Back in June I shared with the ACHA community that I had spent time interviewing on the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) at the very hospital that I grew up in. I decided that I needed a change from the ER and wanted to learn more. I felt like I would fit in just right. The CICU is a place so close to my heart and after my interview I wished and hoped and prayed that I got the job. Six long weeks later I got the call. I got the job!
Since September I have been working on my dream unit helping children just like me. I am learning more than I could imagine and loving the challenge. Working in a unit full of CICU nurses, it’s hard to hide my sternotomy scar, or my “zipper.” We are taught to assess everything and everyone. So it is only natural that my zipper comes up in conversation. They quickly state if I don’t want to talk about it then it is OK. Being such open and honest person, I often answer every single question the best I can.
Normally the Spanish Inquisition starts as, “Well, I noticed…” and leads to “what defects do you have?” OK, easy one: VSD, TGA, tricuspid atresia and hypoplastic right. And then immediately after they say “Oh. Wow! What is it like?” And that one is not an easy one.
What is it like? Well, what is it not like? I have always had congenital heart defects. I probably will always have congenital heart defects. It just “is.” It is a part of me and I am OK with that. And becoming OK with that isn’t something that happened overnight. Sure, in 5th grade I was teased on track and field day because I couldn’t keep up. And I still hate going to the beach and wearing a bathing suit because I think it looks ugly. But it is what it is. I often say all my surgical scars are better than the alternative. It is better than being dead.
One of my favorite questions that a co-worker asked me is what advice can you give me so that I can help my patient? That was an easy one, too. The best thing that anyone ever did for me was treat me like I was a normal kid. Just let me run and play and get dirty. I would self-limit when things got too hard and even when I didn’t want to slow down, my body would slow me down anyway.
The best thing as a nurse that I can do for my patients is the best thing I can do for myself, and it is also the best thing you can do for yourself—treat yourself like a normal person. Work hard, play hard. It gives you purpose. We (us ACHDers) have been given a second opportunity. Do not make it an excuse; make it a reason to live your life to the fullest.
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