Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and an essential truth about Nursing

I know this blog is primarily about fitness.  But sometimes, I like to talk about my work as well.  Mainly because there are a lot of similarities between having a challenging fitness schedule and having a challenging job.  It`s almost impossible not to apply the life lessons I learn from nursing to staying fit, and vice versa.

This past weekend was a great weekend at work.  It was tough and scary at times, but utterly satisfying in the end.  My patient went from being crazy unstable to being sort of stable…  three days of solid work by a great team of surgeons and ICU doctors and nurses and RTs.  It was one of those weekends that makes me love my job.  It`s absolutely humbling being entrusted with such fragile little patients, and it`s a great feeling to know that I can help them get stronger.

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, it’s made me reflect on how far I’ve come in my career as a nurse.  When I was a new nurse, this patient would have terrified me.  And I’ll be honest, we had some pretty intense moments with this little patient over the weekend, and it was still pretty scary at times.  But somehow, in the past 5 years, I’ve become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That stress that I feel when I see something going wrong and I need to act fast is actually a very good thing.  I’ve gotten to know that feeling, learned to act on it and live with it in my work at the bedside.  That feeling is part of being an ICU nurse.  Instead of trying to avoid it, like you do when you’re young and inexperienced and everything in the hospital scares you, good nurses learn to use it.  That “oh shit” feeling is your friend in a lot of ways.  It makes you act, and take control of the situation.  You learn to love the discomfort.

I could apply this lesson in a thousand ways to other parts of my life.  Let’s talk about the “oh shit” feeling you get when you hit a wall during a tough run.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt it.  How can I learn, as a runner, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  Well, I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that one.  And I know you all do too, because it’s kind of obvious.  Practice makes perfect.  The more unstable patients I have, the better I get at taking care of them.  The more I push myself past my comfort zone when I run, the better I will become at dealing with it.

As obvious as all of this seems, it’s nice to have a reminder of it every once in a while.  I guess I`m having an “oh yeah” moment.  This is why I train hard.  So that when I’m uncomfortable during a race, I’ll be ok with it.  I’ll know how to take control. 

I’ll be honest, I’m still learning that lesson when it comes to my fitness.  I used to really just run for fun, so if I wasn’t feeling it, I didn’t have much motivation to push through and keep going.  But if I’m serious about running longer distances, I’m going to have to learn how to be uncomfortable.  Eeesh, this doesn’t sound fun.  But I’m pretty sure I can do it.  If I can adjust to caring for critically ill children, I can probably adjust to anything, right?

So that’s my essential truth about Nursing.  If teaches me how to be better in all areas of my life.  And I think that’s probably true about running, about loving, about doing anything that’s actually worthwhile.

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Reflections on a Mugging

So I`m in Boston at the moment.  I`m here for a conference related to Nursing Research, and have been collaborating with some nurses at one of the hospitals here.  I’ve spent a lot of time in this city, gone on jogs all over it, been out in many different neighborhoods, am very comfortable with the public transit system.  Tonight, I was walking through the Back Bay after doing some shopping, and I got mugged by a homeless guy.

One minute, there was another lady walking on the other side of the street.  Then she turned the corner, and I must have been alone on that little stretch of sidewalk for half a second.  I was half a block away from a street full of traffic.  I was focused on my phone, texting my husband to tell him I was walking back to my hotel.

Bam!!  I’m sure he was waiting for a victim in the alleyway.  Probably camped out there all night ready to pounce.  I had my purse strapped across my chest, from one side to the other to make it more secure.  He just came up behind me as I passed by, ripped my purse off my shoulders, breaking the straps, and ran away down the alleyway.  It took about 5 seconds.  I didn’t even hear him coming.

My first (questionable?) instinct was to chase him.  This was an overweight homeless dude wearing clunky winter boots.  I could easily outrun the guy…  There is no doubt that I can run farther and faster than this dude.  I took off behind him and started screaming…  and then no one answered my screams, and I realized that I was alone in a dark alleyway chasing down a homeless man who is desperate enough to rob me.  I thought twice about chasing him further into a dark alley.  No one can hear me screaming.  Let it go, it’s just a purse.

I gave up and called 911 as I walked back to the street.  I went to the corner and flagged down a very kind man who was in his car waiting at the light, and told him what had happened.  He parked his car and stood on the street with me while I waited for the Cops.

My passport was in my purse.  My credit cards, my cash… my passport was in there.  I’m flying home in two days and some homeless guy just ran off with all of my ID.  I’m trying not to cry in front of this very kind man.  Thank God I still have my phone.

The Cops come, and take my description.  This man is known to Police, I guess he does this all the time.  I explain that I’m from out of town.  I have no ID, no money.  There is a homeless man out there with a bit of American cash, some Canadian cash that he can’t even use, and my entire identity.  I never carry my passport with my other ID, but I had just been on a plane, and I put it in there with my boarding pass…  Uuuuggghhh.

I could see the reality my situation sinking in with the very kind man.  He realized I was alone in a foreign country.  He offered to drive me to my hotel, but the Cop said I’d be getting a ride with him.  He offered to give me his number in case I needed any more help.  I thanked him, but said I thought I’d be ok.  He gave me 40 dollars out of his wallet.  Then he offered me more.  “I have more, take more!  I can give you at least eighty bucks!…”  I started to cry.  I took his 40$.  I told him I couldn’t even explain how much I appreciated it.  Just typing those words brings a tear to my eye.  Those are the only 40$ I have right now.

I call my husband from the back of a Police car.  I apologize, and he tells me to stop apologizing.  This makes me cry, and then I apologize for crying.  I’m sure the Cop thinks I’m a mess.  I get myself together and start problem solving…  I’ll call my bank, I’ll cancel my credit cards.  I have photocopies of all my ID back home.

One thing that I can’t shake…  I keep blaming myself.  How stupid was I to walk alone after dark near a back alley?  Why did I leave my passport in my purse??!  How did I not see the guy coming?  He could have raped me.  No one would have heard me screaming.

I know this wasn’t my fault.  It was 7pm in a busy neighborhood.  I always thought my purse was secure strapped across my body like that.  I never leave my phone in it for this very reason…  my phone is always in my pocket.  There were other people on the street two seconds before I was mugged.  And this guy planned this attack, how could I have seen it coming??!  How do the victims of crimes like this always find ways to blame themselves?

Somewhere out there in Boston tonight, there is a homeless man who has my purse.  I’m sure he needs my money more than I do.  I’m sure he is very desperate and needs more than just a few dollars.  I hope he’s buying himself a hot meal right now.  If I would have seen any of this coming, I would have bought him a meal, a hotel room, and a new outfit, if I could have only kept my passport.  All I can think about tonight is how much I want to go home.  But I have a home to go to, I have a husband who will help me figure out my next move.  I have a hotel room that I’ve already paid for, and a warm shower waiting for me when I get back.  So I’ll be honest, I think I’ve already forgiven the homeless man who stole my purse.

And somewhere out there in Boston tonight is a very kind man.  He waited for the Police with me while I was vulnerable and upset.  He gave me money out of his own pocket.  I don’t know his name, but I hope if he ever needs any help from anyone, another kind person will help him too.

Do you work out for your body, or your mind?

After starting my week with 3 straight days of yoga, I ended my week with 3 straight days of work.  (If you’re wondering how that’s possible, it’s because I worked part of the weekend.)  Although this yoga thing is still new to me, it’s already getting in my head!  But I mean that in a good way.

I will explain.

This week at work SUCKED.  There’s no other way to describe it.  As an ICU nurse, I take care of one very sick patient all day long, which means that I’m in the room with their family for 12 straight hours.  In other parts of the hospital, where patients are not critically ill, a nurse has a few different patients to care for, and has to split her time between them.  While that is challenging in its own way, this week’s major challenge for me was dealing with the family of my sick little patient for 12 long hours every day.  This was my only patient, and there was no escape.

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Simply put, my patient’s father has an anger problem.  The poor man, who I’m sure was stressed out of his mind and super worried about his daughter, took all of that stress and worry out on me for 3 straight days.  He yelled, he swore, he got into my space while I was trying to do procedures that would help stabilize his daughter.  This man was rude, aggressive and inappropriate.  He made it harder for me to do my job, he yelled at his wife, he yelled at the RTs, he treated all of us with disrespect.

I can honestly tell you that at one point, while I was administering extra oxygen and helping my little patient to breathe, watching her vital signs dip and troubleshooting the situation, suctioning with one hand, bagging with the other, with the patient’s father yelling at me the whole time as if somehow that’s going to help me concentrate, I could hear the yoga instructor from my YouTube videos saying “Breathe in, breathe out. You are strong.”

I’m crouching over my patient to suction her, trying to avoid the spit coming out of her father’s mouth as he yells pretty much directly into my ear…  “Suction her!  What are you fucking doing?  You need to go deeper!  She needs oxygen!  Ahhh, tabernac!  Stop touching her!  You’re making it worse!  Ostie de merde!”  I’d say something back if I wasn’t so busy trying to help his daughter breathe.

“Find your center, plant your feet into the ground and stay in this pose.  You are strong.”  Ahhh, yes.  I am strong.  My patient’s vitals are improving.  She’s starting to stabilize again.  I step back from the bedside, turn and look the father in the face.  He’s swearing at me, half in English and half in French, telling me how to do my job and berating me.  If I was a little less strong, I would yell back at him.  “I’ve been doing this for 5 years.  I know how to treat children with this disease, I promise you, this is not my first rodeo.”  I would tell him to back off, or call security and have him escorted out of the ICU.  I don’t feel like dealing with this shit anymore.  I need to focus on my job, I need to be able to help this man’s daughter get well without dealing with the constant distraction of having him all up in my space!!  Take a deep breath in and find your center. 

The truth is, this man is afraid.  He is yelling because he doesn’t know what else to do.  He is worried for his daughter’s life.  And while I have every right to throw him out of the room, and some nurses would have, I try to remember that I am the one who’s strong, he is the one in a weakened position.  Why humiliate him by kicking him out of the ICU?  This will only make him more angry.  Why argue with him?  Take a deep breath, maintain your calm, look this man in the eye, and reassure him.

This was one of those weeks when the mantras I use to get myself through a run or a workout started popping into my head and helping me through a day at work.  I can do hard things.  Relax, find your center, you are strong.  Sometimes I think working out and running are even more important for my mental health than my physical health.  I wonder, if I didn’t learn to stay calm and focused during a run or a visit to the gym, would I have the same focus in other parts of my life?  Do I work out for my body, or is it really for my mind?  Probably a little of both, but this week, it was my mind that needed that discipline, and I was so glad that I could dig deep and find it.

Well, hello there, 2015!

For whatever reason, I`m having a lot of trouble figuring out how to tackle what seems to be the inevitable “New Year`s Resolution” blog post.  I`ve been seeing a lot of these posts popping up over social media lately.  Everyone is thinking about self improvement these days, which I guess is only natural at the beginning of January.  But most New Years Resolution posts end up rubbing me the wrong way.

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First, a lot of them are saying the same things; lists of relatively obvious things that you probably already knew were important, like “eat healthy,” “exercise more” and “get more sleep.”  I’m pretty sure I already knew I was supposed to be doing that, and I’m not sure why, suddenly, at this arbitrary moment in time, I will be able to do all of that stuff better than I was doing it before.  Especially because I was already working pretty hard at it!  I always feel a little sarcastic reading those lists…  Really?  If I just do these 36 things, I’ll be happier, healthier, more fit and more productive this year?  Only 36 things, that’s it??  Yes, according to this 20-something blogger whose only job is to sit at Starbucks with her iMac and think of list-form advice to publish on her e-zine, those 36 things are my ticket to being the perfect woman.  Great, I can do that!  Bring on 2015!…  wait, didn’t I read that exact list last year?

So instead of offering up a list of relatively obvious and shallow advice for the coming year, I’m just going to share some of the things I’ve been learning in the last few months.  These are more like themes than resolutions, but it’s stuff I’d like to keep focusing on through the winter, and I’m hoping that you’ll all be able to at least relate to some of it.

Theme A:  Priorities

I think this has been my number one most important realization over the last few months.  What are my priorities, and how will I actually live them out in a practical way?  For me, it’s my marriage, my health, and my friends and family.  Those are my top 3.  And that means that whenever I have to choose between work and health, for example, or making extra money or spending time with my husband, I can easily just go back to my list of top 3 priorities, and I have my answer.  Amazing.  Money loses, husband wins.  Health trumps work, every time.  Life comes down to choices, and the way we make those choices tells everyone, including ourselves, who we are.  It’s really that simple.  So if someone who didn’t know me at all were to hang out with me for a week, what would that person identify as my top 3 priorities based on what they say while spending a week with me?  Based on how I spend my time?  Based on how I spend my money?  It’s time to get real with myself and be the woman I say I want to be.  A loving and healthy wife, a caring daughter and a loyal friend.

Theme B: Commitment

This could also be described as “putting my money where my mouth is.”  Now that I’ve identified my priorities, it’s time for me to make some real changes.  Some of the changes I’ve made so far have included hiring a personal trainer, someone to keep me accountable when it comes to exercise.  With the winter coming up, and knowing it’s always hard to stay in shape during a tough Montreal winter, I decided to get serious about the gym.  That’s a direct investment in my health.  Another change was promising myself to never take another overtime shift again.  Seriously.  No more overtime.  A full time job is enough, and it’s time for me to put boundaries around that.  No more losing sleep to satisfy my boss.  No more sacrificing my day off activities (like going for a run, or hanging with my hubby) in the name of work.  Not only have I been happier and healthier since making that decision, I’ve been a better nurse.  If I’m making the most of my days off, I’m much more energetic and ready to go when I’m actually at the hospital.  And that’s the kind of nurse I want to be.  Those two commitments have already changed my life, and I’m telling you, it’s wonderful.  What a great feeling to actually spend my time and money on the things that matter to me!

Theme C:  Gratitude

I almost didn’t include this in my post, because it seems borderline obvious.  I’m sure anyone out there who reads O Magazine or who minored in Psychology would be able to tell you this, and it’s definitely high on the cheese factor.  But the truth is, it’s been a big theme for me in the past few months, and I’d like that to continue.  Be thankful for everything, all the time.  Yep.  There it is.  I’m sure that sounds absolutely ridiculous and completely vague, but I swear I’m being serious!

Maybe it’s my recent return to bedside nursing, seeing families go through some of the toughest times in their lives, that’s making me realize how lucky I am, in general, just to be who I am.  Or it could be that I was living in another city for a while, and when I came home, I was just so grateful to be back around my friends and family and coworkers.  Or maybe it’s the newlywed in me who is still totally lovestruck and ridiculous whenever I think about the life that my husband and I have together.  There have been ups and downs in 2014, but I wouldn’t change any of it.  I’m grateful for every challenge, every bad day, every tough run that made my lungs burn, but made me faster.  (Yes, that’s a running metaphor, but I also meant it literally.)  Please, don’t forget to be grateful.  Don’t take this stuff for granted, people, this is life!!

And I think that’s why I get annoyed when I read all this New Year’s Resolution stuff around this time of year.  The one thing it doesn’t address is all of the good that came out of last year.  Was 2014 shitty for you?  That’s great!  Because you learned from it.  You got tougher, you survived, and now you’re a better you.  Don’t forget to be grateful for that.  Was 2014 completely awesome and you don’t know how you’ll ever top it?  That’s fantastic!  Because you had a great year, and you’ll carry that with you wherever you go.

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As I look forward to 2015, I can’t help but look back at the year I’ve just had.  I’m taking a lot of good stuff with me from 2014, and running full force with it into the year ahead.

Oh, and one last thing…  The runner in me does have an actual, concrete goal for this year.  It’s time to finally tackle this half marathon thing!

Which reminds me, good luck at the gym this January!!  Haha, couldn’t help but include this:

new years post 3

Catching Up

I find myself writing this as I’m working a stretch of consecutive night shifts.  Trying to keep up with my new workout schedule (more on that later), family holiday activities, and the inevitable grind of being a full-time shift worker.  I am not saying that in a negative way…  in fact, I’m having the best winter I’ve had in a while.  I’ve managed to find a way to cope with 12 hour shifts, family, friends, and fitness goals, and feel like I’m actually doing a pretty decent job.

Now before I start dispensing a bunch of unsolicited advice on how to achieve the perfect work/life balance, let me first admit that it has taken a while for me to get here.  And not only has it taken some time, it’s also taken some serious self evaluation and some deliberate choices.  The last 6 months have been full of adjustments since moving back to Canada and going back to my old job as a bedside nurse.  And again, I mean that in the best possible way.  I’ve had a pretty wonderful few months, and I can truly say that I’ve learned a lot of great stuff about how to be who I want to be.  So in the spirit of sharing, I will endeavor to catch you up on what I’ve been up to lately.

As you may be aware, this past summer, my husband and I moved from the US back to our home in Canada where we both work as healthcare clinicians.  We’d taken the year for my husband to do his Master’s degree and for me to work in Nursing Research.  Once Joe’s degree was finished, we packed up all of our stuff, and ventured back to our wonderful, but hectic lives in the True North.

It was awesome, but it was almost too awesome.  Going from a city where we barely knew anyone and had super stable (if not boring) 9-5 schedules, back to our home city full of friends, family, nightlife, and crazy high stress jobs with totally unpredictable schedules was a bit of a shock.  It forced us to really step back and do a double-take. How much of this stuff do I actually need in my life?  Do I have time to be healthy anymore?  How did I used to go to the gym every single day??!  Why do I always say yes when work calls me to do an overtime shift??

I found it was harder than I expected to maintain a training schedule while working 12 hour shifts.  I was able to get out and stay active, but not always as much or as consistently as I wanted.  It was becoming a lot harder to find time for those long distance weekend runs when I was trying to cram them in around night shifts and overtime and girls’ nights out and football Sundays at the bar.  Why can I always find time for everything other than myself?

Needless to say, it was time to reevaluate things.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I took the time to sit down and seriously look at my life.  I asked myself 2 important questions, and did my best to give myself honest answers.  What are my top 5 priorities?  and What 5 activities do I spend the most time on?

Of course, the two lists didn`t fully match up.  If I`m really honest with myself, I spend more of my waking hours at work than almost anywhere else.  Yet when I list my top 5 priorities, my job doesn`t even make the top 3.  My marriage, my relationships with friends and family, and my health all trump my work.  Yes, I feel it is truly a blessing to have a fulfilling and rewarding career in Nursing.  But it’s not more important to me than having a loving home, or a healthy lifestyle.  And things like money and status aren’t even on my top 5 priority list.  So how do I end up letting my life revolve around a job??

Sigh.

I would say that realization was one of the most important realizations I’ve had in a while.  What a great life lesson, to remember to step back and take a critical look at myself, even when things generally seem to be going just fine.

And the next piece of that important life lesson was, of course, finding ways to actually change.  To put my money where my mouth is.  I’m talking really practical, applicable actions that would help me refocus on my priorities on a day to day basis.  How to get more quality time with my husband.  How to fit quality exercise into a hectic work schedule.  How to make sure I get rest on my days off.  How to fit quality friend time in with my girlfriends.  If there are only 24 hours in a day, something’s got to give.

Well I think the toughest part about all of this is really standing up and making a change for the better.  It’s easy to say that money and work don’t matter, but hard to turn down overtime when there’s a big fat paycheck waiting for you at the end of the day.  And that’s when you have to grow up, put on your big girl panties, and do the right thing.  Invest your time in the things that are important to you.  Throw your resources into that stuff, because that’s the good stuff.  Yes, you will have to sacrifice, but in the end, don’t you want your two lists to match up?  If you say your number one priority is family, but you spent the last 3 days playing video games alone in your apartment, are you really being true to yourself?  How can you really be happy when you’re not living up to your own expectations?

In the next few posts, I’ll talk about some of the specific tweaks I’ve made to my lifestyle in order to make my two lists match up.  But for now, maybe try making 2 lists of your own…  As we come into 2015, start thinking about the person you’d like to be this year.  How can you change your daily routine so that your top 5 priorities are actually the things you spend your time on?  And hey, maybe you’re miles ahead of me on this, and you’re already doing those things…  Let me know your secrets!!  I’d love to hear about it.  🙂