Guideposts

Guideposts direct the way. When we are driving the destination is a location and we rely on the guidepost placed by others to get us to where we are going. We trust the guidepost is correct in its direction.

Guideposts in a social context are people in which we place our trust. Parents, teachers, mentors, leaders, and loved ones can be seen as guideposts we trust to show us a way that works. Understanding the construction of these guideposts in not necessary. As rational beings we are still responsible for the choices we make to follow or not follow their direction.

In my nursing practice my guideposts are few but have remained steady for 40 years.

The first I became aware of in nursing school and it merely, at the time. reinforced the work ethic of my family. It can best be said as the inscription over one of the Benedictine College’s buildings: Ora et labora (“Pray and work!”).

The second I learned in nursing school and put in practice each day I did my nursing work: I am the patient’s advocate and speak for them when they cannot.

The third became clear to me during my first job, fresh from nursing school and so bursting with knowledge I just wanted to show everyone I knew how to do nursing stuff: I know very little and have a lot to learn.

The fourth also became clear to me one night at that first job as a graduate nurse: Suffering is a strong part of life and death comes to us all.

The fifth guidepost arrived while I was working in an isolation SICU tucked away in a six bed ward that always smelled of MRSA: Each time I take the time to wash my hands and keep my practice clean I do not add to my patient’s burden of infection and do not pass it on to others.

The sixth I learned when I changed my nursing profession from critical care to the operating room: Maintaining a consciousness of what is sterile helps my patient.

The seventh became clear to me as I dealt with my own cancer diagnosis and simultaneously worked to complete my MSN: Find the important work the patient needs to do so the healing happens.

The next 40 years I came back to these guideposts demonstrated by loved ones, teachers, leaders, and other nurses, testing them again and again for veracity in different circumstances, places and times.

Through hourly, daily, weekly, yearly and lifelong practice they have imbedded themselves in my unconscious and become habit. I have put forth the effort to make them so in an infintestimal way each time I care for my patient, interact with a co-worker, or push back on a bad practice.

This has made me feel like a rule follower at times. In a weak moment just wanting to give in for the sake of convenience or avoidance of conflict.

I have been called names, been looked over for projects, and accomplished little promotion in terms of position or salary. On the flip side I have built strong, directional guideposts that serve me and my patients to this day. I am content that I have done the best work I could do when I was called upon to do it.

But the work is not done, it is never done. I will continue to evaluate my guideposts and build new ones as needed. My particular brand of caring depends upon them.

Meditation

Who would have thought quietly sitting in a chair with my eyes closed and focusing on my breathing for 10 minutes once a day would make me feel better?

The whole idea of meditation always seemed too “Woo Woo” for my logical, rule following, pragmatic self.

But there has been more research on the benefits of meditation in the past decade and I couldn’t ignore what the science was showing. It made sense that meditation would be a biofeedback conduit, a way for me to access how my mind was affecting my body.

So, replacing my fixed mindset I opted to try daily meditation starting in January 2020. I completed two months of daily meditation before the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions started.

I’m so glad I had a daily mediation habit in place. It gave me time and space to experience a calm, peaceful mind; a place I dearly loved to go each morning before entering what would be an increasingly stressful, fearful, uncertain, and unprecedented way of being along with everyone else on the planet.

I became part of all the healthcare workers in outpatient care put on furlough. No longer an essential healthcare worker. Just another unemployed worker.

Initially I felt envy for hospital workers on the frontlines caring for patients infected with the highly contagious COVID-19 disease. I felt thwarted in not being able to do nursing when it was truly needed. But through meditation I realized my ego was making me feel this way. There were plenty of other ways to contribute to the community of care necessary to endure this pandemic.

Meditation is helping me see the strong value and purpose of pausing in my thinking to ask myself: What am I compelled to do right now? Then ask: What will this do for others?

These two questions accomplish confronting the ego and focusing my efforts on connecting to the community outside myself. Understanding this has reconnected me to my baseline nursing principal: I am the patient’s advocate, not mine, and provide to the patient what they realize at that moment will help them heal.

As I shelter in place with my family I look for ways to move outside of myself and focus on those around me. Once a nurse, always a nurse.

 

 

 

Pandemic Work

Don’t know which week of “Sheltering in Place” you are entering but I am starting my fourth. 40 years of nursing and the only time I have ever been out of work this long was when my daughter was born. So this feels weird.

Three weeks at home is a lot of time for thinking. Also a lot of time to observe from a distance what other people are saying, doing, not saying, and not doing.

What I observe is the world being educated on viruses, focusing on interactions with viruses, and a lot of arguing about the first two.

I also observe human creativity, community strength, and the placement of healthcare workers on pedestals.

The first two I applaud, the last makes me feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because healthcare workers have always been unsung “heroes”. We feel called to do our work not out of the need to make a lot of money but to teach others how to reach for health. But praising healthcare workers publicly is excellent for morale.

Each day we go to work not knowing what pathogen we will encounter. Pathogens are invisible and don’t smell; making their way into the body with ease if we are not doing our hand hygiene, sterile technique, and precautions every time, every patient, every room, every day, every month, every year, year in and year out.

All healthcare providers are advocates for infection prevention and control because they know so much more about the WHY of doing it than any other people on the planet.

I have been monitoring my social media apps. I take any chance I see to clarify thinking about social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, covering a cough, and disinfecting surfaces.

I think as healthcare providers we can reach out and keep our communities clear on the basic care we all need to do during a pandemic.

After all, this is just a practice run for the big one.