Monday, November 24, 2008
When I look back at my life as a young lady the career options of the time were to a large extent the expectations of society. I was supposed to be a teacher, a nurse, or a Mrs. and that was how the system was rigged. Pondering these options I first decided on teacher.
I had my own ideas about what I would bring to the teaching profession. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher who would let children know how important it was to help others, the virtues of being smart and bright, and how this would lead to having fun in life. With all the enthusiasm of a young person bursting with boundless energy I was certain this fresh and innovative approach to learning could have a huge impact.
During my first year of college, while I liked the idea of being a teacher very much, I kept getting this nagging feeling that I was supposed to follow a different path. I knew I wanted to help others, but now I was thinking that I was supposed to be helping adults in some way. I went down the list in the career options book and looked at every career, and didn’t see anything that clicked into place.
I had a friend in the nursing program who really enjoyed it, so I thought: “Why not, I’ll give it a try.” I approached my nurses training with the goal of being as helpful as possible to others. I worked as a nursing assistant that summer and was accepted into nursing school that fall. I really enjoyed working as a nursing assistant, helping the patients and spending time talking with them.
I remember one lady in particular who was about 40 years old was and in the hospital because, as she told me, her husband and doctor thought she was “crazy”. She was on a floor with others much older than her for the most part, and she did not have a terminal illness. As I chatted with her in the course of my duties I quickly found out that she was a warm and loving mother of five who was simply worn down from endless work. Her exhaustion had lead to anxiety and sadness, but not in my mind was she remotely crazy.
I looked at her patient chart and saw she was on a long list of drugs to treat her supposed condition, many of which were given to treat the side effects of the drugs she was on. I was simply appalled. Her husband saw her as nothing but a workhorse, and when the workhorse finally broke down he dragged her to the doctor who medicated her without any consideration of her situation.
I didn’t know what I could do as a 19-year-old nurse’s assistant but I sure knew I had to do something. This just was not right. It was two arrogant men against a defenseless mother of five. I told her the medications she was taking were making her feel worse and that she was just tired from being overworked. I told her she was not crazy. I told her she just needed to take more time for herself and get her kids to help out more. I will never forget the look on her face as I spoke with her. The life came back into her eyes, the color back into her face. She clutched my hand and thanked me.
I told her the first thing I would do is to go over the medications one by one, understand them, understand their side effects, and ask her doctor to explain them to her. She really like the idea of getting off all the drugs and was eager to work with her doctor to wean off what she could. It was her life after all. I told her if she did not stand up for her rights, her health, no one would. She agreed, as this had been the case. She “recovered” so fast she was out of the hospital several days later!
As I went through nursing school this experience inspired me in several ways. First, it showed me the power of being a patient advocate and standing up for the rights of a patient. This sense of empowering someone who had lost hope seemed a great virtue to me. Second, it sent me on a rather odd path for a young woman – that of being a student of the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference). In nursing school I was learning how to dispense drugs correctly and how to follow doctor’s orders. In my own time I was learning what the drugs actually did and what their side effects were.
As I made my way through nursing school and on to the final home leg, my internship, I was bursting at the seams with knowledge and eager to put this to work helping patients with their health. As my internship went on the more I realized my goals were in direct conflict to that of the medical profession.
I remember one patient in particular, who was suffering from both a bad drug combination and doses that were too high. She was discussing her symptoms with her doctor who assured her the medications he prescribed were just right and that he would be prescribing yet another to handle her “complaint”.
In the hallway I approached him and suggested that the combination, side effects, and doses were likely causing some of the symptoms she was having and that he should consider adjusting the medications to see if it would help her. He became furious and told me to never question a doctor. I was shocked. He was more concerned about his ego than the health of the patient. And this attitude wasn’t just his, it was the prevailing culture. I learned first hand the meaning of MDiety syndrome, and it jolted me to the core. I knew at that moment, and so very close to completing my nursing internship, that a career in traditional nursing was not for me.
I bring up these stories to illustrate a few important points. The set of circumstances in our lives, such as environmental pressures or societal expectations, often provide us a path we can follow even if we aren’t sure what our calling may be. There are lessons to be learned from such experiences that may help us understand our true calling. In my case, these experiences forged my passion for being a woman’s health advocate and helping to educate society on the dangers of medications and the safe options that are available. I love to empower others with knowledge that fosters true hope and a path to better health. I have continued to do this throughout my life.
I also find it interesting that I always end up taking on a leadership role in whatever endeavor I am involved in. When I ponder why this is the case, I think back to times in my childhood, as the oldest girl of seven children. I remember playing school with my younger siblings, and sure it was fun being the teacher. I really liked being in charge of the classroom. In my neighborhood I used to love to organize carnivals and plays. My goal was to be a leader in something I thought was worthwhile. As I grew older I typed business correspondence for my father, who was a successful entrepreneur. I also had the opportunity to visit one of his client’s facilities and learned first hand the ins and outs of how professional business and customer service was conducted. I loved to watch him as he worked his business magic.
I see all too often that many women, especially after the children are raised, are looking for new meaning in their lives. This is not unlike the same feelings we had as young women embarking on life. So how do you start something new without throwing out the old?
My advice is to begin with an inventory of the things you enjoyed most when you were growing up. What did you think you wanted to be, and more importantly, why? What role were you playing in the activities you enjoyed most? What are the various lessons in your life that impassioned you to be a certain way? And lastly, what can you do in your future that will enable you to be more in harmony with what is really important to you?
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