At various points in your college career, you are expected to have a plan: first, you pick an area to focus, then you pick a major which then will turn into a job prospect or a field for future study. Before I even went to college, I had picked my school and major, however, this did not a line with where I saw myself as a post graduate. I knew that even whilst pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing, most likely I would not graduate and practice as a nurse. Not until this final year, as I have gotten closer and closer to graduation, has the pressure been on to not only follow this initial path as a nurse but to notify everyone what I will do in said field.
At first, I was honest with people — telling them that I don’t plan on pursuing any career as a nurse (well at least not in the near future) — until I realized that everyone was judging me for this response.
“So you wasted the past four years?” fellow nursing students, professors and even nurses at my clinical site respond.
For all of those who have asked me that, I want to clarify something: I wasted nothing.
In the past four years, I dedicated myself to find my mother in a profession she lived, breathed and had her own identity deeply rooted in. Freshmen year when everyone in the nursing school bought stethoscopes engraved with their names in fancy script lettering, my dad gave me my mom’s old stethoscope engraved in her handwriting, “Shelly Kurren.” Each day at clinical I look down at it and read her name, knowing that years before me she was doing the same thing I was. When I learned how to insert IVs, I thought of my mother when I was growing up (who despite not having worked on a unit in years) would brag about her ability to place an IV in any patient.
By learning how to be a nurse, I have learned how my mother carried herself for more than ten years.
In addition to learning about my mother through her career, I challenged myself to learn about the disease process which slowly destroyed her, despite knowing it would be both physically and emotionally taxing. When picking case studies, and floor rotations, I picked oncology, each time having someone comment on “how hard those floors are to be on.” I spent countless hours meticulously learning about how to take care of a patient who is experiencing chemotherapy and steroid side effects. I stood in the corner of a radiation room sobbing quietly wondering if my mom had to be strapped into a machine like the patient I was with did. I sat with a patient discussing her family, knowing that at home she had two young children who much like my sister and myself had experienced years ago were living with their mother an hour away hooked up to IVs and pumps. I have painstakingly researched the impacts of cancer on the family system to fully be able to understand the psychological toll which her disease had on myself and my family.
The past four years were not wasted, but rather a very necessary step for me to know my mother, to know her disease, and to heal and grow as a person before moving forward.
A guest lecturer from the School of social work last semester explained to us that when you lose a child you lose your future, and when you lose a parent, you lose your past. To understand the complexity of the past, I needed to be able to take this time to go to nursing school. I am still trying to piece together that past and know my mother, but I should not be scrutinized for that. No one should judge me for picking a major and a path to help heal not only others in the process, but additionally myself.