The Three Year Itch

I was perusing some of my previous blogs written during nursing school the other day. As I scrolled through I found myself smiling, I vaguely remember that nursing student. She was full of spirit and faith and gung-ho on building a solid psychiatric nursing career. Naïvely she believed in a practice without bias and thought that burnout was a condition that would happen years down the road, or never. Only three short years ago standing there in a cap and gown was a new graduate nurse with a mission to cure the world and look darn good doing it too!

She is a far cry from the critical care nurse I saw in the reflection of the hallway mirror as I crawled through the door after what felt like the longest 12 hour shift in weeks. I found it only mildly surprising to find that my hair had wigged itself out of its braid into a frizzy halo and my eyes were bloodshot from fatigue.  I peeled off my scrubs and threw them in the washer thinking that perhaps an autoclave might be more appropriate. I remembered, vaguely, texting a friend that short of amniotic fluid I think I had been hit with every other possible bodily contaminant. Even the loaner surgical scrubs felt filthy.  As I got in the shower part of me wanted to cry and the rest of me was just too damn tired to muster the energy. The sun had dropped below the hills and my day was at long last at a weary end.

If nursing goes in phases, I call this phase the three year itch. That period of post-graduation where the honeymoon of new-grad nursing is over and reality sets in, harshly. I guess at some point I had been warned in class about all of this. Higher nurse to patient ratios, charting for core measures, patient satisfaction surveys …it all sounded do-able then. Ignorance truly is bliss. I was so darn cute when I was naïve!  I was confident it would be no problem. I’d get in my groove during orientation and then I’d hit the floor with a plan to manage every disaster.

I knew I’d have bad days but I was certain the good I was doing would outweigh them. I would make sure I gave every patient the time they needed and there was no IV pump or computer program I couldn’t figure out. Lately, I’m learning not to feel like a failure when my most stable patients see less of me.  I do my best carrying three critical care patients but I can’t be with all of them at once. Not with what feels like millions of charting details and screens to fill out and the hundreds of times I go chasing after bed alarms and call bells, monitors and IV pumps that insist they are occluded despite every possible intervention.

Those are just the routine shifts when by the grace of God no one codes or needs a rapid response. All bets are off when the code chimes toll. I’ve learned I don’t really have a game plan for chaos. When the “code brown” hits the fan, I roll with it and prioritize…and on a good day it stays off my scrubs. Even now I fully expect to make not just a few mistakes. With any luck I will learn from them and be that much smarter the next time all hell breaks loose.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I looked beat. I am not beaten however. Underneath the frizz and the bloodshot eyes, you will most likely find my spirit laughing. I’m laughing at the oddities of people and just how fascinating I find them. In my three years of nursing I’ve met some interesting characters and had a lifetime of laughs. I once had the chance to talk fishing with a man known only as “catfish”. I’ve worked IV lines and monitors around team sweatshirts and jerseys because the big game was on. My patient with an open wound left AMA because elk sea


son started. A senior patient of mine was covered head to toe in body art and piercings, complete with nipple rings. I had the chance to hear a veteran of Vietnam recount first hand the experiences he had during the war, making history come alive in a way a textbook never had. Perhaps most memorable was the visitor of a patient wearing a pink adult one-piece pajama suit. They carried with them a small deceased animal in a plastic bag. Diplomatically I had to insist they leave and dispose of it immediately. Just when I think I’ve seen and heard it all, something else leaves me speechless.

In all of this I gratefully call “friend” a team of coworkers that have had my back the entire course supporting, encouraging, and teaching me. These are the real heroes. In a moment I would trust my very life to them. As a nurse, these are the memories and things that I cling to. These are the moments I need to remember when I feel like giving up.

I went into nursing because I like people. Everyone I meet has a story and I find that inspiring. Being a nurse is the hardest job I will ever love. Some days I feel invincible. Sometimes I just need to find an empty supply closet and cry. If I have changed at all in my transition from “new grad” to “newbie” nurse it is this: I don’t believe I am single handedly going to change the world. The best I can do at any time is change a moment.  If that moment makes a difference in some small way then I’ve done the best I can at what I am called to do. I’m no superhero.  I’m a nurse and I wouldn’t have it any other way.



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