a love letter to my younger self

Last week was Winter Cleaning Week at my house. Mark and I revamped our front living area, moved the piano, painted and moved bookshelves, bought some succulents. (Waaaaay late to that trend, but whatevs.) Moving bookshelves meant moving books – lots of them – and culling down Mark’s collection from his grad school days.

In the midst of all of that, I found a stack of old journals tucked away in the back of a shelf, and I sat on our loveseat, reading them, and both inwardly groaned at my melodramatic younger self and felt a pang of such compassion for her as well. Life was so scary for a time, when I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right career choice, when I was teetering on the verge of hating everything about nursing school.

Some excerpts:

May, 2003

…My future is nearly laid out – I’ll be told what clothing to wear (and probably what colors to wear as well), virtually residing in a stark, almost-too-clean hospital, or bound to a stiff, stuffy doctor’s office which overcharges its patients. I’ll be left to do the dirty work, to inflict pain – a job reserved for the lowly position of nurse. I’ll take orders silently, belittled by doctors who believe that they are there to save the world, and their partners (or slaves, as nurses are often mistaken for) are there simply to clean up the mess…

November, 2005

Nursing school is scary. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that I shed more tears over my future career than pretty much anything else in my life. I have more responsibility than I feel that I can handle sometimes. …I should be loving clinicals, right? How could I love physiology so much, and love pathophysiology so much, and not like this? …I’ve been in school for 2 1/2 years now, and I feel like I still haven’t got a clue. I feel stagnant and useless right now, and I just feel like I’ll never be competent, and never be a great nurse. 

April, 2006

I’m tired of feeling stupid. I’m tired of being underestimated, not trusted, scared half to death, so much so that i can’t do my job, degraded, and generally not respected as a student. I have not been a nurse for twenty years. I’ve been one practicing in a hospital for approximately 30 days total. I don’t have a license yet, let alone one to lose, thank you very much. I’m still learning. I don’t know everything you could possibly know about IV pumps. I sometimes forget things. I don’t know where the probe covers are because no one’s ever told me, and when I ask, you look at me like I’m stupid. I can’t help it that other people left trash in my patient’s room 5 minutes before you came in and I haven’t had time to get rid of it yet. I don’t know why that bag of normal saline is in here, I know he doesn’t even get that, and it was there when I came in this morning. I’m sorry that I perceived him as angry, and the nurse perceived him as irritable. He cursed at me, he didn’t curse at her. I’m sorry that I thought his abdomen was distended rather than just “big and firm.” I’m sorry that other people at this hospital don’t chart well enough for me to get sufficient assessment data. I’m sorry that you don’t feel that I’m preparing adequately and don’t know what I’m doing, when I spent 3 hours at pre-clinical yesterday and 5 hours doing paperwork for you. I’m sorry that you don’t agree with my diagnoses. I’m sorry that I have failed you, and that you are so freaking disappointed.

As I read, as I ached for myself, ten years younger, I couldn’t get the lyrics of Landslide out of my head.

Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides – can I handle the seasons of my life? 

I wish I could go back and reassure that jaded 18-year-old, that terrified 21-year-old. Take heart, dear one, it will all turn out alright. You really were born to do this. Trust your instincts – they’ll serve you well. In the entirety of your nursing career, not once will you feel like a slave. You’ll find clinicals that you love, and you’ll make it through that horrible semester, scarred but still intact. You’ll find grace soon enough, and kindness, and the reassurance that there are parts of nursing that make your heart feel whole again.

You’ll start work, and the NICU will wreck you in the best and worst ways. You’ll celebrate every little victory like that child has just finished a marathon. You’ll care for babies that take up your entire heart, then shatter it. You’ll see horrors that no human eyes should see. And you will love what you do so much that you will devote weekends and holidays and nights and days without complaint. You’ll never utter the words, “I hate my job,” but instead, “Sometimes my job is really hard.” And sometimes it is. A friend once told me that we NICU nurses have the enormous task of witnessing the full circle of a life – coming into this world, living in it, and leaving it. The enormity of it is sometimes overwhelming. When babies – especially babies you know and love – pass out of this world and fly to Jesus, you’ll shed tears that most people will never get to see. And yet, even on the hardest of days, you’ll never want to work anywhere else.

I wish I could go back in time and explain how a nurse is never lowly, is never just a nurse. I wish I could go back and tell you how good you’ll be, how confident, give you examples of all the times you’ve saved a life. I wish you could see into the future, could see how all those puzzle pieces will fit together, how you’ll become competent, then confident. I wish you could see how you’ll expand your roles, try a few different hats on for size, a few different hospitals, and figure out what fits you best. I wish you could see yourself in your element, at the bedside of an extremely critical baby, managing pumps and IVs and lab values and vitals, collaborating with practitioners and neos and surgeons as a colleague rather than a slave, and I wish you could understand exactly how much you’ll love it. How you could talk about the NICU for a solid 24 hours, nonstop. How much it will change your life.

And eleven years after you wrote that frustrated, angry rant toward the clinical instructor that very nearly made you leave it all behind, I wish you could see that you’ll be embarking on a new journey, a Master’s program at UAB for the Neonatal track in their Nurse Practitioner program. It’s something you swore you’d never do, but oh, how we eat our words. You’ll be more excited than scared this time around, but let’s be honest, you’ll still be a little bit scared about this whole thing. After all, you haven’t been in school in ten years.

And I wish, just a little bit, that that terrified 21 year old could travel into the future and walk beside me, confident in the person she’ll become, and smile at me with a face ten years younger and say, “You know what? We got this.”