Category Archives: About Me

For the Love of Nursing

My love affair with nurses began at the age of 9. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and spent 87 days inpatient at the Cleveland Clinic while doctors and nurses stabilized me enough to be able to return home. It was a nurse who held my hand and comforted me when the first IV I’d ever received was stuck in my hand. It was a nurse who administered pain medication to my broken body and helped me cope with learning about “chronic illness”, a big word for a 9 year old. It was a nurse who administered my TPN around the clock to keep me alive, and it was a nurse who emptied the hat in the toilet 30 + times a day when I had bloody diarrhea. It was the nurses who comforted my mom in the hall while she quietly broke down, and the nurses who brought my father pillows, blankets and midnight snacks every weekend when he stayed with me overnight. 31 years later, I still remember their names – Tina, Sandra, Paula , Jenny and Kris.

When I had my colectomy at age 15, it was the nurses who not only delivered expert care to all of my drains, catheters, NG tubes, and IV’s and PICC lines, but also they who encouraged me to empty my own ileostomy pouch, walk in the hallways and take ownership over my health and journey with chronic illness.

I wasn’t so sure at first, but on a bright sunny day in June of 1991, a young blonde nurse entered my room, pulled up the blinds, sat on my bed (ignoring my “DO NOT BUMP THE BED SIGN” – I was a bit of a difficult patient), and introduced herself as the ostomy nurse. ET nurse to be exact (now called a WOCN – wound ostomy and continence nurse). I immediately hated her. But as she worked with me to change my pouch and teach me the fundamentals I’d need to go home, she told me a story about a young girl who was born with a birth defect that led to years of incontinence, months in bilateral leg casts, and a permanent urostomy. That girl was her. That moment began a lifetime relationship.  And it cemented my desire to become a nurse myself one day.

Fast forward 4 years and 4 more surgeries for a failed jpouch. While in highschool, I did a work study program and obtained my nurse assistant certification before graduating. I worked in nursing homes and extended care facilities all through my junior and senior year, even while battling my own health issues. It was not a glamorous introduction to nursing, but it taught me a lot about what it means to be a “caregiver”. I had a mentally disabled women with dementia bite me. I had feces flung at me by a gentleman with Alzheimer’s. I walked in on an elderly female patient sharing an amorous tryst with another resident who was not her husband. I wiped a lot of butts, combed tangles out of the scalps of many, fed mouths that barely remembered how to chew, and watched several patients pass from this world to the next. And I did it all with a full heart and a passion to make a difference, even if to just one.

After graduation, I went off to college and enrolled in a BSN program. I miraculously completed two years, all while battling a leaking jpouch, abdominal abscesses, and an infected coccyx that almost cost me the ability to walk. At the end of my 2nd year, my parent’s divorce became final, and my father informed me that he would no longer be paying for my health insurance. I had two options. Continue school with no coverage, or get a fulltime job that offered benefits to ensure I continued to receive the care I needed. For a 19 year old with chronic illness that needed $800 worth of ostomy supplies each month just to be able to function, there really was no choice involved. I quit school and found a job.

But I was blessed to find a good one. I received an offer from the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital to work as a PCNA (Patient Care Nurse Associate), and quite ironically, it was on the nursing unit where I’d received all of my care during my Crohn’s battles and ostomy and jpouch surgeries. What an honor to work with the amazing nursing staff who had helped me through one of the toughest battles of my young life. Those ladies taught me the ins and outs of floor nursing – the non-compliant patient, the distraught family member, the lack of a pee break in a 12 hour shift, the 5 minute lunch in the backroom standing next to the Pyxis, and so much more. They each had a unique personality and approach to nursing, and I learned something priceless from each of them. Probably the most important life lesson came during my second week on the floor,  when a young GI patient (of course I had a heart for him!) went down to the OR for a routine colonoscopy under anesthesia. He didn’t come back. He coded on the table, and as I accompanied his nurse Jenny over to the OR suites to walk his mom back to the unit, we had a heart to heart and I asked her if the pain I was feeling over losing a patient would ever lessen. She looked me square in the eye and said “NO. And if it ever does, then you are no longer good at what you do, and it’s time to move on.” I’ve never forgotten that moment and have applied it many times over in other areas of loss in my life.  The nurses of M-30 from 1996-2000 showed me the best and worst of what nursing could be, and that even at it’s worst, it was still a noble and anointed profession. Jenny, Kim, Molly, Mary Beth, Marianne, Caroline,Leslie, Jen, Kristen, Shannon, Lisa, Cheri, Dawn, Kelly, Kara, and Sue – I salute you!

Over the years, it has consistently been nurses who have made a profound difference in every aspect of my life with chronic illness. I have some amazing physicians involved in my care ; I’m incredibly blessed. But it has been the nurses who have sustained me over the years.

Marlene, my surgeon’s right hand woman, who makes things happen when I’m sitting in the ER for hours on end, who responds to my emails not days later but minutes later, who gets me the prescriptions I need within hours, and who checks on me via Facebook when she’s off the clock, just because…

Mary, my dermatology nurse who squeezes me in on her lunch hour for a  same day Kenalog injection when I’m in agony because the abscesses and pyoderma have decided to flare, who held my hand as I cried after a particularly brutal examination, and who recognizes so delicately the dignity that I have all but lost as a result of this condition.

Paula, Coleen, Chizu, Nora, Joy, Roxanne, Aimee, April and all the other amazing WOCN’s who have graced my life with their presence – I am forever indebted to your knowledge, kindness, and inspiration. Thank you for walking me through ostomy management, open incisions, wet to dry packing, the healing of multiple wounds and so much more. You are THE LIFELINE for ostomy patients.

And to the nurses who volunteer their time at Youth Rally, who know that the best medicine comes not in the form of a pill or injection, but from storytelling, shared experience, laughter, and fostering independence.

As life often dictates, my plan to become a nurse didn’t quite come to fruition. But I never gave up my passion. I’ve held some amazing roles professionally ; I’ve been a development and support manager at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, I was president at the United Ostomy Associations of America, and I worked for one of the largest ostomy supply manufacturers in the world. All of these positions included patient care and education in some way, shape or form, and it helped satisfy that passion I had for caregiving and healing . But I never have gotten over my regret of never becoming a nurse. There has always been a still small voice in the back of my heart whispering “You are a nurse. Finish your dream”. But something has always gotten in the way. Health, family struggles, finances.

But as I sit here, recovering from my 19th surgery, and approaching my 40th birthday, I am stirred so greatly inside by the NEED to fulfill my call. Someone, somewhere, needs a nurse with exactly my skill set and life experience. And I am doing myself and them a huge disservice if I do not answer that still small voice with a resounding YES. As it happens, a series of somewhat unfortunate events (death of a parent, loss of a job, health setback) have led me to a place where, for once, the timing is right and the pieces just fit.  Last month, I enrolled in nursing school and will start fulltime in January,  with really nothing but hope and a prayer that this time around, the dream will be realized. I have no idea how it all will work out with my finances, health challenges, and family obligations, but I feel like the risk of not following my dream is greater than the risk any of these things presents.

But one thing I know for sure was taught to me by all of the nursing angels I’ve encountered over the years; you can teach anatomy and physiology, you can teach assessment skills, phlebotomy, CPR, pharmacology, and so much more; but you cannot teach passion, instinct and intuition.  I know, deep down in my soul, I’ve always been a nurse. It’s just finally time to get the credentials to prove it.

 

2013 – The Year of Me(h)

Admittedly, if you look at my Facebook page, and go by the status updates alone, you can deduce that 2013 was a year focused on me and meh. I’m not generally so self-consumed, and I even sounded a bit whiny in many of my posts, but 2013 was a tough year. I’m chalking it up to experience gained and character built, sprinkled with some good friends, many laughs, and the faithfulness of God to carry me through any circumstances. In case you missed it, here’s the year in review…

January –  Rang in the New Year after narrowly surviving the Knipp Christmas Plague of 2012. Eleven days later, I found myself in the ER, hearing the words “You have multiple, bilateral clots”. That’s right, blood clots. In my lungs. Both of them. And once again, I narrowly survived. After a stay in intensive care, and some additional time in the hospital, I was discharged home to a new world of blood thinners, bi weekly visits to the anti-coagulation clinic, and chronic shortness of breath and chest pain.

Image

February – My baby girl celebrated her 10th birthday, and we packed up our house and moved in with my inlaws. Instead of feeling better, my health continued to deteriorate, despite almost weekly trips to the doctor, and several courses of treatment.

March– The month began with the loss of a friend, colleague and mentor, Linda Aukett. Then back in the hospital, this time with fluid in my chest. The clots had cause significant damage to the lower lobe of my left lung and I’d developed a pulmonary infarct and pleural effusion. After having it drained, and a round of blood transfusions, I was feeling much better, and began to make some progress forward. This month also marked 13 years of marriage for Jon and I.

Image

April – Another stint in the hospital, and the loss of a bright and shining light in my life. Zachariah was my friend, ostomy brother, fellow advocate and Youth Rally counselor. Rest in Peace, Z. Much love!

Image

May – . My lungs began to work better, but my gut began to behave less. Enjoyed our traditional Mother’s Day outing to the flea market and Geneva on the Lake. Unfortunately, a bad intestinal blockage confirmed what I’d know for about two years – I had ANOTHER hernia, and was going to need major surgery to repair it, including an ostomy re-site and revision and an abdominal wall rebuild.

June – An uneventful month, with the exception of some minor ostomy issues. I took Jaidin and her friends to the opening of the American Girl Store in Columbus, and reaffirmed my thoughts of being crazy while standing in line in the blistering heat for 3 hours.

Image

July – BEST MONTH of the YEAR. Why, you say? YOUTH RALLY! A week in Seattle with my Rally family was just what I needed! Love you guys!

Image

August – Began mentally preparing myself for my 16th surgery in September, and lost the job that I loved.

September – Major surgery on Sept. 3rd, and I don’t remember much after that. Excruciating pain for days, unresolved ileus, infection, fluid collections, drains, it’s all a blur. I finally was discharged on Sept 24th, to a month long home IV antibiotic regiment.

Image

October – Spent the month nauseated, running back & forth to the surgeon’s office. Developed a blood clot in my arm from the PICC line, drain in my belly came out, and was promptly put back in a week later after a Ct scan found another seroma. A couple days in the hospital, then out for more home care antibiotics, and Halloween.

November – I celebrated 38 years of life on this earth, and was especially grateful for modern medicine that made that milestone possible . Finally felt decent enough to begin job hunting.

December –  Flew to Atlanta for a job interview, and was in the hospital a week later for another surgery.

So, tonight, with an open wound and some optimism, I will jump head first into 2014, thanking God for His faithfulness to see me through the last 12 months and believing with all my heart that things are on the upswing. Thanks to all who have endured 2013 with me, brought smiles to tough times, words of encouragement in the midst of despair, and lots of laughs through the tears.

Image

In hopes of capturing my thoughts…

I’ve created this blog as a place for me to come and be forthright and honest about what’s really on my mind.

A therapy of sorts…