I loved being a nurse. I hated having to quit. I was the best of the best and at the peak of my career. My decision to retire happened one night after I had worked an eight hour shift. I had gone home, and self-medicated my psoriatic arthritis with some vodka and popped a Xanax.
I still remember that day almost forty years ago when the high school career counselor announced that signup’s for nursing school were open. There was a 2-year waiting list. I signed up for every nursing school in the state. I was thrilled and just couldn’t believe my luck when I got a letter from a school only one hour from my hometown.
I loved everything about being a nurse! The classic crisp dress uniform, the iconic cap, my white nylons and white shoes. Learning something new every day, working with the doctors, the kind words and thank you’s from patients and their family members. I took pride in my profession and I excelled, quickly landing a position in the ICU as a charge nurse!
My first job as an RN and my pay was just over eight dollars an hour. I remember being thrilled with the wage and thinking I would have done the job for free.
As my psoriatic arthritis progressed, I knew deep down that I wouldn’t be able to continue working in a demanding field where I would be responsible for other people’s lives . But I sure tried. Even after my hip replacement I was back to work in no time. The hip worked great but then my feet and sausage toes would constantly nag me and the ongoing fatigue became relentless. My eyes started failing me with bouts of uveitis and my wrist and hands made it almost unbearable to push my patients in wheelchairs or on gurneys. The medications I was taking wreaked havoc on my immune system and I started coming down with colds and flu and had to call in sick. My co-workers tried to step in as much as possible to ease the load, but as a working manager in an ER there were times that I was becoming a burden to them and I knew it.
In the meantime, my self-medicating after work with vodka and Xanax became a nightly ritual. So that night when the evening charge nurse called to tell me they had a sick call and couldn’t find anyone to cover the night shift in the ER I was already pretty intoxicated. I knew I couldn’t drive the 30 miles back to the hospital in the condition I was in. I knew my speech was slurred as I was talking to her. I told her I had taken some Hydrocodone and Xanax and was in no condition to drive or work. She insisted, stating, “It’s your job as the manager! We have exhausted all resources! We need you!”
I laid down and took a nap to sober up. I drove to the hospital and worked the remainder of the shift. That was the defining moment for me.
My last day as a nurse we had a toddler come into the ER having a seizure. I put on my white lab coat and went to help my staff as the unit was busy. I had a reputation of being exceptional at starting IV’s. This kiddo needed an IV stat. My joints were swollen and my wrist ached. I couldn’t get my hands to grasp the tiny needle. The doctor took over and started the IV and I assisted with taping but nearly dislodged it as I clumsily tried to secure the IV into place.
I wish I could have gone out in a blaze of glory but instead I had people shaking their heads.
I had been a nurse for nearly 30 years. When people would ask what I did, I once took great pride in saying I was a nurse. Now what was I supposed to say? What am I? Who am I? Is that it? Was that my life? The days ahead were very lonely and empty. My husband would head off to work and I would wonder what to do with myself. My kids were off at college. I missed my co-workers and my patients.
I left nursing six years ago. As the disease progressed, I hit bottom. I found that on some days I could hardly walk or even open the front door. I was obese. I felt bitter, sad, and completely worthless. My marriage of 30 years dissolved. Then there was the financial burden. I had debt that my monthly medical disability check didn’t cover. I was forced to relocate from a house with a backyard and a garden space to a tiny apartment.
Yes, I hated leaving nursing. I was my job; I didn’t know who I was without it. But that’s not how my story ends. I’ve lost weight, which took the strain off a lot of my joints. I quit self-medicating. I have completely changed my diet and I started exercising. I don’t run marathons or anything like that, but I do make a conscious effort to get up and move daily. I am off of a lot of my obesity related medications which helps me save money. And, the best part, I’m enjoying life again, especially with my grandbabies.