I had lunch today with a long time friend. We met at a local eatery and settled in for our usual 3 hours. Soon a very familiar looking woman sat down at a table nearby. It only took a few seconds to realize who she was. It was a good day!
Just a little background on me. In my 20 years as a nurse I have had many different roles. While in school I worked in a pediatric burn hospital, first as a unit secretary and then as a burn tech. When I graduated I worked on a surgical floor where we had patients following reconstructive plastic surgery. That was a good start since it taught me time management and organization and compassion and empathy.
After six months I wanted more excitement and moved to Houston to work in a big Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. There I learned how to be an ICU nurse. I felt that this was my true calling in life and thrived in the role. I did a 6 month comprehensive nursing residency and took a position in the "Cardiac Critical Care Unit". This was a busy place that only admitted the sickest of the medical heart patients, we never had a patient admitted to our unit to "rule out" an MI, these patients were on several IV meds to keep their heart rates up or down, their blood pressures up or down and we always had a few balloon pumps and occasionally a patient on "fem to fem bypass". It was an exciting time, it was the mid 80's and many research protocols were being done in our unit. It was also a time of the resurgence of heart transplantation, and the realization that it was no longer an experimental procedure.
In 1987 I decided to return to school to earn my MSN, I chose to follow the Clinical Nurse Specialist tract in Critical Care. I focused on heart and lung transplant nursing. Soon I was offered a job at the hospital on the heart transplant team. I still remember the first patient whose transplant I coordinated, I had actually taken care of him in the ICU when he had decompensated a few times. He was a 24 y/o man who had a viral induced cardiomyopathy. He was a big guy and finding a heart to fit was proving to be a difficult task. On December 10th 1988 I spent the late evening and night in the operating room making sure that everything went well as we performed a heterotopic heart transplant, otherwise know as a piggyback transplant, the donor heart was attached to his failing heart. He thrived with the transplant and was out of the hospital in record time for the late 80's, he went home 6 days after transplant! I stayed in touch throughout the years and was even in his wedding in South Dakota in 1990. I received a call from his wife in January of this year. He passed away peacefully. He had lived a good life and was ready. I cried, I felt like an era of my life was over.
In 1990 I moved on to Minnesota and worked as a transplant coordinator there. Unfortunately it was just not the move I had hoped for and I missed home. I moved back to Texas a year later but this time to North Texas to open and run a new heart transplant program at one of the major hospitals in North Texas.
It was at this time that I met this incredible woman. She was one of the patients that put her trust in a very competent but new team to give her a chance at living when her heart was failing rapidly. She is really a lovely woman with a smile that lights up a room. We became friends.
I left the job in 1994, once it was up and running and growing and I was burning out, I wanted to start my family and felt that it was too much for me to this job and have children.
We stayed in touch and I was honored to be invited to the 10 year anniversary celebration of her transplant. It has now been 15 years. She is healthy and active and has just returned to school to get her Master's degree in counseling.
I am in awe of her and all the folks that put their trust and lives in our hands. I am in awe of the families that so unselfishly give at their time of grief. I am very honored to have been a part of that and have the chance to be touched by so many lives.
When I left that job I tried my hand at administration for a large home health agency, soon to realize that this was not for me, I missed my patients, I applied and then was accepted into a Family Nurse Practitioner program as a non degree seeking student, I finished in the spring of 1997.
I have never had one moment of regret. I love my work, I love my role. I am still a nurse but can now provide more comprehensive care for my patients. Life is good.