Year of the Nurse Spotlight #5: Brooke – “I had no idea I was an addict.”

Even though I worked in a treatment centre, I had no idea I was an addict. “It’s just weed, it helps with my anxiety and depression” was my mentality.

Not only is Brooke a badass sober nurse and an out-loud recovery advocate, she is Canadian! And I have to admit, I have a major girl crush on all my sober sisters up North.

Brooke has been a Licensed Practical Nurse for seven years, and in recovery for nearly as long. In addition to the usual suspects – drugs and alcohol – Brooke has overcome codependency, gambling and a binge-eating disorder. Her story illustrates how stubborn our blind spots can be, even if we’re educated and the source of our problem is right in front of us.

Brooke worked as a nurse in a treatment centre (Canadian spelling in her honor!) caring for patients with addiction and mental health issues. She recalls colleagues at the centre who were in recovery as well. Yet it took tragic consequences, including the overdose death of a friend, before Brooke woke to the fact that she too needed serious help.

This month’s spotlight nurse is proof that we do recover, from all the things! May her story bring you hope, and serve as potent ammunition against stigma and shame.

Continue reading “Year of the Nurse Spotlight #5: Brooke – “I had no idea I was an addict.””

Safe Socialization #2: Everything I Need to Know About Covid Prevention I Learned in Sex Ed.

I propose we apply these simple principles to COVID 19 and practice safe socialization. 

As I planned for eleven days on the road during a pandemic, my biggest concern was how and when to engage safely with friends, family, and strangers. While I would be mostly self-contained in my van with my dog, there would be gas stations, a couple hotels, as well as a few (outdoor) restaurants to navigate.

With so many unknown factors to face, one thing was for certain: I would be wearing a mask. (You may recall months ago I was a bit of a fence-sitter on this –  see this post for details!)

As the viral situation went, well, viral, and research brought forth increasing evidence explaining how we spread this illness, I wholeheartedly believed all sentient beings with the option would choose to protect themselves and others by covering their mouth and nose.

Oh, how naive I can be.

Continue reading “Safe Socialization #2: Everything I Need to Know About Covid Prevention I Learned in Sex Ed.”

Safe Socialization #1: Lessons From the Road

This sunset was a dream trip finale after ten days traveling the West Coast with Cassie the Dog in my VW van. But even moments of pristine peace were disturbed by the underlying feeling I was doing something wrong. 

Taking in a spectacular sunset from a remote beach on the coast of Southern Oregon, I closed my eyes, tuning in to the rhythmic lapping of waves against the shoreline.

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For the first time in months, I felt relaxed. Observing the order of nature reassures me all is not lost to the actions and attitudes of us humans.

But the contentment I felt was convoluted by another emotion, one that made me question my presence at the beach altogether.

Guilt.

It had been gnawing at me all week.

This sunset was a dream trip finale after ten days traveling the West Coast with Cassie the Dog in my VW van. But moments of pristine peace were disturbed by the underlying feeling I was doing something wrong. 

This sense of shame has held me back, made me hesitant to write or talk about the trip. I’m worried I’ll seem reckless, inconsiderate, or much worse…hypocritical.

Pre-pandemic, I’d have jumped at the chance to share photos of picnics, Redwood hikes, and goofy misadventures of road life. (like accidentally stealing decor from my hotel room, or getting chased from a river swimming hole by a 5-inch snake.)

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But beneath the glare of 2020, through the lens of COVID 19, my enthusiasm for chronicling adventures and posting them to the public domain has been muted.

Driving south, I cowered under freeway billboards which admonished (seemingly directly at me) “Stay Home, Save Lives.”

I didn’t heed the warning.

Now that I’m home and have seen news of virus cases skyrocketing all over the country, I’m even more conflicted.

I’m afraid of being judged. Afraid friends won’t understand why I canceled plans with them but took this trip.

I’m afraid I’ve contributed to the problem instead of helping.

As a nurse, I feel an ethical obligation to role model the highest level of caution: either go to work and save lives or stay home and save lives. Nothing in between.

Yet, I’m human. I need self-care. I need family. I need work-life balance.

Honestly, I needed a break.

Let me insert a disclaimer here, a feeble attempt to assuage my guilt.

For what it’s worth, I was not in any patient rooms that were COVID positive for over a week prior to travel. I was tested for the antibody, which came back negative. (Though the accuracy of these tests is poor and the implications unclear.)

I was essentially self-contained in my vehicle the majority of the time. I only ate at restaurants outdoors, I didn’t join groups or gatherings, I was masked for the entirety and sanitized my hands regularly. img_7873

This trip was not mandatory nor was it an emergency, but it wasn’t pure hedonism either. I visited San Diego to have my van camper top refurbished (how I damaged the original in a parking garage in Whistler is a somewhat shame-inducing story itself!) The trip was initially planned for April – and of course – was canceled.

I definitely appreciate how trivial this is compared to major life events so many have canceled – weddings, surgeries, anniversary vacations to Iceland (my heart broke for this friend!), first birthdays for a first child.

And, I’ve had my share of disheartening cancellations: the annual soul-replenishing retreat at Salt Spring Island (should be there today!), Disneyland with my kid (our first trip together in 4 years), Hawaii with my best girlfriends…

Sacrifices have been made by all.

As the pandemic waxes and wanes, we’re forced to make decisions regarding what activities we deem safe and reasonable to engage in. The conflict, guilt, and doubt this conjures up aren’t unique to me. 

Friend and colleagues have shared similar concerns. “I’m not ignoring the virus, but I miss my friends so much.” “I don’t want to make things worse, but I just can’t sit home alone any longer.” “No matter what I decide to do, it feels wrong.”

After carefully following the mandates of isolation for months, many of us are desperate for some normalcy and have begun taking calculated risks. Our mental health depends on it.

Since the pandemic’s (publicly known) onset in the US, my mission as an ICU nurse has been clear: prevent, treat, and eradicate this plague and the suffering it generates. I’m meant to ensure you, your child, your spouse, and your parents will not succumb to the virus. It’s no wonder my bias towards “stay home” and “wear a mask” has been steadfast, as I’m overwhelmed by the bleakest realities of COVID 19, and frequently witness prolonged and painful deaths of the patients who succumb to it.

Separated from that environment, even briefly, to engage in hugs with family (which I literally have not felt in months) eat food prepared and served by another human (not via drive-thru), and run freely on the beach next to my furry best friend, I became acutely aware of how important it is for us to live.

The farther I traveled from stifling hospital air and seemingly endless office hours via claustrophobia-inducing ZOOM, the more apparent this became. 

 

Distance from the frontlines also helped me better appreciate the “outside” world’s perspective. (Non-healthcare professionals, and/or those who haven’t experienced the tragedy of Coronavirus in their personal circle.)

I can identify, to a degree, with those calling for businesses to open immediately and even those throwing caution to the wind to gather in groups, mask free.

We need to socialize, adventure, and fuel our economy. We need to rise above the fearful and negative energy that’s been vibrating through the earth for the greater part of six months.

But this doesn’t mean we can ignore it altogether.

Returning to work after vacation was emotional whiplash. From beachside Utopia to caregiving of patients fighting against Coronavirus for their lives, including a young woman on life support who contracted the virus after attending a small, intimate wedding. Sadly, it was her own. Every guest in attendance became ill.

Tragedies like these – ones that are a part of my everyday life since March, are keeping our communities from moving forward with social events for good reason.

But I know we can’t hide in our homes forever.

So how do we strike a balance of security, sanity, and solvency?

After navigating 2,500 miles of travel during these uncertain times, I don’t have any perfect answers.

But I do have suggestions based on what’s working for me.

Stay tuned for my next article, where I draw parallels between practicing safe sex and practicing safe socialization, using everything I learned in high school health class.

Coronavirus, after all, is basically just another type of preventable STI –

Socially Transmitted Infection.

Stay safe and healthy my friends.

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Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

 “The views expressed on this blog are not medical advice, the opinions are my own and do not reflect the views of my workplace.”

 

 

Year of the Nurse Spotlight #4: Khara – “Now that I’m sober, my passion for nursing has come back.”

Recovery helped me find who I am, what I like, what I don’t, and how to take care of myself.

A self- admitted perfectionist, Khara graduated from nursing school Suma Cum Laude, married her high school sweetheart, and had two children together. But beneath the surface dark secrets were brewing. 

From a young age, Khara experienced anxiety and depression. By college, she was perpetually bingeing on alcohol and chronically high on weed. Becoming licensed as a healthcare professional didn’t help Khara eliminate her toxic habits; in fact, the culture of nursing normalized them for her. 

Like many of us who searched desperately for relief from emotional pain through substances, Khara tried for years to moderate before ultimately facing and overcoming her addiction to being numb.

She came to a realization: there is no escaping discomfort through drugs or alcohol. Trying to do so only kept her separate from herself and the beauty of life around her. Four years ago, Khara found her freedom in sobriety.

Khara’s story is so empowering, I felt bad having to edit it down to one brief interview! But Khara’s on a journey to becoming a recovery coach, and I have a feeling she’ll have many opportunities in the near future to share her story of hope and healing.

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Continue reading “Year of the Nurse Spotlight #4: Khara – “Now that I’m sober, my passion for nursing has come back.””

It’s Time to Suit Up and Stop the Mask-Shaming

What would resorting to public displays of personal protection say about ME? Had I become weak? Had I always been?

FYI – This post will NOT cover the following mask-based material: 

  • Politically charged discussion re: mask availability/approval (though it’s no doubt mixed messages and misinformation are leading players in the delayed decision to recommend them.)
  • Controversial discourse regarding public access to masks and healthcare professionals shortage. (though trust me, it’s caused me a significant amount of heartburn.)
  • Heartfelt pleas, imploring you to wear a mask, based on my firsthand witness of ongoing tragedies. (though each shift bears more testimony that masking vigilance is necessary. And OK, there may be an overture or two within.)

The following is an examination of human behaviors and relations, of judgment and compassion, and tracks my evolution from mask-critic to humble mask-aholic.

Continue reading “It’s Time to Suit Up and Stop the Mask-Shaming”

Year of the Nurse Spotlight #3: MaryBeth Murphy – “How could I, a nurse, be duped by Big Alcohol?”

I was surrounded by drinkers so I did not stand out. When I contemplated quitting everyone said, “I wasn’t that bad”.

MaryBeth Murphy has been a nurse for over 30 years, the majority of that time spent in pediatrics.

Just over 3 years ago, she broke her ankle and decided to use the time to get healthy. This included challenging herself to not drink alcohol. One seemingly “small” habit change and the trajectory of MaryBeth’s life changed forever.

Not only did she embrace an alcohol-free lifestyle in 2016, she took the opportunity to look honestly at her career and personal goals, bravely admitting that working at the bedside was no longer on that list.

MaryBeth is a holistic health and recovery coach, yoga instructor, reiki healer, craniosacral therapist and more!

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I am in awe of this woman’s character and determination and honored to have interviewed her.

It is most certainly the Year of the Nurse, and I’m proud to share one nurse’s journey from daily drinker to holistic health coach!

Continue reading “Year of the Nurse Spotlight #3: MaryBeth Murphy – “How could I, a nurse, be duped by Big Alcohol?””

Caring From the Front Lines: An Updated Version.

My original article just doesn’t express my present day-to-day as a nurse on the front lines. My new reality.

Working Nurse recently published my article detailing a day in the life of an ICU nurse caring for patients with Covid19. My words were as authentic as possible while being cognizant of the public platform and sensitive nature of the content. (It could be helpful to read that article FIRST to best understand!)

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PPE is rationed out and kept safely in paper bags

Healthcare is a rapidly evolving system, and in times of Pandemic, the rate of change is unparalleled. By the time the article hit the internet, many of my observations were already out of date. As I read it today, I think to myself, this was obviously written before.

Before is a mentality I imagine you can appreciate.

Before Coronavirus, I could go to the movies. Before the pandemic, I could engage in group-hugs. I used to buy toilet paper anytime, anywhere; but that was before. 

For me, a nurse in a medical ICU, BEFORE was an era in which the virus was evident at work but I wasn’t personally affected. Each shift was increasingly intense and surreal, but otherwise, life went on as normal. “Covid” patients were sequestered to a few specific rooms and my personal concerns were compartmentalized right along with them.

Simply put, I wrote the article before S#!+ got real.

Before…

  • Our department was at near capacity with Covid-positive patients.
  • our dwindling PPE supply – masks, gloves, and face shields –  were placed in a locked room and rationed while staff use shower curtains and hand-sewn masks as replacements
  • Visitors were restricted from the hospital campus in its entirety.
  • Short staffing and the quantity of the patients made it impossible to have a secondary/observer RN to help. We now put on/take off our PPE,  disinfect our supplies alone and generally have 2:1 assignments (2 patients to one nurse) – patients this critically ill were always a 1:1 assignment before. 

I composed that paper before I had lived through the solitary dread of being the only caregiver in a room with a crashing patient; sweating through my scrubs and paper gown, my view obstructed through a bleach-smeared face shield. Colleagues stood pensively outside the glass door, offering support via walkie-talkies, prepared to enter but waiting until the crucial moment. For the sake of staff safety, and to preserve PPE, we must question: does this require a second set of hands? Is this moment worth the use of our equipment?

In the past week, my role has changed drastically. My nursing scope has expanded to include phlebotomy (drawing labs), housekeeping, and respiratory therapist skills. We’re taking all measures necessary to decrease exposure to Coronavirus, and to preserve protective gear. A nurse is one essential person that must enter the room multiple times a shift. Therefore, the decision has been made to require nurses a multitude of tasks that others would normally do. While decreasing how many people are exposed, this increases exposure to the nurse. img_5569

Finally, the article was penned long before I understood the evolving nature of the virus, worked desperately and yet futilely to care for and save patients in their early 40s. Before I woke to the news that doctors and nurses are contracting and dying of Coronavirus too.

My original article just doesn’t express my present day-to-day as a nurse on the front lines.

My new reality.

Across the globe, everyone is coping with their own version of this new normal. Struggling to make sense of this; to stay sane. So many of us are hurting – physically, emotionally, financially.

We have to listen. We have to act in accordance  – (Find the CDC’s FAQ Here!)–  in order for this to end.

And listen – as dire as this feels right now, it will end.

Just as there is a “Before“, there will be an “After“; first, we must go through.

The extent to which we embrace this as an opportunity to grow will define us as individuals and as a community.

We can do this together.

Thank you to all who have sent messages,  and donated food, masks, and equipment.

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My new mask! Hand sewn with love by Emily Fritz, ARNP

We nurses feel the love, and we are doing our best to stop the spread of this virus and to get your loved ones healthy and back home to you.

Thank you for doing your part too!

How are you holding up?

Are you feeling a sense of nostalgia for BEFORE?

Can’t wait for this to be over and get to the AFTER? 

As we go through this, I’m here for you!

Please email me – tiffany@recoverandrise.com.

I’m happy to support you through this time. 

 “The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of my workplace.”

Year of the Nurse Spotlight #2: Shannon – “Addicts need help, NOT punishment.”

Rather than feeling empowered to self-report and get help early on, nurses end up in legal trouble or trouble at work for diverting.

 

Shannon McDonald’s smile is contagious. She’s funny and kind and has a passion for refurbishing furniture and hitting the trails with her family on their ATVs.

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But it wasn’t always this way.

In 2009, Shannon’s life was the stuff addiction is made of: a lack of coping skills “I was a negative person”, a troubled relationship “My husband and I were awful to each other” a legitimate cause for pain prescriptions “migraines and herniated discs” and high-stress job as an emergency room nurse in a Level 1 Trauma Center.

Similar to my experience, Shannon learned the hard way: marijuana’s not the gateway drug, opiate prescription pills are.

This post is longer than usual but worth it! In the following interview, Shannon opens up about procuring drug hookups in jail, suffering withdrawal from heroin, and finally, the joy of recovery.

Recover and Rise: Shannon, how long have you been sober, and what do you define yourself in recovery from?

Shannon: My sober date is Dec 2, 2015. I’ve been in recovery for 4 years and 3 months from drugs, alcohol, job burnout, and a generally crappy attitude – LOL!

Continue reading “Year of the Nurse Spotlight #2: Shannon – “Addicts need help, NOT punishment.””

2020: The Year of the Nurse

Stigma keeps us silent, while unrealistic expectations promote bravado. But we’re not doing ourselves any favors with this facade of invincibility.

Nurses have been recognized for a week each year in May since the early 1990s.

This year’s even better. Every single one of the 366 days in 2020, dedicated to us! (Yep, it’s a leap year!)

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed 2020:

THE YEAR OF THE NURSE

I might be a tad biased, but if anyone deserves a whole year of devotion, it’s me and my nurse peeps.

#YON2020 isn’t just an excuse to eat birthday cake with Nurse Flo’s name on it. The WHO intends to advance nurses’ vital position in transforming healthcare around the world.

Nurses and midwives play a vital role in providing health services…They are often, the first and only point of care in their communities. The world needs 9 million more nurses and midwives if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.

I’m on board with boosting legislation that results in Universal Health Care, but my agenda is a little different; I’m concerned with the health of nurses themselves.

So when I first heard the phrase “Year of the Nurse” this is what (and who) came to my mind:

  • Critical Care colleagues physically exhausted, facing moral distress
  • Colleagues in recovery fighting to keep their license, sobriety and lives intact
  • Nursing students who are ill-prepared for the sacrifice their careers will demand

I thought of the secret shame so many of us harbor, overwhelmed with life and work but desperate to keep anyone from thinking we’re weak. We even hide from our coworkers, despite our shared experience which could foster deep connections if we felt empowered to let down our walls.

Professional Burnout is an epidemic, alcoholism runs rampant, and substance use disorder – specifically opiate abuse – is a personal crisis many of us are facing.

Continue reading “2020: The Year of the Nurse”

Road to Redemption: Return to Critical Care

I’m happy for the opportunity to make amends to the organization, my coworkers, my patients, and the nursing profession. It’s not a privilege I’m taking lightly. I know the rate of relapse. I know this could be my last chance at a blemish free nursing license.

Two point five years ago, I had to leave my position as a nurse in Critical Care due to probably the most shameful and disturbing reasons a nurse can imagine.

It feels nothing short of miraculous that I’ve been given an opportunity to return.

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Fueled by caffeine and ready for orientation

(Although some might say I’m returning to the scene of the crime, and they would technically be correct.)

For nearly five of my 14 years as a nurse, I worked in CCU and loved the job, despite its flaws. I felt at home in the role. But I completely mismanaged the stress in my life, making tragic and regretful decisions.

For the background on my detour away from “overachiever” into “Real Life Nurse Jackie” check out this BLOG I wrote, publicly declaring myself as an addict.

I was let go from the job, spent three months in treatment and submerged myself in recovery. Since returning to work, I’ve been employed in lower acuity areas than CCU, working my way up – but stayed on night shift because it’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable mentally and physically.

Probably beginning somewhere early last Fall, I felt in my soul it was time to take another step forward. I reached out to key people in administration, asking their blessing to apply for a new position. I also talked it over with my case manager and my sober support system.

Continue reading “Road to Redemption: Return to Critical Care”