I would really REALLY like you to contribute to the Book of Nurses in celebration of International Nurses Week this year (May 6-12).
Your story matters.
My name’s Olivia, and I noticed that you haven’t had a post for the Book of Nurses from a perioperative nurse, thought I might offer you my story. Sorry if it’s a bit long, but how I got to becoming a nurse isn’t a simple story.
OK then, to start off tell us what country/area you live in, how long you have been nursing for, what areas you have worked in and the specialty you currently work in.
I’m from tiny Tasmania, in the Deep South of Australia. I have been nursing for three years – all of this has been spent in the operating theatres of a small private hospital – I am an ENT scrub/scout, and also an anaesthetic/postanaesthesia recovery nurse. However, I had a pretty broad range of clinical placements before I graduated – including residential disability care, surgical nursing, rural health, mental health, and my favourite experience, in the intensive care unit of my local public hospital.
What made you decide to become a nurse?
I was working in retail for around five years – I printed photos before digital cameras really took off, and sold mobile phones. Eventually, I felt like I was selling my soul, and thought I would apply to get into nursing. My mum’s response was ‘Well, it’s about TIME!’. She thought I should have done this a long time ago. That’s the quick version. But my story isn’t that simple. You need to go back to 2002 for the real beginning.
14 October, 2002. I am nineteen, studying architecture of all things. My fourteen year old sister and thirteen year old brother went to school, all was normal. Until there is a phone call, asking for my parents to pick my sister up as she has a bad headache. However, it is not a simple headache. It was an arteriovenous malformation, a massive bleed in at the base of her brain. She was flown to our capital city for emergency surgery. After four days on total life support, nothing more could be done, and suddenly my sister was gone on 18 October. The trauma of that is another story in itself. Fastforward to Christmas Eve, 2002. Our parents come home to tell us that Dad has kidney cancer. Surgery was the only option. The operation was successful, however postoperatively he got a chest infection and went into respiratory failure. My mother argued with the nurse, insisting that he was very ill and they disagreed. However, he survived – and is still here with no recurrence of cancer ten years on. In four months, we had seen how nurses can have an incredible impact on a patient’s experience.
I quit architecture, and to keep my brain actively distracted, I completed a BA majoring in Sociology and English whilst doing the retail-thing. As I mentioned earlier, I eventually realised that it wasn’t fulfilling or challenging. I started thinking about Reanna (my sister), and about Dad. If I could make a difference, to help make someone’s healthcare experience just a little better, then that would be awesome. I then submitted my application to UTAS, and began two years of fast tracking – bypassing summer holidays to complete my third year subjects. Sheer insanity but I would still do the same today.
Did you find your training prepared you for what actually goes on at the bedside? What sort of things really opened your eyes when you first began working ‘on the floor’?
This is an interesting one. As far as the general perioperative experience, not a lot of my training prepared me. The perioperative workflow is very fast, our time with patients often brief, and it can be overwhelming if you haven’t been exposed to it. My ICU clinical placement was invaluable when I began in recovery, the principles are very similar – airway management, the intensive monitoring of the patient for example. The eye opening experience was the difference in how you interact with your patients, what you’re doing for them. Intraoperatively, you’re the patient’s advocate, you’re making sure that the surgical team have what they need when they need it. Postoperatively, you’re making sure they’re stable, and their pain is managed. Often my patients don’t remember even being with me in recovery, but holding a patient’s hand, or wiping away the tears of an anxious patient is still making a difference.
Tell us a story: an amazing, funny, moving or memorable moment from your book of shifts.
One of my favourite memories was a patient in the recovery room who woke up with amnesia as a result of his anaesthetic. Every five minutes, he would wake up and ask
“Where am I? What’s going on?” I would explain that he was in hospital, and he was fine, he had his knee replacement. For the first fifteen minutes, his incredulous response was “I needed a new KNEE?”. After around half an hour, he looked at me and said, “So, I’ve got my new knee? That’s good.” instead of his usual questions. It was a struggle to keep a straight face, I just kept thinking of the fish Dory from Finding Nemo.
Not just a nurse: what about when you are not at work? What do you get up to in the rest of your life?
Well, I like to cook when I’m not at work – I’m one of those terrible people who blog their food on Facebook. My partner and I bought our first house eight months ago, and after living with my parents while I was at uni and saving up, I had to get this cooking thing under control. I do some pretty cool desserts – and my unit are always up for being guinea pigs! We’re saving for our first overseas trip – Hawaii, I want to sit beside a funny shaped pool, and drink cocktails out of a coconut.
Piss and Vinegar: name 3 things that really get under your skin, push your buttons, or generally irritate you at work or outside of work.
First, people who steal my table at my favourite pub.
Second, having to do ‘setups’ (get out the non-instrument equipment for the following day’s surgeries). It’s like getting the groceries, and it’s even worse when half the things you need aren’t in the storerooms because they’re out of stock. A necessary evil but.
Third, ummmm, third…. Unannounced visitors. I like my house CLEAN and my clothes horses OUT of my loungeroom before you come in and see that over the past week the house has gotten messy because I have worked three twelve hour shifts out of the last four.
The nurses desk: What is the one thing you would like to say to the rest of the nurses or general public out there.
Look after each other. Take care of your students and your grads, they need the guidance to become the best nurses they can be. Try not to get frustrated with your colleagues, fostering a positive work environment in the face of budget cuts and increasing workloads is vital. We need to keep building the nursing workforce.