Changing Fields, Changing Directions

I’m sure as all nurses starting out, I had a dream. I was young, vulnerable, and naive’, but I had plans. I wanted to be the best nurse I could become, AND I wanted to be a mother.

As anyone could tell you, once plans have been made, things can go awry. Many years, miscarriages later, with heartbreaking pain, I had to scrap the idea of becoming a biological mother. Plans for adoption weren’t as easy at that time, either. I poured my heartbreak into my career, hoping I could be really, really good at nursing.

School I loved, patients I adored even more, but my body wasn’t healthy, even though I pushed. A piece of emotional well-being seemed to be missing, an inert element or nutrient needed for wholesome functioning. I began to suspect what it might be when a dog was handed to me one day. She was ill, and I had no business taking her home. She had a line-up of medications longer than many of the ICU patients in my clinical rotations. Caring for her (and holding her) felt a bit like mothering to me. She seemed to need me as much as I needed her, and it opened my eyes to a new approach to nursing.

Perhaps patients needed this, too? How many of them might have been deprived of the ability to caress fur, or hold an animal next to their heart, or experience a dog kiss? How many might die without seeing their precious pet again? Hospitals and facilities worked hard to change that around during the last few years, but as with many things in healthcare, this one may not last. I pray we work as hard to keep it as we did to get it on board initially.

My dog came home eight years ago. Although her health problems continue, she opened my eyes and heart to what animals can do for the acutely and chronically ill. I now have a companion pup for my autoimmune illness, and we are in the process of learning how to help others with similar conditions. My journey in nursing has encompassed different paths, from critical care, to gerontology, pulmonary, and pain management. I may not be the “mom” I set out to become, but the joy of being a puppy mom and learning about animal assisted therapy (AAT) has taught me eons.

Puppies (and I suspect maybe the human kind of youngster as well) can drive you to dreaming about naps in the daytime, and then have you doubled over with belly-crunching laughter five minutes later. Cleaning? Fughetaboutit! And we won’t even discuss what they have done to the edges of my woodwork.

In nursing, it is fabulous to have a life plan, but don’t get stuck on it. Learn to be flexible, and see where you career willfully takes you. It might choose a better path. Like Beyonce, we need to take a long, cool sip of Lemonade. Aaaahhh, so refreshing. And absolutely nothing like what I had planned!

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