"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, costumes...you 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.