The Pilgrimage.

My journey with bedside nursing is ending. Rather, it is evolving. I have a handful of shifts remaining until I start my new job as a nurse practitioner. I always knew this transition would happen. I planned for it and entered nursing ready to make this change. Now that it is here, my soul is feeling a little uneasy. The comfort of the bedside, of my home, will be gone. This new role brings an abundance of new responsibility, pressure, and expectation. I am ready. Maybe. As I embark on the new beginning, I want to reflect back on what the last few years have meant to me. Grab a beer, some tissues, and a puke bucket (sorry in advance).

I was 18 when I touched my first dead body. I was working as a nursing assistant and the patient died within 15 minutes of my first shift. A coworker whispers to me:

“Grab some wash clothes, a body bag kit, and gloves. Make sure the toe tag is in the kit.”

My heart retracted into my belly and I tasted the acidic fluid of impending vomit. I went to the bathroom, washed off my face, and took a deep breath. If I could do this, I could do anything. I met my coworker back in the room and we began washing the patient’s body. It was eery, beautiful, peaceful, and scary all in one moment. We turned her over, only to hear one final exhale as her lung collapsed. It sounded like a sign of relief. The pain was over. She may rest now. I slipped the toe tag over her toe and starred. My eyes felt wet and stingy, but I didn’t comprehend those tears until minutes later. I went back to home to my dorm, snuck a beer out from under my bed, and reflected back on the day. I knew I would wake up tomorrow and go back for more.

Nursing school was weird. My first clinical rotation consisted of about 10 overly stressed type-A ducklings wandering aimlessly around a hospital unit. I still recall one of my first patients. He was a anatomy professor who recently was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His shaky hands frightened me. I did not know whether to try to help or just watch him struggle to open his juice. He sensed my unease and talked me through most of his care. He is a very vivid memory for me. He told me about the famous Patch Adams quote that set the precedent for how I wanted to treat patients:

“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

Ok, so I am surviving nursing school and things are looking up. I am learning everyday and I got a job as a nurse intern for the summer. The position was in the ICU. I felt prepared! I bought new scrubs and a clipboard. I figured that combination would make me invincible! Let me tell you about the first day on the job. About two hours into the shift, I heard an overhead page for “Code Blue.” A chaos ensues and you can feel the shift in energy in the air. A patient is wheeled into the ICU. A guy grabs me by the arm and says:

“Go stand at the head of the bed and help bag the patient. Then, jump in for a round of compressions.”

I have been in the ICU for two hours. Two hours, people. So, I run over to the room and wedge myself between the headboard and the back wall. I can feel the hot fluorescent light beat down. My gelatinous legs barely hold me up. The patient looked up at me and asked:

“Am I going to die? Please, please don’t let me.”

I did what I thought was right. I looked down, our heads opposite one another, and I told her that she would be ok. She died about 15 minutes later. I am still haunted by that encounter. That was almost 5 years ago, and I see her face in my dreams.

Ok this is getting heavy. Let me lighten things up.

Fast forward to working as a new graduate nurse. Everything I learned in nursing school was lost and I trudged through the dark waters…trying to simply avoid killing someone. The first few months were terrifying as I was trying to find my footing as a nurse. To this day, I have never made a med error. I think a lot of that has to do with me checking the medication/patient 10333259 times before administering the dose. A classic moment in those first few months involved a sweet patient and a not so sweet move by me. The patient could not eat, so she received food through a tube in her stomach. We use a pump to administer the food into the patient’s stomach. One day, I set up the pump, hit the “start” button and left the room. About an hour later, I returned to check on the patient. When I entered the room, I see a chocolate milkshake-esque substance all over the floor. I had forgot to attach the tube feeding to the patient and it ran onto the floor for an hour. I laughed at my blonde moment and quickly became friends with our lovely environment service team for clean up.

“Clean up on aisle 3. Please don’t hate me. Where are the mops?”

Fast forward a few years. I like to call this story “Cat verses chest tube.”

It is time for hourly rounds. As I enter the room, I hear meowing. Depending on what floor I am working on, meowing could potentially be coming from a patient. Weirder things have happened. Anyway, the meow sound is getting louder. I start looking around the room, doing visual checks on the bedside foley bag, IV fluids, chest tube….OH LORD THE CHEST TUBE. Ladies and gentleman, there was a kitten gnawing on the patient’s chest tube like it is slathered in catnip. I don’t have time to process where this fluffy beast appeared from because I needed to focus on the patient. I picked up the kitten, inspected the chest tube for holes (none!!) and assessed the patient. Everyone was stable. Cat. Patient. Chest tube. To this day, I don’t think anyone believes this story. I wouldn’t even believe this story.

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Tis real. You’re welcome. We became quite close.

 

Nursing has taught me a lot about myself. I believe most people that are called to this profession are called because they also need healing. It is a symbiotic relationship. I heal as they heal. They heal as I heal. We journey through this madness together.

There you have it. A small glimpse into my nursing pilgrimage. There were dark times, sensational times and everything in between. I am humbled by this journey and I am anxious to continue it in a new role.

Love and Light.

*** I value and respect HIPAA. No patient information (name, location, etc) or identifiers were used in this post. Some information was changed to keep upmost privacy and anonymity.

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Putting out fires and saving lives, people!

 

 

 

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Hush Hush.

Nobody talks about it. Like, really talks about it. Anxiety is pervasive in our culture, yet we ignore it and continue to stigmatize its presence. I find this particularly popular in the world of women.  I personally have heard from many women who have reached out to me about anxiety, but we still deny that this is a public health problem.

 Anxiety Disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54). – National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Picture this: You are at a lunch with 5 girlfriends. Based on statistics, one of them has an anxiety disorder. That is pretty awe-inspiring in terms of prevalence. Here is my question, why are we STILL not openly talking about this?

American culture, especially southern culture, encompasses female perfection. You will be the perfect wife, friend, mother, sister, daughter and you will do it with luscious blonde curls and a Michael Kors watch. I suppose this facade of having it all together makes it difficult to discuss the burdens of perfection. Social media is also pretty damn toxic to our mental health. Trust me, I’m just as guilty of spending too much time stalking people from high school and gawking at the fraudulent perfection. Because we fill the internet with controlled happiness, it shifts reality. No one has it all together, but social media tricks us into thinking the opposite.

My wish is for women to be genuine with the struggles of life. It is hard to wear so many hats and it is ok to be anxious at times. Life is daunting, but also blissfully exciting. So, I challenge you…peel back the layers and share what is permeating through your spirit. There should be a community of support for anxiety, instead of silencing it. If I have a patient specifically come in to the practice to discuss mental health, I often share my own journey. Creating that tangible and emotional connection truly opens doors and leads to a better course of treatment. So this week, be open and honest with your struggles. You might find a charming community you never knew you had in life.

Granted, some people find that vocalizing anxiety magnifies its power. If you know this about your soul, then verbalizing it to others might not be an ideal journey for you. The anxiety adventure is unique to us all and it takes time to figure out your relationship with it. I am an open spirit, often sharing my story with furry Starbucks baristas and yoga class dwellers. Just find what works for you to alleviate the burden and find peace. In the words of my favorite yogi, Adriene, “find what feels good.”

Love and light.

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I find that nature is one of my favorite places to process anxiety. It puts a lot in perspective.

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My healthcare community of patients and coworkers is pivotal is this journey.

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Find your one sounding board. For 20+ years, we’ve been swapping ideas and sharing trials/tribulations. Love you.

 

 

 

Workplace Zen.

Stress lives in the workplace. Teacher, student, lawyer, nurse, car salesman, scuba instructor, grocery clerk, coal miner…everyone is connected by that blissful five letter word: STRESS. Every job elicits some type of stress response from a person. It would not be called work if it was not…well…work.

How do you cultivate gratitude and counteract feelings of stress at work?

Do you run and hide in a broom closet when sh*t hits the fan?

Do you see stressful scenarios as an opportunity for growth?

Can you bring positive energy into your space and be responsible for your own vibes?

As a nurse/future nurse practitioner, I often encounter work-related stress. Being around sick folks will do that to you. Also the whole “I literally could kill you if I made a big mistake” thought can  really get the stress juices flowing. I like to create a mini zen area at work to help juggle my responsibilities and soothe the soul in crisis.

Workplace Zen Toolbox

  • Doterra Lavender Oil
  • Doterra Clary Calm Roll on Oil
  • Natural Calm Magnesium Supplement
  • Turquoise stone
  • 5 sun salutations
  • 3 minutes of breathing techniques
  • lemon-infused water
  • get outside

Do I believe all of these items have the ability to counteract the chaos of work? NO. But I do believe they serve as a reminder to be mindful and focus on the breath. When I get stressed at work, my body goes on auto-pilot. My breathing gets rapid, my head gets foggy, my heart rate increases, and my efficiency declines. When I reference my toolbox, my brain and body have a moment to recuperate. I check in with my breathing and switch to a calmer, diaphragmatic breath. I become more mindful of my thoughts and goals. I take a moment to simply reset myself.

My job requires me to be in peak mental, physical, and spiritual shape for 12 hours at a time. This toolbox allows me to care for others, but also care for myself. I challenge you to incorporate mindfulness into your work routine. Did your stress level change? Did you become more aware of how your body reacts to issues throughout the day?

Love and light.

 

Mellow out with mindfulness.

Our society craves speed, instant gratification, and intensity. You wake up early, get dressed, hop in the car, and roll into the rat race. My (old) typical morning before a shift looks a little something like this:

  • wake up suddenly to a loud alarm at 4:30am
  • jump out of bed in a panicked and frazzled state
  • hop in the shower
  • throw on some mascara/hair in a pony tail
  • scramble to find clean scrubs
  • chow down on breakfast, normally in 2-3 minutes
  • make coffee and chug it as I’m headed out the door
  • get in the car and immediately turn on the radio
  • start/stop through traffic
  • arrive at 6am
  • rush to my unit and throw my bag down
  • get report

Ok. Whoa. I’m stressed just reading that and reflecting back on how I used to greet the day. It felt more like a fall into the chaos of the day, rather than gently greet it. I’m assuming a lot of you wake up with a similar routine. Rush, rush, rush. It creates a hectic energy and starts the day with a heavy mind.

I read a book on mindfulness. It was a 10 week course that teaches you how to incorporate a mindful practice in every part of life. It was a process, but I started to integrate the strategies into my daily routine. This is what my morning looks like now:

  • wake up to a waterfall themed alarm at 4:15 am
  • take 3 deep belly breaths before I sit up
  • feel my feet hit the floor and embrace the blessing of waking up
  • take a hot shower, feeling the water trickle down my skin
  • use dim light to finish getting dressed
  • make a cup of loose leaf tea and breakfast, enjoying the taste of each bite for 15 minutes
    • I’ve made my breakfast a meditative experience
  • sit for 5 minutes, setting my intention for the day
  • 10 sun salutations to bring heat and energy into my body
  • walk to the car and drive to work
  • listen to an insightful/funny podcast to learn something on my commute
  • arrive at work
  • use aromatherapy (peppermint oil) to energize and a short meditation to clear the mind before the shift

You have 24 hours in a day. You choose to make them chaotic or calm. Things will happen that shift your experience, but YOU control how you feel.

Slow down. Be mindful. Be present. Do all things with love. IMG_8249

Googlephobia.

I am the queen of Google.

I have removed the Google app from my phone because I morphed into the Dictator of Google.

I feel anxious, therefore I must Google the shit out of these feelings.

Scenario:

I was sitting on a beach with Kemp last summer. We were paddle boarding, drinking cheap beer, and having a blissful time. I left anxiety at home for the day…or so I thought. All of a sudden, I got a cramp in my right calf. The logical side of my brain should have processed the fact we went running earlier and I was probably dehydrated. But the logical side of my brain is boring so clearly I spiraled down the black hole of catastrophic thinking. I immediately took out my phone and started googling “cramp in calf.” Guess what came up? Something along the line of blood clot, cancer, imminent death, etc. Let me casually reiterate something. At this point, I had been a nurse for a few years and had 4 years of medical courses. My logical brain knew that these google revelations were wildly inaccurate. My panic, freak the fuck out, brain had other plans. Five minutes had passed and I was attempting to convince Kemp to chug his beer and take me to the SeaCoast Medical Building. He looked at me, smiled, took my hand and led me into the water. And that was that. I bounced up and out of the dreaded Google hole.

End scene.

I write this in jest, but I imagine a lot of you have been there. The anxious thoughts arise and we seek validation from an external source. My logical brain knew I did not have a blood clot, but my panic brain thought that was reasonable and wanted support by googling ridiculous things on the internet. I also have googled “anxiety quiz” numerous times to simply confirm that I am not losing it. My results always indicate mild-moderate anxiety and that gives me a few minutes of relief, knowing I must be ok compared to others. Why can’t I just process these thoughts without external validation?

We all need someone to look at us and say, “you are calm, you are fine, you are doing well.” I often use Google as that voice, because I’m too broke for therapy every week. Cheers!

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Status post the blood clot meltdown of 2014. Yes, I do have full formed legs. I have not mastered the art of the standing ocean paddle board experience. I can’t help but laugh at that one 🙂

Be cool.

Be cool. This phrase means two things to me:

  • Your body is starting to feel hot and tingly. The symptoms are present and the fear is rising. The wave of panic is swelling, ready to engulf your scared little soul. The pinpricks are warm and electric in your hands. There is a fire burning its way through your psyche. My internal monolog of “be cool” begins. I repeat it, feeling the heat dissipate. Be cool, Sara. Be physically and emotionally cool. It is a reminder to calm my body down, stop the rapid thought firing, and engage my parasympathetic nervous system.

 

  • Anxiety often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I might feel anxious, therefore I feel anxious. I might have a panic attack, therefore I have a panic attack. What if _____happens??!!  A lot of my time has been eaten away by negative thoughts about this big bad imaginary fear that I can not control. As a relatively type A perfectionist, being out of control is daunting. I am learning, slowly but surely, that I can be cool with my feelings. I can accept that my anxiety is part of what makes me that woman I am today. I can be cool knowing that I might feel uncomfortable at times. I am able to be cool with my thoughts, recognizing that they are just thoughts.

For me, being cool with anxiety is the catalyst to my healing journey. Anxiety is a part of my being and my hardworking brain. I do not believe I would be as successful without it gnawing at me. Because of an anxious mind I have:

  • graduated nursing school cum laude from Emory University
  • maintained a 4.0 in a Masters program
  • worked full time as a nurse/charge nurse at a catastrophic care hospital
  • worn the hat of daughter, friend, sister, lover, step-mom, aunt

It’s ok to see anxiety in a positive light. I believe we are so quick to file it in the “holy shit this is not ok” folder. I’m not sure that is always the most productive way to view this journey. It is ok to be cool with your anxiety, it has probably led you to some incredible experiences. My wish for you is to be cool…be cool with your soul, spirit, heart, and mind.

 

Love and light. FullSizeRender

Be cool. Be a Spiritual Gangster.

Gratitude

I’m grateful for panic.

I understand that gratitude is an odd emotion to coincide with anxiety. However, I believe healing is about perspective. Anxiety often feels like a huge dark cloud that permeates through my life. It feels like the biggest struggle and it only happens to me. It’s a very isolating process. I feel anxious and I think, “no one else probably feels so weird/scared/panicky.” I have learned throughout this journey that changing my perspective towards anxiety helps me heal. I have panic attacks. I have mind numbing repetitive thoughts. I have a catastrophic thinking pattern. But…I also have a phenomenal man, great family, loving friends, and a rewarding job.

I am a nurse and I work with a patient population of people that have suffered traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. My perspective on life has changed dramatically since I started working with these patients. My “problems” seem a lot smaller when I reflect on the fact that I can walk, talk, laugh, eat, drive, hug, kiss, smile, and breathe on my own. Anxiety feels so small when I look at the positive aspects of my life and for that, I’m grateful.

I am grateful to have panic attacks. WHAT? I know, right. Sounds odd? I feel gratitude when I panic because my body is allowing my mind to practice a new relaxation technique. My body is trying to tell me something when I panic. It’s an alarm that I need to practice loving self care. My post-panic attack routine often consists of a cup of tea, meditation, and aromatherapy. It’s a period of forced relaxation and for that, I’m grateful.

Anxiety has taught me about the delicate interweaving of the human psyche. I did not have a mind-body connection before I developed anxiety. I was in auto-pilot mode and rarely processed my emotions. Anxiety has been the liaison between my soul and mind and for that, I’m grateful.

I can empathize and connect with my patients who deal with anxiety. I have a genuine emotional connection with them when they say they are struggling. As a future Family Nurse Practitioner, I hope to combine my empathy and knowledge to create treatment plans that improve the lives of my clients. I can hold the hand of an anxious patient and say, “I understand.” I will treat the mind, body, and spirit in my future practice and for that, I’m grateful.

What are you grateful for today? Try starting the day with a mantra of “I’m grateful for______.” It will change your perspective!

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I had a mild panic attack this morning. It was a bummer. As I reflect on what my body was telling me, I realized I needed to practice self care. I will enjoy some wine, a good book, and a view of photos from our favorite adventures. I am grateful.