Moments that Define You: A Professional Memoir
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those who I have met along the way.
He is impeccably dressed. Cleanly shaven with thick golden locks neatly brushed to the right side. His eyes a piercing blue that investigate your soul. A small nose that suits an oval face. Full, pink lips moist with lip balm he presumably just applied. His pants a deep blue, smooth silk material which fit perfectly. It is obvious to me that they are tailored specifically for his body. His shoes a deep burgundy with black laces neatly tied in perfect bows. Neatly buttoned up the front of his thin build, a deep gray sports coat with a subtle checkered pattern noted within the threading. “Hello sir, my name is Holly. What can I get for you?” I say. “I’ll take a 10- pack of shorts, some cotton and alcohol swabs please” Mark said in a whisper.
This is the moment that my career trajectory changed forever.
Nursing wasn’t always the plan. Law fascinated me from a very early age. I aspired to become a defense attorney defending the wrongfully accused. Working through my Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology with my eye on the prize—law school.
I signaled left, heading toward the North Side. Within a split second, a pain is shooting through the left side of my face; all I hear is the CRASH of the trunk crumbling into the backseat. Stumbling from the car, the realization hits me—I just totaled my parents’ car. With anxiety swelling deep inside my gut, pain piercing through my left trapezius muscle, I know I must call my parents. Their car is totaled.
Forced to look for another form of supplemental income—as managing a forty-pound tray of food waitressing was no longer feasible—I became a caregiver. My client, Matt, was a fully dependent, vented gentleman who was living with muscular dystrophy. It was a humbling experience to care for him—my first patient. There was something about caring for another human being that felt so rewarding.
Continuing with my Bachelor of Arts, I began to study for the LSATs— while caring for Matt on the weekends.
LSATs are weeks away and I am just starting to feel like I might be ready. Deep into a study session at James Dunn Hall, my favorite study spot on Campus. Out of no where nausea overcomes my body. Before I can make it to the bathroom a deep, knife-like, pain shoots through my left flank. Tears glistened in my eyes as I called my best friend, and roommate, Lorie to come get me. Flushed, hot to the touch, with a high fever I know something is terribly wrong. Aches chilling through my body as I walk to her car. I can pick up my car the next day, I think to myself.
“Take me to emerge Lorie, something is wrong” I say through sobs. The pain and discomfort are practically intolerable, but with Lorie by my side we wait. After an excruciating long wait, I am admitted. Acute/ chronic renal failure. The LSATs will have to wait.
My professors gave me the opportunity to make up assignments missed. I continued to prepare for the LSATs. But the confidence felt the day I fell ill never returned. I was struggling. I wrote the LSATS that fall; an average score wasn’t going to gain my acceptance to Law School. I felt defeated.
Sitting in James Dunn Hall, sipping a hot coffee, waiting for my class to begin. I was feeling particularly discouraged. What on earth was I going to do if I could not get into Law School; that is THE PLAN. I see Amy crossing the seating area. She says “Hey girl, have you ever considered nursing? I know how much you enjoy caring for your client with muscular dystrophy.” “It has crossed my mind; however, four more years of university are not in cards for me” I say with frustration. “You know there is a two-year ASP program offered down the hill at UNB. Just think about it.” She responds.
I went over this conversation in my head a million times. The first time, I considered another career path besides Law; Nursing—in two years—I could manage that. Nurses are respected health care professionals, there is an abundance of work and the salary is fair. I talked myself into applying. I was going to become a nurse.
The next two years were going to be grueling. Completing three semesters per year, spare time was a luxury of the past. The responsibility felt during these two years was immense. To learn the physiology and pathophysiology of every body system. It is a cumbersome responsibility knowing that human beings will depend on you; to not make any fatal mistakes. For two years I ate, slept and dreamt nursing.
“I am sorry Holly your community placement choices are unavailable” Professor Stewart states bluntly. I feel the blood rushing to my face. This is unfair, and I am angry, but respond with respect “It is okay, where am I going?”. “AIDS NB is accepting students and you have been placed there” she says. “Okay, sounds good” I respond.
Being a liberal, open minded person, the ignorance I possessed when it came to addiction was unfathomable. I thought that people suffering with addiction looked a certain way and that is what I expected to see walking through the doors at the AIDS NB needle exchange program. Instead I met Mark. And I confronted my ignorance head on. I found my professional purpose. My clinical placement ended; but my work with AIDS NB, then Avenue B (formerly AIDS SJ) continues today.
With preceptorship about to start, I was puzzled. I knew I wanted to work with the vulnerable sector, but also knew a good foundation was essential to be the nurse I aspired to be.
“You know 4cn Internal Medicine has a needle exchange policy! They cater to the acutely ill people who we serve here at AIDS SJ” Sara states. “That is awesome, I will apply. It’s a perfect fit” I respond eagerly.
Internal medicine was a fast-paced demanding environment. I was ill-prepared mentally for this challenge. The needle exchange was just a piece of the chaos on 4CN.
“Holly, I will be presuming care over room 40. His condition is deteriorating.” my preceptor Sally states. His face a pale white, unconscious, but breathing Jack is at the mercy of the healthcare team. We need to act fast or we were going to lose him. After 40 minutes we manage to stabilize his blood pressure enough for transport. We jog to the CCU, praying he doesn’t arrest in the elevator. Sitting in the CCU documenting the phone rings. “It’s for you.” The CCU nurse said to my preceptor. Her face loses color and her demeanour changes completely. “22C is circling the drain. Let’s go, we have the defibrillator. RUN” she hollers. As we reach the elevator, we have a second to breath. “I’m not sure I can do this” I said.
Throughout my preceptorship I fell in love with the fast paced, adrenaline filled, world internal medicine offered. I accepted a position and started my career. For seven years, I devoted myself to becoming a skilled medical surgical nurse. Preceptoring and mentoring others became a passion of mine.
“Grace is going on maternity leave and we need someone. The position was recently posted. Do you plan on applying?” said Rosie. “Do you really think I am Nurse Associate material.” I respond.
With a young child at home foregoing night shifts was tempting. Rosie would not have mentioned it to me if she thought I wasn’t ready. I gathered the courage to read the job description. A permanent posting was also available. I applied for both. The interview process was grueling, but I was awarded the temporary position.
“Have you ever considered applying for your Masters Holly?” Rosie asks. “To advance within this organization a Masters degree may give you an edge on your competition. I see your career blossoming and think this is something you should consider” Rosie said.
I felt inspired to apply to Athabasca that day. Rosie’s leadership, and encouragement, has built me into the nurse I am today.
The medicine nurse educator position was vacant. Stepping into this temporary role was glorious. When the permanent job posting was available, I applied- and was awarded the position. It was a privilege and honour to fill the role of educator. Until….
“Your position has been grieved. I cannot say much more then that for now. I will let you know when I have any news” Bobbie said. The pit in my stomach churned and my heart began to beat faster, and faster.
I didn’t want to return to internal medicine. I applied for several positions; the ICU called me back. I transitioned into my third role within this calendar year.
“Holly, I saw that you applied for the Lead Nurse role at the jail; are you still interested in an interview?” Lee said. “I have transitioned roles three times this year; I don’t know” I reply. “Well I think you would be a good fit. Think about it and get back to me.” Lee responds. I agree.
Becoming Lead Nurse at a Correctional Centre was challenging. I often thought about leaving. I questioned my decision daily.
Taylor is admitted to SJRCC with an infected abscess secondary to intravenous drug use. “Would you like some resources and teaching on how to inject safely?” I ask Taylor. “No. I’m never doing this again” he responds.
Two weeks passed.
The radio chirps “Unit 6 to Nurse Holly”. “Go ahead” I reply. “Taylor says he changed his mind”. Initially, I feel joy.
Withdrawn, with moist eyes, Taylor discloses that there is a two-month waitlist for every rehab centre. He doesn’t want to use again, but he is getting released tomorrow and he knows he will. “Ensure you clean the surface of your skin well, bevel up when you inject, never reuse the same needle and never share gear with anyone” the joy disseminates as I am telling him this.
As I am heading in to the hospital for over time, I run into a colleague Dr Louie. “Why the long face Holly, you look tired”. “We just don’t have enough resources to meet the need of these guys Dr Louis; I am feeling pretty discouraged tonight” I respond after sharing the details of Taylor’s case. “Have you ever heard of interim methadone?” he says. “No, tell me more” I reply. “There is some paperwork involved but basically it is a safe, low dose of methadone for individuals while they wait to be accepted into a methadone program” he says. Immediately I think of Taylor. “Can we do this for Taylor?” I ask. “Yes, if you can manage the paperwork” he responds. I head back to the jail.
“Nurse Holly to Unit 6” I page. “Go for 6” I hear. “Can I please see Taylor down in medical?” I ask. “Sure” the radio echoes back.
“Have you ever heard of interim methadone?” I ask Taylor. “No” he responds. I explain the details, the evidence, and review the contract. He signs them. Now his eyes are glistening with hope. The paperwork is faxed and Dr Louie notified.
Taylor was placed in a methadone program rather quickly. He is stabilized on methadone and I have not seen him back at the jail since.
Taylor is the reason I stayed. You see, every time life didn’t go my way over the years it has led me to where I am meant to be. Helping the most vulnerable members of society- incarcerated people who struggle with addiction and mental illness.