Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Questions of Adulthood

When we are younger, we glorify the idea of being an Adult. An Adult knows everything, has everything, and can do anything. Can they stay up after midnight in front of the TV? Hell yes. Get together with their friends whenever they want? You betcha. Get fast food more than two times a month? SIGN ME UP NOW. My sister and I used to play this game where in one of our wildest fantasies, we were adults with fantastic hair who owned a restaurant, had boyfriends, and traveled around the world intermittently and at the drop of a hat. We also had names like "Krystal" and "Kiley", and it was totally normal for us to own a rainbow panda. Being an Adult sounded AWESOME.

As you get older, you are safe in a bubble of "Growing Up", a transition phase where you are expected to learn, but are not expected to know everything. Then, in college, you are told that you are actually on a launching pad into Adulthood, which is the capital of the Real World. You need to be ready, because it's on you to grow up and know things and take responsibility. Now I don't know about the rest of you, but as I actually transitioned into the Real World, I found that it was not actually a terrifying place full of corporate mergers and tax returns, but instead a place where I still watched TV and did work, just without as many weekend plans. In fact, because I worked in an ER, my job WAS the weekend plan. But anyway.

The kid versions of us were right. Being an Adult is pretty cool. I love driving a car, planning vacations, and online shopping. However, I dislike waking up early on the weekends to get work done, vacuuming, and grocery shopping. Regardless, as a kid I assumed that I would just know everything when I was older. However, as I now transition into this permanent and specific cut-and-dry stage of Adulthood (versus the transitional 'Young Adult', 'Pre-Teen', 'Child' stages, etc.), I realize that I still have a lot of unanswered questions. Please, someone help me out:

1) How the hell do you fold a fitted sheet? I'm a firm believer in nothing being impossible, but I'm pretty sure that it's easier to staple water to a tree branch than it is to fold a fitted sheet. If one must attempt to fold a fitted sheet, might I recommend some helpful tools, such as a blowtorch and a can of kerosene?

2) How much pizza for breakfast takes you past the college-acceptable level into oh-hey-rock-bottom? This question is pretty self-explanatory. I just want to know how far into my binge-eating I should maybe remind myself to feel ashamed.

3) What is business casual? No, really. There has never been a more vague stringing together of two words to describe what is acceptable for certain work functions. No one understands it. I'd prefer something more like "Dress code: you may wear these pants and this shirt combo with this color scheme and these shoes...casual".

4) This doesn't necessarily apply to being an adult, but I am curious: man Uggs. Why. Discuss.

5) What craft-happy devil children came up with Pinterest? Thanks to these deviant masterminds, I am now bound to the internet when I should be doing homework, or studying, or paying attention at work. Just one more pin, I promise myself. One more pin about couscous, or about an ab workout I'll never do. Thanks to Pinterest, I can now see my crazy wedding-happy, food-obsessed, Christmas-fanatic tendencies in front of me, painted all over the internet. Which is fine, because it's who I am, BUT I DON'T NEED PINTEREST TO SHOW THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD THAT, OKAY?!

6) How does one get the specific job in writing the 'Terms and Conditions' legal documents? And does anyone else wonder what secrets are written in these 'I agree to the Terms and Conditions' legal documents? I imagine that if someone actually look the time to read it (instead of ALWAYS LYING and saying that yes, I have read and agree), we'd find the solutions to world hunger, cancer, and maybe how to fold a fitted sheet.

7) At what age do we stop defining accomplishment as "being a superhero" or "taking 10 shots straight without vomiting", and instead go to "getting a load of laundry done and getting groceries in one afternoon"?

8) Why do all major magazines only focus on food, sex, or fitness? I mean, I guess those kind of are the three most important factors/drives of human evolution, but still, I'd love to have a magazine for adults that tells me how to build my own Bouncy-house, or where I can actually find a pair of jeans that fits a body not clearly defined in the 'pear-shaped/hour-glass/petite' spectrum.

9) Speaking of magazines focusing on adult relationships: Cosmopolitan. Does anyone believe in or use their flirty methods in the adult real life? I mean, I really have a hard time believing that someone coyly takes a suggestive sip from their drink while batting their eyelashes, all to be followed with a slow saunter across the bar while maintaining eye contact. Or maybe I'm just in denial, because when I try to approach a guy in a bar, I saunter as gracefully as a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time, knock-kneed and all.

10) Is it okay that I just considered sneezing my ab workout? What? I'm sorry, I just.....okay, never mind.
11) Who has the job of naming paint colors? As my friends get older (and I specify my friends, because I am not mature enough to be living in a place that allows me to make executive choices such as what color the walls should be slash being in charge of my own pilot light), they are starting to "Settle Down". They are nesting. They are picking out furniture and insurance plans and saying things like "Do you think this wall would look better in a shade of lavender or aubergine?", and "I was looking in the Pottery Barn catalog, when I saw...". I am not making fun of these friends: I'm actually impressed with their ability to know and speak this other language of Adulthood. But I do draw the line once I start reading paint swatch colors that make no freaking sense. Have you ever noticed that paint colors are combinations of shades of color, and then words that make no sense next to them? At some point in your life, you will go into Home Depot to pick out a color for your living room and find colors such as "Evening Beige Mist",  "Champagne Tickles", "Meringue Crescendo", or "Macaroni Pirouette". And you will question your life, and how you got here. And than more importantly, how you're in a career doing whatever, and someone else is sitting in an office, PAID to be handing in paperwork that says "Lavender PitterPatter".

I just want answers. And perhaps a job naming paint colors. That's all.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nursing School Dropout

It was then, as my patient rolled away in her wheelchair to parts unknown, I thought 'well, and that's when nursing school ended’. Week 8, and I had lost my patient. I don’t mean ‘lost’, in that whole sad eyes ‘oh-my-god-how-did-your-patient-die’ lost type of way where people speak in hushed tones and cup your shoulder. No, I mean more like my patient is physically lost, jacket and purse in hand, and is probably hitchhiking to Canada by now in her wheelchair and hospital gown. Somehow I’m going to have to explain to my supervising nurse that I kind of sort of let the patient leave the floor to go smoke a cigarette, and I only attempted to stop her once with a frail and nervous whisper of “ummmm, where are you going?” Uhhhh, yeah…she didn’t even stop mid-roll.

This is nursing school: a mix of nausea, excitement, anticipation, hand washing, and vital signs. Where everyday you think ‘what am I touching?’, ‘why is that wet?’, and/or ‘I will not cry’. In college, I used to congratulate myself on getting an A on a test, or for getting a leadership position in a school club. Now I buy myself a celebratory pastry every time I make it through a clinical day without killing someone. Bonus points if I don’t end up weeping in a supply closet.

I’d like to say that becoming a nurse, and entering the healthcare profession in general, is a perfectly appropriately music-matched montage of Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, and House. That is not the case. Each clinical does not have a patient who teaches us a significant and emotionally deep lesson each time, which is then book-ended by a perfectly crafted speech from our supervisors. We do not end up later that night in a bar with a beer, reflecting on our lessons and lifting said beers in a silent cheers to the patients we treated. We are not resplendent in well-fitting scrubs under fluorescent lighting, with cute scrub jackets and adorable shoes. We are not hooking up in on-call rooms every 10 minutes (okay, well, I’m not. If other people are, I’m not cool enough to know about it, or be invited).

Instead, this is a war. It’s an internal war of wills and insecurities and strengths, every damn day. There are a thousand doubts that make you question your abilities, all screaming in high-pitched obnoxious tones as you gown up to enter the patient’s room. Can I succeed in this? Can I do this without fainting? Can I pass this test, learn this concept, answer this question? Was this the right path? Why is no one supervising me? WHY IS IT SO FREAKING HOT IN HERE?

It is hard to narrow down which patient experience has mortified me most so far. I know later, when I am an experienced nurse who can perform the dance of giving medications and performing head-to-toe evaluations like a well-rehearsed ballerina with the stethoscope practically indented into my neck, I will laugh and tell these stories to all the scared new nurses who tremble before me. But for now, I will just wince as I collect a thousand awkward encounters with my patients, who all deserve handwritten thank you notes for tolerating my bumbling ministrations. I almost envision my reflections on patients as an award show.

“Thank you to the psych patient who ripped out his fake teeth for a little show-and-tell session, but not before splattering all of us within a 3-foot radius with saliva. And don’t let me forget to mention my patient who, even with the language barrier, very easily conveyed to me with his facial expressions that I was an idiot who did not know what I was doing. And finally, a special thanks to my male patient assigned this week, who called in my supervising nurse in a (hopefully?) joking manner to report me when I brought him pant options of scrub pants or maternity wear underwear. You, sir, make this job worth doing”.

There are two things that so far, to me, make up the best experiences within nursing. First, that hot rush of excitement and happiness when I get something done in a somewhat efficient way. While giving a bed bath, even though I feel like I’m fumbling around like a blind octopus wearing pot holders, I am starting to have more moments of “okay, that was a good job”, versus “wait, why is my hand there? What am I touching? Hold on a second, EVERYONE JUST CALM DOWN”. The second feeling, and the best one by far, is that look the patient has when you actually made a difference. When your presence made them feel better. When you can think, “This is why I became a nurse, this is why I am here, this is actually working”.

I got into nursing because I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to help people. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the people I had worked with since high school, who had inspired me with their graceful and effortless care of patients. I wanted to be like the people who had inspired me to become a nurse: the nurse who had treated my friend after a horrific event. The nurses who helped care for a 17-years-young boy who had committed suicide. The nurses who stood up to the doctors when they felt that their patients weren’t receiving appropriate care. The nurses who personify the act of caring for the patient as a person, and not just treating a medical diagnosis. And the more I’m in nursing, and the more I learn, the more I realize that it’s not about me, and what I want, and why I want to be here. It’s about what I can do for others. It’s about what all the nurses before me have figured out, and contributed to the art and craft of nursing. It is about being there for someone else and being their strength when they have none. It is about providing the answers in a time of uncertainty and weakness. It is, above all else, about caring.

To me, nursing is a mix of things. It is the mix of learning something new every day. It is the highs and lows of doing something amazing for someone else, while constantly being in a position to mortify yourself. It is the art form of constantly changing your plan based on the ever-changing conditions of your patient, your environment, and yourself. It is bonding with some of the most amazing people I have ever met within only a short period of time, because nothing brings you together faster than cleaning up someone else’s bodily fluids. It is a glass of wine with your coworkers, when you don’t even like drinking, because you just need 5 minutes of a break from your brain and its high-speed feed of ‘what do I do now? What’s next? What does this mean?” It is a permanent path of growth, experience, inspiration, and tragedy. Nursing is a unique blend of caring, skill, intelligence, humor, humility, foresight, insight, and empathy. It is more than a career: it is a way of life.