I was an RN from 1968 to 2010. I worked in a hospital on acute care units and then Rehab. I also worked in home care and in long term care, retiring with the dubious honor of being the VP of nursing for a company that managed nursing homes. You would think that a “desk” job would be easy but it was even more difficult for I was always found to be butting heads with TPTB.
For most of the years I worked, I had low back pain — bad low back pain. And in the age of no CT Scans or MRIs I was told to suck it up and take the aspirin and, oh, yeah, get that 300 pound patient out of bed three times on your shift.
During the hospital days, on a weekend, I would be the charge nurse, the med nurse and the nurse aide. You would find me pushing the med cart while pulling a metal cart of fresh water pitchers, a clipboard of problems on top of one of them as I tried to scurry from room to room, checking on patients, giving them fresh water and their meds.
“You have myositis,” the orthopedic surgeon said. “It’s known as ‘The Malingerer’s Disease.” He looked at me, waiting for a reaction. Maybe he thought I didn’t know the meaning of the word. But I did.
Then there was a day post op. The ortho surgeon had decided to put me through surgery to determine what was really causing my pain (the age before CT scans or MRIs). His surgical resident stopped in my room after the surgery. “I’ve come to apologize,” the young man said. “I didn’t think you had any physical issues. But when you were under anthesia and your muscles relaxed, these huge lipomas appeared on either side of your spine. They’d been causing pressure on your nerves and giving you the pain. We removed them.”
For years I’d heard that I was just faking my pain, that I was just fat and lazy and didn’t want to work. Years after the ortho visit a rheumatologist, looking at the results of a brand new procedure called an MRI, asked me if I’d been an athlete in my youth. I laughed and told her that I’d been the fat girl with her nose stuck in a book but I was an RN.
And then fibromyalgia became a “real” diagnosis with the severe spinal stenosis in the lumbar area. I couldn’t walk for long distances without terrible pain and then weakness in my legs.
My first husband never believed me but my second one just wanted me to feel better and would do anything for that to happen.
When I’m in pain, I’m not a nice person — I’m nasty and hateful because I hurt and nothing makes it stop.
I was recently in the hosital because of five falls within two weeks. (I will write more on that at a later time — when the pain subsides a bit). Now I have a new diagnosis of cervical spondylosis (New England Journal of Medicine Article -Dec 2020) — severe — causing pain in my upper back, neck, shoulders and arms — all making writing a difficult task for me. I cannot write for long periods of time. And writing was what I wanted to do with my retirement.
I was not an athlete. I was not a construction worker or lumbarjack. I was “only” a nurse — a nurse for almost 50 years who retired with pain as her constant companion.
It’s time to recognize the physical, along with the emotional, strains of this profession.