To BE or not to BE……what’s the question anyway??


I made it safe & sound to Winnipeg. Glad I drove the 28 hours when I did, as WINTER is definitely on the verge. Ran into some sleet, slush, and snow. And glad that Jesse & I had a most inconvenient “trial run” flat tire on the trailer the day before departure, as wouldn’t you know it? I had to change the tire again – same side, different (spare) tire. If we wouldn’t have done it together, I would have been truly stranded – without any knowledge of what to do. Blessing in disguise. And handling the trailer in icy rain wasn’t easy either, especially driving on the only highway through national Canada – lots of tractor trailers on MY tail, instead of the other way around usually.

When I told people that I was moving back to Winnipeg, a couple of the first things they’d ask was “where will you be working? do you have a job lined up?” … most of them assumed that (a) I would re-join the Winnipeg workforce ASAP, and (b) that the work I’d do was nursing, or at least in the health care realm.

As a nursing student, at the University of Manitoba, I had the honour of being the editor of the faculty’s nursing students association newsletter. I LOVED it! Being able to put thoughts into words, then onto paper…then distributed throughout the WHOLE faculty??! What a great experience. Through a multitude of sources, I was able to provide a platform for instruction, education, inspiration, motivation, encouragement, and so much more.

One of the last editorials I posted was titled: Nursing is a Calling. It highlighted my own journey of being “called” into the profession of nursing…for me, it wasn’t just a J-O-B, not even just a C-A-R-E-E-R, but something I felt led to pursue. Strongly pulled. Like there was no other option. CALLED.

As a child, I would envision myself as an adult, wearing all white – head-to-toe…immunizing children against measles and polio in the dust of Africa’s Sudan or distributing mosquito nets in the steamy jungles of Papua New Guinea or traversing down the Amazon in a hollowed-out canoe to bring medicine and clean water to villagers along the way. And even as a child, I knew that I’d learn much more than I could ever hope to teach.

I never envisioned myself in a “modern” or “western” setting. It was always in a place that was so little like where I grew up: rural/urban/suburban Canada. (AND in my visions, it was always warm! No Winter!!)

As an adolescent and young adult, my ears would perk up at the mention of nursing shortages, or a new medication that just came onto the market, or little known diseases that may have been making a comeback or just becoming more well-known.

In fact, I even had a purple three-ring binder where I would keep newspaper/magazine/article clippings about the above (and much more) issues, or brochures about health care professional education.

Two events rocked my world for me to consider actually becoming a nursing professional: (1) Wayne (my late husband) was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January 2004…and I vowed to do all that I could humanly do to help him in the living-and-dying with cancer journey, and (2) the infamous Tsunami hit East Asia December 2004…I wanted to go help, but felt so incompetent – what do I have to give or what could I possibly do to help those in the aftermath of this devastating natural event?

And so I began my professional nursing calling in May 2005, at least that’s when my first-ever university class started – I was 34 years old and had been out of high school for about 17 years. AND I had a husband living with cancer, three adolescents at home, and the university was 90 minutes (one way drive) from my home, and $0 in the bank (actually, the balance sheet showed a HUGE negative – so not balanced at all). I also had people, whom I loved and lived and breathed to please strongly question my decision to do this.

Event #1 above was reason enough. Wayne – and the children we created – was my world. What price could I ever put on him?? Time? Energy? $$? No price would ever suffice for this great man.

And so I worked hard – extremely hard – in university. Graduated with Distinction and in the top third of my class of 200 students. My strongest nursing strengths seemed to be in Mental Health and Public & Community Health. Compassionate for harm reduction, illness prevention, and health promotion (you can google those terms for more information). I completed my Degree with a practicum/internship with my local Public Health Unit.

And I stuck with these themes: Public/Community Health and Mental Health during my first year as a Registered Nurse (and also branched out with rural hospital/facility nursing for added experience).

About a year into my professional nursing career (meaning: post-graduation), we were told that Wayne had days to weeks to maybe a couple of months left to live. OK. Here is where my CALLING truly commenced and became so very real. I was able to advocate for him in the healthcare realm, be his eyes and ears, ask pertinent questions, and provide necessary medical procedures and necessary comfort measures – which needed a nursing professional to be able to do. And when his time on this Earth was coming to a close, I was able to care for him – pretty much on my own – while he died. And his wishes were granted – he died at home, in the living room, with myself, his children, and his brother and sister-in-law surrounding him (I was the only health care professional). Exactly who he wanted there, and where he wanted to die (yes, the living room!).

It was a bit of a struggle after his death to continue to carry out his wishes, as some of those who loved him deeply had ideas different from Wayne’s on what to do with his Earthly body. And then their own ideas for how I should live – what I should do – post-Wayne.

I did try to continue on with my nursing profession – as that’s what those loved ones said I needed to do: “Get back on that horse!” thinking that the best grief therapy for me would be to work – not only in the nursing profession, but to work as many hours as I could get (i.e. full time).

I did this. And failed. Miserably. Not to my clients/patients. But to myself. At least that’s how I felt. Burdened and strapped and a in life with no way out, a life with no other alternative than to be sucked right back into the workforce, in a job that reminded me every single moment of how I intimately cared for Wayne. I saw Wayne in EVERY SINGLE PERSON I cared for. Even recertifying my CPR was detrimental to my emotional and mental well-being. When the instructor would say, “a dead person’s skin feels like and/or looks like _____” I would cringe, and immediately flash back to how Wayne looked, felt, and smelt as he was dying. Or “look! Johnny’s fallen! And not breathing! What’s the first thing you are to do?” that mannequin on the floor WAS Wayne.

After about 6 weeks of fulltime nursing in the Fall of 2012, I came home one day and said “ENOUGH!” No more. And cried in my bed for the next 3 days. Then knowing I needed help, I asked one of my daughters to take me to my doctor…I know I needed medication – my cortisol levels were almost non-existent from caring for Wayne for so many years and then burning myself out even more post-Wayne…and I needed a sick note for an extended LOA. Both of which were granted.

AND I knew I needed grief therapy, so promptly sought out counseling services offered through my EAP (employment assistance plan).

Everything combined – along with my supportive children – I was able to slowly pull myself up and out.

It was then that I determined to fulfill the ideas/wishes that Wayne wanted for me: (1) travel, and (2) suspend (or fully relinquish) my professional nursing status. He knew that my heart of hearts needed to see more of the world (oh yes, and to escape Winter for a time!), and he also knew that my nursing was more-or-less for him, and rightly understood the ramifications of going back to it after him.

So suspended my nursing practice…and I travelled…and met some truly AMAZING people (you know who you are!) One of which is the most incredible and earth-shattering and spirit-calming (at least to me!) Jesse Levair – who loved/loves me, even in my deepest grief work, and who wouldn’t give up on me, even when I tried so hard to push him away.

When we (unofficially) committed to each other, and I made the decision to be with him in Kingston, started the process of gaining RN status in Ontario. Even though Canadian Registered Nurses all write the same national exam (sans Quebec), each province regulates its own health care system. So to work as an RN in any province, one must apply and be accepted to practice there. I was told it would take a few weeks – in actuality, it took about 6 months (yes, even WITH a nursing shortage!).

In the meantime, I earned a position as a Mental Health Crisis Worker – helping community and area members work through mental health crises – either on the phone or in person (in the community and at the office). I thought my nursing degree would have given me better preparation for this role! NOT! My BN education provided a small window of knowledge into the mental psyche. I felt inadequate much of the time. Thankfully, my colleagues were generous with their patience and teaching. And thankfully, I only “saw” Wayne in a few clients.

As an added bonus: I didn’t need to be an RN for this role (it’s not a true nursing role), but needed to have a degree in a related health sciences degree. So technically, this wasn’t “nursing” work.

Just before the wedding, I was fortunate to gain a position as a Dispensing RN with the Street Health team in the Methadone Maintenance Program. To put it in a nutshell, I dispensed methadone and suboxone to clients wishing to “get clean” – but the role involved so much more than just dispensing. This is a controversial subject. NOW I know and understand both sides – we were taught a bit about this in university, but actually work in this environment really opened my eyes to what this aspect of harm reduction is all about.

I enjoyed both roles, learned so much and gained much insight into the “what makes people tick” question. I worked casually for both at the same time – so often ended up working more than fulltime hours in a given pay period – which padded the bank account for our one adventurous and (un)expected. {Check! Goal achieved!}

But as my time in Kingston was coming to a close, I could feel that old “black cloud” coming over me again. I had completed my intent with my RN (cared for Wayne). Do I truly want to continue with my nursing role, especially in a professional way? Do I want to be in charge of others’ physical and mental health and well-being – and held accountable for it? Do I want to continue to put up with the ENDLESS politics of the nursing world? Do I want to give up the pretty decent paycheques? Which begs the question: if less = more, do I/we need that much money to be happy? In North American society, I would have to say “yes” – it’s hard to make ends meet even with a decent-sized cheque.

BUT WAIT! To BE … or not to BE. Am I focused on DOING or BEING?

So for those curious about my employment status: Nope. No job lined up in Winnipeg. And nope – even if I WOULD go back to work for these few weeks pre-Costa Rica, it wouldn’t be in nursing. And here’s the biggest clincher – and I’m publishing it to the WORLD! – I’ve decided NOT to renew my RN status, with either Manitoba or Ontario RN colleges.

I’ve decided to RETIRE from nursing!

PHEW! That was easier than I thought it would be – to say it out loud, anyway. The registration period for 2015 is upon us RNs. Now I need to put those words into action.

So if not nursing, then what??

I’ve been thinking of learning how to bartend. Or expanding on my TEFL certification. Or learning how to cut and style hair and/or do nails. Or learning how to care for rescue animals. Or learning more about IT. Or????

See the recurrent theme here: LEARNING. Teach me, world. Let me discover who you are so I can learn more about me.

Who am I when I just allow myself to BE? I don’t really know. I’ve gotten inklings and hints…but now it’s time to discover.

Ready or not, here I come 🙂