I'm an RN in a NYC hospital. I've had a rough time at work in the past few months. Staffing issues, undesirable changes in personnel, a poorly timed visit from JCAHO, and change in computer system all add to the stress and confusion we are experiencing. There is a chronic problem of broken and missing equipment. In this environment, we must accommodate an overwhelming volume of patients (our hospital boasts one of the highest volume of births in NYC with nearly 6,000 deliveries a year.)
We passed the JCAHO inspection. All administrative efforts were focused on prepping the unit and priming the staff with mini drills. They even put an extra nurse in the C-section that JCAHO monitored; a "baby nurse." Something we simply can't afford the luxury of having in an unobserved delivery. There are not enough nurses to spare. The ones we have left are burned out.
I see my co-workers sighing, angry and frustrated. Some of us are getting a wild-eyed look of desperation that comes with the fight-or-flight response. We talk among ourselves. The consensus is that we do not feel supported, or heard or appreciated. Words of appreciation and pep talks can only placate us for so long. The upshot of this careless approach to nursing issues is that we come in late, call out or leave altogether.
There are nurses who have invested themselves fully in their job and the hospital for over 20 years. One nurse was verbally honored for her longevity at a morning "huddle" for which she got applause. The acknowledgement was followed by an apology that there would be no token of appreciation such as a traditional gift or dinner in her honor. She smiled wryly and everyone looked at each other knowingly. Why did that not come as a surprise? It's what we have come to expect. Disregard.
As an RN of 12 years, I've run the gamut of experiences. I will never be one of those nurses honored for her longevity. I started late (at age 37), and my primary interest in being an RN at this point is the paycheck. I have no job satisfaction. Don't get me wrong, I do love the times with my patients where we bond and talk together like new friends. In those moments, they feel safe with me, and I feel human. It is all I have to get me through a grueling shift. But as a night nurse by choice, I'm among the population of nurses who get the brunt of the short-staffing issue. This leads to a heavier workload and no breaks. Not many nurses want to stay on nights for long, but the night shift works better than the day shift for me. I can be home for my children when they come back from school in the afternoon, help them with their homework, make them dinner and get them to bed at a reasonable hour...then to school in the morning. This would not be possible for me to do if I went to the day shift. I would have to leave before they were awake and not be home until their bedtime. They would have to fend for themselves whenever I worked. This is not what I want for them, so I remain on the night shift.
Right now I'm at a crossroads in life. I will be 50 next year. I have kept my balance and sanity with my "hobbies" over the past six or seven years. This began with modeling and writing, costuming and crafting. These things gave me back a dimension of my life that I gave up when I became a nurse. I have always been an artist anyway you look at it. I'm happiest when creating something, whether it is some writing, a sketch, a costume, a dance or a song. In nursing I have had to curb my mind and learn only the things I'm required to do by wrote. It was a very hard lesson for me. Nursing is an unnatural fit for an artistic type, but I have learned a lot from it. Artists have an extremely difficult time with rules and protocol. They are the wild card in a hierarchic situation as they are constantly leaving the "box." We don't see lines or boundaries. We don't see ourselves as better or worse than anyone. We also are not impressed by authority. We put values on people's behaviors, not their station or title. I've had to learn a new mindset by being out of my element in a hospital environment. I've been in survival mode ever since becoming a nurse. I'm tired of the struggle.
Recently my artistic pursuits have become wildly pervasive and time consuming. I want my world to be filled with these pursuits, and the freedom to explore them. My family comes first, naturally. That is not a conflict. They are all supportive, and even participatory. My art is my focus; where I want my life direction to go. I don't see myself in the nursing field for the rest of my life. I do see myself as an artist no matter what, for the rest of my life. My focus on creative endeavors has exploded into a plethora of events. I'm performing more burlesque, hosting a show, singing, writing a memoir, dancing in a movie, "extra" work in another movie, participating in a TV show on Nickelodeon, and modeling. While these things don't make me as much money as nursing, they make me balanced, fulfilled and happy. Now my dilemma is how to make the leap to full time artist while still being able to pay the bills.
I won $100 from the Power Ball Lottery today. There was a time when $100 was a big deal. When I was on public assistance, I received $84 every two weeks and then $100 in food stamps for my baby (Kena) and me. It was a struggle, but I managed. It was this struggle that made me decide to go to nursing school to "get a career" and set a good example for my daughter. I also wanted to be financially independent.
Well, I did that and now I'm a nurse who makes almost $100,000 a year. I still struggle financially because of various reasons. My apartment is the main expense. When I was on welfare, my rent was $428 a month for a one bedroom in Park Slope; rent controlled, paid for by Jiggits (public assistance). Now my rent is nearly $2,000 a month for a three bedroom. I could get a smaller place and force my children to sleep in one room with me. Personally, I don't think that's appropriate, especially with teens. My only reservation with leaving nursing is the financial aspect. I will really need to hustle in the arts to make enough to support all of us. I still won't make as much...in the beginning. But I will be healthier, better rested, and have reclaimed my hearts desire. When you are happy, your children feel safer and more content. So this is for them too. I will need to pare down drastically on the restaurants and shopping sprees; but then I will have more time and energy to cook and less need to placate myself with shop-therapy. There is a mentality with people who work in an awful job for good money that they deserve treats (and we do). These treats can add up; spas, new clothes, night out on the town, day trips, trinkets, toys...etc. The money is addictive, but I can do without the treats if I can be happy in other ways. The good thing about my "hobbies" is that they are usually compensated. I've invested a great deal of money in costumes, wigs, makeup, rehearsal time and music. Now I have a few go-to repertoires and established numbers. My expenses are starting to decrease and the hobby is more than paying for itself.
There are different ways of seeing this. I can look at it with fear and insecurity, lack of faith or just plain negativity. I can simply accept that this is the right thing to do, to take the risk and to believe it is happening. If you are presented with a continuous stream of opportunities to do something you love; it makes you happy and whole. Why deny yourself? If I say no, out of fear and financial concerns, then I will always wonder: Could I have been a success at doing what I love? I don't want to have that regret at the end of my life. I aim for another 40 to 50 years in this life, and I refuse to squander it in a thankless job that is a form of indenture. It's a vicious cycle. We need money to live and afford the necessities, but we are not living while subjugated to such work.
Nurses get a bad rap from all sides. I was told as a nursing student by some politicians in Albany that they respect nurses above all other professions. But how is that respect manifested? Lip service. Nurses are treated like imbeciles by other medical professionals. We are seen as the lower echelon of hospital workers. Often we are interchangeable. Our "superiors" are always surprised when we exhibit above average intelligence. Even after two years at my current hospital, many attendings and some residents do not know my name. We are rarely consulted even though we are more familiar with protocol and procedure than many MD's. We are held accountable if a doctor breaks the protocols. It is our responsibility to inform them of the protocols. If they wish to flout the rules and we are not acquiescent, they threaten to have us disciplined. We are belittled in front of our patients by certain doctors. We are considered insubordinate if we question an order. We are labeled difficult if we have an opinion that contradicts a doctor's opinion. We are expected to perform as worker bees who are only there to follow orders. We're required to document endlessly on every little event that occurs during a patient's stay. Administrators who make decisions for us are so far removed from what we do that they are unaware of the workload they are putting on us. The nurse must go into "Stepford" mode in order to survive long term in this profession. Don't have an opinion. Follow the rules. Take shit and like it. Comply. I know a handful of doctors who are genuinely kind and appreciative to the nurses and for them I am eternally grateful. I feel respect from them. They have my loyalty and respect in return. Sadly they are in the minority.
There is little or no compensation to being a nurse. The paycheck that you become dependent on is a seduction. It certainly doesn't approach our true work value. What is the price can I charge for the individual things I do? Doctors can charge per service. We are paid by the hour. Even when I delivered a baby because the doctor did not show up in time, he got paid, not me. I didn't even get a "thank you" from him. When I started out as a nurse and was making $50,00 to $60,000 per year, I thought that was a lot, more than I had ever made at anything. But as my experience grew, so did my paycheck. The amount of taxes appropriated from my bi-weekly paycheck is disheartening. We have to pay dues to an ineffectual union, and now we are mandated to pay our own medical insurance because the hospital administrators have determined it is not their responsibility to keep their staff insured. Most of our health complaints are work related injuries. Our work environment exacerbates medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and orthopedic issues.
Lack of a healthy amount of sleep is an issue for night nurses. I know when I have a few days off, it takes me two to five days to feel physically well and back into a normal sleep pattern. It is just when I feel good again that I have to go back to work and the cycle of sleep deprivation begins again. There is not enough money in the world that can make me stay in a job where my health and longevity is placed at risk. I realize this now. As I enter more fully into performing arts and writing, I feel different after a long night of writing or dancing compared to a 12-hour shift at the hospital. It's a satisfying kind of tired, as opposed to abject exhaustion. I feel a sense of accomplishment with my artistic endeavors. After a night of nursing, the only sense of accomplishment that I feel is that I got through another shift and the utter relief of leaving the building in the morning. The kicker is that I would do my art for a hug and a sandwich, that's how much I love it. That's how happy it makes me. That's how I know I want to do it for life.
The thing that has been sacrificed in all of this (apart from my sleep) has been my home. I have not had the time or energy to keep the apartment well maintained. If I was home and awake during the day I could do more. As it is I scrape by with the bare minimum of cleaning and beautifying. I clean the kitchen and the bathrooms, mop and sweep, but I have yet to complete unpacking from our move a year ago. Clutter is an issue I could deal with if I had a solid month to dedicate. I can say at least that I care for my family and reserve significant time for them, which naturally includes my partner.
I am struggling with how to go about this transition. I could go per diem as an RN and simply work when I choose to. That may be the most sensible solution, eventually phasing it out altogether as I find my financial feet in the art world. I could just keep showing up late and calling absent until they fire me and then collect unemployment while I exert myself artistically. I could just go cold turkey and resign, living off my accumulated vacation pay, writing relentlessly and trying to get a book deal before my money runs out.
The voices of reason and logic are all around me. There are internal voices and the voices of well-meaning people who are concerned that I am risking too much. I hear them, but they are predictable and almost too rabid. It's as if they are projecting their worst fears onto me; their own inner struggle. I perceive them as the devil and the angel on my shoulder, but who is the devil and who is the angel? Those are the voices that have held many an artist back from fully stepping into the light or exploring the darkness of their gift. I can hear the voices that try to guide me and make me choose the sensible path, but they are sounding squeaky and annoying these days. I have no patience for their fearsome admonitions. "Well behaved women seldom make history" is a quote attributed to various untamed women I admire such as Eleanor Roosevelt. It is one of my mantras.
The bottom line is: "What do I want to do with the rest of my life?". To quote Eleanor Roosevelt again, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
I think I cannot manage without all that money. But I can. I have and will. I trust myself to be resourceful and I trust the balance of life to provide doors for me to open. I believe in that kind of thing because I've experienced it so often that it's become a truth. I'm through living in fear. Beautiful things happen to those who expose themselves to life.