Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I'd been at my new job as Clinical Program Coordinator for a hospital system's stroke program for nearly three months before I recognized a feeling that had been building for some time now.


For the longest time I couldn't imagine doing anything but bedside care. Now, I can't imagine going back. After all, there is nothing I can do as a function of my current job that will endanger a patient's health, a patient's life, or my nursing license. I never really grasped what a burden that was and how tired of it I was becoming.

It wasn't something that was at the forefront of my mind whenever I clocked in to do bedside care. Well, not unless I was being floated to someplace like Orthopaedics or Spine: someplace I felt like I was practicing outside my competency. It's not a whole lot different when trying to run a floor short handed, or there are other confounding circumstances that kept me from giving my patients the best care I could.

When I was younger, I either wasn't fully aware of that burden or I was just better able to bear it. But years pass, times change, I've changed. I don't know how some of my colleagues continue on doing 12 hour nights in bedside critical care, for years longer that my 23 years. Perhaps it's a sense of duty, or feeling they have no other choice, or that is what they love about nursing. I already knew my care was degrading, and I had to get out of bedside care before I seriously hurt someone.

And it wasn't just my patients I was worried about injuring. In order to sleep during the day and function at night, I was resorting to unwise courses of action which I will not detail here. I can, however emphasis with Michael Jackson's desperation for sleep, and the lengths one can be driven to to get it.
But it was more than that. In the autumn of 2009, I was off for 3 weeks with the swine flu, and another three with plantar fasciitus. Fortunately, I had more than enough sick time built up. But it reminded me how vulnerable I'd be if I suffered, say, a broken leg (or worse, a broken back). How would I take care of patients? That's about the worse way to have to embark on a career transition, with the question of "transition to what?" not even yet asked.
I can do my job with a broken limb, even if wheelchair-bound. Not having to depend on my body in the same way is an immense relief. Of course, that doesn't mean I feel no obligation to lose the 10 pounds I gained since changing jobs, and then some. I want to enjoy this relief for as long as I can.

I don't regret the burden I carried as a bedside nurse, it was part-and-parcel of a career I continue to find rewarding on myriad levels, and helped me remember that what I was doing was important: "just a staff nurse" is a semantically null term. But it also became a burden that I knew I could not bear for much longer. It was time to pass it to younger and stronger backs.

Sometimes, you don't realize how heavy a burden was until you at last set it down.

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