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Let’s talk nerves

The other day at work, during a particularly bad hemorrhage in the OR, I went to open a package of laps and then “throw” them on the table, when I overshot my mark completely and instead hit one of the docs in the head.

Why would I do something like this? I’m going to blame it on adrenaline–or as we medical folks like to call it–the lovely hormone epinephrine.

Initially, I didn’t realize that by going into nursing school, I would have to deal with so much anxiety, let alone the amounts of hormones that would course through my veins setting me into fight or flight. The nerves struck all through school–during exams, during skills check off, oh, and especially during clinicals. By the end of nursing school I thought I understood and could manage my anxiety–that is, until I got into life or death situations.

Most people lack real understanding of what it is like to be in a situation where a person’s life depends on steady hands, a clear head, and deliberate thoughtful actions. In nursing, a rush of epinephrine to the body can cause a nurse to loose her cool–which can manifest as a simple overshot of some laps to something more serious like a really bad judgement call. Pretty, scary, right?

So how do I manage these moments of craziness–when my mind wants to shut down and I would honestly just like to leave the situation? Honestly, I’m doing a combo of things–first, I’m laying off the mass quantities of caffeine I consume to stay awake. Caffeine really contributes to that “out of control” feeling I can get when faced with a crisis–I am more “shaky” and physically feel more anxious.

Oxygen seems to help as well–I always keep gum in my mouth (the long lasting kind) and I find myself taking deep, slow, minty-fresh breaths when things are going wrong and I need to have a clear head. Hyperventilating nurses aren’t very effective.

I have a friend who swears that soothing essential oils calm her down (think lavender), and she keeps them in her scrubs pocket. Haven’t tried sniffing oils during a code, but hey, whatever works!

I also find that I function better when my blood sugar isn’t low, which means actually taking a break at work to eat–not always feasible. And when all else fails, I have counted on my coworkers to pick up the slack when I am absolutely frozen with fear! For example, the first time a baby flew out of its mom and I caught it, with not another soul in the room, where I then yelled for help and let my wonderful team run to the rescue and deal with my not having a clue as to what to do next! Being a new nurse is so fun sometimes!

I guess the main thing is to find out what works, but also be gentle with thyself! I’ve realized that even though I’m a nurse, I’m still human, I am still going to freak out at times, and that dealing with “adrenaline rushes” is a learned art that takes some practice!

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Amy Bozeman

Amy is many things: a blogger, a nurse, a wife, a mom, a childbirth educator. She started her journey towards a career in nursing when she got pregnant with her first child. After nursing school and studying "like she has never studied before" she entered the nursing profession eager to get her feet wet. The first years provided her with much exposure to sadness, joy and other complex human emotions. She feels that blogging is a wonderful outlet and a way for nurse bloggers to further build their community. Traditionally, midwives have handed down their skill set from midwife to apprentice midwife. She believes nurses have this same opportunity: to pass from nurse to new nurse the rich traditions of this profession.
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One Response to Let’s talk nerves

  1. After 21 years of Nursing, the Anxiety still gets to me. I am a LVN Instructor but my specialty is in Hospice. You never know what you are walking into on a Hospice field visit. People outside our profession can’t quite wrap their heads around what we do. I have attended, in 9 years, perhaps close to a thousand deaths. Each one is different, and you never know when someone is going to experience a “bad death,” such as an extreme bleed-out from Esophogeal Varices that have ruptured. Or someone who can’t accept the death & clings to the body for hours crying hysterically. However I have had the fortunate experience, that no matter how the process goes, I know it is an honor and a priveledge to be a part of it. I go in not knowing what to expect, but it is my job to help the patient and the family come to terms and be at Peace with whatever happens. I have learned to think on my feet, and as a friend once said, “Keep Dancin'” I have never had a more satisfying and spiritual experience than I have with Hospice. My Sisters and Brothers in the field are my lifeline that help me to understand why we are doing God’s work here on Earth. It is a Blessing. The Best Job I’ve ever loved, and the Best Job I have ever learned the lessons of life and death from.

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