Why I Went Back to Nursing School as a Recovering Alcoholic


It’s the first day of placement. Student nurses stand in the lobby of the hospital not knowing what stands ahead of them. The students have studied the normal findings for a healthy human being but still rely heavily on subjective data.

Today, the students have been assigned their first patient. The patient is unable to respond, move or take care of themselves. Yet there they are, lying in bed in a wet attends, with one cold and not-so-comfortable blanket. As in most hospital settings, there are also minimal windows, making it hard even for the coherent nurses to orientate themselves. They now have to rehabilitate this perfect stranger back to optimal health. I have been this student nurse, twice now.

To an individual who is not a nurse, this might seem like an extreme portrayal of a hospital setting, but unfortunately it is very common. Although this is common and the nurse’s goal is to prevent this scene from occurring, it does happen and too often. The patient needs an advocate, a voice, someone to protect them and maintain their Bill of Rights. This is where the student nurse comes into action.

Although I am now the student nurse I spoke of, I was once the patient as well.

I was admitted to ICU after a gran maul seizure caused by alcohol withdrawals. I am a recovering alcoholic with two plus years of sobriety, but getting to where I am not was not an easy task. It took time and commitment, not only from myself but from my healthcare team and my family.

When I woke up in the hospital that winter night, after the removal of my ventilator, I still could not speak nor was I able to move any part on the right side of my body. I had every member of the interdisciplinary team enter my room, but there is only one I remember by name, and she was my nurse.

When the social worker was asking me about my alcohol use and why I have not stopped drinking, my nurse listened and spoke for me. When the physiotherapist and occupational therapist were moving my body parts around and making their assessments, my nurse maintained my privacy, reserving the little dignity I had left.

When the dietary aide brought around food trays, my nurse collected mine, disposed of the items she knew I was unable to chew or swallow, and with her knowledge she ensured I maintained adequate nutrition without feeling anymore ashamed.

When the physician sat down to inform me of my near-death experience, my nurse held my hand, wiped my tears and then gained consent to contact my parents.

When my parents arrived in a panic, torn and distraught over being so close to losing their first born child, my nurse sat them down, held my mother’s hand and told her and my father how I was doing, instead of every test result that had been run.

My nurse watched over me, feeding me, changing my attends when I defecated, provided catheter care, medication to keep me comfortable, fluids to keep me hydrated and range of motion to help me feel like myself again.

She protected me from my fears and guided me back to health. She continued to save my life after I was discharged by providing me with numerous resources and treatment center options that I did use and continue to use to help me with my underlying, unresolved and unspoken-of issues.

After leaving the nursing program five years ago due to my alcoholism, I had no intention of ever feeling like I could be accepted in the profession again. My nurse being the advocate that she was, is ultimately the main reason I came back, so I can be the one nurse who just one patient remembers.

I want to be a nurse so I can obtain the privilege to speak for the unspoken, confidently answer questions within my scope of practice, clear judgment of the unknown and never allow a patient to feel as though they are just a number or a mere statistic. I want to be a nurse so just one patient does not feel like they are someone who is taking up a hospital bed that could be used for someone in a more critical condition.

I want our youth to want to make changes in our world. I feel as though I have been given such a special opportunity to become a nurse and gain the privilege to speak up for those who physically cannot or who have not been given the same opportunities as I have been given.

I pray the world will come to understand that nursing is not for the faint of heart; it takes courage to be a voice for a complete stranger. And I share this story because I want those who struggle with substance abuse to seek the help they need and not to be ashamed of their illness because it is exactly that, an illness. One that can be treated and one that should never stop you from achieving your dreams.

Join Mental Health America during Mental Health Month in increasing awareness of risky behaviors and potential ties to mental health conditions. Download the complete toolkit, featuring facts sheets with infographics, social media images, and more here#riskybusiness #MHM2017.

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