At a crossroads: Where do I go from here?

My favorite t.v. show ever is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the sixth season there’s a musical episode, where all the characters start randomly singing and dancing when a show-tunes loving demon comes to town. It’s probably my favorite episode, and I often find myself still singing the tunes sometimes.

I mention the show because there’s one number near the end of the episode, after all the main characters realize how much has changed between them, when everyone starts singing, “Where do we go from here?” It’s poignant and sad, very touching really, and immediately popped into my head when I started thinking about what I wanted to write in this post.

With the way the world has changed in the months since COVID-19 started, I’ve begun considering if I want to continue being a nurse or not. There’s some fear of working in the hospital, yes. But it’s not really that, or only that.

During the crisis I’ve started asking myself, probing deeply, about how I want to live my life, whether I want it to be more about making art and writing, being creative. Nursing was always supposed to be plan B, a means to support my creative efforts. But since I became an RN fourteen years ago, it’s always been plan A. You can’t work as a nurse and not have so much of your life become about that.

Plus, it takes a certain personality, or traits – caring, nurturing wanting to help others, to be of service, not minding certain bodily fluids or functions – to be a nurse. When those things are inherently part of your nature, that label becomes an even bigger part of your identity.

And then you have to gain experience. You have to spend time developing your skills, exploring opportunities, and eventually (hopefully) finding an area of nursing you both like and are good at.

I’ve been lucky to have found that area now for the past five years. Some other nurses I work with believe, I know, that I and my coworkers are not “real” nurses anymore. We have a desk job doing medication reconciliation, something that doesn’t involve direct patient care, which in their eyes is what nursing truly involves, I guess. But we still save lives in our own way, every day, helping doctors know much more accurately what medications a patient is taking so they can treat them appropriately.

I’ve become very proud of my job and my department, the work we do. Even though there are moments when I would agree, yes, we aren’t exactly typical nurses anymore, we also aren’t really stressed, or overwhelmed, or burnt out, like so many floor nurses become. Like I was when I worked those jobs.

Of course, there are a few problems in my department – amongst ourselves, with the rest of the ER where we work, with management – that have led to some discontent. But that’s always the case wherever you go, whatever you do. No situation is ever entirely problem-free.

And yes, COVID-19 has put everyone more on edge, patients and staff. But it’s not changed as much you might think. In some ways it’s brought all of us closer.

Over the years the people I work with have become my friends and family, my community, and lately my biggest social outlet. I care deeply about them and our work, the patients we help. My job has also been a known quantity in my life, something I could count on being there for me, and me for it.

But between COVID-19, the protests and riots, the upcoming election, and all the environmental catastrophes, I’ve really started reevaluating my life, like many others, even though I haven’t been forced to by a job loss or some other painful event. Really, it’s hard to imagine there’s anyone who isn’t retaking stock of things these days.

Plus, the printmaking workshop I attended a week or so ago sparked something fresh in me. I have since bought some supplies, and have been practicing making prints at home. I have to set a timer for myself, I get so lost in the process. I could see spending hours and hours doing it, exploring colors, patterns and designs, trying to find ways to incorporate my poems.

It’s changed once again the way I’m looking at my life, my work in this world, what I have to offer it, to share, and what I want for myself.

At times I’ve wondered if I continued working as a nurse out of guilt. Partly from the feeling that I’ve been given some unique circumstances in life and owed the world for them, and the rest from old family issues. The passing of my parents left me financially independent, able to work or not (as long as I’m careful) at my choosing. Taking care of my dad as he was dying led me to change careers at age 30 – ironically, from advertising and marketing – and become a nurse in the first place.

During that time my father and I were able to heal our long-troubled relationship, something I’ve written about here before. The experience changed my life in many ways, most of them good, and some not. But I found my life’s path, no doubt.

My choice to become a nurse began out of a desire for more meaningful work; but it had some of it’s origins in guilt, too, and was clouded by issues I’d had since childhood with my father. New problems with some of my remaining family followed his death, too, and I think a part of me wanted to prove to them that I was not going to live the rest of my life idle on what my parents provided. That I would still work and be useful in the world.

And now here I am, almost twenty years later, remembering and rethinking it all over again. Actually, I hardly ever stopped remembering; but time and experience have certainly softened my perspective.

Do I stop now, finally, feeling useful, of service to the world, paying back what only I really think I owe? Do I give up on the practicalities, my license, the extra income and insurance, those things I also need and value? Most of all, do I give up on my work family, on that part of my identity, the comfortable groove of my life it provides for, and that little bit of pride I still feel when I tell people what I do?

The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know yet, and even when I make a decision eventually one way or the other, I will probably always continue questioning it.

But I do know now that I occasionally look on friends who make their lives around their art, their writing, their creative efforts, with some envy, wishing I could do it, too, or start to try. Even despite the memories of my short advertising career, where I felt the daily disappointment of using my creativity to sell things I didn’t believe in, I still feel the desire to try again, free to do my own work now.

Though, again somewhat ironically, I’ve never liked the self-promotion part of things (which I still dread). But in this digital, Internet age, there are many more options for help in that area.

So I’ll continue gathering data for awhile most likely, waiting for some more signs from the universe (now that it’s aware of my dilemma), and singing funny, odd little Buffy showtunes in my head when I need to hear words of encouragement, especially from my own inner self. That’s the voice that unerringly makes sense, even when it sings a bit off-key.