(Almost) A year in Nursing

I get the same reaction over and over again when I tell people that I am a nurse.

A: “So what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a nurse.”

A: “Oh so, you must work like what…3 days a week? That’s awesome! I wish I could just work 3 days a week. All that free time must be great.”

 

And that’s when, if you’re a nurse, you will roll your eyes. Sure, it’s great to work only 3 12-hour shifts out of a 5 day work week and do your banking in the middle of the day on a Wednesday while everyone else is grunting through the 9-5. But that’s hardly the reality.

If I am working day-shift, things usually go like this:

4:45am – wake up

5:30am – leave for work

6:00am – arrive at work/eat breakfast

6:30am – figure out my patient assignment for the day and look over their charts

7:00am – get report from the night-shift nurses

7:30am – get my day started (assess patients, give meds, send patients to tests, etc)

9:00am – 11:00am – attend rounds while simultaneously providing patient care

3:00pm – finally eat lunch

5:00pm – administer evening meds, speak with family members, admit patients

7:00pm – give report to night-shift nurses

8:00-8:30pm – leave hospital

9:00pm – arrive home, eat dinner, go to bed

Try doing that for three days straight. Somewhere in there I try to remember to go to the bathroom or drink some water. Most of the above time is spent standing up. My family members will tell you that it’s like I don’t even exist because I eat, work, and sleep. Night-shift means that they don’t even see me at all because I leave for the hospital while they are at work and come home when they are still sleeping. I’m pretty sure I have gone almost a full 5 days without speaking to my mother because of my work schedule. And all that free time everyone thinks they would have? It’s spent recuperating from physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. And since most of us work 80 hours in a pay period (two weeks), you have to work one 8-hour shift as well. Then factor in working every-other-weekend, two Fridays per month, and various holidays. In reality, only other nurses really know that working such a schedule isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

I have learned a tremendous amount since nursing school.

Mainly, that nursing school is nothing like actual nursing.

The rest being that nursing is an extrememly difficult profession. You must manage 3-5 people as if they were ships on extremely rough seas: get them safely to the harbor without incurring too much damage along the way. You must be smart but it isn’t enough to just be intelligent; you must have a keen intuition and gut instincts that will help you to make clinical decisions. Each shift you will be juggling a great many things required by your patients and the physicians, and you must be finely attuned to every one of those things but not so distracted by any of them that you cannot focus. You have to be able to adapt to a wide variety of situations, personalities, and problems because nothing is the same every day. One day your patient think that you are the best nurse they have had and the next, a patient is throwing things at you across the room. And, because of this, you can never simply be good at your job like everyone else, you must be excellent so that you do not make life-altering mistakes. No one’s life is in jeopardy if you don’t get that company-wide email out or your computer eats those sales projections, but someone will die if you give the wrong medication or fail to notice important changes in your patient’s status.

Nursing is so difficult that it humbles me every single day that I spend on my unit. Just as it is difficult for the civilian to comprehend the experiences of a soldier, so is it difficult to describe the complexity of one’s experiences as a nurse. I am not merely carrying out a series of tasks ordered by a physician, I am the man on the ground for that physician, sending back important data to be analyzed. I am the one who will see the change in vital signs or the blue pallor of someone’s skin before any physician does. Patients are relying on me to protect and reassure, to nuture, to be their mouthpiece, to navigate them through what may be the worst time of their lives. It is an incredible burden to shoulder and one that few people ever will, comfortable as they are at that computer in their cubicle.

And so, even if it is only 3 days a week, it always seems like a lifetime because everything that happens in a shift tends to slip through the elevator doors with you on your way home, always present until you return again.

Advertisements

Fall

I love things with a history, especially the things that I’ve picked up along the way:

– vintage 1950’s Pyrex in bowls in red, blue, yellow, and green
– a gold and peridot cocktail ring from a tiny shop in South Africa
– a silver brooch and screw-back earrings with vintage pearls also found in South Africa
– a vintage crystal cake stand with dome lid
– a 1st edition copy of Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” poems picked up in DC in a cluttered used bookshop

My favorite acquisition, though, has to be a heather grey cashmere cardigan.

When I was young, my father had a heather grey cardigan that was most certainly polyester and more than a little itchy. He used to wear it to work, but when it became too worn for professional life, it spent it’s retirement as his “painting” cardigan. No one really knows what happened to that cardigan except that it bit the dust at some point when it developed a smattering of oil paint and holes in the elbow. Somewhere between the old sweater and his death, my father started wearing a new heather grey cardigan made of cashmere – certainly better looking and doubly soft.

After he died, I found the new cardigan hanging on the back of the door of his office at the hospital. It was hidden under lab coats embroidered in red script. While no one was looking, I slid the sweater off of its hanger and into my much-too-large purse. Every fall, just about now, I pull it out from my closet and slide my arms into the sleeves when the chill in the air becomes too much for bare skin. Putting it on isn’t as good as the real thing, but it’s almost as good as a hug.

The Main Course

 :: Grilled Pizza with Chicken, Roasted Peppers, Onions, and Mozzarella::

 

 

 

I love homemade pizza!

This summer, thanks to a neighbor, I was introduced to how wonderful grilled pizza tastes. Pizza is a great way to express creativity in the kitchen because you can use virtually any ingredients you wish. It is quick and virtually effortless given the array of prepared foods available to us. I particularly like to give my leftovers a makeover by turning them into pizza toppings.

For this particular meal, I used grilled chicken, peppers, and onions that I had from the previous nights kabobs. I added some tomato sauce and sliced and shredded mozzarella. Because we had one on had, I used a Boboli shell for the crust, but I generally prefer Trader Joe’s pizza dough which comes in plain, wheat, or garlic herb and is a mere 99 cents a bag! I always try to have a couple of these in the freezer for nights when the “what’s for dinner” question isn’t easily answered by something else.

I assemble my pizza in the kitchen and then pop it directly onto the grill (a cookie sheet or tin foil would also work). My grill has a temperature gauge and I like it to read between 350 and 400 degrees F. Since my chicken and other ingredients were already cooked, I only needed to wait for the cheese to melt. I wouldn’t advise putting raw meat on your pizza as the dough may cook through before the meat, this would be especially true if using a pre-made shell like Boboli. I think it’s always easier to have your toppings prepared the way you like them before they get embedding in gooey cheese.

 

 

 

 

After I sliced off a couple of pieces, I sat down with a Victory Summer Ale to enjoy the view from my deck.

 

 

Once Upon a Time

In the fall, a decade ago, I was 16.

I was a junior in highschool. An all-girls, Catholic highschool where we wore dark tartan skirts and navy blazers. The halls were constantly ringing with giddy shrieks and laughter.

I wasn’t yet allowed to drive.

I hadn’t yet met the boy I would date for the next three years.

I was planning to be a doctor.

I had never heard of Barnard College.

I was inclined toward punk music and moody, melancholy lyrics.

I loved British literature.

As I observed September 11th come and go this year, I marveled over how long ago, yet not so long ago, that day seems. How is it that I am now able to measure my life by the decades I have lived? I reflected on how the events of that morning forever shaped the world I was just beginning to know. I remember feeling that, if time heals all wounds, we couldn’t move away from the day fast enough. How much time would it take to dull such heartache?

Does no generation escape such tragedy? For my mother, it was JKF. For my father, it was Medgar Evers. For others it is World War II or Vietnam or Oklahoma City. For everyone, there is a moment in their lives that made them sit up and take notice, a moment that changed the way they lived on a daily basis, a moment that brought them closer to the truth that the evils of this world are often made manifest by our fellow human beings. A moment that is now another thread in the intricate fabric woven by centuries of those who came before us.

Now, it is 10 years later and I am 26. Some days I feel exhausted; that I have lived, yet not even begun to live, so much in these few years. Hundreds of tiny tragedies continue to occur all around us as we move with the tide each day. None of these things, though, ever seem to add up to September 11th and the other great, singular devastations in our history. Nor is the heartache caused by so many lives lost ever truly dulled. And, perhaps, more unfortunate still, is the fear from the realization that it could always happen again.

 

Last Summer in Pictures

All of this August rain reminds me of a day this time last summer when, in Camden, Maine, we spent an afternoon running from awning to awning along the main street. We stopped for warm drinks – chai tea latte with fresh whipped cream – and browsed the local shops, finishing the day with a satisfying pizza dinner at Paolina’s just beside the harbor.

 

In the Kitchen: Preserving the Harvest

The torrential rains we’ve had on the East coast this August ruined my garden. My tomato plants were toppled and the fruits lay rotting on the sodden soil before I could rescue them from eager insects. Squash Vine Borers feasted on my zucchini and yellow crook neck squash. My cucumber seedlings were drowned in the deluge. Few things seem so disappointing as the end of the summer growing season and rain that has come too much too late.

Canning is something I learned on a whim from a woman I knew via a Scrabble group through my local food co-op. I am a terrible Scrabble player, but this woman was more than happy to teach me to make and can jam. She sent me home with an extra, old granite ware pot she had and a canning rack and I pretty much taught myself from there. In addition to the canning bible, The Ball Blue Book of Preserving, I consult the website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Putting Food By, and So Easy to Preserve for tried and true tips and recipes.

I gathered up my dozen or so green tomatoes that hadn’t yet fallen prey to rot and made green tomato pickle – something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I followed the recipe in Putting Up: A Year-Round Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition by Stephen Palmer Dowdney. The recipe was relatively easy to follow but I would have appreciated more specific direction on how much headspace to leave in the jars and how long to process them in the water bath after filling. I think this book focuses way too much on testing the pH of your recipes. Yes, it IS important to avoid spoilage and botulism, but it’s terribly tedious to keep having to break out the litmus paper. Not to mention that my litmus paper starts at 4.5 and the author often wants a pH of 4.2 for acidic foods. Several of the other recipes in the book state that they can be halved or doubled. This one didn’t have any such note and I was left wondering if that meant that I should attempt neither halving nor doubling for this recipe. I also had to make two extra batches of the vinegar solution to fill all of the jars. I’m not sure how the author expected 2 cups of vinegar to fill 6 pints. Needles to say, I felt more than a little anxiety about how my tomatoes would turn out. All but one of the jars sealed and now I’m just hoping for the best.

 

 

After I got over my disappointment with the green tomato pickle recipe, I ordered Canning For A New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors For the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff. I LOVE this book. The recipes are well-written and address every step of the canning process. She also dispenses with all the fussing over pH and encourages you to rely more on your own intuition. Obviously, our ancestors weren’t testing their recipes with litmus paper! Nor could many a housewife afford to throw out an entire batch of canned food if the pH of a recipe seemed a hair off! I love that the author weaves her own story into her book and gives the reader an appreciation for the flavors captured beneath those metal rings.

I found myself with 2 pounds of green beans thanks to the soaking rains and, with a hurricane due to arrive tomorrow, needed to do something with them before we inevitably lose power and a fridge full of food. Dilly Beans were the first thing that popped into my mind as I love all this pickle-y. These beans are a popular, Southern tradition and can be eaten straight from the jar as a snack or heaped upon beans, rice, salad, etc for a bit of tang and crunch. Krissoff’s recipe was clear, easy, and took me no more than an hour in the kitchen! All of my jars sealed and I’m confident that they will taste delicious once opened.

 

  

 

Canning, something I might have learned from my grandmothers had they not passed before I could know them, is a way for me to feel connected to the generations of women before me – those women who nourished their families through slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, and seasons of bounty from their kitchen gardens. I’ve found it so pleasing to be able to have a taste of summer on those dark days in February knowing that my harvest has lasted me long past August. It’s also the best way to enjoy those out-of-season foods while not contributing to the less-than-wholesome practices of agri-business.

With this hurricane a-comin’, I’ll be toting some peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches to the hospital with me as I wait out the storm caring for patients.

The Main Course

:: Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Frosting ::

 

 

 

Carrot cake is one of those desserts that people seem to either love or hate. In my case, there is deep, deep love and it seemed like the perfect dessert for my summer potluck given the abundance of fresh, organic carrots this season.

I used the recipe for Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Frosting from Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs. She makes cupcakes in her recipe but, as she writes, it works perfectly well for two 9-inch cake pans and there is more than enough frosting! I agree that grating the carrots by hand is key to a smooth, moist batter even if it is a royal pain in the behind. The maple cream frosting is just the right amount of sweet to compliment the notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in the cake. If my guests didn’t love carrot cake before, I have certainly won them over with this version!

 

As an Anthropology major at Barnard College, I spent a lot of time reading about the important role that food plays in cultures throughout the globe. No matter what corner of the world you visit, food will always be a central part of human relationships, custom, and culture.

I grew up with parents who frequently brought to light the social importance of sharing food – inviting friends, students, and colleagues to share meals ranging from the casual barbeque to Christmas dinner to multi-course affairs, held late into the evening, that my small, pajama-ed self was not allowed to attend.

When I was in grammar school, my mother spent several years preparing “teacher gifts” that consisted of baskets brimming with homemade wonders – bottled vinegars and oils, peanut brittle and truffles, small baked breads and other treats. They were always received with the utmost delight and appreciation.

Food literally brings people to the table. It smooths over all that has gone wrong in a day. We are encouraged to create and renew bonds over new flavors, smells, textures. Recipes are passed from generation to generation and family identity is forged out of the dishes created in ovens and on stovetops.

I started hosting potlucks when I began nursing school. I wanted to create an environment in which I could get to know my new friends better. And, for those who were far from home, I wanted them to remember the comforts that can be provided by a warm meal, the laughter of those you love, and conversation long into the evening. The guests that come to the big, Cherry wood dining table in my childhood home always seem to change, but the meaning behind the meal never does. I am always excited to see what others bring, how their creativity is made manifest in the most delicious of concoctions.

…quinoa with sweet corn

…hand-rolled sushi

…cheesy lasagna

…crisp cookies

…cassoulet

We gather, we share, we eat. For an evening, no matter where we have come from or where we are going, we can be family.

 

The Main Course

A beginning of a photo-blog series of humbly homemade dishes…

 

:: Walnut Pesto with Fusilli Pasta ::

 

Mom is growing basil on the deck and her plant, like many basil plants, is quite full with sweetly spicy leaves. So much so that there have been numerous sprigs bathing in vases of water above our sink as a not-so-subtle reminder that pesto needed to be made. Needed to be made by me. At some point I, unknowingly, inherited all of the cooking duties in the household. Apparently, if you’ve prepared family meals for 24 or so years, you get to retire and pass the spatula.

We were out of pine nuts and they are rather expensive to buy in bulk, so I opted for walnuts in the hopes of achieving a slightly different taste and texture.

I followed this recipe from Kiss My Spatula – one of my new culinary blog obsessions – to get the ratio of cheese to oil to nuts correct. The walnuts make a thicker, crunchier pesto than pine nuts which, in my opinion, create a more creamy pasta topping. I tripled the recipe because of the plethora of basil leaves on hand, but would probably reduce the amount of garlic by half (three cloves is a bit excessive, no?) should I make repeat batches. I prefer a subtle hint of garlic rather than the smack in the taste buds that others prefer.

I spooned the pesto over tender fusili pasta and ate it with a side of heirloom tomatoes doused in balsamic vinegar (my favorite way to eat tomatoes thanks to my dad). A cold Duchesse de Bourgogne sour ale rounded things out – quick, simple, and satisfying on a rainy night. I’m gauging my true success with tonight’s meal by the fact that my brother ate an entire bowl-full with nary a complaint. I’ll be freezing the remainder of the pesto for winter when we’re all longing for the pungent smell of fresh herbs.

Tumbling

It has been a long time since I have been in this space. I forgot how quickly the forward momentum of life can catch us up into a great whirlwind of activity. Often, I find myself thinking “I hope life won’t be like this forever. I need to slow down”. I don’t want to be always attempting to accomplish ten things at once and simultaneously chiding myself for not being able to do more. When I am doing one thing, I am always thinking about how I am not doing another.

There are still pounds of berries and cherries in the freezer waiting to become jam.

A pile of laundry seems to always be accumulating on my bedroom floor.

What should I make for dinner?

I need to get to the garden to harvest.

Should I plant a fall crop of pole beans or just put my green thumb to rest until another summer season?

That quilt still needs batting and backing.

Only a few more rows on the baby sweater.

Order the pathology text book for that class in September.

Don’t forget the doctor appointments and meetings and the research for women’s health initiatives that needs to be presented.

Any time to do some physical activity?

I think it is rhythm I am looking for as opposed to this free-falling feeling.

Once I’ve gotten up this mountain of a “to-do” list, I am hoping that there is a quiet place at the top. A place in an old farmhouse or converted barn with a sunny room for sewing, an open kitchen for bread baking and jam making, land for a big garden and a bit for chickens too, a grassy hill for children to roll down, a good man who will build me a potting shed, and a community that needs a nurse practitioner who will come, even in the middle of the night, when someone needs mending.

Right Now

I wish I had more time for this space, but it seems that adjusting to my new life as a full-time RN has left little room for much else.

Right Now I am:

#exhausted from 3 straight days of shifts at the hospital that included some emergencies, two very unpleasant patients, and some very unexpected kinds words from patients, families, and colleagues.

#having dreams of telemetry heart monitors when I sleep and waking up thinking I hear my beeper going off in my bed.

#learning to meet patients where they are and discovering how to assess their readiness to change.

#crying in my careafter a shift when days are strenuous and I feel overwhelmed by the sheer roller coaster of emotions I ride each day.

#slowly quilting a special project for my youngest cousin who is a source of beauty in my life.

#still not finished the raglan sweater I am supposed to be completing for myself.

#spending time with new and old friends laughing, eating, and drinking my way to happy memories.

#accomplishing a few rows of knitting at a time.

#remembering to nurture myself by working out with my trainer, stretching at physical therapy, following my doctor’s plan of care, and switching to a vegetarian diet.

#excited to try the recipes in Veganomicon!

#frustrated at the fact that I am still taking prednisone.

#bringing green, nature, and spring indoors with terrariums.

#preparing to start my seeds for my summer vegetable garden.

#feeling grateful that I get to do a job I love and excited about the many possibilities this career will bring.

#wishing I had more time to document the wonderful moments in this life with my camera.