Sunday, March 28, 2021

"How do I retire?"

 "So EDNurseasauras, you are 12 months (and a handful of days) into retirement.  How is it going?"

Frankly, it's going great.  

I do miss my co-workers.  I don't miss the stress.  I love not getting up in the morning and dreading that  I have I have to go to work.  Then leaving home an hour before my scheduled shift to find a place to park, and sit in the car for 20-30 minutes listening to spa music trying to psych myself up to go in.   Of course, I didn't recognize I was doing that at the time.   I don't worry about having a specific day/holiday off weeks/months (occasionally a year) in advance.  I've fallen back in love with sewing and have claimed my largely unused upstairs guest room as my own where I can just leave my projects... and the mess.  Yes, I'm teaching myself the fine art of quilting, don't judge me for the cliche.  I've quite a history with sewing entrepreneurship over the years, clothes, alterations, garden flags, curtains, name it,  I've probably sewn it.  Except for upholstery.  Beyond cushion covers and pillows,  I draw the line there.   Everything is for fun, or just learning a new skill I haven't tried before.  I am cooking more, my house is mostly tidy and organized.  Some home improvement projects have been completed in lieu of travel.  I am walking again. Without a dog, but walking.  I see my grandson and my children less than I like, but...its still a pandemic.   

None of my former colleagues around my age are still working in my ER.  In the last months every single one of the Sacrilegious Six in my ER have retired and followed me down (or, out of) the long, dark tunnel into Life After Nursing.

Processing retirement has taken place in a vacuum.  Beyond an occasional chaotic group text most of my former colleagues really haven't had an opportunity speak in depth about what that's like from our perspective.  We're not doing nursing, and not talking about NOT doing nursing.  I don't know if its common among retirees in general, or it is just nurses who have varying degrees of difficulty coming to terms with the end of a career.   I know we all have lots to talk about.

Peg is perhaps the exception.  An ER nurse one year longer than me, one of the many "nurse's nurse" types.   She planned her retirement down to the minute, down to the penny.  She had a countdown calendar on her desk for the last 18 months.  Just before I went out, she was done.  Called out sick her last week, walked out, never came back,  doesn't call or write.  Done.   

Some months ago one of the Sacreligious Six admitted she was  having a tough time.

"Someone needs to teach me how to retire". With several side jobs always, Carla seems to be missing the ER.  She had a small stint working at an addiction center, then at a chain grocery store in the deli.  I get it.   I always said I would retire and work at Chile's, but they closed down 2 years ago in my town.  

"Can I confess?  I retired 7 months ago, and just last week I unclenched my jaw and felt almost like I wasn't going to have to go back".  I get that, I really do.  

I had a few Zoom meetings with my ladies I haven't seen in several years, gals I graduated with from our 3 year diploma program.  We chatted over a few glasses of wine until it just became too tough to stare at a screen (I don't know how people are doing that all day, every day.  Respect to them).  I love these girls like sisters.  We have talked about every aspect of our lives over the years, spouses, deaths of parents, worries about our children, celebration of marriages and grandchildren.  Mostly we talk about what all nurses talk about when they get together.  Nursing.  And now, saying goodbye to that part of our lives.  

Sally updated us on what was going on with her, having been repurposed out of her surgical ICU. "After 6 months working in a Covid ICU,  I noticed I was not on the next schedule.  That's when I knew I was done.  I gave my 2 weeks and walked out.  No party.  No fanfare.  Just done".

Mary gave lots of excuses about why she couldn't be in on the meeting.  Mostly I think she doesn't like Zoom.  I don't see her retiring any time soon, she is a director of nursing where she has worked her entire life, starting in high school as a volunteer.  That's dedication.

Lisa is working remotely on...whatever it is she does,  and plans to retire next summer.  She has grandchildren and is ready to hang it up.  She left clinical many years ago, so I will be interested in her perspective when the time comes.  

Back around Thanksgiving, Cath sent me a text: 

" I just wrote my retirement letter.  It was really hard, I'm kind of crying.  WTF?  And I thought of you...cuz we started all this together"

My nursing school roommate, partner in crime, maid of honor, godmother to my oldest child, we did lots of 'firsts' together.  We took the lamp together, now we pass it on. 

Me: "It is like amputating a part of yourself, it is such a huge part of your identity.  What am I, now that I'm no longer an ER nurse?  It was always a job though, make no mistake.  For me it was more to do with how I did the job and how I was allowed to do it.  There is so little that we can control as nurses, we really can't do the job the way its meant to be done.  Maybe it made it a little easier to accept in the end.  Maybe.  A little.   We can always write a book about how soul-less health care has become". 

Clearly I was still struggling a bit with the reality of retirement.  Resigned but not quite at peace, guilty feelings still, but also relieved, and yes,  I think there is also a bit of Stockholm syndrome there.  Nurses are treated badly.  There, I've said it.   It is other nurses who allow it.  But that is a topic for another day.

I think Cath, who was struggling with her impending retirement didn't recognize that I was loudly saying I'M OKAY!  for my own benefit was well as hers, and she fired back "For some of us nursing was a calling.  It becomes you, and you become it.  I struggle with how I will separate.  Some of my NP colleagues never learned the NURSE part, I feel sorry for them, and their patients".  She is a women's health NP, the most educated woman of all with whom I graduated from my diploma nursing program 44 years ago.  She the one who told me a week before graduation she was not sure she really wanted to be a nurse.  I recognized it for what it was, she was scared shitless.  We all were.  But we were diploma grads, if you didn't get the actual NURSE part, you absolutely could not have made it through. 

"It was more than a job, it was a career and a mission.  I wanted my patients to be able to write their own experiences: births, trauma, whatever needed to be told.  Somedays it feels like a burden to carry all that ability to give a woman an opportunity to write their own history, or their own recovery.  Too melancholy.  Don't let me get a puppy"

I sent her a card with some wise words from someone who had been retired for less than a year.  It had a picture of a puppy.  

We're all okay.  We'll all be okay.  


Saturday, March 27, 2021

"So, what did I miss?"

 I've been watching "Hamilton".  I have not been in France.  I don't understand why Mr. EdNursesauras and my daughter hated it, I don't like rap but I thought it was brilliant.  

As my friend Cath (who retired last month) says, "I've been remarkably busy doing remarkably little".  But there is routine.  Get up when you want.  Enjoy my morning coffee while I wake up, in no rush to get anywhere most days.  Get out walking.  Spend quiet afternoons enjoying my sewing turret planning and completing projects.  Have a firm lunch date with Mr. EdNurseasauras every week.  The usual drudgery of keeping house, although of that I can say its a piece of cake when you do something every day.  WTF was I thinking all those years when I would spend an entire weekend before a holiday cleaning and putting things in order?  

I've had a lot of time to think about lots of stuff, you would imagine I would have more time to write.  I'm just not sure there is quite enough to write about.  Who wants to see my spice drawer?  Or my sewing projects?  Or the gnome I made out of spruce boughs and red felt for a hat?  I don't think I'm quite there yet, and I'm not sure I'm that kind of a blogger.   I have been reading some books about nurses' training in the last century which is interesting, and I have some thoughts about how that affected my own nursing education, but perhaps Oldfoolrn has that covered.  I dunno, I do enjoy reading about the antics of nurses long ago.

I've realized I have a few regrets about retiring somewhat abruptly.  

Like, not taking a lifetime supply of bandaids.  For the first time in decades, I had to purchase them.  I was not happy with the quality.  I suppose it would have been good to have a bunch of surgical masks early on.  I did have just one that I, like the rest of my colleagues, had to reuse until more became available.  We made do.  We didn't go out much anyway.

I always had a bag full of saline flushes, the result of not emptying the pockets of my scrubs before leaving work.  The syringes, when emptied and dried,  are so handy for storing various things.  I used a few on trips to put a few cc's of moisturizer, shampoo or other liquid to keep to the required 3 ounces rule on flights.   Quite handy.  Now they are all gone.  Sadface.  

I had to use regular scotch tape instead of medical for Christmas gifts this past year.  My family was shocked.

My husband has bi-weekly injections, it would have been nice to pirate a box of alcohol wipes.

A few tongue depressors always come in handy, and my grandson will soon reach the age where he would enjoy simple craft projects.  Ah, well, Popsicle sticks it is.  

I have two pairs of hospital scrub pants to last me the rest of my life.  The really good kind with the thick twill tape, my preferred pajama pants as they are huge, soft and comfy.  My 17 year old scrubs from a previous job have holes in them.  The end of an era.  I have one pair of black work scrubs that I keep in case I need them.  But it is more likely I am just not ready to bury them yet.

On the plus side, I managed to collect about 300 pens.  I won't ever have to buy another one for the rest of my life. 

Just recently I remembered I had a locker at work that I never emptied.  I also never used it.  As I recall, there was several pieces of bubble wrap in there, one of which had the absolutely huge bubbles.  I could never pop it at work because it sounded like gunshots, and I certainly didn't want to be responsible for creating a situation.  I hope the new owner of my locker appreciates my legacy.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

From the home front, swan song part two

I have not worked since mid March.

My last shift was preceded by 10 days of the busiest I can ever remember.   The waits were hours long, it being high season for colds, flu, pneumonia.  I did 5 straight shifts in triage, much of it alone.   One week we had no COVID19 suspects.  Then, a patient with cough, fever, SOB.  The travel to Asia was not mentioned until I specifically asked about it.  Then it started to blow up.  Biogen conference fallout.  COVID suspects were isolated, most not sick enough to need immediate care, so delay in being seen, delay in turning over the room.  Over the weekend, the  COVID condo tent had been erected, staffed by useless people like department heads who never, ever did anything clinical... but they were pretty proud of themselves, high-fiving each other and planning their celebratory drinks after the tent closed at 5 PM.   We got a kick out of watching them congratulate themselves for remembering which end of an electronic thermometer to use, as evidenced by the high living and group congratulations.  They were having their butts handed to them in that tent because the ER was chronically understaffed and we regulars couldn't be spared.   

Then, nothing.  Patient numbers dropped, the tent dwellers dealt specifically with the hundreds of patients who, as usual, were sent to the ER by their PCP.  Most had no symptoms.  The only ER patients were actual ER patients.  No visitors allowed, which was actually....great.  Ghost town.  Not a soul in the waiting room.  

From crazy to eerily quiet.  I worked another couple of shifts.  Then I got sick.   

 BTC (Before the Time of Covid) I would have probably worked my next scheduled shift,  but...with the cough, I was feeling crappy enough (and just a little scared) to go to Urgent care on a Saturday.  I stopped just inside the door and announced myself to the masked nurse in the empty lobby, standing at the ready to intercept and direct the infectious public.  "I have a cough and I'm an ER nurse".

I was given a mask, asked one or two particulars (none of which was "are you short of breath") and sent back to wait in my car.  They would have the PA call my cell phone. 

After 3 or 4 minutes, I was beckoned to a side entrance, shipping door, whatever.   Not through the lobby.  Straight to a room where the PA did the intake, VS, exam, tested for flu and ordered a CXR for pneumonia.  Both negative.  Since I was an ER nurse with symptoms, to my own ER I was directed for Covid testing.  My.  Own.  ER.

I was taken to a negative pressure room.  "I feel stupid", I muttered to my colleague.  From outside the room I read her my VS from my urgent care sheet.  She handed me a portable pulse oximeter since that reading was not documented.  "It's 88", I called out.  "What?!"  "Just kidding, it's 98".

I tested negative for COVID-19.   I waited 4 days for the results.

While I waited, quarantined, I got worse. The cough was relentless.  And the fatigue.  I have rarely had an illness wherein it was necessary to stay in bed and pretty much sleep for three days.  When I wasn't coughing and dizzy, and short of breath from coughing. 
I didn't go back to work. I was way too fatigued.  Simple tasks around the house required prolonged rest periods.  This lasted about a month.  Employee health called me every week until the end of April and asked me the same questions about the timeline of my illness.  I'm not sure they ever wrote any of it down.  

Mid-May I wasn't sure I wanted to go back. But I felt guilty.  And worried about money, although  there was no place to go to spend it.  "We're fine.  You don't have to go back to work if you don't want to" , said Mr. Ednurseasauras.  

In early June I was sure I didn't want to.  I still felt guilty.  

By July it was certain.   An impersonal letter from HR removed any doubt.  If I wasn't going to work the minimum required hours as a per-diem, I was done.  I never bothered to respond. 

I was fine with that.  

It took me another month to declare that  I was actually retired from Emergency Nursing after 40-plus years.  

I'm fine with that, too.  

But...would I recommend nursing as a career??

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

It just isn't funny anymore...a swan song in two parts

I started this blog a long time ago with a post about my husband's experience with his cardiac stent.  A bit over a year ago, he underwent a 4 vessel CABG by way of some mild chest pain and shortness of breath while bicycling.  AFTER we cavorted around Italy.  He has healed quite well, thanks, although not quite up to his own ridiculous standards of physical activity for a man 73-going-on-55.  For anybody else who routinely does not hike mountains and do strenuous bicycling, he is a superstar.  

I have always said as long as I still need the money find humor in the job, I will continue to do it.  The last couple of years have been a tough sell for me, as evidenced by the paucity of amusing posts.

If I thought I was a dinosaur nearly 13 years ago when this blog was born, well....what's older than a dinosaur?

 License on the line every day, every shift.

ER nursing just keeps getting tougher, and I don't mean just the physical aspects, which have certainly taken their toll.  Most of  my coworkers at Satan's Waiting Room for the last 6 years are no longer there.  Many have chucked beside nursing altogether to become nurse practitioners (a lot).  Some retired.  Several excellent nurses have been fired or forced out over some pretty minor shit.  There was an exodus of staff to Gigantic Mega Medical Center, for big bucks, a long commute, traffic, and no free parking.  All in a state tax state, which, to my mind, merely adds a boat-load of headache for even money.   My middle management boss:  a total upper management marionette of stunning uselessness  My upper management boss:  a troll with doctorate.  Neither of them would be safe to give a patient so much as a bed pan.

This pandemic has put the cherry on the turd sundae.

Once upon a time I thrived on learning new things, taking care of really sick patients, knowing how to do all the tasks, run all the machines, anticipate all the meds, trauma, codes, train wrecks of all description.  I loved to be considered a resource for other nurses, a leader, mentor and team player.  I didn't mind the physical aspects so much.  Then.  I've worked for employers good and bad.  Some who valued me for my commitment, or work ethic.  Or comic relief.  A few who saw and cultivated  my leadership potential.

But...the job has changed drastically.  The priority is not the patient.  It is a numbers game, about the money.  Always.   Documentation is directed toward charges, which is not litigation friendly.  Nurses have become chess pieces, more specifically pawns.

As a nurse who has been an advocate of what is best for the patient, I found that I was having to pick my battles.  I had to, you can't fight every minute of every day.  Exhausting.  Providers are gonna do what providers are gonna do.   You can beg, or take a hard line, try to move further up the food chain in time to prevent a really big error.  Others have done that, with predictably poor results for them.  Fortunately, I never had to take things to that level.  

Would I recommend nursing as a career?

To be continued....

Sunday, March 22, 2020

It had snowed 2 days before.  Not much, just a couple of inches of fluffy, sugary white stuff.

For days, her little footprints were still clearly visible.  Into the woods behind my house.  Headed half way to my neighbors house to check on his dog.  The flattened area where she rolled.  She loved to roll in snow.

The steady cold weather ensured that those footprints would remain undisturbed for weeks.  Looking at them crushed me and always brought another round of weeping.

When the temperature climbed to  just above freezing, the gradual melt made the prints bigger, then bigger still, until it was  large patches of grass with little snow.   She loved to roll in that, too.  I could somehow still see footprints.

My heart is broken into a million tiny pieces still.  But I can more often think of her without tears.

 I miss her.