In December I finished my BSN. What a relief. I showed up to the Avila University Administration Building to pick up my diploma the day campus re-opened after Xmess break and when the nice lady behind the counter handed it to me and asked me to check the spelling of my name to make sure it was correct the tears started flowing. Joy, sadness, relief, pride. It was all in those tears. And the missing. Missing Oscar, missing Nick. I can hear Nick telling me how proud he is of me. I can feel Oscar’s arms around me squeezing me tight in hugs only he could give. Thinking of that moment brings the tears to my eyes and goosebumps to my flesh even now.
My life seems to have been moving a million miles an hour for the past several years. Really since I got clean eight years ago. Change is always constant. Not just subtle changes like needing to change the brand of your coffee because the one that you like has gotten too pricey or your usual store has stopped carrying it. My changes have been life or death, literally. Navigating big change is hard. Nothing easy about it. I have found that the way to stay (mostly) productive is to focus on the small bits that make up the everyday. Breathing. Breathing is a big deal for me. Meditation daily is part of my routine, but it hasn’t always been. At first, it was simply remembering to take deep cleansing breaths whenever the uncomfortable vibrations of emotional pain would start creeping in. Then drinking enough water. For real. Water is a big deal. After that comes nourishing foods. All with a focus on mindfulness. Staying square in the middle of the moment you are in.
In the last semester of my BSN, I had a realization. The truth of my realization is that I am a nurse whose calling is surgery. This has been a difficult truth for me to embrace since Oscar’s death.
I studied mental health- depression, and suicidality- for all of my individual projects while completing my BSN. How confusing to study mental health so intensely if your calling is surgery. I thought for a while that I should try to change my specialty area and I did for about three months beginning in the late summer of 2018. I worked in primary care for those three months and I learned very quickly that it wasn’t for me. Nick died in September of that year and I couldn’t try to make the transition to primary care work any longer. Thankfully, I was welcomed back to the OR at Menorah I had been working in since I left KU in 2016. It was really good to go back to surgery after trying something different. This was a big clue to me that my calling is truly surgery.
Fast forward to last summer, 2019. It became glaringly clear to me that Menorah was no longer a good fit for me. Not because I was grating with personalities or anything like that. Menorah OR has been a wonderful family for me. I love all of the staff there dearly and it took me over six months to make the final decision to leave for another OR. I was not aligning with the foundational ethics of HCA. Over and over again I would see the same problems happening and I was powerless to do anything about it. I had ended up back in a board running position and was denied the opportunity to advance to management, so I was in this strange and very uncomfortable position of seeing exactly what needed to change to make our department more efficient and safer for staff and patients with no power to make change happen.
I applied for other OR staff nurse positions after I was denied the promotion to OR Manager at Menorah- and I turned down two very strong offers from organizations with very positive reputations. I wasn’t sure if my motivation to leave Menorah was coming from a place that was purely emotionally reactionary. What if this just meant that I really did need to change my specialty area? That was the lingering question. I felt like I wanted to try a little longer at Menorah (and finish my BSN). Ensure that I was truly doing everything I could to continue my career at Menorah. There were several conversations with my director about burning out in my board running position. That it was too stressful to make an impossible schedule run smoothly every day. What we needed to change to make our department more efficient. My concerns fell on deaf ears. I tried at Menorah. I really did.
I explored the question of whether I was really meant for surgery because of all of the heart and soul that I gave to Menorah with no reciprocation. I decided to apply for any and every job that sounded interesting to me that wasn’t in surgery. Looking back I feel like I was testing God. My job hunt included many different community health type positions from school nurse to county emergency coordinator to public health. I applied at UMKC, Cerner, Johnson County, Shawnee Mission School District, even Tyson Foods! ZERO interest from these employers. My resume went nowhere.
Swirling in the back of my mind, the entire time since I had turned the offer down in September, I kept thinking of one OR staff nurse position in particular: CVOR at Saint Luke’s Hospital. When I had interviewed there in late summer last year I was so impressed. I asked the manager more questions than she asked me. All of her answers were spot on. I shadowed there and was completely enthralled. The way the nurses practiced, the care I saw given, it was all world-class. Truly world-class. And the cases themselves! I had always had a little piece of me that wanted to learn CVOR, but I felt like I wasn’t good enough.
I had first been exposed to CVOR at KU. One of our robot rooms for main was in the CVOR and I would peek in the windows of those heart cases and I remember saying to my work wife at the time how much I wish I could just be a fly on the wall in those rooms. What if I was meant to grow as an OR nurse in a way that I never thought I would have the opportunity to? What if I could grow my OR nursing practice to include this pinnacle of OR nursing knowledge- open hearts? Those were the questions that began to make themselves regulars as I would contemplate my next career move.
The day after I finished my BSN course work in December 2019 I looked to see if the position at Saint Luke’s CVOR was still open. It was! I immediately reached out to the manager and to the HR recruiter I had worked with previously. I went through another round of interviews. I felt a sense of home during those interviews. I was extended a second offer that I accepted.
I have been in my new position learning the rooms as a CVOR staff nurse for about a month now. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough at first. The cases are the highest acuity and that is challenging to me because of my own personal trauma, but I feel confident that I am able to process these new experiences appropriately and bring my highest level of professional performance to the table. Also, fitting in with such a tight-knit team… They are the tightest-knit team I have ever seen, and each and every one of them holds each other to the highest practice standard. And me, coming from a leadership position where I had been on the outside of staff camaraderie- I am sure it seemed like I was either super stand-offish or a snob. Transitions have always been hard for me, but I feel like especially over the past two weeks or so I have started figuring out my spot on this team. I feel like I have so much to learn even though I have been an OR nurse for the better part of ten years. This specialty area should not see me bored for a very very long time, if ever!
I have been feeling so much of myself change since I started at Luke’s. The organizational atmosphere at Saint Luke’s is amazing. I have never felt so supported in my nursing practice. What I have had the blessing to witness caring for our patients is truly humbling. Somehow being with these patients is different than all of the other surgical patients I have cared for. It has been very powerful for me on the deepest level of spirit.
My career finally feels like it is exactly where it needs to be. And that has been a long time coming. My new understanding is that I can pursue the career that I have always dreamed of and simultaneously honor my firstborn son, Oscar. I don’t need to fundamentally change what has always excited me about nursing in order to fully honor his memory. The way that I carry myself as I do the work that I love is what matters. That I keep talking and keep sharing openly and honestly about my experience and all that I have learned about mental wellness is the purest way for me to honor my beautiful boy, Oscar.