It has been nearly 3 months now since I stepped down from being an ED nurse.
It is a lot different than I thought it would be.
After 35 years working in the exceptionally intense environments within the emergency department, I fully expected the transition out of this space to be difficult, symptomatic and bittersweet.
You see, being a nurse working in an emergency department immerses you in a vivid, loud, relentless crush of extremes that is difficult to convey to anyone who has not lived amongst it.
ED life rises from a toxic, delicious, rewarding and highly addictive dough.
In the space of a single shift you can find yourself traversing these densely stacked discords of emotions. Joy, guilt, anticipation, pride, anxiety, anger, happiness, sadness, fear, and stress.
Individual vignettes of sickness and suffering pile up and overlap across the accountability of your professional care with an unpredictable dysrhythmia of urgency and magnitude. Simultaneously you can be dealing with issues of criticality and triviality with no space to shift gears and no margin to make errors.
At the beginning of most shifts you walk out onto the floor with your nurse magneto spun up to 200%…. and on a busy day, which is most days, it doesn’t spin down again until sometime way after you get home. Sometime way after the debriefs with your partner, the mental re-runs and second guesses. After the buzz. After the tears.
After the mixed up shift-dreams finally expend their chi and roll you out into a restless uneasy sleep.
Despite all this, working in the emergency department sets hooks deep into your guts.
Not only is there an immense feeling of doing work that is meaningful, there is the intense camaraderie forged with colleagues. Nurses, doctors, wardies, clerical staff, paramedics, cleaners…. soldered by our shared experiences.
35 years. Gosh, the things I have seen. The things I have done.
I fully expected it to be difficult to let go. After all, 35 years of growing my skills and knowledge, of building this self-identity of being an ED nurse. It becomes such a large part of who you are.
A part that has now come to an end.
Instead, I feel like I have put down a heavy pack after hiking to the top of a steep path. Things are light and springy, and without all that weight there is a sudden renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for all things not in the pack.
Perhaps this is just a temporary thing, a rebound high. We shall see.
But thus far, I really haven’t had the time or the inclination to miss my life as an ED nurse. Not even a little bit.
I did not expect that.