The Origin Story of Safety Nurse: How I Got Here. Pt 1
The origin story of Safety Nurse, who, garbed in turquoise scrubs, a white cape, a 50’s style nursing hat and sensible, orthopedic shoes, walks hastily through the galaxy providing assessment skills, education, wound care and safe medication administration!
"Why did you become a nurse?" is a question we all get asked at one time or another. Maybe it's in as we are making our first nurse friends, or during the night shift as we are bringing a warm blanket for a patient who can't sleep, and they ask, "why nursing?" to help fill the long, lonely hours before dawn. I think the first time I got asked that question it was in a slightly different way. I was just starting to think about going back to school for nursing and my boyfriend at the time asked me, "Why would you want to spend your time cleaning up someone else's poop?" Good question, and we broke up soon after (because if you have to ask, then what's the point?) But the answer to the question is, I became a nurse because I wanted to feel at the end of every day like I had truly, really, actually helped someone. Plus it looked interesting, and totally out of my range of experience (I like to challenge myself). And I will admit, I really wanted job security, with the added bonus of tons of flexibility.
This is my origin story, but it's not like Wonder Woman, who was just born that way but got voted off the island; or Batman, who watched his parents get killed in a mugging gone wrong, or Peter Parker, who got bit by a radioactive spider. I think of myself as more like Ironman, who reinvented himself out of necessity (why aren't there more female superheroes?) Yes folks, I am like Ironman, but a whole lot less interesting...and not a dude, and I can't fly...but I do save people. Did you know that Wonder Woman was referred to as a "night nurse" in Daredevil vol. 2, #58 (May 2004), when she became a medical professional who specialized in helping injured superheroes heal? Kinda cool!
Every super hero needs a name...Wonder Nurse? Nursy Nurse? (since to nurse literally means to restore someone to optimum health). Nurse Girl isn't empowered (and a bit absurd for a lady approaching 50), but Nurse Woman just sounds weird. Nurse Lady (I hear Jerry Lewis's voice in my head with this one)? Nurse Chick? Super Nurse??? I am obsessed with patient safety, so how about Safety Nurse? Garbed in turquoise (my favorite color), a white cape, a 50's style nursing hat (they've been gone long enough to be cool, I think) and sensible, orthopedic shoes, I whiz through the galaxy providing assessment skills, education, wound care and safe medication administration!
Origin story for Safety Nurse: I got a Bachelor's of science in biology way back in 1990, and then realized there was absolutely nothing I could do with it, so I got a Master's of Science in molecular biology (that's where you play with DNA). It was pretty cool. I extracted DNA from endangered orchids, trying to create DNA fingerprints for the unidentified orchids to help them propagate the species. Then I worked for a Cardiology Research Center as a lab technician, or bench jockey as we used to call ourselves. That was even cooler. We were growing cultured embryonic, mouse cells in petri dishes. After adding growth hormones to stimulate cardiac differentiation, they began to contract on their own. THEY BEAT ON THEIR OWN. I felt like Frankenstein, creating a monster. But the goal was to grow heart cells that could be transplanted into a weakened heart, maybe eventually saving people from heart failure.
My life had meaning. I was saving people...sort of. But something was missing. I kept filling up garbage cans with radioactive waste, and sacrificing small animals with the hope that someday their death and suffering would have some meaning. I didn't feel joy in my work, though I did feel a purpose. Since I am part of a generation of people who think work should be enjoyable, I was always on the lookout for something else. During my graduate school biology coursework, I taught some introductory biology lab sections as a graduate assistant, and loved it, so I applied to teach a class at a local college. I got to teach a whole biology course at a mall branch of the university. I was so nervous; my hands shook as I held my notes. I don't remember a single student or what I taught, I do recall however that, just as I had dreamed numerous times, I did actually teach an entire class with my zipper down. But I also loved it. I loved the connection, and the light bulb coming on, and the tangible feeling of helping someone in the moment, and not just future "some ones" that I would never meet.
I moved to the south and found a job at a wonderful community college, teaching biology and anatomy and physiology. It was awesome. I had found my happy place. Those people were so good to me, and I did a lot of good for them as well. During my time there two important things happened: 1) I met a lot of nursing students; and 2) on Sept. 11, 2001 a lot of good people died, and even more were in a lot of trouble, needing help. I don't know about you, but I felt so helpless. I just wanted to DO SOMETHING. I had several completely un-useful skills...I could drive up to New York City and teach the walking wounded some biology as a distraction, or perhaps wave a pipetter around in the air for comic effect? I did what I could from home, but I felt a new resolve...this is the one life we get. I was completing the waking up that had begun when I left research, and once I was awake, I couldn't go back to sleep.
It's a big deal to quit your job and join the circus...or go to nursing school (sometimes they feel like the same thing). I went to a local community college and took some tests I hadn't taken since High School. I wanted some kind of assurance that nursing would be the right thing for me. It wasn't a career I had ever considered before – so how to know if I would like it? All the diagnostic tests came back and my fate was sealed – I was best suited to be three things: 1) researcher (done), 2) librarian (my next incarnation) or 3) nurse (seriously? Yes, seriously). Do you see what those three things have in common? Flexibility for one, choices, continued interesting input, and the chance to be of service. I put in my application at that same school, and with heavy heart I told the folks at my other job that I was leaving –though it was terrifying to resign before knowing I had been accepted into nursing school.
Getting into nursing school is HARD. My friends and family were all like, "oh you are so smart, you will get in", but they didn't understand (I know you do, fearless reader), nursing school is different. You only get in if everyone else who applies is not as good as you. There are only so many spots, and there are no guarantees. In addition, I had to jump through some pretty funny hoops to even apply. First off, I graduated from a high school on the Rosebud Sioux Indian reservation. They did not have Internet, they did not have online transcript request services, and they did not answer their phone, or return messages. Fortunately I was able to convince the registrar that my two other degrees were enough proof that I had indeed graduated from high school. Then the next obstacle – I've never actually taken Anatomy and Physiology (I took Histology and Gross Anatomy instead). I said, "But I taught it for 4 years?! I am teaching it right now at your school?!". Eventually I was able to convince them that, yes I had sufficient experience with A&P to not have to take it as a student.
If you think getting in to nursing school is hard, try finishing nursing school. Holy cow. I can't even. Like so many other people with other degrees, I sailed in there with my nose in the air, with a "how hard can it be" attitude. I mean, I had a degree in molecular biology, didn't they understand whom they were dealing with??? (are you laughing at me yet? Go ahead, I am laughing at my ignorant self from long ago.) Understanding came swiftly. I realized that in nursing, unlike the science that had become my religion, there can be more than one right answer. There is the right answer, and then there is the righter answer, and the righter-er answer, and then finally, the rightest answer. Good Times. I made it, barely. It wasn't grades that were the issue, but a little something they like to call "professionalism", which had me completely flummoxed and mystified. In nursing school, you aren't supposed to question everything. You are supposed to wait until you are a nurse to learn that skill. In nursing school you are supposed to "fly under the radar". This continues to drive me insane, because as you probably know if you have read this far, questioning everything is really important for patient safety. It's how we prevent error. Though asking questions with grace and humility gets you a better reception, I have learned.
I completed the NCLEX with 75 questions (anyone else go into cardiac arrest at question 73? maybe that should be part of the NCLEX of the future – save yourself from cardiac arrest and get your license), and was absolutely sure, just like everyone before me, that I had failed. I did not, and I got a job offer on an oncology unit. Thus began the best and hardest years of my life. I had become a nurse, (but was I Super? I like to think so!) Just to be clear, I don't actually think I am a superhero. I just like the idea of exploring the idea. That's one of the reasons I like to write (and draw). I get to imagine all sorts of things that aren't actually real or true. Won't you join me? Imagine YOU are a superhero If you are a nurse, you are a superhero to me). Draw me a picture. Tell your origin story. What are your superpowers? Most importantly, choose a cool NAME!!!
Next up – medical mission work in Haiti after the great earthquake of 2010. Come back to see pictures and hear stories of my first medical mission trip to Haiti in part 2 of my origin story. And then in part 3, I'm going to talk about my second trip to Haiti and how I started my own business (Super Entrepreneur Nurse).
Read the complete story:
The Origin Story of Safety Nurse: How I Got Here. Pt 1
Safety Nurse in Haiti: A Medical Mission Trip– Origin Story Pt. 2
Healing Machete Wounds with Safety Nurse- Origin Story Pt 3
Last edit by tnbutterfly on Feb 6, '18
Poll: What's your origin story, Super Nurse?
I am NOT a nurse! my superpower is reading about nursing on Allnurses.com!
I have always been a Super Nurse and always will be. I was just born this way!
I became a Super Nurse after being super at other things!
I was a Super Nurse, and how I am being super at new things!
Who has time for polls? I have meds to give (but I'm still super).
About SafetyNurse1968, PhD, RN
Safety Nurse is a wife and mother of 4 working on her doctorate in nursing. She is planning on changing her superhero name to Dr. Safety Nurse as soon as she graduates. She continues to be obsessed with patient safety.
Joined: Jun '11; Posts: 74; Likes: 170
Nurse Entrepreneur; from NC , US
Specialty: Oncology, Home Health, Patient Safety