I am sitting down to publish this long blog post I’ve been writing intermittently over the past month. Since completing the LPN program and walking across the stage to receive my diploma, I had a short (13 hr) break and was back at school the next day for orientation to the ASN program. If all goes according to plan, I will be a registered nurse by the end of next May! I am currently in transition with jobs too, having moved on from my waitressing job and into a part-time LPN job while in school. So much change. So much excitement. It’s all a bit overwhelming at times, but, as one of my instructors likes to say, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. :)
I’ve written this for you guys, my wonderful readers, but also for myself. Before moving on, I wanted to be sure to write down the highlights of LPN school. Memories fade with time and so much of the funny little things that happened will be forgotten and my crazy years of nursing school will become that fuzzy blurry blot in my memory. So without further ado, here is a snapshot of my life over the past year:
Nursing school has truly been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Having been in college for 1 ½ years before the LPN program, I was not prepared for how different it really was from any of the classes I’d taken before. Though having completed years of academics for over 10 years, they were just that: academics. You get your As like a good homeschooler and hopefully you remember some of it, but really – who uses systems of equations and organic chemistry or algebraic functions every day? Precisely. Nursing school was a paradigm shift as I realized that I was expected to not only learn, retain, and be tested over information – I was actually going to apply it and actually put it to use in the hospitals, sometimes the very next day. I remember getting my first B on a test and feeling disappointed in myself for not doing better. But as the year progressed, I realized that we were not tested over facts. We’re tested over the application of facts. Those, my friends, are two very different things. Dozens of tests later, I’m learning to be gentle with myself and focus on the importance of actually learning with a purpose. Nursing school is not about getting As on exams. It’s about the comprehension and application of key information. An A on an exam is just a bonus. :)
I’ll start off with some things I remember about nursing school. I remember the first day of school very clearly. By the end, I found myself wondering what on earth I was getting myself into. The first day started off with me almost reaching the point of respiratory alkalosis r/t hyperventilation in my car (nerdy joke alert!). Let me explain: I was driving to school down that dreaded street with stoplights every 500 feet or so. Plus, they always seemed to turn red when they saw my car approaching. Thinking I had given myself plenty of time, I eventually realized that I was going to be late. And receive a tardy. On my very first day of nursing school. We were allowed 6 tardies in the entire year-long program. Weaving in and out of back streets didn’t seem to help much either. I remember arriving and sprinting to my classroom that first day with literally 20 seconds to spare. That orientation day was spent in apprehensive excitement as our instructors told us what the year ahead would look like. In a nutshell, I quickly realized that it would be intense, time and energy-consuming, exciting, and stressful.
Here’s part of a journal entry I wrote last September: “…dear journal, I return to you just for a bit to acquaint you with my life. If I said it was busy, well, that’s just a cheap word. What’s “busy” supposed to mean anyway? My life is…blessed, frustrating, amusing (highly), changing, fully of joy, laughter-infused, overwhelming, light, healthy, charming, deep, stressful, irritating, and blissful. I’m in nursing school, what can I say? It is hard and humbling and rewarding. I’ve been pushed beyond my limit even in these short first 6 weeks. I’ve met some awesome, incredible people. I’ve been highly disturbed, shocked, grossed out, amazed, excited, and (many days) walk out of class like a deer in the headlights.” Yup. That pretty much sums it up! :)
So our class of 38 persevered and progressed in nursing school. We started “check off’s” where you learn a skill (trach care, NG tube placement, etc.) by watching a video and going over it in class. You may opt to attend a practice session and then you must go into lab and perform it on a mannikin as you would a real patient. These, I found, were some of the most difficult parts for me, as using my hands to provide medical care was a foreign thing. I remember learning how to do a blood pressure and when I first went to check off: I placed the end of my stethoscope over the person’s radial (wrist) artery instead of her brachial (elbow) artery to listen for pulsations. How embarrassing is that?! Needless to say, I never did that again.
And then there’s the people. Oh my goodness – my class. I guess after seeing the same group of people multiple times a week every week for a year you either love them or hate them. I came love my class and each person in it. We were all very different, from different walks of life, but we all shared the same passion for nursing. There was very little drama and much teamwork to grow us closer together. And the very first day I came to class, I ended up sitting next to a beautiful girl whom I’m privileged to call my friend and sister in Christ. We had good times together, including coffee runs to her apartment, wall squats over break, yoga class, and deep conversations about the Lord while waiting for our test scores to come back. She remains a dear friend today.
Then, dum-dum-dum, clinicals started. I was scared to death when those began. I remember that first morning when I was assigned an elderly woman to care for. She told me I had a nice smile and things got better after that. I made some dear friends at that little nursing home and I remember once being brought to tears as a sweet lady told me about her walk with Jesus and the testimony of His faithfulness in her life. A nursing home was the perfect place for me to start clinicals and hesitatingly use those basic skills, like assessments and vital signs, in a gentle and low-key setting – with very forgiving patients, mind you! :)
We had a particular class where we learned math and abbreviations and would be tested at routine intervals. Now (finally) here was one thing that came naturally! I missed one math question in the entirety of nursing school and I think God did that to keep me humble. :) I remember getting an abbreviations test when I looked at those words and they were completely foreign to me. I had studied the wrong page of abbreviations for that week! Ya know when you get waves of disbelief, shock, and worry all at the same time? Yeah, I had to remediate that one.
So before I knew it, the fall 2014 semester was over, and I was going to get to walk across that stage and get one of those funny white
mcDonald’s fries cartons – ahem – nursing caps stuck on my head to signify my progress. I was elated. It was then that the reality hit me: I might actually be able to complete what I’d set out to do. I might truly become a nurse! Over Christmas break, times were sad as we dealt with the reality of our family moving. I finally had to stop denying it, look it straight in the face, and begin to ask those hard questions with my parents: where was I going to live? What was I going to do? When would our family move? Christmas that year was bittersweet as we celebrated our 5th and final Christmas in that beautiful country estate of ours. Coming back from Christmas break, the last thing I wanted to think about was school, but I didn’t have a choice. It was a good distraction, I think. I wanted to cry the day a classmate said I’d lost my sparkle, because I knew she was right. I had lost my sparkle. But only for a time. Keep reading. :)
One of my favorite memories were from our med-surg 2 clinicals. It couldn’t have been a more fun group, those three girls, one guy, and I. We made a crazy bunch and would carpool together since the hospital was about an hour away and we had to be there by 6:15 AM. I remember long nights of making drug cards for the patient I would care for the next day, setting my alarm, and getting up before the sun to shiveringly eating breakfast in bed, put on scrubs, and leave the house. I enjoyed the company of my classmates and during that time was able to grow closer to each of them. We helped each other, had lots of funny moments during the down-time, and supported each other during the nervous, sad, and exciting moments that clinicals inevitably bring.
I was glad to be on spring break over the week before my family moved. I wrote a post about it when I moved out. Moving in with this dear, sweet family has been one of God’s greatest blessings in my life. Gently, oh so gently, the Lord took one thing away (our home) and gave me something else. Goodbyes were said and my precious family moved. Though we’re physically apart for a season, we remain close through phone calls, texts, and weekly family Skype calls. I’ve also been able to see them multiple times since they moved. :) Thus opened a new chapter of my life – a chapter so rich, full, and sweet.
Coming back from spring break, I felt determined as I dived straight into 2 weeks of IV therapy. I learned all about IVs and was excited when I finally got to hunting for veins and start poking people. Seriously y’all, it really is quite fun. I was to meet, however, with the most stressful day of my life thus far: the dreaded IV therapy exam. Learning how to start an IV was not the difficult part. It was the pressure of passing the comprehensive exam at the end of that 2 week period. We were allowed a minimum of 80%. Failure to pass resulted in dismissal from the program. It was a notoriously difficult test. A chunk of students always failed every year. The day before the exam, our instructor read us a poem, told us to go home and sleep (!!!) and we were to come back the next morning at 9 AM. I wasn’t too nervous when I got up. It was a drizzly, wet morning and I remember getting ready and getting to school early. I sat in my car and sang “Tomorrow” (you know, the little-Annie-with-curly-red-hair-song) at the top of my lungs before heading inside. I took a deep breath. I tood the test. I finished it, finally turned it in, and shuffled out of the classroom, feeling much like a wrung out washcloth. It took about an hour for the grades to be posted. While my classmates cheerfully chatted, all I could do was put my head down on my desk and try to cope with the idea of not passing. I finally pulled out my phone and shakingly tapped on my grades. 87%. I double and triple-checked to make sure I hadn’t read it backwards. Then dull elation as the reality sunk in: I had passed.
After IV therapy, there were still exams and stressors, but something changed after that. I began to feel like a nurse. A baby nurse, to be sure, but a nurse nonetheless. By the end of med-surg clinicals on the post-op floor, I felt more confident and got excited over starting and flushing IVs, passing meds, talking with patients. It was a critical and amazing transition.
Summer went by like a blurr. With 11 tests in 7 weeks, we didn’t slow down, but it was fun because we got to study obstetrics (moms and babies) and pediatrics, but subjects of interest on my part. We finished the last week of July and I walked across that stage to received my diploma. It was a wonderful evening and one I’ll never forget, made even more special by my family and close friends being there to celebrate with me.
If I could give one piece of advice to aspiring nurses, or nursing students, here’s what it would be: please don’t compare yourself to your classmates. There will be some who do better than you on exams or those darn care plans or who smoothly fly through nursing skills. If you try to keep pace with everyone to the neglect of truly focusing on your own developing skills and knowledge and trusting your own intuition, you won’t go far and will be constantly discouraged. I know it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparison, say, on the morning of a test. Everyone around you is talking about the material you’re about to be tested over and you start freaking out because it sounds different than what you studied. I promise it’s really not. Be gentle with yourself. Push yourself, pace yourself, and believe you can do it. It’s not impossible to become a nurse, my friends. Honestly, if I can do it, I think anyone can. :) And let me tell you: it’ll probably be one of the things you look back on and remember as a challenge in so many GOOD ways. The tough parts will fade in your memory and you’ll only remember the awesome memories you made and the ways nursing school shaped you to become the person you are today.