Most of you know I recently returned to University to finish my nursing degree.
I contemplated not returning. I didn’t even want to when I did. I dragged my ass to campus kicking and screaming the whole way as I drove down the parkway in the crazy morning commute traffic, playing Charlie Puth really loud (I like him, I have no defence, I just think he’s cool) and I headed down the parkway – slowly (I hate traffic), back to reality!
What I really wanted to do was this (the traffic bit was true at least):
I REALLY didn’t want to go back.. But I HAD to.. I had to finish my training – for me, for my boys! For our life and our future and mostly because I was born to be a nurse. It’s all I ever should have been. All I ever planned to be; I have this burning need to help and care and heal people, sometimes it’s overpowering and I have to control it, other times I can’t help but bring my work home with me. Being a nurse doesn’t end as you change out of your uniform and head out of the locker room. We are human and we feel everything! AND my mum always wanted me to be a nurse, I grew up in hospitals. I should have done it when I was younger, I had my place set out, but then I lost my mum when I was sitting my exams and my life was forever changed. Then my boys came along and the timing was never quite right. I am blessed I finally got the chance to go back and study as an adult and a mom. I just couldn’t give that up regardless of my own pain and apprehensions. I was born to do this.. It is just the right thing to do..
BUT, At that point I didn’t want to, didn’t even feel ready, I was happy in the bubble I’d created for my family, locked away from the world: safe, drama free and alive. I didn’t want the interaction or the effort or the expectations. It all seemed too hard.. But I did it.. and it was the right decision.
Because Nursing healed me..
By returning to my studies, I rediscovered myself..
I hope by sharing, it will help anyone to find their way back from the same place..
You see; I had to step off my course when Carter was rushed into hospital last year. I was on placement at the time and couldn’t take time off. We also weren’t sure if Carter would survive so University or becoming a nurse was the furthest thing from my mind. I was not a nurse at that point, I was a parent and I was a very frightened parent. ALL medical knowledge and training leaves you during those times, you can’t even breathe never mind gain perspective on the situation.
I remember making the call to my academic advisor and our senior cohort leader. It was Good Friday when Carter was rushed in, I made the call on the Easter Sunday, I hadn’t thought to do anything about it until then, he was hanging in there by that point, showing signs of stability and I went to get a shower (I seriously stunk, hadn’t left his side since the Thursday as he was sick on the Thursday as that was the day of his surgery),. So, I hadn’t showered, changed, brushed my teeth or even used the toilet in that time. I just stayed, glued to his bedside, my feet were killing but I didn’t realise until days later. I don’t think I even sat down.. So, I went to shower and make a drink in the parent’s room they had set up for us and I realised that I should ring work (I was working as a bank healthcare too – still am during my training and hadn’t let them know I wouldn’t be in). I needed to ring my placement (who were expecting me the next day) and I needed to ring Uni and let them know that I don’t know if I’m coming back. I have no idea what’s happening right now and I can’t even think about it, I just need my boy to live and then I will do whatever I need to, once I know I can, because if he wasn’t to survive, how would I anyway? I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think straight. I just needed to let someone know not to expect me and that I’d be in touch when I could.
So I made the call and left voicemails as of course, it was Easter Sunday and they were all on holiday. A few days later I received a phone call from the course leader and she advised she could hold my place for me until the September and to give her a ring when things were a bit more settled. She arranged to contact my placement for me and said not to worry about anything else right now. They were all amazing!
Carter recovered and came home. Life had forever changed and we were surviving day by day. It wasn’t easy. I’d created a bubble, we lived in the bubble and the bubble was calm, quiet and safe, I liked it inside the bubble..
September came but Carter had only just gone back to school, he was schooling reduced hours with huge input from Greg and myself. His kidneys were in distress for a very long time and he’d only just got good function back. I was not ready to return to University at that point, things were not right, the timing was not good. So, I spoke with them and arranged to take the full year out. We are allowed a gap year, for pregnancy, travelling or bereavement / special circumstances etc. They were absolutely great about it. Of course ALL of the time off, from the 25th March was completely unpaid, your bursary does not continue when you are not in attendance, but that was also not a worry at that point, my life was in hell, there were more important things to worry over (that came later).
Everyone kept asking me when I was going back to work, to university. My family, friends, colleagues, even my son’s teachers and his medical team kept asking if / when I was going to finish my nursing degree. I knew what they were doing, helping us back to normality, coaxing me to step out from the bubble I had created – our comfort zone, where they weren’t welcome. It was safe in there, things were OK, we were surviving and normality was scary. Normality meant leaving the house – alone! No boys, no Carter! Normality meant leaving Carter with Greg and as much as I trust him with my entire world, they’re his boys too of course. I wasn’t ready to let that control out of my grasp for anyone, and I had this NEED to be there. His diabetes and his safety was my identity. I wasn’t even a person anymore.. I wasn’t ready for the push, I was happy in my bubble, but I knew, for the sake of 12months, I’d be silly to throw it all away.
I had to do it – I kept telling myself – it will be worth it!
So, I was due to go back to University in March in a whole new cohort a year behind mine, without any of my friends that I’d spent 3 years of my life growing to like (and put up with) – love you really guys! I was now a year behind. Actually I went back early (February), because the time table fell that way but I was still a full year behind my initial group. I didn’t mind, there are more important things in life – what’s a year? But, I knew I still had an extra year to go and I just really wished I didn’t.
The transition was difficult, Uni were fab! They have been incredible through this entire experience. Very grateful to them!
But, it’s a demanding course. Fast, no time factored for breaks or leeway, no time off – time off has to be made up, the work never ends and the reading and research is killer. I was straight back into it. I had training, assessments, 2 assignments to throw together (in 4 weeks) and was heading out onto placement. The uniform had changed, the referencing system had changed, I was in a whole new year and seminar group. I knew no one (still don’t), no one knew me and I was leaving my boy for ALL that time. Both my boys and Greg.. It was tough! I was exhausted! I still am!
And, I was back in the hospital, which felt weird.. I love our hospital. There’s something about it, as you drive up the hill and it sits proudly on the horizon it’s calming and it’s safe and I feel safe there. The staff are amazing, to patients, families, amongst colleagues and to their students. I always love being at work but even that felt foreign. In the past 12 months I had become patient (patient’s parent) and I was now stepping back in as Professional. BIG difference. There’s also a huge difference between birthing your babies at a hospital and then a hospital saving your child’s life. I can’t explain it but the adoration and vulnerability it surfaces is difficult to explain.
I had to suck it up, move on – man up and be strong! I had to make the transition back to being a nurse, no longer a parent and frightened, with unreasonable worry and no perspective. I was on placement and my mentor treat me according to my capabilities. I ran my own teams and I was expected to step up. I did and I did it well. But, man, it was emotionally and physically exhausting!
I worked a shift in A&E resus initially, a night shift. Back in the same room where my boy was, where we so nearly lost him. Walking back into resus was hard, dealing with a small child in the same bed my son had been in was even harder. It took a lot of deep breathing to focus and be the strength for both patient and mom. No room for my own fears here. This was their moment of need – not mine. I managed well. I got good feedback. I was doing OK.. Then a HUGE trauma came in. Seriously, I hadn’t experienced anything like that before, very experienced nurses were shaken up. We had to deal with A LOT, the things we had to do and see and the whole experience took my breath away. It was frightening and brutal and heart-breaking – very difficult and we did an incredible job! Again, I managed and got great feedback. But afterwards, I needed some time. I had to go outside, collect myself, gather my thoughts, and reflect. It took some time, I stood and I cried. In the dark and the cold, I stood and I cried for the patients we’d just treat, for the adrenaline my body was throwing out in excess. For my son, for diabetes, for what we’d been through, for the release I felt and the fear that was too raw. I just broke and all I could do was sit, outside in the freezing cold, let the tears come and just breathe. I focused on my breathing and calmed myself and let my mind wander and seek out perspective.. Had I returned too soon? Would I have experienced this from the trauma of what we’d just handled without being fresh from what we experienced with my son? I couldn’t find my perspective.
Did I really want to be a Nurse anymore?
That morning as left, the sun was shining and I was just grateful to be alive. I walked past a tree in the grounds and it just looked so beautiful. I couldn’t help but stop and stare at it. Blossom tree’s are so beautiful in bloom, I couldn’t help but think of my Mum, I don’t know why. At that moment (and I don’t really get those moments. 20 years later and I can’t really remember a moment where I could breathe her in) she just popped into my head. I could smell and hear her as I walked to my car (which some twat had blocked in – thanks). It was weird and warming and welcomed. I sat in my car reflecting, breathing and I took a quick snap of the tree on my phone – just because.. And at that moment right there (and I don’t even know why), I knew I was doing the right thing. My Mum always wanted me to be a nurse, I always wanted to be a nurse. I never went to nurse training from school because that was the time in my life when we lost her and the timing was never quite right since. But at that moment, I had this weird feeling and a welcomed sense of calm. (I know lots of nurses who say they experience it after a difficult shift). Maybe she was letting me know she was there? Wishing me on – keep going Rach. Or, it was just a beautiful morning and the tree was pretty and I was very tired and emotional and that’s how my brain helped me to focus and gain my perspective?. Either way – keep going – you got this!
Still, I could not wait to get in and cuddle my boys, I wanted to cuddle them forever.
Being a Nurse is HARD!
We had tons of cuddles and chocolate buns (low carb of course) and as they skipped off to school for the day; I went to bed to do it all over again that night… I did a lot of reflecting in those early days.. I grew stronger because of it.. I rediscovered my identity. People called me by my name and needed my help and knowledge and input. I wasn’t just a cook or a mom or a wife or a pancreas. I needed that, I needed to be me. To laugh and joke with colleagues, to cry with patients and to realise that I’m not the only person in the world (or my whole family and my little boy), aren’t the only people who know pain, who feel fear, who get dealt a shitty hand and who suffer.. I was able to give something back and it helped me to heal..
To regain my perspective, to reflect, to redirect and to focus – to be me again.. To have a bigger purpose..
I know it was the right decision to return. I am stronger, I know I am. I like to pretend I am not sometimes, sometimes when it’s hard and I want to feel sad, sometimes feeling sad is OK. I convince myself that I am weak – I also still have moments of weakness; I find I am also vulnerable in situations that I wouldn’t expect to be, but generally: I am stronger and braver than I ever thought I could be..
It took some time, I had a few moments on those initial night shifts where I almost left mid-shift and came home. Unfortunately one night I did have to leave. I was convinced something was wrong at home. I’d let the irrational fears overcome me, not helped by being drilled by a colleague who wanted me to talk about what had happened to my son. It all just flooded back, the trauma and the fear. It was too much and I couldn’t get perspective. To T1 parents dead-in-bed syndrome is very real and I couldn’t make contact with Greg (who was sleeping) to check everything was ok at home (which I had convinced myself wasn’t). Everything was fine BUT in my mind, surrounded by sickness and trauma and still fresh from our own trauma. I had this gut wrenching, overpowering feeling that something was wrong!!. Something was WRONG and I had to leave.. I think I had to leave for myself too. At the time I was convinced I was going to find bad things at home and hopefully get back in time to save Carter’s life. In reality, it was 4am and everything was fine and when I realised that, as I rushed into the bedroom to find them asleep and dreaming – safe. I felt really silly.. And then I got a reality check and I grew from it, took strength and perspective from it and became braver and wiser because of it..
But I wonder:
Do we have to go there to come back? When you’ve experienced such personal trauma and fear and never really had a chance to process it properly, to never take that breath and reflect and deal with your own emotions.. Do we have to go there, right to the edge? To come back again? To (even when you think you’re emotionally broken), completely shatter, in order to mend? I really think that we do and I think that’s what happened to me..
I photographed Carter’s meter as I checked him that night, because I knew I could always look back at it and remember this time if I ever needed to, if that fear got too much and I felt the pull of the irrational adrenaline rush that you get when panic is trying to take over, I can re-check myself if I need to. Of course I still ring home and Greg and I check-in with each other when I’m not home but it helps. It really helps! AND it is normal. I am not insane, I am managing my PTSD, PSTD is a perfectly normal response to situations like what we experiences and never dealt with – never had the chance to deal with.
Being back at the hospital has fixed me and it’s helped me find me again. It’s exhausting and I don’t like being away from my boys. 14 hour shifts are insane! BUT, it has helped me gain my perspective, I have applied myself and my knowledge and my experience and in return I have rediscovered myself, and I have had some incredible feedback too. I no longer feel eager to please and shy or am a push over like I was in my early training. I am a very different person, with the knowledge base and experience to have the confidence in myself. I know my limits and my knowledge gaps and I am not frightened to admit them and ask for help but I am also a lot stronger, wiser, more able, empathetic and passionate, and critical too.
I do definitely want to finish my training, I have less than a year left. I just can’t wait to finish. I definitely DO NOT want to work full-time whilst Carter is so young. The sleepless nights are exhausting. When he’s ill or out of sync and I have to be up at 5 for a long day and I’m up with him until 3am, it’s difficult. I think I would like to work less hours when I finally take my first role, just until he’s in secondary school at least. BUT, I am back and it’s ok.. Things are ok..
Academically I also found the transition back into classes draining. Juggling study, assignment writing and managing carter’s blood sugars, sleepless nights, being there for Morgan, for Greg and working part-time too, it’s tough. LOTS of paddying went down with my latest assignment. I contemplated each and every way I could quit and just hermit for the next 30 years but then I remember my motivation. Greg and my boys are my motivation and I want to finish this for them, for the future I will be able to give them,. For the security and the inspiration I can gift to them. Also, as I said, I was born to be a nurse, it’s all I have ever wanted to be, even as a very young child all I can ever remember is playing nurse and I grew up in hospitals. It’s definitely something my mum wanted for me, I want to finish it for her too. I didn’t make it to nursing school when I was younger but over time the pain begins to lighten and the want comes back. Missed dreams that I’ve been lucky to return to as an adult, I am grateful for now. And thankfully, even though It’s been difficult with what happened with Carter and requiring the gap year, I only have my final year left.. It will be over soon! It will be worth it!
I did however become queen procrastinator and multi-tasker: Eating, managing diabetes, watching old 90’s music videos on youtube and writing my assignment at the same time 🙂
Interestingly enough I achieved a 95% grade for my last assignment, the same assignment I was convinced I was going to fail. I hadn’t put as much in to it as I thought maybe I should. I’d spent nights awake delaying things, watching youtube video’s, reading about diabetes and writing my blog instead of what I should be doing. I didn’t feel clever enough, my brain was foggy and tired and I was pretty sure I was going to quit nurse training. Then I got the best score I had to date.. Cue motivation. Less than 12 months to go.. Bring it on!!!
I had to nip onto campus the other day, I decided to take Morgan with me. I only had to pop in and in the summer; campus is pretty quiet – most cohorts are out on placement. I knew it would be ok. He LOVED it and it was the inspiration he needed as he’s currently sitting his own exams. In 2-3 years he will be applying for his own place at this university and I will be the proudest parent alive. After everything he’s been through and all he wants to become – he amazes me. I have to finish this – for him!
So, I have a year to go, probably another year of hell knowing my luck. I don’t enjoy university life, as a parent and an older learner I don’t take part in the fun stuff, and the hours are insane, but it will be worth it. I would recommend (and I wish I had done it earlier) for anyone going into nursing to just do it, do it whilst you’re young. Before you have children and life-worries. Trust me; it’s much harder when you aren’t your own priority!
But it will be worth it – and they are worth it.
And when you come in off a long day, you’ve been up since 5am, you worked 6.30am-8.30pm and it’s 9.30pm. You can barely keep your eyes open but your 9 year old son’s Dexcom needs replacing and a 2 hour warm up, and his blood sugars require attention and its actually closer now (by the time you’ve done) to 1am and you’re up again at 5am to do it all over again – you kinda wish you’d done Nurse Training when you were 18 not 35 BUT, it will be worth it!
Because of these guys:
Going back to University was both the hardest and best decision I have ever made. I can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t wait to finish, but don’t be fooled: the commitment and dedication it takes is so demanding. Team that with a Type 1 Diabetic child, a Teenage son, a husband, a house and a job on top of it (the NHS Bursary nowhere near covers the bills for a family and it’s gone now anyway). It is by far the most difficult and demanding, exhausting and draining thing I have ever done in my life! And at 35, I can quite confidently say – I’ll ever do again…
But it will be worth it – because I was born to do this, so what else would I do?
Less than 12 months to go – it will be worth it!