSING MED/SURG. I was interviewed and offered a position before most of my other prospects even contacted me. Ryan and I crunched the numbers and decided that this would actually be better for our family, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Medical surgical nursing was where nurses who aren’t that sharp work. People who just skip through the chaos to collect a paycheck belonged in med/surg in my mind. I wanted to join the elite level of nurses and specialize. It seems so rediculous in hindsight. I even remember clear as day, several professors along the way telling us the exact opposite. At the time, I was certain they were just trying to trick us into being interested. I am so thankful that I started out where I did. I learned so much and formed bonds I’ll have for the rest of my life. I think I thrived off of the variety. It’s rather clear to me now why I could never settle on a specialty. If you like it all, what better a place to work? It’s a riptide, yes, but one to be proud of at the end of the day.

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Pulling the weeds

If ever you become anxious to purge yourself of any nervous tic, communication flaw, or poorly executed social skill you’ve adopted, I urge you to go to nursing school. If you do not believe you have such a defect, I assure you that you are wrong, and a nursing instructor could identify one and cure you of it before you even introduced yourelf.
In nursing school, they will soon have you examining every dark corner of your very soul, questioning not only if you deserve to pursue this noble profession,  but if you are even worthy of the space you take up on this earth and the precious oxygen you are selfishly consuming with every breath you breathe.
“Kori, your hands are in your pockets again. Kori, look in my eyes, not at the floor. Why are you breathing like that? Do you always breath like that under stress? You’re going to have to fix that.”

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One time during and exam, an instructor took a male student’s jacket off of his chair and without saying a word, draped it over the back of my chair because my jeans were too low in back. I still wear compression shorts beneath my jeans so that there is no way my skin will show when I sit. I wouldn’t even take a clicky pen to class because you risk getting it taken away if you clicked it nervously.
While walking through Hell, I despised and resented it. In hindsight, however, I get it. I really do. It was never about any of those nitpicky flaws. It wasn’t about a power trip, or demanding perfection. Those  instructors have a seemingly harsh, but hugely necessary responsibility to keep people that ought not be in nursing out of the field. They are the gatekeepers to a profession that demands thick skin, a backbone, a sharp mind, and a gentle touch. Such a combination is not found in every applicant that makes the initial cut. Pulling the weeds early is vital and ultimately kinder to everyone involved. So if nursing professors are ever portrayed as heinous monsters, know that they are not, though many have likely gotten good at playing the part. They are indirectly protecting you and your loved ones. They are sculpting able caregivers and assuring that are there for the right reasons. They know that their own lives and the lives of their families may very well someday rest in the hands of one of their pupils. So keep your chin up, student. Remember, there is a lesson in everything. The voices you deplore today, you’ll thank God for later.

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