This is a long story but I think it could give some encouragement to those of you just starting out in nursing school or thinking about going back for a higher degree. Every journey has to start somewhere, here is how mine began.
Oh, how I can remember the days of being a scared-to-death practical nursing student. I began the program in the fall of 1990, green as grass! I didn't even know what I wanted to do with my career, but I knew I wanted to be making enough money to independently support myself and my baby girl. So, I went into the local technical college and took a test to see where my interests were in regards to a program major. Well, needless to say, nursing was at the top.
I never realized it until later that it was probably my grandmother that inspired my interests the most with her nurturing ways; she was a certified nursing assistant in the hospital, working mostly with peds. She could have been "grandfathered" into an LPN position back then in the early '70s but refused; she was a hands-on caregiver and felt that the more skilled area of nursing was just not her. She was the baby rocker, the storyteller, and the best cuddlier in the world.
Anyway, I was 21 and looking for a career but I had no idea how much it would become part of my identity. Nursing encompasses such a vast sea of possibilities, each one of us never knows what shore we will land on.
Clueless and scared to death was the state I lived in for about the first 6 months of school. There were some pretty strict rules to follow back then, and you NEVER questioned them! The nursing program was pretty much a fixed course to follow, not like today when you can pick and choose what course you want to take. So, we stuck to the path paved out for us.
I can recall one of the instructors that taught most of the clinicals. She was an old Army nurse, so you know where I am going with this! She was a frightening woman, to say the least, and she was not afraid to call you out in front of a patient and make you feel like the biggest idiot alive! I personally had several run-ins with her during clinicals, and spent a lot of time crying!
One clinical day in the hospital, I was writing down how much urine I had just emptied from a catheter onto an I&O sheet at the end of a patient's bed. He was a new TURP and very kind to the little blonde nursing student that was trying to seem knowledgeable. She walked in as I was writing this information down. I had never written on one of these sheets before and had written it in on the wrong time. Well, she blew a cog! Yelling at me saying how stupid I was that I couldn't even read a simple I&O sheet right there, in front of my patient. I was mortified! I apologized and fixed my mistake quietly, trying not to cry. He felt really bad for me but was afraid to say anything to her, as I said, she was scary!
At times I felt like she enjoyed being mean and condescending to us newbies. Halfway through our skills class, which she taught too, we had a mid-term evaluation with her. Many of my classmates were failing this class, and it was one of those classes that if you failed, you had to wait until the next fall to take it again, lots of pressure.
When it was my turn, I wasn't too nervous because I knew I was maintaining a low "B" by my calculations and had not failed any tests at that point. I walked in and sat down, she opened her grade book and smugly said, "It looks like you are failing. So, what are you going to do about this?" I was dumbfounded! I just stared at her in disbelief, trying to make sense of the information. How could I be failing when I was doing better than most of my classmates? She seemed almost happy, and talked to me about retaking the class next fall (did I mention it was only November?) and not to plan on taking any other core nursing classes until then.
I just nodded and left her office. My classmates looked at me like I had just exited the principle's office with a suspension for misbehaving! I gathered my things, headed out of the school and picked up my daughter. All I wanted to do cry! I brought my daughter to my mother's house and she agreed to keep her for the night after I told her that I was failing school and just wanted to be alone to process what had happened. So I drove promptly to the nearest liquor store and bought a case of beer! I sat at home and cried and drank and cried. My boyfriend was 7 hours away at his college. I called him crying about the whole situation, all he could do was to tell me that it will be ok, I know it will be ok!
The next morning, I had a class with you-know-who teaching from 8 am to 10 am. I think back now, I don't even know why I went to class, I was in shock I think. I checked my student mailbox and there was a note from her that read, " I didn't add your last test score to your grade. You are at a "B-" right now." Oh my God! What? I was floored! But, nowhere on the note was an apology, an explanation, just those two lines! Although I was grateful for not failing out of nursing school, I had also spent a night in hell trying to contemplate my muddled future as a student! Let me tell you that I gave her the evil eye all morning as she lectured! How could she be so mean?
School went by pretty fast after that, and before you knew it, it was graduation. I was very happy it was over and sad about it too, you get pretty close to your classmates; they become your extended family.
Back then taking the board exam was much different than it is today. There were only a couple places in the whole state that offered the NCLEX and only twice a year. So we signed up and planned our 5-hour drive to take the dreaded exam! Talk of computerized testing was a few years off; it was all paper tests that were separated into a 4 hour morning session and after an hour lunch, another 4-hour afternoon session.
The examiners walked up and down the rows watching for any possibility of catching a cheater. It was too much for one of the guys a table down from me and he vomited his breakfast up all over the floor. After he left, no one came to clean it up! So along with the "Nazi Patrol" watching our every move, we had to smell vomit for two hours before lunch break! What a nightmare!
I had to wait 6 weeks to find out if I passed, and thank God I did! My fellow nurses told me that they send out the results in an envelope. If the envelope was large, it meant I failed and it would contain papers to reapply. If the envelope was small, it was your license and you passed. Well, a medium sized envelope came 6 weeks later and I had to have my friend open it because I was too scared!
Over the next nine years, I worked in a small hospital on the medical-surgical unit. I loved it there! I thrived on the fact that you never knew what we might have to deal with, and the crabby patients only stay a short time! I also was floated to Geriatrics, Out-Patient Surgery (recovery), OB and Mental Health when our census was low. After a couple of years, I got to know every nurse in that building and lots of good experience to boot.
I was asked several times why I hadn't gone back for my RN yet. I told them it was because of being a single mom but I actually I was scared of failing. A lot of the LPN's on my floor went into the program only to quit or fail. These were co-workers that I found very knowledgeable and competent, so I was too scared to follow in their footsteps. As time went by, I realized that most of them didn't put much effort into their studies and partied a lot. So, I started out with a few classes and went into the RN Program, 11 years after becoming an LPN!
Again, the fear crept in and held me in its gripe. I thought "what the hell am I doing here?" I was in my late thirties by then with a husband and 3 kids. But with a lot of encouragement from friends and family, I stuck it out. It was the hardest 9 months of my life! I warned my family I would be married to my school work for the whole time. My wonderful hubby, the same guy that said "it will be ok" repeated that statement many times that year.
Graduation day was a dream! I made it! I was a GN and scheduling my test to become an RN! Oh boy! The memories of that exam came back to me. I knew it would be much better this time around because of computerized testing and finding out quicker, but I still was shaking in my boots!
The testing site was 2 hours away from our house. I decided to drive there the night before and stay in a hotel alone so I could study uninterrupted. I told few people outside of my family and boss that I was taking the test, just in case I failed it! To add more pressure, I landed my first RN position in a nursing home as a unit manager, even before I took my test! Yes, just heap on the pressure, please!
After the fingerprinting and emptying the pockets I was at my computer trying to remember how to read. After what seemed like days and millions of confusing questions, the computer shut off at 75 questions. What? What just happened? Oh my God, I must have done so bad I failed! I composed myself and left the testing site only to sob on my way to my car and called my hubby. He was so sweet and reassuring! "Who cares if you failed, you can take it again, right?" At the time, those words didn't mean much. I was sure I failed and cried a lot over the next two days. I told my boss about it and her optimistic that I must have passed. The other 2 RN's I worked with had their computers shut off at 120 and 200-something for the exam. So I waited the 48 hours, miserable as could be!
Oh my God! I passed! I had to read that computer screen many times to make sure it wasn't a mistake! I did it! Holy crap I did it! I called my hubby at work, crying for joy this time! He knew right away I passed just by my blubbering! He is such a great guy! I couldn't have done it without him. All the dinners he had to make, all the holidays I missed, all that was for a goal, and I succeeded!
After that, my income increased greatly. My husband had been working for a package delivery company for several years and was miserable. Although he made good money, he hated the time away from his family, the hundreds of miles driving every week, and the crappy winter roads. I told him he could find another job now if he wanted, he definitely earned it! He found another job in a small factory in our little town. Even though I was the breadwinner now, he couldn't be happier! He took a 50% pay cut at first, but within 2 years he was almost back at his original wages minus the many hours of overtime he used to make. His happiness was worth its weight in gold to us; Christmas time used to be his busiest month at work and by December 25th, he was always shot and crabby. Now, he is his old self and a holiday bonus to boot from his new company!
The first RN job I worked was at this small nursing home in a rural area. I loved my boss and licensed staff to pieces, but the aides were another story! Because of all the state cuts and management issues, we had no benefits what so ever! No insurance, no 401K, nothing. So needless to say, attracting desirable staff was a challenge. It was a job I loved even though I ran my butt off every time I worked and usually had 100 hours or more on every two-week paycheck.
During the last weeks of school, there were reps from universities in the surrounding areas trying to recruit us into the BSN programs they offered, I thought to myself why would I do this for 2 more years? But it stuck in my head. After I successfully completed the RN Program, I felt like maybe I could go a little further. I spoke to several other nurses that had taken the 4-year track and others that went back after completing an ADN Program as I did. I must admit, I had the "school bug!"
I researched and found my best option was a BSN Program with most of its classes online and 2 days a month on campus. The university was an hour and a half away from my home so going only every other Tuesday didn't sound too bad. I spoke with my husband who frankly wasn't too keen about going through the process again, especially a full 2 years. But, he was supportive because he was just that great.
A friend of mine had completed this program about 5-7 years before and highly recommended it to me. She said it is nothing like the intense curriculum one experiences in an ADN Program. So I signed up.
What a crazy time this was for me to go back to school. I worked full time for a year before I would start that fall. I had my oldest starting high school, my youngest starting kindergarten, and we had recently found out that our son had Asperger's Autism. Just writing this down makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking! All this on top of working like crazy at my job.
Things started out really well. It was refreshing to see that everyone in my class was at least in their mid-twenties, with the majority in the same age group I was. I felt very comfortable for the first time in nursing school.
Meanwhile, my oldest daughter starting growing her "teenager horns." She was always a willful kid, but now it seemed she thrived on the fact that mom was gone a lot and she started getting into trouble. She was sneaking out at night, lying most of the time, fighting with my husband constantly. I learned a new term in this period of my life; triangulation. She would ask me if she could do something and if I said no, she would go to my husband with the same request. It got pretty ugly at times, lots of verbal outbursts, groundings, and fights between me and my husband because of the games she was playing. She managed to remain on the honor roll at her high school through all this and was also confirmed at our church. This went on for my entire junior year. I was so glad when there were school breaks!
When her 16th birthday rolled around, we bought her a car for her good grades. Also, I helped her to challenge the CNA test and she got herself a well paying the first job. I managed to get her hired at my place of employment thinking I could keep on eye on her. It sounds good but when I would go out of town or away for a weekend, she would have a party at our house and call in "sick" all weekend.
It spiraled out of control when we reluctantly agreed to let her enroll in a post-secondary program at a college 30 miles away from us. I kept hoping she would straighten up but it just got worse. For those of you that have never had any experience with a post-secondary program let me tell you, be informed of your rights! We found out that the college had no obligation to contact us when she skipped, was failing, or got into trouble. For God's sake, she was 16!!!
When we tried to pull her out, she pulled a suicide stunt at one of her friend's houses. They called me and told me was passed out and had taken "something." I rushed over and nurse mode took over. When she wouldn't wake up, slapped her and told her to "wake up" and "what did you take?" The other girl's parents were shocked by my response to the scene. I tried to tell them standing there watching was doing nothing for her and we needed to call 911. She was not acting as she had overdosed, and her pupils were not dilated, this was all an act for this family to see. I know right away it was a stunt but I had to be sure and send her into the ER. They pumped her stomach and received a lab report back on her blood. The doctor, someone I had worked with for several years took me aside and confirmed my suspicions, the so-called overdose on Tylenol that she had claimed was another lie. Her levels barely read a normal dose taken for a headache. How humiliating it was to be back at the hospital I had worked at for so many years with a suicidal daughter that wouldn't talk to me or my husband. You think this bad, it gets a lot worse!
That evening, a county social worker shows up in her hospital room. She asks us if it was ok for her to talk to her. We said yes, please help us. Little did we know that that was the worse possible thing that could have happened. Because our daughter was a suicide risk, she spent 72 hours in the psych ward. They examined her and felt that she may have a borderline personality disorder. But, the counselor felt she more of a willful teenager than anything, trying to get her own way at any cost. She saw firsthand the manipulation, and the lying. We hoped for the best.
They released her but the county was starting to take over. They placed her in a group home for juvenile delinquents immediately after releasing her from the hospital. We were reluctant but agreed to it. We started in-home counseling, marriage counseling, and my husband looked into anger management classes too.
I cried all the time, I was forgetful at work and my coworkers were starting to notice. I really thought about quitting school, it would have been so easy but something inside me said stick it out, this will pass. By now I was in my senior year and only had to be on campus 1 day every 3 weeks. I didn't go that month, I couldn't do it. The next month I drove there crying all the way, stopped in a restaurant and turned around and drove home. My classmates thought I had quit.
Our daughter showed the staff at the group home her manipulative ways, lied and got in trouble there as well. Meanwhile, the social worker met with us and assured us she would be home soon. The one thing I haven't mentioned so far is that my husband is not her biological father. She has always known this but has always called him Dad. The social worker looked up her biological father and his criminal record which was full of DWI's and domestic abuse for decades. At this point, he had not seen her or tried to make any sort of contact in over 6 years. Before that time, he had some visits with her until I learned he was using drugs around her. By law, social services had to contact him.
He had been in contact with me through over the last 6 years. He had me in court at least every 3 months trying to get out of paying support and medical bills. When he heard she was in the group home, he and his wife drove down and started their con on her. He figured if he could persuade her to move in with them, I would have to pay him for child support. At the time, I made three times as much as he did and he knew it.
We continued our counseling, meetings with social services, court appearances, and anything that would help us. Our daughter played the martyr to a tee; she told social services outrageous stories of abuse that didn't even make sense. After being in the group home for a month and a half, she could leave but she didn't want to go home because we refused to allow her to return to the post-secondary college. So, instead of social services insisting that this girl go home and listen to her parents, they set her up in a foster home that had no rules and basically let her stay out as late as she wanted, skip school, and have her boyfriend come over whenever he pleased!
Meanwhile, we looked like the most horrible people because we had rules, insisted on returning her to the local high school, pointed out that her father was a really bad idea for possible placement. My husband finished anger management and his counselor said he saw no anger in him, just frustration and sorrow. We went to court several times and the social worker just kept putting things off saying she wasn't ready or the minor doesn't want to go home. We did everything the court asked ahead of schedule, even the judge started looking at this case as strange; we were good people caught in a willful teenager's game. My husband and I do not even have a parking ticket on our records!
That time in my life I actually felt like I wanted to end it all, but can you believe it I did finish school? I ended up with a "C" in one class but otherwise graduated with honors. But before this, to make a long story short, I used reverse psychology on her; her father had convinced her to move in and she did spend a month and half there. He was on his best behavior but I knew it couldn't last. I told my husband to back off and let her see how good she really has it here. We started going on trips and trying to have fun without her as our main focus. It was hard considering 1/3 of my wages were being garnished at this point.
Soon she was coming home on visits, starting to come around. Then the day before the court was actually going to give custody to her biological father, she confessed to me and her evil social worker that he had been using drugs around her again. Her father freaked and threatened to actually kill the social worker. After all those horrible months, it was over. She moved home and it was nice, but we had our struggles. She went back to high school and graduated, barely. We let her move out a month before her 18th birthday. Our younger children suffered too, all that energy spent on one child really hurt our other two emotionally. We kept up with the in-home counseling for another year and a half.
This story does have a happy ending. I was called by my local community college to teach an evening skills class for the LPN program. The director of both the RN and LPN programs were nurses I had worked with as an LPN. They knew I had just finished my BSN and were interested in me filling in some spots at the college, I was thrilled!
I know that all of the experiences we have in our lives attribute to who we are as people, and professionals. The last thing I would ever want to be is that horrible Army Nurse I had to endure in my LPN clinical. I feel that being an instructor is a great responsibility and not taken lightly. I find that the students will recall things I said in demonstration better than I do and how easy it would be to lead them astray. I also feel that I learn and grow as I teach. I am only an adjunct instructor right now, but I have interviewed for a full-time position just this week. I feel like I am at the beginning of my next journey as a nurse, my next adventure. I can't wait!
As for my daughter, she is 20 now and doing great. We have our great relationship back and talk 2-3 times a day. She has said many times how sorry she is for what we went through but we all came out whole on the other side, thank God.
As for that social worker, 6 months after this was over the state was there doing an audit and happened to pull our case. A state official called me and personally apologized for how badly this case was handled. She said she had to call me to verify the facts because a 10-year-old could tell who was running the show and we were persecuted because of it. We endured thousands of dollars in lawyer's fees, counseling, child support, and just plain hell. The sad fact is though she is still a social worker at the same office, with the same job, and lives only 3 blocks from our house.
Good luck to all of you entering the nursing profession. If you can dream, you can do it!