“Focus on quality of life” – Interview with Denice, retired nurse

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Photo provided by and used with permission from Denice

Denice C, BSN is a retired nurse in Seattle. She’s a very inspiring person, traveling and adventuring all over the world, and I had the chance to sit down and talk with her about her career as a nurse and her wellness and life advice.

To start, can you tell me a little bit about your career overall?
Journey is one of the words I would use. I did a lot of things. That’s the great thing about the nurse avenue and the way I used my career. I spent a  long time in oncology, but I liked that I could work inpatient, in a clinic setting, full time, part time, it was flexible. I loved working in oncology. Seattle in oncology was cutting-edge and intellectual, I was working in research, working for company as sales support, I did nurse education, access to care for patients. That variety was important to me.

I got from all of this a real appreciation for health, working in oncology. It [the cancer diagnosis] wasn’t because of anything they did, but I learned not take life or health for granted, to focus on quality of life. That was a gift my patients gave me.

You said that you really got an appreciation for health from your job. What did you like best about nursing in general? Was that what you liked best or was there something else?
People said “Oh, you work oncology. That’s so difficult.” But like I said, it was really a gift that my patients gave me because the interactions I had with people I was working with were really important. They really helped me have that appreciation for health because they were doing everything they could to get healthy again.

The other thing is is when you work as a nurse, your patients are in a real vulnerable situation. They’re very open and they cut through all the small talk. They really allow you into their lives. I felt like that was a big gift that I got through nursing from my patients. From a nursing standpoint, I felt like what I had to give back to them is make sure that I treated them the same as I would want my mother or my sister or my loved one treated so that if I got to a point where I couldn’t care enough to do that, then I didn’t want to be in nursing anymore. That was the give and take of nursing for me.

That makes sense. How did you get into nursing in the first place?
Science. I always like science. I came in through the back door, and I didn’t declare my major until I was almost the end of my sophomore year. I just kept taking a lot of science and math classes, knowing that I would probably go that direction. It’s not like I knew I wanted to be a nurse when I was 5. From the things I had done in my early college, I just kind of ended up going that pathway. Not a lot of long term goals or anything.

Do you feel like it was what you expected?
I don’t think even when I graduated from college I really knew all of what was involved in the job, and how difficult it can be to stay current and just deal with all the challenges of the position: having a lot of patients to take care of, organizational skills, staying current on my knowledge, and staying compassionate. And just the physical demands of the job when I worked inpatient. It was a lot. I think when you get out of school, you’ve just barely scratched the surface. I felt like I really started learning after I got out of school.

If you could go back and tell yourself something, what would it be? With regards to your nursing career: What would you have told yourself? What would you do differently? Or, what did you feel like would have been really nice to know ahead of time, just out of school?
Well, probably the emotional challenges of taking care of really sick patients, and to make sure that you’re doing self care at the same time, so that you can provide the best care, but you’re also taking care of yourself so you don’t get burnt out. I’d probably do a better job of that than I did when I was first in nursing.

Did you feel like you were getting burnt out at the beginning?
I just felt like it was a bigger challenge than I realized. There was just so much to learn and so much to know. Then, when I worked with bone marrow transplants, I was only out of school a couple years. I was working with some really complicated multi-system sick patients. It’s a lot when you’re 20 years old. I think what I would tell new nurses is just to do really good self care so that you can do that.

Thanks for sharing that. Self care is very important. Let’s go broader – why should people pay attention to overall wellness in the first place? Like you said, sometimes you just get sick no matter what. Why should it matter? Why should people care?
Quality of life – if you stay healthy, there’s so many more opportunities in life, even if it’s simple things, like if you like to travel, being able to actually sit on a plane for 20 hours to do international travel. If you’re sick or immobile or whatever your illness is, you’re less likely to be able to see the world. From a socioeconomic standpoint, the drain on our natural resources for people who are sick are enormous. When we look at healthcare costs, if you can do things from a preventative standpoint – even from early in nursing, I think prevention vs. treatment is the way to go. Prevent getting ill when you can. Like I said, I worked with patients that didn’t have a lot of choice. That’s always been my personal philosophy, to work from a preventative health standpoint: to eat healthy, to exercise, to get sleep, to make sure you have a social network for emotional support. Then, you can deal with things that come your way a little better.

What is something that people can do for their wellness? What is something they can focus on for prevention (something small that they can do today)?
Stay active. As I get older, I think the more important that is, that you stay strong and then you work on your strength and your balance and your social network. Those are things to stay healthy in older age. I think just moving, it doesn’t have to be aerobic classes. It can be a walk. I think being active is something you can do little. It’s easy and doesn’t require a lot of equipment or money or any of that kind of stuff.

The last question: what is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Don’t wait to live life until you retire. It feeds into that health thing, working with oncology patients who said, “When I retire I’m going to travel. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.” To really be present and live life to the fullest in the moment because you don’t know. Nobody knows how long we’re going to be here.

Readers: join me in thanking Denice for this interview, and let me know – how are you focusing on the quality of your life, living it to the fullest?

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Author: Shelly Najjar

MPH in Public Health Nutrition, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist // Freelance Writer, Community Builder // I have a very long Goal List (Bucket List) and I enjoy doing nail art.

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