Retreats: Physical and Cerebral
Like Fletcher, many nurses find peacefulness as they push their bodies to the limits. Physical exertion, if far from tranquil for the body, can be mysteriously quieting to the mind. Nancy Beck, a nurse at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, MO, finds that her 40-minute brisk walks each day in a local park allow her mind to wander. “It’s during this time that I gain insight to my thoughts, and sort through them,” says Beck. “I see it as a time for self reflection and personal growth.”
Monica Koenig, a Nurse-Family Partnership home health nurse in Sacramento, CA refills her “energy bucket” by participating in a vigorous boot camp exercise program. Barbara Bronson, a Nurse-Family Partnership manager at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver, CO cycles. “There are days when I am emotionally drained and all I want to do is lay on the couch after work,” she says. “But some of those days, I am able to coax myself into my bike clothes and go for a ride. The first five miles are hard, but then I find myself feeling lighter and wanting to go faster and further. The next morning, I am eager to get back to work again.”
On any given weekend you might find Jane Henson-Inda powering a raft through whitewater rapids or pushing off on her cross-country skis. The Nurse-Family Partnership supervisor with the San Juan Basin Health Department in Durango, CO, derives the most calm from doing something active (including her thrice weekly bouts of yoga). But Henson-Inda also tosses off the worries of working with clients who have limited resources by coming home and puttering around her flower garden or hanging out with her pets. “I have an older golden retriever and tabby cat that give me comfort and help me unwind after work,” she says.
When Debbie Cartmell, a Nurse-Family Partnership nurse home visitor in Everett, WA, is feeling wound up about issues at work, she goes outside and “takes it out” on her lawn. Nature is a natural calmer and many nurses experience their loveliest intermissions outdoors; but urbanite Meredith Cagen, a New York City RN, prefers indoors to out: She takes pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard) and writes. It’s her way of managing stress from a big city hospital and she’s got a novel–Size Eight in a Size Zero World—to show for it.
Many nurses also keep journals. “It’s a way to get my thoughts down and out of my head,” says Cartmell. Brenda Grunza, a Nurse-Family Partnership nurse home visitor in Lackawanna County, PA, gets out of her head by using her eye—she takes photographs as a way to relax (when she’s not home assembling jigsaw puzzles.)
Togetherness or Alone Time?
The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote, “hell is other people.” Considering that nurses usually believe the opposite—heaven is other people– it’s not surprising that some nurses’s most peaceful moments are spent with family. Linda Mutzig, lead nurse at Oklahoma Children First/Nurse Family Partnership in El Reno, OK, loves to camp with her family at a local lake or make plum jelly with her eight-year-old granddaughter. Her colleague, Melissa Heibel, also cooks with her family and finds that playing board games and cards with her husband and two boys soothes her soul. For Deb Bushover, a Nurse-Family Partnership nurse home visitor at Family First Health in York, PA, nothing is more perfect than sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the sunset with her husband.
Yet sometimes solitude is the best antidote to stress. Karon White Gibson’s favorite quiet moments are those she spends floating on her back in a pool. Suspended in aquamarine, the Illinois-based nurse, a first-aid consultant on movie sets and host of a healthcare cable program, feels weightless—and un-weighted—as she allows herself to drift. When no pool is handy, Gibson visualizes herself on a beach in Florida or in the mountains of California. It’s a getaway she can take anywhere, anytime.
Because isn’t getting away, even if it’s only your mind that’s doing the traveling, the point? Quiet moments put you at a remove from the clamor and chaos that goes with a 12-hour shift, sending you to a place where you can see (or imagine) beauty, feel sensual or be creative or introspective. And even if your literal or figurative getaway is momentarily interrupted, it’s still going to do you good.
That, at least, was Fletcher’s experience. She was just 30 minutes away from Base Camp when one of her fellow trekkers fell. “He suffered a serious head injury and as a nurse, it was up to me to help,” she recalls. “I cared for him as the porters carried him down on their backs so that he could be air lifted off the mountain.” The man recovered well, but Fletcher never did make it all the way to Base Camp. “Still,” she says, “ it was the most rewarding thing I ever did in my life.”