When did your interest in nursing begin? What does a day in your life look like?
I’ve always loved critical thinking, learning, and moving quickly; all of which are part of the usual day for a nurse. In addition, I’ve always been an empath, and that’s really helpful in advocating for my patients.
At 5:00 AM, I make coffee and enjoy some quiet time to pray, meditate, read, and stretch. Before I leave for work, I always spend time with Mother Teresa and ask her to help me care for my patients the way she cared for those in Calcutta. I clock-in at 7:00 AM and after that, there’s no predicting what will happen. Most days, I’m on my feet for 12 hours, caring for patients who have been in car accidents, patients in a psychiatric emergency, patients suffering from COVID, heart attacks, strokes - you name it. Each day is different and there’s no day-to-day routine. At 7:30 PM, my husband picks me up and I end my day with a routine: a hot shower, minimal physical and mental exertion, a 20-minute episode of something on Netflix with dinner, and bed at 9:00 PM.
How has the pandemic changed your career?
As long as I can remember, whether I was reading about the saints, learning of a death in someone’s family, or studying wars in school, my heart has always wanted to connect with those who have died - to ponder their life and their death, even for a moment. When the pandemic hit the U.S. in February 2020, the department in my hospital became the primary COVID unit; in other words, I took care of only COVID patients from February 2020 until things slowed down in May 2021. I was brought face-to-face with the fragility of life 3 - 4 days a week, 13 hours a day, for 15 months. It was a bio-warzone: limited staff, limited supplies, emotional extremes, little time to rest, and a lot of death. That being said, I truly believe it was a gift.
Many people only get to closely experience death a handful of times in their entire life. But many of my patients died, and even those who didn’t were terrified that they were next. Without having any family visitors because of the high transmission rate of COVID, the patients turned to their nurses for security and hope. It was, and still is, an honor to be welcomed into such a vulnerable place with complete strangers, who became like family to me; I carry all of them in my heart every single day. Yes, the pandemic left scars on my nurse-heart, but they are signs to me of how much I love my job.
What has nursing taught you about resilience?
Nursing is a career where your job is always and tangibly focused on others. We become exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically - and often the next shift is only 12 hours away. So you must have some resilience in order to meet the next day with the same level of intensity you did before. I’ve learned that it’s so important to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. It’s not selfish – it’s true that you can’t pour from an empty cup.
The key is self-care. What will be helpful to you? From my personal experience, the most fruitful self-care is always built on the foundation of time spent with God.
How do you take care of yourself spiritually, mentally, or physically?
Every few weeks, I wake up in the morning and tell my husband, “Today is my zombie day,” and he knows exactly what that means. He puts the coffee on for me and then leaves me alone for a while. My zombie day is a day to listen to my body, my emotions, and my heart; to block out everything else. My only priority is the one item that’s allowed to occupy space in my brain for that day: what I need to recover. If my body feels restless with pent-up emotion, I need a good, long workout at the gym. Other times, my zombie days include baggy sweatpants, no makeup, lying in bed for longer than what’s socially acceptable, watching The Office, and silence.
What is one of your favorite motivational quotes?
I once heard Brené Brown say on a podcast, “This discomfort won’t last forever.” Whenever I’m feeling uncomfortable – whether it’s personal anxiety, stress at work, in a conversation, during a workout, at church – I repeat this to myself. That moment allows me to take a big, deep breath, re-center, and continue on with my day. It lets me move forward with the intentionality, purpose, and direction that I might otherwise lose in the chaos of life.