To The Beginning

  1. 18

    It was a chilly spring day, the wan sunlight trickling over the rooftops of houses and through new spring leaves as it slipped toward the western horizon. My Dad and I, out for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the neighborhood, pressed up a steep hill that opened from the residential neighborhood into the staff parking lot of the city hospital.

    It was 1998, and as far as I knew, the world was perfect. I was ten years old and the reality I perceived was viewed almost exclusively through the protective eyes of my parents, who deftly maneuvered between telling me enough to allow me to grow up while simultaneously protecting me enough to allow for a safe, peaceful, beautiful childhood.

    I was born curious according to Mom, asking questions as soon as I could talk, and by the time I was ten, I was starting to realize the world wasn't perhaps as safe and rosy as my parents had allowed me to believe. I was cresting the hill of childhood, rapidly moving toward adolescence, and as Dad and I strolled up the hill toward the hospital, I was about to come face to face with my future profession--and a passion that would push me through the many challenges that lay ahead.

    I distinctly remember walking up the wheelchair ramp, holding the black wrought-iron rail and standing on my tiptoes to see into the window of the hospital nursery. I have always been lacking in physical stature--the shortest in most circles in my hometown being that I am not of Dutch descent--so the sensation of my Dad's hands under my arms and my feet lifting off the ground was much appreciated.

    Inside, I beheld wonders I couldn't have imagined. Babies in bassinets speckled the nursery. Machines and technology I couldn't wrap my mind around taunted me from beyond the glass. And as I gazed, awestruck, a nurse who was tending one of her little charges noticed us. She smiled, wheeled the bassinet over, and held up a sleeping baby boy.

    I was hooked.

    It wasn't the first time I had decided I wanted to be a nurse. My Mother swears that when I was three, I told her out of the blue one day that I was going to be a nurse. Goodness knows if I really understood what I was saying, but Mom believed me, so when I came home and made the same announcement 7 years later, she was hardly surprised at the news.

    A tradition was born on that chilly May afternoon. Dad and I would go to the hospital windows nearly every night to see the babies after we had eaten dinner. The nurses, incredible women that they were, took to my ten-year-old self, and within a few weeks, they were letting Dad and I into the hospital to see the babies from the large viewing window by the nurse's station. Come hot summer day or snowy Michigan blizzard, Dad and I made our trek faithfully almost every night. Our routine was unvaried and deeply precious to me: walk to the hospital, see the babies, talk with the nurses, go to the cafeteria, split a cookie, and walk home.

    In addition to getting to know the nurses, I also met the doctors and much of the hospital staff from other departments who recognized Dad and I from our nightly walks. As I matured, the OB nurses began to explain to me what the machines in the nursery did, some basic physiological concepts about how those little babies' bodies functioned compared to mine, and some fundamentals of nursing practice. As I got older, we talked about grades, their importance, and college. Little did I know it, but day by day, visit by visit, those nurses became my mentors, my encouragement, and my educators until I turned 13 and moved to a nearby city.

    Less than a month after we moved, terrorism forever changed the country I call home. I was thirteen when the September 11 attacks occurred, and the course of my life changed with that tragic event. Three years later, when I turned 16, I decided that I would enter the US Army. When I was eighteen, I took an EMT class, fell in love with emergency medicine and developed an intense interest in critical care. By the time I went to college, the focus of my career had drastically shifted from where it started, but I never forgot my first love in nursing. I never forgot those little babies.

    Nursing school went by relatively quickly despite the bumps in the road. Those bumps included two bouts of mono, two stupid boyfriends and one uphill battle to get into the Army. But that passion that led me to the hospital every night also pushed me through the hardships and toward my goals, and in August of 2010, I graduated college and passed the NCLEX three months later.

    Armed with a degree and a license, I enjoyed my few months remaining at home. January of 2011 came quickly. I had barely turned 23 when I was whisked off on orders to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX, for Basic Officer's Leader Course (BOLC). There, I learned about the Army, about my place in the AMEDD, and about the task of caring for soldiers that I was about to take on firsthand.

    My first assignment was Walter Reed--the original Walter Reed, that is, before the merger with Bethesda. The looming building on Georgia Avenue in DC housed my first nursing job, and I loved every second there. I was unwillingly assigned to oncology, but despite my initial doubts, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could've happened to me.

    Oncology, with its diverse disease processes, demand for a discerning, observant eye, and its high knowledge burden had me hooked within a year. I thrived, constantly learning from doctors, from my fellow nurses and from our incredible CNS. I proudly took on the title of "oncology nurse" and all that that implied. Though we were technically med-surg nurses without identifiers, we were highly respected among the doctors, valued by the ICU nurses we often encountered, and commanded respect from the interns that rotated through our ward for our specialized knowledge and trial-by-fire critical thinking skills. Oncology made me a good nurse and pushed me to be an excellent nurse for the sake of my own pride, for my preceptees, and most of all, for my patients and their families.

    Our merge with Bethesda Naval changed everything about my workplace. It was slow at first, but the decline was obvious. My floor struggled through understaffing, neglect, serious medication errors and low morale associated with high patient mortality and the ever-dwindling supplies. By the time I left, every night was a fight to protect my license and my patients. My best friend and I left the hospital within a month of each other, both of us happy to have escaped unscathed.

    My new assignment, while better in theory, has its own struggles. Now a first lieutenant rapidly moving toward captain, I am looking middle management squarely in the eye if I don't take a identifier-producing course and specialize, and even specializing will only delay the inevitable move from bedside to a desk. I am working a clinic with patients whom I love, but I am in constant danger of being pulled to the medical-surgical floor of my small MEDDAC that is infamous for unsafe practice and septic tank-low morale. And though the outpatient pace is interesting in its own right, I cannot help but feel empty, displaced, and a little lost.

    I am far from my fiance, far from home, and far from where I want to be in my career. The disorienting effect of this combination has made my head spin. Weekends pass far too quickly and every Monday, I return to face the challenges that await me at work on a daily basis.

    But despite the storm overhead and the rough seas below, all is not lost. Last year in the fall, an answer came to me not in orders or in words, but in a person. He was an answer that, at the time, I didn't have a question for. Indeed, he and I met when the seas were calm, the sun shone overhead, and all was well in my career.

    Little to my knowledge, I had met the man who I will soon call my husband, and as our relationship has grown, so has my willingness to leave the service. Last month, I made my decision. Instead of taking a course or looking to prolong my military career (as I had been considering at the time I met my fianc), I am ready to lay down my uniform with bittersweet emotions when the time comes in 2014. We will start a life together and I'll be a civilian--at least in title--and once more experience all the freedoms and burdens that are contained therein.

    Thinking of what I wanted to do next in nursing was a daunting question. I have for over two years gone where I was told to go and done what I was told to do. How could I possibly choose an area of nursing that was going to challenge me, capture my passion, and replace the fulfillment I've known in the Army?

    My answer came last weekend as my fiance and I sat watching Princess Bride over Papa John's Pizza. Inigo Montoya, propped up against his cabin drunk as a skunk in the Thieves' Forest, muttered a line that resonated. He slurs, Spanish accent strong and sword drawn in his lap, "You tol' me to go back to the beginning, so I have!" He nods assuredly. "This is where I am, and this is where I will stay. I will no' be moved!"

    The beginning. It seems like ages ago, but it isn't, and neither is that ten-year-old girl who dreamed of watching over babies. In addition to that old dream, my newer love for critical care persists. In desperation, I sought a way to marry those two dreams, though I know that L&D and postpartum are not where I want to end up. I have been floated to L&D as well as postpartum since I joined the Army, and while I enjoy caring for couplets, my desire is fiercely and undeniably to tend to my first love exclusively--to the littlest ones of all.

    It was in this epiphany that I realized that the NICU is calling my name. It was a realization that lit a fire inside and reignited a passion that I didn't know still existed. I am neither so young nor inexperienced to make the mistake of thinking that working in the NICU will be anything close to perfect. Every job has its drawbacks and its challenges, but I am drawn to the NICU and I know that in that passion, I will find the strength to weather the trials as I have in the past. The flames are being fanned by a dream that will--before I know it--be a possibility, and with a little patience and some preparation, a year and a half may find me where that ten-year-old girl could only have dreamed of ending up.

    To the beginning. I will not be moved.
    Last edit by Joe V on May 4, '13
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    About SoldierNurse22, BSN, RN, EMT-B

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  3. by   TheCommuter
    We appreciate you for sharing your very personal, very astounding story. Your words reveal that you are well-grounded, goal-oriented, and wise beyond your years.
  4. by   tnbutterfly
    Thank you for sharing the story of your unfolding journey.
  5. by   VivaLasViejas
    What can I are a magnificent soldier, nurse, and human being. Thank you for telling us your story!
  6. by   GerberaDaisy
    What an absolutely beautifully written journey about returning "to the beginning." Your excellent writing ability held me in thrall until I saw How you could return to that which you call your dream.
    Congratulations to you as you continue on your journey to care for our smallest patients.
  7. by   Esme12
    I LOVE your story. I thank you for sharing!!!!

    But I thank you most for your service!!!!!!!!!
  8. by   krwrnbsn
    Awesome. Thank-you for sharing!
  9. by   CheesePotato
    As always, nice writing ma'am.

    Congratulations on your engagement--very exciting. For the record, be grateful I do not know where you are...I would totally crash your wedding.

    Because I can.

    Secondly, you will always be a soldier. Any of my fine cohorts who served in the Armed Forces can attest to that fact. Look fondly at your past and with bold intentions towards your very bright future.

    Quote from SoldierNurse22
    I was thirteen when the September 11 attacks occurred...
    Ugh! When in the hell did I get old?!

    Thank you for that delicious wake up call.

    Best wishes to you, Whippersnapper.

    Last edit by CheesePotato on May 4, '13 : Reason: My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
  10. by   SoldierNurse22
    tnbutterfly and Commuter--as two of the well-known faces on AN, thanks for reading and your comments. AN may be an online community, but it has become more like family than I ever imagined it could since I joined the Army.

    CheesePotato--as usual, a most enlightening comment. You may feel free to crash my wedding if you can find out where/when it will be, but first, I ask that you allow me to figure out where/when it will be! I expect that a clever, deftly-written something-or-other will be a part of the experience, so please don't let me down. I also anticipated that someone might comment on my age (or lack thereof) in 2001, so points to you for being the first to both shed light on the topic and work the term "whippersnapper" into your post as well. Well done. *applause*

    GerberaDaisy--I don't know that I've come across you on these boards before, but thanks so much for your compliments and your encouragement. Nice to make your (online) acquaintance!

    -Thank you for your comment and support. While servicemembers may not say it often enough, we appreciate those of you who support us more than we can tell you. Here's to you!

    -thank you and welcome to AN!

    Viva--Seems we're going through some big changes at the same time, my friend. This is part of why I know there is more out there for you, even in the midst of your current trials--because if things can turn around for me, they certainly can turn around for you, too.

    As if that weren't enough, additional kudos to cheesepotato for being the first to work Inigo Montoya's most famous quote into her post, and as the edit reason, no less! I knew someone would, and of course, it had to be youuuuu....
  11. by   VivaLasViejas!
  12. by   Amistad

    I have been reading your articles on AllNurses since you posted "The Fifteen" and I never cease to be inspired by your words. As a 21 year old nursing student, I have no idea where I'll end up, but I've always been interested in oncology nursing and I hope to find a position in oncology after I graduate this month. I guess oncology is back to my "beginning" because I was first exposed to nursing care when a family member of mine was being treated for lung cancer when I was growing up. I just want to share that your articles have been an inspiration to me.

    As always, thank you for sharing your stories! It sounds like you're going to be a great NICU nurse!
  13. by   SoldierNurse22

    So glad you've enjoyed reading and that you're been able to get something from my experiences. It wasn't long ago that I was your age and dreaming of being out of school, so I'm very, very excited for you as you start looking to your own future. That old worn-out saying that life is a journey might be cliche, but it's true, and it is wise to at least try to enjoy every minute of it.

    Best of luck on your own track and keep us here on AN updated as to where you end up going in what is sure to be a promising career!
  14. by   BuckRN
    Thank you so much for sharing a glimpse of you! It is awesome to see nurses sharing "life" with each other. Many blessings to you in your future! May your NICU job provide you many challenges, because let's be honest, a good nurse thrives on challenges even as we appreciate the occasional "slow" shifts. I am getting ready to embark on the journey of finally working in the area that inspired me to be a nurse. I embraced my experiences up to this point even though it was not my ideal just as it seems you have. Most of all, thank you for having the courage to serve our country!