What It Takes To Be An Aged Care Registered Nurse | The Untold Trials & Tribulations of Reality (Prt. 1).

Three years ago, on December 15th 2016, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Science from Queensland University of Technology in Australia. With a quick bob and a handshake to the Dean of the university, I walked across the stage with a very expensive piece of parchment and the knowledge of beginning my journey of registering and experiencing life as a Graduate Registered Nurse.

Although I didn’t know it that day or the next few months, I would soon develop a feeling that when the time was right and I had collected enough evidence and information to formulate a plan, I would make the time and conscious effort to write a meaningful blog post to those who are about to discover their own pathway, enter a certain field of their dreams or undergo a life altering journey. In this case, I wanted to write about the highs and lows, the ins and outs alongside the shocking reality encased in memories of a former Graduate Registered Nurse.

However, before I regrouped with my other 1500 graduates and once again resembling a number with no name amongst the mass…. We all shared one thing in common.

We were a writhing mass of anxious anticipation and the sense of camaraderie between friends and strangers was palpable.

So palpable, you could almost cut it with a blunt knife alongside the overwhelming sense of pride and passion at having accomplished something; something that had been once considered a unrealistic dream. During this, our drive to better ourselves as well as advancing our yearnings for knowledge and power, we had viewed ourselves as being delusional and overzealous undertakers of a fictional reality. Not to mention, once again sharing those horror stories of trying to find the answers to all of our questions at the bottom of a bottle.

The only few things that seemed to separate me from everyone else was the fact I hadn’t graduated with a graduate program at my glorified hospital of choice, I heavily questioned myself constantly if I wanted to be known as a ‘Registered Nurse’ and that, I had spent a majority of my university life, typing and uploading blog posts based on two categories: medicine and lifestyle.

As to how I started blogging my personal thoughts and feelings relating to the hard hours of stress and anxiety alongside the epic moments of a clinical placement, I had a thought one morning that lead me down the rabbits hole and into some very interesting areas. On a total whim of thinking someone within this world and outside my family home would be interested in reading a sad-sack of balls and mentally deranged twenty-something year old, I started blogging and uploading as a form of documenting my thoughts and experiences of becoming a university student and in particular, a future Registered Nurse.

By the time I was acknowledged to be an Alumni, I had graduated with a Bachelor Degree alongside the wondering of how one random post had morphed into 200+ blog posts shared between my Mother, Lois and myself. A swap between blogging platforms and overcoming the differences in doing so, several post mini-nervous breakdowns, a brush with a psychopathic stalker and finally, the knowledge I had been able to travel to different countries around the world without leaving the confinement of my home.

Due to having shared my life in such a permanent and public way, I decided to keep my graduation and date a secret for more than a year before announcing the news. Although, I knew everyone had gathered I had graduated from university and were on my merry way to delivering medications, helping the sick and overcoming doctors with a God complex, I simply wanted to remain anonymous for a little while longer and to actually give myself time to think about the future and what it was that I wanted to do.

In fact, the next day after my family and close friend at the time got to bear witness of me gliding across the stage with a smile on my face and my kneecaps firmly locked in place, I woke up to find the sun peeking in between the buildings of Brisbane City. Having stolen out of the hotel with a cup of horrendous coffee as my family continued slumbering, I decided to walk the familiar steps I had taken as a student nurse and sat down on the steps between GOMA (Gallery of Modern Arts) and Queensland’s State Library.

As the final dregs of coffee were being consumed, I thought about my life and where I would go from here. With the reality of being a broke arse twenty-something year old adult with a twenty-five thousand dollar debt with 12% interest on top, I decided to spend the next few months purely dedicating time to myself and travelling.

Merely for the fact, I would spend the next 10 years or so working my backside off to pay my debt off to the Government and I had spent a majority of my university days, feeling as if I had to stay in one place or further work my backside off during Christmas holidays and therefore, didn’t have the time nor means of travelling due to having to pay rent and bills.

Due to the reality of what it actually means to be an adult, I decided to travel alongside the Eastern Coast of Australia under the concept of exploring places that I hadn’t travelled to beforehand. With a tank of petrol and the urge to have daily adventures, I travelled up along the Eastern Coast of Australia and visited places like the blistering red outback of Bundaberg, Queensland and other fascinating places while waiting for Kaffy to finish the final exam for her semester at University.

A week after finishing her final exam and the winding down of excitement for both daughters had completed their final year and semester of University, Kaffy and I boarded a plane bound for Sydney.

It would be during these six weeks of self-induced relaxation and discovering life that wasn’t filled with over-the-top anxiety whilst struggling to come to terms with gaining the ‘broke-arse 15’ (formerly known as the ‘freshman 15’); I spent a majority of this time, thinking, reflecting and reliving my thoughts and feelings about what had initially driven me to signing my life away for three years for educational purposes.

I, also heavily reflected upon my ever-increasing need to not only ‘better myself’ as a person because I will always feel as if I am failing considerably behind my overzealous, achieving cousin and Grandfather but also, the need I had for escaping and coming to terms with exactly, how pissed off and gutted I was. 

What I had expected to be an easy done deal with little to no complications soon morphed into something that even to this day, I cannot understand nor put into words. As the shock of graduating soon morphed into hatred, despair and bitterness at those who had achieved not only their dreams but also their dream ‘graduation program’ after I had lucked out on mine, I found myself asking the same question repeatedly as if I were a broken record.

The question I was asking on an hour-to-hour and daily basis was: Did I actually want to become a Registered Nurse?

I recognised I had spent the last few years of my university life being brainwashed by lecturers, clinical educators (bar one, who was really open about her struggles of trying to land a graduate program) and those who streamlined the local hospitals. I had been made to believe that upon completion of studies, undertaking 860 hours of clinical placement and learning the ropes while being abused by staff members and patients, I would walk away with a graduate program in a preferred hospital of my choice.

The graduate program would guarantee me 12 months of hardcore, fast paced education, a sense of security for further promotion to a job once my contract had ended and the ability to identify the realistic concept of what it actually takes to be a Registered Nurse. This program would be constructed by nurses who actually gave a shit about those who had only just stepped out into the ‘real world’ (QUT’s famous motto) but those new graduates would be able to have access to a mentor who would encourage them to educate and appreciate themselves further.

This also meant that there would be greater opportunities within the healthcare sector, the ability to use credits gained during those 12 months of solid backbreaking work, mental stimulation and adrenaline to be applied towards a Master’s Degree in any speciality preference. 

Instead, when I graduated from Queensland University of Technology and walked off that stage, I left with a twenty-five thousand dollar piece of parchment, a limited amount of knowledge as to what a ‘real nurse’ does on a day-to-day basis and no healthy job aspects at all. Although I had flown to Northern Queensland for an interview relating to a graduate program at one of the semi-biggest emergency hospitals in Queensland at the time, three days before I officially finished my clinical placement and time as a Nursing Student, I was informed I had been “unsuccessful.”

Via email and after weeks of anxiously waiting.

Therefore when it came time to graduating a month later, I not only left with a bitter taste in my mouth after being told I was ‘unsuccessful’ alongside ‘highly emotionally unstable’ and ‘no one would employ me’ courtesy of my clinical facilitator. I also felt like a bloody idiot for having believed the words spoken by those, who had stated previously throughout my whole entire university life, that there would be graduate programs available to those due to the fact:

“That by the year 2050, there would be a considerable shortage of highly trained nurses in the workforce. As a result, we need to educate our future nurses NOW!”

I guess like any child, especially when it comes to dealing with a seriously complex situation, I turned to my parents for their guidance and wisdom relating to the aforementioned question. I laid out my concerns as to why I wished to not register so I could effectively start working as a Registered Nurse. My thoughts on how I felt like I had been let down by the system, my fear of not knowing what it was that I wanted to exactly do with my life and how I felt like I was coming to the end of a very hard and rocky journey that made me feel ‘emotionally unstable’ because I was “close to losing the plot.”

With their child screaming her thoughts, numerous feelings and fears, my parents continued sitting there in silence until I had run out of steam and anger. All before, I promptly collapsed in a ball on the lounge room floor. It was in this moment, post admittance of defeat and the believing of not possessing enough strength to carry on with a ‘deluded dream of mine’ because the walls were caving in and I was being ‘persuaded’ to think about the future as an adult now…. my parents stood there as a united force and picked me up off the floor.

They began to carefully and slowly brush off the dirt and dust that had gathered on my clothes and positioned me at the dining room table that held years of conversations, laughter and expressions of self-doubt and wonder. As a platter of freshly made scones appeared like the scene from Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, I sat in silence staring at the half eaten/destroyed scone before me and with my name being called, I glanced up and found two equally as concerned faces staring back at me.

“At the end of each passing day, it is ultimately your decision with how you choose to live your life and who you want to be as a person. We will, no matter what our personal thoughts are, shall continue supporting you no matter the decision you make” would be the only statement my parents made regarding how they thought I should live my life.

A few weeks later, I came to my final deciding conclusion.

With the exchanging of monies, emails dictating where I had gone to school as a child and for how long as well as summarising my degree, I received a parcel in the mail. Eight weeks after having spent days writing pros/cons lists, only to throw them away to begin a new, I was formerly registered in Australia and was classified as a Grade 5, Level 1 Registered Nurse under the Australian Nursing guidelines.

Having become a legally registered RN, I began searching for positions within the field of healthcare. Having made a yearly statement and swearing to myself, I once again and somewhat bitterly accepted defeat after being knocked back once again for a casual position at a local hospital. It was in this moment of defeat as I yet, spooned another mouthful of frozen yoghurt into my mouth as my stomach growled loudly and the impacting factor of being ill didn’t resonate, I decided if I needed knowledge and skills to be able to apply for future positions in a hospital, I would have to return.

Return to the same area of healthcare that I had been so desperate to escape from, all those years ago. As a result, I applied for positions with my tail between my legs, suffered the overwhelming feeling of now being able to identify myself as a complete and utter failure as I began teaching myself ways on how I can overcome to looks of pity I knew would be coming my way. 

Due to the vast shortage of Registered Nurses within this particular field, I received several phone calls within a matter of days and was informed I had been awarded a position with each phone call. Whilst a part of me was excited at the thought of having several job positions and the desire to be once again educated having arose; a part of me was also heavily critiquing each job opportunity for I not only didn’t want to leave the Sunshine Coast as I had now finally felt like I was home.

But for the first time in my whole entire dating and adult life, I had to think about someone else besides myself and what these job opportunities meant for our buddy relationships. I knew that if I accepted a long-distance job, this meant after ten years of searching, writing about and finally finding him, I would have to end a relationship that was showing hints and full-blown signs that this man, was very much, “the man of my dreams.”

Simply for the fact, I knew within my heart that our work schedules wouldn’t permit us to travelling, I would literally be worked to the bone with a 90 hour fortnight as well as having my phone turned on at all times because I would forever be on call and I would have to try and cram as much into an eight hour period before driving four plus hours back to my harrowing and miserable job and country life.

Because I had fought incredibly hard to leave that particular part of my life behind and I didn’t fancy running into my ex every day as I walked into the local grocery store, I politely declined the job offer and picked a company on the Sunshine Coast. Not only was this company 45 minutes one way, it appeared to a majority of things on my ‘must have’ list and the clinical nurse appeared to be deeply knowledgeable and I so desperately wanted her for a mentor.

This decision also meant that I could now live on the Sunshine Coast and be within a reasonable driving distance of Mr. Darcy and his surf-shack. Before I know it, twelve months after accepting my position and working my arse off, I thought about the other graduates of my year and myself.

I envisioned the other graduates of my year, celebrating and spending their final remaining hours in fancy clothes purchased with a greater wage salary than mine, drinking and toasting those final remaining minutes of the hour with those who they’d formed close relationships with. Alongside any mentors they may have developed a close understanding with and the laughter that would no doubt, be experienced and reflected upon for a long time.

In my case, the final moments of being identified as a Grade 5, Level 1 Graduate Registered Nurse was spent looking down at my nurse’s desk, thinking about far I had personally sunk.

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Those twelve months of being a Graduate Registered Nurse consisted of amazing and some not-so amazing adventures that I personally had to deal with, overcome and reflect back upon.

My memorable adventures were heavily based on relationships I had developed with another wonderful and equally as caring, Graduate Nurse and a charismatic EEN. The lessons and experiences of self-survival moments that educated me upon the use of Youtube and how one account, consisting originally of makeup tutorials and ‘strategies on how to take relevant notes for college,’ now consisted of ‘how-to’ guides and medical procedures.

I would discover the foundation to nursing was really about and what it took being listed as a Registered Nurse. Not including how one can survive the evening shift, particularly when it is a full moon, you are the only RN to 2 EENs’ and you’ve got 99 residents’ not only losing their shit in, both metaphorical and physical terms. But you know and have a feeling that it’s only just the beginning. This reoccurring reality experienced by me on a monthly basis, brought me back to my first shift as a solo-flying Graduate RN.

A solo-flying Graduate Registered Nurse who was in control of babysitting 40 adult residents with various degrees of Dementia and how quickly, I could and would adapt to what the exceptions vs reality were regarding Nursing and how, you simply had to “fake it until you make it”.

Having been informed I would no longer have ‘buddy shifts’ and I was expected to navigate independently through the Bermuda triangle, I encountered several experiences during my solo flight. During those eight long-winded hours, I had an EN deliberately take a phone order with an assistance in nursing from a doctor before administering this medication.

Post administration, the EN sauntered up to me with the empty syringe, informed me of what had only just occurred and demanded for me to check the empty syringe.

That night, she discovered how she had messed with the wrong person and least to say, I reported her for her actions due to endangering residents’ lives and my registration. Secondly, I tried figuring out if those forty residents within my care had been possessed by demons or had in fact, were visited by my cousin and she had actively encouraged them to be evil.

My not so favourable moments out of those twelve months would include the endless hours of unnecessary torture inflicted by my Clinical Care Manager (CCM), patient’s family members and fellow work colleagues putting in complaints about my work ethics, how I persisted on ‘human-izing’ each person within my care and how emotionally, physically and mentally drained I had become.

I also found myself reluctantly admitting to the advanced effects of burn out that I had been trying to ignore, forget and defer for some time and my ever persistent feeling of an anxiety attack just waiting to strike some twelve months into the job as a Registered Nurse. But these feelings and thoughts had nothing on what I was feeling and experiencing when I found myself in a rather grim and daunting predicament of having to insert a syringe driver with my other fellow Graduate Registered Nurse, one evening in the first few months of flying solo.

Unlike Meredith and Yang from Grey’s Anatomy and their substantially wide and very broad knowledge of dying patients and possibly the after effects of when someone passes away; we found ourselves standing at the foot of this person’s bed. Having crept outside, we presented a strong and uniting force in front of our staff members and once they had gone inside to attend to others, we quietly admitted to one another that we knew little to nothing about syringe drivers, how to insert a butterfly clip and how to properly administer the correct medication.

It was in this minute, the other graduate RN stated she had spent 15 minutes fumbling around with a syringe driver during clinical labs at university. With 15 minutes of education between the both of us and no ‘how-to’ guide because they were locked away in the CCM’s cupboard and in her office (these how-to guides would later become irrelevant), we opted to take the bull by the horns and elected to teach ourselves. 

We decided as a collective group that it was better for us to learn hands on by being our own educators and encyclopaedia.

Especially, regarding the correct technique of inserting a butterfly clip into the resident’s abdomen by using the method of a subcutaneous angle, the politically correct way of drawing up prescribed medications with a blunt needle and double checking between two Registered Nurses’. Since we both admitted once again, that our Universities of choice had opted to not teach us this for a variety of different reasons.

As we both came to the realisation that we’d been let down by our universities and employment because we had not been given the appropriate education a new graduate requires and needs, we agreed that we’d practice in the nurse’s station with the spare syringe driver and reteach ourselves the steps on how to appropriately connect an empty syringe to an extension line, work out to how to correctly register the appropriate medication dosage and time rate and hopefully, not kill this person in our cares. 

That evening, we spent twenty minutes fumbling around and trying to find the equipment we needed in our poorly stocked medicine cabinet because its aged care and not many people die in aged care (or so the government thinks). We calculated the drug ratio to time, in case we had to manually program this into the syringe driver before double checking the allocated medication dosages for the final time; we turned to one another and gave each other a resounding hug.

It would be a hug that shared many hidden emotions and thoughts. A hug that told one another that we were proud of each other, no matter the circumstance or outcomes of what was about to happen. A hug that stated we were doing the best thing for the person in question, that we had performed our job to the best of our ability and no matter what, we could always count on each other to have one another’s back, front and sides. Because in that moment, we had become soul partners and our relationship extended beyond simple means and measures.

As we parted and stepped back from this moment, we took our final breath and with that, the other graduate nurse picked up the kidney dish containing the 20mL syringe filled with prescribed medication and no air bubbles and we walked towards the guillotine in trepidation and fear.

Creeping back into the resident’s room with the syringe and a boat load of nerves, I slipped out my phone and placed it on the edge of the bed. After keying in my password and pulling up my favourite app, we began watching a Youtube video on how to do a syringe driver on mute.  Thank the lord for captions because we needed them to check the correct proceedings not once but twice because I am a paranoid person, particularly when it comes to a patient not receiving any or enough pain relief.

It would only be after having completed our first of many, self-educational lesson on how to administer the correct amount of medication in a syringe driver with little to no knowledge or practice, we collapsed and slid down against the wall. We would continue sitting there for some unmentionable time, thinking about what we had just done and how we had gone about it while this person continued to peacefully sleep, in silence. 

We had become self-survival and initiated driven nurses with fuck all knowledge on how to essentially make a person’s remaining hours and days peaceful.

It also showed us, the reality of how little information university gives us on this basis regarding life and death. Simply for the fact, you as a student are often discouraged from taking on a patient who is palliative or “dying” to put it more bluntly. Because it might be too psychologically traumatising for you as a future Registered Nurse. Hence why I was offered psychological help after standing by and watching the emergency response team try to revive a man after I had pressed the emergency button and calling out “Code Blue”.

Unfortunately, despite my attempt at performing CPR and assisting the emergency staff with answers regarding his care, I opted to take a step back and simply watch over this man until a few hours later, where our time as patient and carer would come to an end with his death.

To Be Continued..

3 thoughts on “What It Takes To Be An Aged Care Registered Nurse | The Untold Trials & Tribulations of Reality (Prt. 1).

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