Sunday, April 28, 2013

Adding Initials

Last week I added some initials to my name.


What does it stand for? Oncology Certified Nurse.

I spent the past four and half months studying in my spare moments, carrying around flashcards with chemotherapy drug side effects (yes, I'm 25 and still use flashcards), trying to digest every page of the certification book. After a brutal test and a hail Mary for good measure, I now get to carry this certification for four years which shows potential employers and patients my expertise in the field. Why did I want the honor of signing those three letters after my name?

Over the past few year or so, I've worked primarily with oncology patients and I've learned that not only are they some of the most complex and interesting patients clinically, they are also some of the most amazing. My family has been touched by cancer with several relatives battling this disease; some winning, some not. So, perhaps I was groomed for such a line of work from childhood. Cancer patients are the most courageous, positive, and kind people you will meet (at least the vast majority, there are always exceptions to the rule!). I found that everyday I worked, one of them would inspire me in some way.

How blessed am I to work surrounded by inspiration, courage, and hope? Certainly helps keep life in perspective!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Walking the Line

In the last six months, I've been walking the line.

The line between nurse and patient.

If you ask most providers, they will confirm that nurses make lousy patients. Hell, you can ask my friends and they will whole-heartedly agree. I am no exception. I detest being on the other side of the stethoscope. I hate allowing doctors to poke and prod me. I hate having to sit in an exam room, biting my nails waiting for them to saunter in and deliver bad news. I hate that I have five prescription bottles on my nightstand. I hate that I make more visits to the clinic than any average 25 year-old should. I hate having to constantly justify and try to legitimize my pain. I hate trying to coordinate my life around my appointments. I hate it when a provider cancels the day of the appointment, twice, and expects to reschedule for a third time. I hate not getting the answers I want or that I deserve.

In essence, I hate being a patient.

This entry wasn't intended to be a bitch session but it sure seems to be unfolding that way! In all these blog entries, I have danced around what my back injury is and how much it affects my life. I have neglected to detail the trials and tribulations of being a patient AND being a nurse. I plan to clear the air here and now.

The diagnosis attached to my particular injury is as follows: sacroiliac joint dysfunction with a closed dislocation of the sacrum and pyriformis syndrome. In non-medical terms? The junction of my hips and sacrum ("tailbone") is out of whack and my muscles are pissed off about it.  Even this diagnosis has been heatedly debated amongst my care team. Who are these people? Well, let's see, there is my occupational health doctor who originally started treating me. Then there was my physical therapist, then two different chiropractors in New Hampshire over the course of 6 months, a nurse practitioner in pain medicine, a pain medicine physician for a steroid injection, an anesthesiologist for another steroid injection, another chiropractor, another pain medicine physician for plasma injections, two case managers, and a massage therapist. Lost yet?

Amid all the appointments, injections, adjustments, and physical therapy I was still practicing as a nurse. Still taking care of patients while trying not to be one at the same time. Many times, people perceive those who work in medicine as invincible. As if we were not human, we never get sick, never get hurt, never falter, never fall from our pedestal. After going to a few of my appointments still dressed in my blue and white scrubs and getting inquisitive stares from my fellow patients in the waiting room, I now pack street clothes for all my appointments in an effort to avoid imploring eyes; somehow ashamed that I have let my patients down.

To this day, I still feel as though I am not allowed to be injured. I must simply "suck it up," I tell my chiropractor. I am a nurse. I've studied every system of the human body, am acquainted with multiple disease processes and countless medications. I don't need to be cared for, it is my job to take care of others (a line my close friends have, no doubt, heard many times).

But having all this knowledge and skill doesn't protect me from injury or sickness, it doesn't make the pain go away or become easier to deal with. Despite being a child of the system, I still have to navigate through the immense ocean that is the American medical system. I am still at a loss as to how people who do not work in medicine make their way through and get what they need.

The answer: they don't.

Walking the line between patient and nurse has taught me a great many things and opened my eyes to what we in the medical industry can do better. I now know how my patients live. How pain creeps into every nook and cranny of a persons life, chews it up and spits it out. How having multiple medical appointments in a week can ruin a person's social and home life. How managing and coordinating complex care can wear down a one's psyche.

The best and worst part of it all? I didn't come upon this knowledge by paging through a text. I learned it by living it. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Things to Do Before You Die

Otherwise known as a "bucket list."

As a follow-up to the last blog entry, Regrets of the Dying, I wanted to discuss the wants, wishes, and "what-ifs" we all create for our lives. Creating a list is a way to catalog all the things a person would like to experience before they "kick the bucket." When creating a bucket list, I think the best part is you are allowed to image a life void of physical, monetary or other realistic life limitations. My bucket list is created without consideration of my back injury; in my perfect world, I could hike Mount Everest if I wanted to. That's the fun of such a list. I think it also challenges people in a way. When your dreams are written down in front of you, it becomes much easier to envision them becoming a reality. Based on the expressed regrets of those on their deathbed, living a life of accomplished dreams and fulfilled desires provides a much more peaceful exit to one's existence on Earth. So, in an effort to make those fleeting thoughts of grandeur a reality, I will detail my own, ever expanding, bucket list in hopes that I can continue to put a check mark next to each and every item.

1. Eat at one of the world's best restaurants. Now, I've consumed some pretty amazing fare in my travels, but have yet to eat at a premier restaurant. I keep this list handy whenever I plan a trip, hoping to nab a table at one of the world's best.
2. Do something completely terrifies you/conquer a fear. Doing this would be a good way.
3. Read the 100 greatest novels of all time. I'm well on my way with 18 already checked off this list, thanks largely to some amazing English professors.
4. Go to the airport and take the next departing flight.
5. Watch the 100 greatest movies of all time. Now, the validity of a such a list from only one source could be highly debated. Many people are passionate about the criteria by which movies are ranked "the best." But, I am basing this off of this list and this list. I've made far less progress on these lists in my life, having only seen 13 on the first and 25 on the second. You can ask my friend Gabe about his theories on my lack of cinematic awareness.
6. Hike through the Amazon rainforest.
7. Join the Peace Corps.
8. Shake hands with the president of the United States.
9. Learn to sail.
10. Hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I got the bug to hike this particular trail after exploring a short segment of it while stationed in New Hampshire last year. The trail, one of the longest marked continuous footpaths in the world, spans over 2,100 miles in length and passes through 13 states.
11. Become fluent in another language and visit the country of its primary origin. Being of Polish descent, I think it would be amazing to learn the language of my ancestors.
12. Help someone else fulfill a goal. I may never officially know when to check this one off my list, but how great would it be to perpetually have this on my list?
13. Attend the Olympics.
14. Take a cooking class
15. Go to the Superbowl (preferably when the Packers are in it!).
16. Create my family tree. Prior to my travel nursing career, I spent several months detailing out my family lineage. I was able to trace my father's side back to royalty in England. My 29th Great Grandfather on my father's side was William "The Conqueror," King of England circa 1066.
17. Learn to swing dance.
18. See and photograph the Northern Lights.
19. Go on an African safari.
20. Visit Machu Picchu.
21. Visit the Colosseum.
22. Learn to surf.
23. Be a part of a flash mob.
24. Be a movie extra.
25. Ride a cable car in San Francisco. Checked off in January of 2010!
26. Participate in geocaching. If you are unfamiliar, check it out here. Think of it as the largest game of hide and seek, ever.
27. Earn my Ph.D.
28. Go whale watching. Checked off in January 2010!
29. Take a helicopter tour over Kauai.
30. Fly first class on a trip around the world.
31. Drive a motorcycle along both of the coastal highways.
32. Go zip lining.
33. Visit Niagara Falls. Checked off July of 2012!
34. See Foz Do Iguacu Falls in Brazil. Never heard of it? Click here and prepare to be amazed.
35. Buy spices in Goa, India
36. Drive the Golden Circle in Iceland. Why Iceland? Click here.
37. Visit Devils Pool and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The falls, the largest in the world, are amazing all by themselves. But Devils Pool is an interesting natural formation that allows people to "defy death." Click here to read more about it.
38. Stand at the base of the 620ft tall Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River gorge, Oregon.
39. Watch the sunrise on the East coast and the sunset on the West coast. Checked off in October of 2011 and January of 2010!
40. Scuba dive in the barrier reef in Australia.

That's my list. At least, my list thus far. I am always adding to it as I am constantly being inspired by the places I go and the people I meet. If you haven't created a list, I encourage you to consider it. I know in recent years it has become popular to do so; but I challenge you on the principle that it may help bring your dreams closer to reality or help you to realize dreams you may never have allowed yourself.