I finally got a picture of myself in scrubs, which I get to wear this rotation instead of my hideous nursing school uniform. Took the picture in the mirror of the men's locker room at Mercy Hospital in Chicago.
My clinical group completely lucked out. Not only did we get a clinical instructor who is one of the finest teachers I've had the privelege to work with, but we are actually getting to do a lot of stuff. The other clinical groups, who are in other hospitals have been complaining-- justifiably-- that they're not getting to do anything. One group is in a hospital that is getting recertified, so they're hiding the students. They're watching movies, listening to lectures-- but not even going on the floor. My group each helped deliver a baby-- or two, in the case of me and one of my classmates-- on the very first shift we worked.
We've continued to rock on our rotation. I have finally mastered a bunch of skills I'd been struggling with, including taking a blood pressure. I can even get the pulse on a baby-- no mean feat, since their heartrates run between 110 to 160 beats per minute.
There was, though, one skill that terrified me, and I hadn't done it yet-- taking a blood draw.
A couple of Sundays ago, I watched up close while the person I was partnered up with, Denise, did one. She did a marvelous job, particularly considering that the patient had very small veins.
Last Sunday, as we prepared to hit the floor, my instructor rattled off room numbers and what we would do that day. And when she said "Johnny-- you've got a blood draw for a CBC (Complete Blood Count) at 10 am," I was at once excited and nervous.
My partner and I went and checked on our patient, a Chinese woman (our hospital is near Chicago's Chinatown) who'd given birth just after midnight. We split the assessments; I took the vitals on the mom, while my partner took the vitals on the baby. I told my patient that we'd do a blood draw in a couple of hours.
The mother and baby were both doing well, so my partner and I took a caffeine break. My partner that day was a woman I'd had run-in's with before. We'd not always gotten along well. Earlier that morning, I'd done her a favor that saved her from being late to the shift. I think it was the moment that she realized two things: that you've got to choose your battles, and that you never know who's going to help you out at some point. We had a good day together.
As 10 am arrived and passed, I reminded my instructor of the blood draw. She let me know she'd be there soon (she was showing a couple of other students how to give a newborn its shots, something I've already done).
About 10:15, she arrived. I'd already gathered up what I needed, with the help of David and Denise, who helped me scour the floor for the supplies I needed. I practiced tying a tourniquet on an arm on my instructor and two classmates-- not as easy as it seems. And then I grabbed my supplies and entered the room.
I struggled a little with the tourniquet, and my instructor quietly guided me through it. We looked at-- and palpated-- the two "good" veins on my patient's arm. The vein that was most visible was not the most palpable. She asked me which vein I thought was better; I told her the one less visible that you could feel more. "Okay, then, go ahead." I checked that the bevel was up and quickly guided the needle into my patient's arm. I saw the blood rise up slightly into the tube, I attached the vial and the blood quickly filled it. (Unlike the person in the picture I have here, I wore gloves-- Mediums, a size smaller than what I usually wear, so that I could get a good grip on the needle, tube, etc.) I remembered to take the tourniquet off before I withdrew the needle-- you could get a spurt of blood otherwise. I put a piece of gauze where the needle was, clicked on the little button and the needle withdrew, safely covered. My partner grabbed the needle for me and put it in the "sharps" container. I held down the gauze and put a bandage over it.
And it was done.
My instructor told me I'd done a good job, and helped me clean up the bits and pieces of paper and debris left over.
It was the thing I'd had the most anxiety, a fear, even, of doing. I'd done it quickly and flawlessly, with minimal pain to my patient. I put a label on the vial, put it in a "biohazard" bag, put it in the tube and sent it on to the lab.
Afterward, I talked to my instructor. I told her that it was like that old Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is." I'd had months of anxiety bordering on fear about that moment. And in the end, I'd quickly and quietly added it to my skill set. After all that anxiety, my thought was "Is that all there is? Is that all there is to a blood draw?"
I know that they're not all going to be that easy, but I know that I'll be able to do them.
Yesterday, while I was on campus taking care of some odds and ends, I ran into my 102 instructor, who was yet another great instructor I've had. And mentally, I began counting my blessings. I've had mostly great instructors, beginning with my wonderful 101 instructor, who's in this picture. I thought of the great friends I've made-- people I know I'll stay in touch with. People I've worked with, sweated tests with, people who have been there while I've crossed milestones in the program. and I realized how thankful I am not only for what finishing this program will give me regarding finances, but how it's changed me.
I thought back to the worst week of my life, over four years ago. In a single week, I got laid off a teaching job I loved, discovered my dad had a potentially terminal cancer and Mark, one of my oldest and closest friends, was murdered. I compared where I was that week, how low I was, and I reflected on this semester. This semester, we'd heard, was the "make or break" semester; most of the people who dropped out of the program would drop out this semester. They were entirely correct. Class this semester has been like "Ten Little Indians." Every day we come to class and another person or two has dropped out. My current clinical group, pictured here, has thinned out; two have dropped and rumor has one or two might drop too after this last test, which was a tough one. I didn't do as well as I wanted, but I didn't flunk it. And I'm still clinging to my "B" in the class overall. When I run into people I know from various classes, and they ask how I'm doing, I tell them: "I'm still in the program." And I'm feeling pretty damned good about it.
So on this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for many things. I am thankful that I got into this nursing program. I'm hearing that hospitals employ students from this school over some bigger "name" schools because we tend to have more skills walking onto the job than the other programs, and have a better work ethic. I'm thankful that I had the financial resources, thanks to a decision I made years ago (to start a retirement account, which I was able to tap into), to finish the program.
I'm thankful for two happy, healthy, wonderful kids who have moved into teenagehood and are still a blast to be around. They're approaching adulthood frightenly fast. I'm thankful that my son, who has missed the most time with me because of the decision to go back to school has been terrific about this. He understands how important it is to me-- particularly that it's important to me have the financial resources to make sure he doesn't have to worry about the money for college.
I'm thankful that my wife and I are employed. I'm thankful that we have an intelligent, wise and compassionate person as President. I'm thankful for the magnificent group of friends I've managed to acquire over the years. Best wishes to all of you for Thanksgiving!