This is a rather personal reflection, and I debated whether to post it on my personal blog versus this nursing-specific one. Ultimately this is still very much about the issues and conversations happening within nursing, so with some sense of vulnerability, I’m posting it here.
What a curious journey the past year has been. People have been asking me what’s next, and I’ve been asking the same question. I’ve been blogging for awhile about the internal issues I often wrestle with as a pediatric ICU nurse. The writing started purely for my own clarity and catharsis, but colleagues resonated with it, and I slowly began to realize I was speaking for a collective voice without even intending to do so. I was fortunate enough to be granted opportunities to write for Off the Charts, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing, which has been a tremendous joy. I was certain there had to be books and TED/TEDxTalks speaking to the really gritty, nuanced, complicated issues that nurses wrestle with when constantly caring for the sick, suffering and dying – resources that weren’t overly clinical in nature but didn’t diminish the issues with mere platitudes or coats of sugar. I’m still rather dumbfounded at the dearth of books and TEDTalks along these lines. We need strong voices that speak to these issues because the truth is, not all moments in nursing feel meaningful or worth their effort for numerous reasons; yet so many of us still love the work and believe in its essence, or at least what we still believe the essence to be. Often, the struggle in trying to not lose our grip on the essence is the wrestling we must do with the many extra arms that have grown out of its original core – ethical, logistical, administrative, morally and socially challenging arms that all now come attached. This strange thing about nursing is that its own arms sometimes now attack its own heart. This is what we are constantly learning to navigate.
I want(ed) to write a book, but being in the throes of motherhood with two very young children, I was dismayed to find that writing a book is not just writing a book (as if the writing itself is as effortless as that sounds). It’s convincing a publisher that you’ve got enough of a social media following, enough of an audience by way of scheduled speaking appointments, enough of a legitimate voice that will be worth the publisher’s efforts to put it into print and disseminate it. I was disheartened. I had my little blog and the confident support of coworkers, but not much beyond that.
Then…the TEDxTalk, well, it just happened. Honestly when I look back, it’s the only way I know to describe how it became a part of my story. It came together, came apart, and then it came alive. It was painful, empowering, deflating, exhilarating, and for all these reasons it was ultimately a ten-minute capture of my very heart for and about the experience of nursing.
As a result of the TEDxTalk, numerous speaking opportunities have been extended to me, past and now future.
I presented at Grand Rounds in our hospital on the topic, “Integrating Work-Related Grief for a More Wholehearted Practice,” looking at wholeheartedness not in the sense of “I’m all good,” but in the sense that we can bring all that we have – our joys and sorrows, our convictions and our uncertainties – as real sources of healing and empathy for our patients. Quite frankly, I expected a turnout of about 15 people and imagined they would all be my PICU colleagues, attending for moral support more than anything. Instead it turned out to be a crowd of 60-70 people, very multidisciplinary: physicians, social workers, physical therapists, child life specialists, chaplains, and of course, nurses. I was taken aback by the hunger for this conversation, the gasps and the tears when I said the things that we all feel but seem to have such little space to say. We’ve all been exerting so much energy protecting others from our own grief, and suddenly there was this space to let down our walls. You could feel the relief, the shared understanding, and no small amount of wonder at the question, “It’s ok to feel these things? And you all feel it too?”
I spoke at the RN Residency Graduation Ceremony about giving our humanity, rather than our presumed super-humanity, as the best gift possible to our patients. Can we give young nurses permission from the start to be human? Yes, we can; in fact, we must.
Most recently, I spoke at the AACN UCLA 2018 Leadership Symposium together with AACN President Christine Schulman on AACN’s current theme, “Guided by Why.” My presentation titled “Finding Meaning and Resilience in Times of Grief, Ethical Dilemmas and Exhaustion” felt like a bit much to cover in 50 minutes, until I realized my goal was not so much to go in-depth with each of those issues, as it was to present underlying questions about why we actually struggle with each of these issues so much. I love thinking outside the box and not saying all the things that have already been said (because truly, others say those things better than I.) I deeply appreciated people who approached me throughout the rest of the day and shared their stories of grief and struggle with me. I never presume to have all the answers, but I always want to have more of the conversations.
There are now additional speaking appointments for later this year, and quite frankly, I can’t say I know specifically where I am to go with all of this. I love bedside nursing. Plenty of people present at conferences, so I don’t presume to be all that extraordinary. I do know I’ve got vision; it’s just a big fuzzy right now. My sense is that God and faithfulness and time will bring the clarity.
I know that I love the public speaking, introvert and awkward maker of small talk that I am. I love processing different and deeper ways to think about nursing issues, and I love sharing these ideas with broader audiences. I hope it leads people to necessary conversations and better conclusions about how to deal with the issues we are facing.
I know that I cautiously guard hope inside that these speaking opportunities will grow my chances of eventually writing that book. I don’t even know yet exactly what it will be about, but I’ve just got a feeling that all of this work can eventually shape and fill the content of a book. One day, God willing.
I know that this isn’t about me. Not to say that I haven’t wrestled with ego issues, because of course, I have. But this would not be meaningful work if it only lifted me up and no one else. The power of medical technology is at an all-time high, yet moral distress is bringing nurses and other healthcare professionals to all-time lows. Patient and family needs are great, but staffing shortages at times feel greater. Yet I still believe in the heart of nursing; I believe it is not a past ideal that we are resigned to sadly shrug our shoulders at and say, “I used to have that heart.” I believe it is a heart that we as a whole people are charged with fiercely preserving in the face of staffing issues, unjust power dynamics, heartache, moral dilemmas, misunderstanding and lack of appreciation. To all of these things, I say – don’t you dare take our heart away from us. Our patients are worth too much. We and the work we do are worth too much. This is the heart I want to share with the public. This is the heart I want to keep alive.