I'm a Chronically Ill Nurse. Here's What I Want Others to Remember During Nurses Week.

Nurses Week is May 6th through May 12th this year. It’s a time when nurses are often praised for their work and shown appreciation and gratitude. Nurses are an amazing classification of humans. We are our own species!

From the time I was young, I can remember wanting so badly to become a nurse to help others because I had been helped so many times. I stayed sick, but I always had wonderful nurses and staff to take care of me! My ninth grade year of high school was kind of the point when I just realized, “Yes! This is the career for me.” I was the mom friend of our group (and I still am!). Taking care of others always put a joy in my heart that left me beaming for days. From seeing a baby smile at me, from helping a toddler overcome their fear of a needle because I was the one to give them a shot, to my elderly patients who always thanked me for taking the time to listen to them because many people don’t anymore.

In 2015 though my life flipped completely. In 2014 I started having GI testing because we were certain it was my gallbladder. Lots of pain, no answers from tests. My CRP and SED rate (inflammatory markers) were elevated in February 2015. They are still elevated. After symptoms continuing to worsen (dizziness, palpitations, headaches, blacking out, numbness, tingling), I finally went to my primary care and they sent me to neurology. I was diagnosed with POTS after a tilt table test.

As a nurse, you learn that things can go wrong with the body as a whole, each section or system, even down to the cell itself. I did not learn about this in nursing school. I had never heard of it! My neurologist had to write down the word “dysautonomia” for me. I Googled, I researched, I took my medicines. I continued working as a full-time nurse until December 2015. I started having seizures at work. I remember coming to and having my coworkers around me and the paramedics coming in to check me out. I thought to myself, this isn’t supposed to happen. I’m supposed to be the one taking care of everyone else! I wound up in the ICU so they could get the seizures to stop. There was an immense feeling of guilt. These people around me are having to take care of me… again! This wasn’t supposed to happen!

I wound up starting  a new job in January 2016 with a wonderful practice. I was diagnosed with EDS in April of 2016. I remember thinking OK, I can still work, I can still do this. I’m not going to let anything else happen so someone else has to take care of me. Unfortunately, as we all know with chronic illnesses, that is not the case. I continued to decline. I was having to miss more work for more doctors’ visits, passing out, days where I couldn’t move due to the giant cloud of pain that enveloped me. I had to stop working July 2017.

It’s been almost a year. This week is Nurses Week. I feel so guilty for having to leave the profession that I love because my body ultimately said stop. I’ve gone over this so many times through my head. Guilt. Burning compassion for others that lingers. More guilt. I’ve had to tell myself to stop, and that I can’t take care of others if I’m not able to take care of myself. I have to tell myself that I’m still a nurse, even though I’m not physically able to work anymore. I try not to let the guilt of leaving behind my patients and coworkers get to me, but there are days when you can’t help but let it come out.

Take a moment this week to thank your nurses who are by your side. Tell them they are appreciated. Thank them for what they do and for listening to you when you need to talk. I can tell you it will make their day shine bright. I know it did mine.

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