#360Hours: The Final 80 Hours of Being A Student Registered Nurse

Where do I begin?

Must admit Dearest Reader, this question has been a favourite of mine since the get go and no doubt for the remaining years of my writing capabilities, I shall be asking myself that on a regular basis. Just like that, I once again find myself repeating the same question as to where do I begin and where do I finish?

As we all seem to know for those who have been around for a while, I am currently sitting at my new-oldest white desk in the study and I am trying to find the words, sentences, paragraphs and I guess, pages, to write down my thoughts and feelings towards my remaining hours as a student nurse before I ultimately wrap the series up with a bang.

Graduation.

Except when it comes to writing those words into sentences and then eventually paragraphs, I find myself stopping to reread what is it exactly that I’ve just written as I often switch my brain off and simply, let my fingers type on their own without much thought. It is during this time of rereading what has been written and thoughts have been formed as a result, that I find myself cringing and certainly not in a positive way either.

I am not cringing because of the grammar and spelling errors that come up with red little, wiggly lines under the misspelled word but rather, I am cringing because I am holding back the truth. In a sense, I am holding back the truth because I want to make it appear as if I enjoyed my remaining 80 hours as a Student Nurse who thrived, was educated on extensive procedures and ultimately crossed off the number one thing on her ‘must do’ list.

Guaranteed when presented with the opportunity to have a clinical placement within the surgical rotation otherwise known as ‘breathing and living Grey’s Anatomy’; I did find myself thriving with certain staff. I was reminded on a somewhat daily basis that I was merely another student walking through the doors only to be rotated out with another student. However, I ultimately ticked off ‘see a surgery and pass a scalpel to a doctor’ from my check list.

However, what I failed to mention in those endless drafts of happiness, cupcakes and sunflowers was the actual truth.

The actual truth being that I spent close to 50 hours in my car or in the female change rooms, hysterically crying or questioning my self-worth as a Nurse.

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Having come back from what felt like my five second break between semesters to my final semester of college, I found myself one balmy afternoon back in August, logging onto my college website. For my final allocation results regarding my remaining 80 hours of placement had been listed.

Initially receiving a phone call from my nursing department stating my original allocation had been cancelled due to undisclosed reasons, I felt a flood of adrenaline which caused my heart rate and breathing to steadily increase and my pupils to dilate as I hovered the computer mouse over my name.

With a casual scroll to the bottom of the page, my final 80 hours were going to be spent in surgical scrubs and crime scene booties as I lived and breathed surgeries. I had just read that I was going to be living and breathing the life of a theatre nurse and at the time, it thrilled me to the point of being giddy but the same time, absolutely scared the shit out of me.

Unlike other times where I was afraid of certain placements, I felt as if these particular fields of medicine were out of my depth of experience and knowledge. I would soon discover, I had all of the information in my cerebral cortex and neurons that floated around in my head.

Even though this fear wasn’t a result of being paired with a facilitator who had been fondly nicknamed by her previous students as “Cruella De Ville” or “The Nazi.” For I soon discovered after meeting this woman in question and being told up right, “I don’t do emotions, I won’t baby-sit and if I don’t agree with your level of knowledge, I don’t have qualms on failing you” as to why she was called those names and plenty more behind her back.

No, my fear was the product of having signed my name on a dotted line and as a result, I now danced the Paso Doble with Death. 

As I twisted, turned, gathered and threw away Death in a series of coordinated steps before gracing its presence within my own, I didn’t realise I had been already doing a form of Latin Ballroom dancing with the subject in question until it was too late. Whilst my dress twirled and the feeling of Death was steadily closing in as if we were two lovers greeting one another, the realisation I could effectively and very much, kill someone, with a simple mistake had me reaching a hand out as the other grabbed hold of my chest.

Relinquishing the firm grip I had over my chest as if I were trying to prevent my heart from suddenly falling out from between my rib cage, I tried to ignore the lingering feeling of dread and the sliminess that often comes when dealing with a face-to-face combat as you mentally and physically prepare yourself to greet Death and what comes with it.

As I battled against these negative thoughts and feelings, my first choice was to focus on how I really felt about my last 80 hours as a student nurse and what is exactly that I wished to occur alongside the expectations I had of myself, the clinical facility and most importantly, what my facilitator would provide as a support and someone who had more wisdom and knowledge then I possess.

The weeks blurred together, I spent hours researching the instruments used in surgery, what surgeries might be performed at the allocated hospital and the correct technique for scrubbing your hands for surgery. With this information written into a notebook that I’ve carried around for all of my clinical placements, I said farewell to my parents and the next day at 0800 hours, I began my final hours as a student nurse.

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Post stepping into the hospital waiting area and seeing I had a few friends from previous placements mixed in with new faces, the excitement I had been feeling soon turned to ice. It was in this moment that I was informed by The Nazi, “I will not be supporting you as I don’t do emotions, yuck! You are on your own as you would be in the real world. Welcome to nursing”.

With these sentences played around in my head like loose marbles, I spent the next four weeks not exactly enjoying my time as a student nurse and certainly not within the surgical field.

Instead of being happy and experiencing countless moments of joy, my final and remaining hours as a student were spent questioning things such as why I chose this field of interest? Why I had been chosen to work in the Industry of Health and how it came to be that nursing seemed to flow through my cardiovascular system, replacing the essentials like blood and oxygen. Yet, I felt like no one could see the dedication I had towards this field and ultimately, it left me questioning the reasons.

I also had to experience my own personal doubt when being told that I was emotionally weak and not mentally strong enough to compete with those already in the industry. Alongside the sayings of how I needed to become ’emotionally distant’ and grow a thicker skin because I clearly formed attachment to patients within my care and I should really start working on the context of nursing was a ‘in and out’ field.

When I wasn’t finding myself asking questions and dealing with the consequences of not being a robot, I had the anxious waiting game of discovering if I had been placed into a graduate program at the hospital I’d applied for. It would be after hearing the successful stories of various students be placed into graduate programs and accepting their position without a second thought, I sent in an email to the Hospital Graduate Program Coordinator and waited with baited breath.

After placing the care of a patient into another nurse’s hands in recovery and wishing them all the best, as hearing is the first thing that comes back to a patient after surgery, I was granted reprieve and with that, I quickly escaped to the female change rooms. As I pulled out my lunch box and quickly signed into my email account on my phone, I discovered an email awaiting in my inbox.

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Six weeks after sitting my interview and spending time with my family before they transferred to another state, I opened the email and found out as to whether I had been given a placement in a Paediatrics Graduate Program. It was after reading the same sentence over and over again that told me in black and white that I had interviewed perfectly and I was very much a people person however there were no jobs available for me at the time, it seemed to click.

It was in this very moment of my hand relaxing and my phone sliding down my scrub pants before coming to rest at my blue scrubbed covered shoes, I learnt that after four years of Nursing that I had not been given a graduate position.

Something that I must admit, even now some 6 months after initially finding out, cuts me to core.

I picked up the broken and now jaded pieces of what had once been my heart and after throwing them in the bin like they were a foreign object being removed from my body, I inhaled sharply while hanging up from Lois after telling her the news.

With the sound of remorse and utter sadness flowed over the phone and her voice as she no doubt wept silently because she couldn’t gather her distraught daughter into her arms, she listened as I bitterly sobbed down the end of the phone and asked, “did I fail you?” After being told that I hadn’t failed anyone as I had clearly interviewed well and presented as being an empathic person as required by the nursing society, I watched the cold exterior  of my own personal ‘Cristina Yang’ slide down my face while staring at my reflection.

In that minute after having bent down to pick my phone up from the floor as a tear slide down my cheek before calling Lois, I knew the passion I once possessed, would actively murder someone to protect my profession and thrived on as I weaved in and out of patients’ lives was snuffed out.

It became even more apparent when it was confirmed the next day when I greeted a patient, who was having extensive surgery and I watched the doctor slice into their flesh with a scalpel behind my surgical attire, with a dead and limp smile. Before equally replying in a robotic and non-emotional voice that “the anaesthetist will see you shortly to discuss medications.”

Even when I was informed by The Nazi that if I had been in any other clinical rotation under her ‘guidance’ she would have failed me because she considered me too weak for the industry. As I was handed my form that told me I had passed my final 80 hours of clinical placement whilst sitting there opposite her, she informed me of all the mistakes I had done and very little positive feedback while I dug my nails into my hands.

Before eventually, I broke her train of thought by letting out a sob and promptly collapsed in on myself.

Peering at me like I was an amusement park attraction crumbling to the ground after being blown up by dynamite, I felt a mixture of different emotions. The emotions changed from grief, sheer mental tiredness of having done 4 years of study, 860 hours of clinical placement and sitting my final exam for my degree to delirious joy at never having to deal with another clinical facilitator who was there for the money and not her students.

I also sobbed at the immense pain I suffered over knowing that the joy I had possessed was lost forever and I would and never will get it back. 

Least to say some six months after completing this part of my life as a student nurse, my last 80 hours as a student nurse were the worst hours of my life and if I were given the option to redo them all over again, my first and only response would be:

“Get fucked!”

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