Just doing prison things…

25 Aug

When I first became a nurse, I don’t think I really saw the full picture of what I was getting myself into. I think we all have a vision of what our career path may be, and usually we are wrong. I never realized how multi-faceted this career path is. I never knew that maybe some nurses aren’t supposed to be “nice,” I never knew truly what it meant to be a good nurse. I am a person who sees the big picture, the future, it’s taken me this long to visualize all of the parts of nursing that make it worthwhile, although I know I have much more to see.

When I was a new nurse, like many new nurses, my brain was full but I had no wit. I had not learned what it means to have “bedside manner”, not truly. I had not dealt with an angry, grieving, or dissatisfied family/patient on my own. I had so much to learn. As new nurses especially, we don’t want to be the “bad” nurse, or the stupid nurse and definitely not the mean nurse. Nurses are creatures who thrive on ensuring the well being of others.

I think around the time I was doing hospice care, I had reached the peak of “bedside manner”. Every person has natural abilities, god-given, sixth sense, whatever you may feel they are. I can read people. (My other abilities include remembering numbers, a killer mean face and eating warm carbohydrates.) In light of the incredible nurses I was trained by at hospice, I developed not only the skill of how to read people, but also how to comprehend them and how to use that knowledge to change an environment. They never told me how to do these things, but by watching them it was incredibly apparent that they could take any situation and turn it into what it needed to be. They could diffuse family feuds, even if only for a moment to lay down the law about “mama” and what she needs. They taught me about priorities, how to walk into a room and demand all of the eyes for an update and how to be in the room as a glorified ghost. The greatest challenge of nursing is to adapt who you are, to be who you need to be,  for that patient, for the right reasons. 

For almost a year I was a hand holder, a helper, a comforter, but I was not a healer. I began to feel like I was sacrificing a large part of my profession that I never got to explore. So, I left.

In a lot of ways I am a leaver. I will funnel myself into whatever I’m doing. I will bleed it dry and then I will leave. I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish I loved routine and consistency and being 100% self assured in what I do, but I cannot stomach it. I need to find out all the things I don’t know the hard way. When I landed this prison job in March 2015, I never knew what I was in for, not even a little bit. Prison nursing is the anti-hospice. Within no time at all I realized I was in a whirl wind of constant chaos, constant confrontation and constantly being checked on what you know. (That’s how inmates know what they can get away with. haha.) But lez-be honest, I didn’t know shit. So, how do you learn a whole bunch of things you don’t know? Fake it ’til ya make it.  

The nurses who trained me were bad asses. Total rockstars. Self assured, smart as hell and tough as nails. I watched them so close, they taught me the ropes and they re-wired my brain. I learned our standing orders, I branched out to get hours at a medium security prison and I told myself that this was going to be fun. Dying was no longer okay. I now had to learn how to preserve and maintain life that was thrown into 1,000 dangerous situations (many by their own hand).

The first few times I heard the words “medical emergency” on our radio my belly would tie up into knots. That adrenaline rush said “flight” but I knew I had to go. With the guidance of Dustin and Melinda and Debbie and Memaw Cheryl (among others) they used me as extra hands, showed me parameters for broken bones, fights, diabetic seizures, overdoses,and  chest pain until my body no longer said “flight” but instead screamed “fight”. I looked forward to the rush, the run, the breathless arrival and the 7 second assessment of the scene.I feel like that rush is addictive, you become immune to all the noise around you and you welcome the chaos because when it’s over you feel like you can hear every scream echoing in your head and you can’t turn it off.  I absorbed and learned and adapted again to what my patients needed me to be.

For a while, my team was unstoppable.

But in corrections, the turn over rate is insane for both security and medical. Constant stress does a number on you. People graduated, burned out or found other opportunities. The band broke up. We still had Memaw and Deb on night shift, our OG’s. (I know you’ll love that Memaw. Lol.) We had a famine of staff through the winter which meant tons of overtime, tons of sick people and tons of mistakes I probably made. It was rough. I relied on our security staff a lot through this time. They would let me vent, I would bring them coffee, they would vent and we’d all feel better. It’s like having a tabernacle choir of the most screwy brothers and sisters you can always rely on.We all fuss and fight and shaving cream each others’ shit but I know if it goes south we can pretty well rely on each other. These guys and gals spend so much time away from their families, they eat little and they sleep less. They are truly incredible people.

When spring rolled around the corner, we were all exhausted. Running on fumes. I felt like I was sick constantly, and I thought about leaving.Instead of absorbing all that I could from this job, I felt like it had absorbed all of me. I felt like I was only prison, I was jaded, a little hostile, and permanently tired. In the midst of all of that, we had a late season flu outbreak. We had a quarantine dorm where we took care of all of the sick people, checked temps, gave meds, assessed a few times a day, ran fluids. A few of our older guys got sent out because they were deteriorating fast. Then, the unthinkable happened, one of our guys died. Needlessly. From blatant neglect from outside care. It really affected me more than I thought it would. A year ago my patients would die daily, I would rarely bat an eye, because I knew they were ready. Every nurse in our facility did everything they could to save him and it wasn’t enough. It didn’t matter to me that he was an “inmate”. He was a person. We take an oath as a medical professional that we treat them all and let the judge be the judge. If you can’t do that, you need to get out.

As sad as it was, my patient was exactly what I needed him to be, for me, for all of the right reasons. My compassion was (mostly) restored.

The biggest perk to prison life is that I can genuinely be me. Unfiltered. Sarcastic, but somehow still a professional, damnit. I had an inmate tell me the other day that he had no idea how “mean” I was after I had a serious chat with him about not coming to get his insulin. In a moment of trying to help someone see the importance of their health, I realized in that moment I was the “bad” nurse. That’s okay, because that’s what he needed. I was a “good” nurse just as recently by helping square away details for a dying man. Nursing is not purely a profession of comfort, the greater goal is to help your patients be exactly who they need to be, for themselves, for the right reasons. If anyone tells you different, well, that’s horseshit.











One Response to “Just doing prison things…”

  1. lizmillz August 26, 2016 at 8:28 am #

    Awesome ass writing man.

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