Confronting Jane: From the Perspective on an Impaired Nurse (Part Two)

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    I am Jane and a recovering alcoholic. In the darkest day of my nursing career, I was confronted at work for appearing impaired. I would like to share my experience to bring insight into addressing the impaired nurse. The day I was confronted was shameful, but I now believe for my own workplace to confront my behavior was an act of compassion.

    Confronting Jane:  From the Perspective on an Impaired Nurse (Part Two)

    In part one of Confronting Jane (Confronting Jane- From the Perspective of an Impaired Nurse (Part One)), I shared signs of my progressing alcoholism. These signs included tardiness, calling out, illness at work, changes in my appearance and declining work performance. During my nursing career, I valued my skill and ability to be a team player and my work performance fell outside of my usual high standard. I never imagined I would require intervention while working as a nurse.

    I had attempted to quit drinking several times and experienced frightening withdrawal symptoms. I knew the risks associated with alcohol withdrawal, but was too ashamed to seek medical assistance to detox. I had ten days sober when I stopped one morning and purchased a bottle of wine. I was scheduled to work night shift that evening and planned to drink just enough to "unwind" before I slept for the day. I slept six hours and woke for work. My body had taken a hit from chronic drinking and six hours was not enough time to clear the amount of alcohol I had ingested. In addition, my withdrawal symptoms intensified each time I had a period of sobriety. As I prepared for work, I was already nauseated, sweating and experiencing fine tremors. I remember driving to work thinking, "I should just turn around".

    I arrived at work, received report and started my shift. I remember having difficulty concentrating on what needed to be done. Due to tremors, I was also having difficulty with coordination. I was two hours into my shift and had not yet started administering medications. A co-worker (or workers) noticed my behavior and notified the house nursing supervisor. I was approached by the house supervisor (HS) and asked to speak with him in private. The HS stated there was concern over my behavior and signs of impairment. I was told my shift would be covered and asked if I would agree to a drug screen. I wish I could say that I agreed and the test was negative. I was terrified of losing my nursing license and did not agree to the test. I was told I could not drive home and to call someone to pick me up. I was also informed a report would be submitted to my state's board of nursing detailing the night's events.

    The next morning, I began making arrangements to enter medical detox and a rehabilitation program specifically for licensed healthcare providers. An alcoholic does not usually seek treatment until the consequences of drinking become too great. The consequences of my drinking, both personally and professionally had become unbearable. I made the decision to self-report the need for treatment to the board of nursing and apply for the alternative to discipline program. I do not regret this decision.

    There are nurses who have been caught diverting medication or were found to be impaired and hold resentment towards their employer. There are individuals who avoid reporting impaired staff due to friendship, loyalty or fear of the nurse losing license to practice. I do not hold resentments and now perceive my intervention at work as an act of compassion. I am thankful I did not cause an adverse patient event and take full responsibility for my actions. Shame and fear of losing licensure was a barrier for me in seeking treatment. It is often difficult to write about my experience as a nurse with alcoholism. But, it is more important to share my story for another person who may relate and identifies a need to seek help.

    Is there a part of my experience you would like for me to share in an additional installment of Confronting Jane? Do you have questions? If so, please include in the comments below.

    Are you concerned about your own use of chemical substances? Here is a link for a self-assessment provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.

    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14
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    About J.Adderton, BSN, MSN Pro

    Stepper (Jane) is a nurse with 22 years of experience. Stepper worked in home health/hospice and earned her master's degree in nursing. Stepper worked as Director of Education at a large home health and hospice company for 8 years prior to accepting a position teaching in an ADN program. Stepper is in active recovery and participates in an alternative to discipline program offered by her state's board of nursing.

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  3. by   rn1965
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I am also and alcoholic. I have said it before and will say it again, the day I was arrested was both the best and worst day of my life.

    On 2/18/18, it will be 13 years that I am clean and sober, and very thankful for it. I am hoping to have my RN license re-issued soon.

    Thank you for being brave enough to tell your story!
  4. by   SpankedInPittsburgh
    Thank You for sharing your story Stepper. Shame and fear of losing a livelihood is a very real barrier to seeking treatment. That's a shame in a profession devoted to battling disease and that is what addiction is but its the sad truth
  5. by   J.Adderton
    I agree. Being a nurse does not make us immune to the disease of addiction. thanks for our comment.
  6. by   forenzikchik
    Very important, and timeless subject matter, but let's not use the photo of an older nurse as the visual example of an "impaired" nurse for this article. Addiction happens at all ages, genders, and professions, and has been ongoing for time immemorial. With so many healthcare systems finding reasons to let older, and likely better paid, nurses go, and making room for younger, and likely less expensive nurses to come in, I find this a poor choice of visual with the headline. Especially since there is an article among these about that very subject matter. Thank you for allowing me to have a voice.