To celebrate the launch of our new colorway, Defy, we met up with two incredible women in healthcare, Noor (a dentist) and Sara (a trauma ICU nurse). We took photos, shared stories, and sat down with them to ask how they defy on the daily. Today, we're delighted to spotlight Sara's answer to that question, along with her insights into the overlaps between motherhood and nursing, the process of becoming a nurse after pursuing career #1, and the dual joy and pain of fighting to save a life.
What inspired you to become a nurse?
Sara: So I'd always wanted to be in healthcare. I wanted to be an eye doctor originally, which is what I had gone to school for. Didn't get in [to medical school]. Ended up getting a master's degree. Only beneficial thing I got out of that was a husband. So it wasn't a total loss! Then after working at the state and the city for a while, I just, I don't know. I was really bored. And I started thinking about reasonable healthcare careers for me to go into at the ripe old age of 30. Nursing was a very feasible option, so I tried applying and I got in. And I haven't looked back ever since.
What do you love about nursing?
Sara: You know, there's this ongoing joke in nursing, it's like, we're the nurse, we're the social worker, the therapist, the pharmacist, the nutritionist... like, we do so many things. There's so much flexibility and variety in the job. You can also do so many different fields and areas–– like I started out in acute care, and I just transitioned to the ICU a year and a half ago. So to be able to do that, then probably do the ICU for several years, and then know I can do something else if I need a change of pace–– that's really nice, too. And being able to really impact somebody's life directly and their family members is pretty nice. You're really that shoulder for the family member to cry on. You're there when, you know, a patient with a traumatic head injury moves their hand for the first time, or responds to you for the first time. I don't know many other careers where you can do that. So it’s a very rewarding job. Like, I definitely feel like a productive member of society when I go to work.
Have you had any moments at work that really affirmed your choice of career?
Sara: Yeah. I had a surgical patient last winter. She came to us very, very sick. She had just given birth and had basically died twice in surgery. She was bleeding profusely and we had to try to stop the bleed and help her out. Her husband was there, and that was... She's great now. She's doing really well. She got to go home with her baby. But that was the most rewarding experience I've ever had. It was just like, "All right. Cool. I'm where I'm supposed to be. And this is the best job ever."
What would you say maybe the most challenging thing in nursing is for you?
Sara: I would say, especially in the field that I'm in right now, it’s seeing family members going through the motions of basically the worst day of their lives–– when they see a loved one get hurt, or something unexpected happens to them. It’s always really hard to see family members react to that. But, at the same time, it's also very rewarding to be there for those family members. They're just such special, unique…I’m getting all teary-eyed…they're just such special, unique experiences that you don't really get anywhere else. Makes you value and appreciate your life and everything that you have and all your loved ones even more. But that's hard too because, you know, anything can happen to any of us at any time. To see somebody go through all that is… that’s definitely the toughest part of the job.
What has being pregnant while nursing been like?
Sara: Well, it's not my first rodeo. This is my second child. The ICU, I would say, is less physically demanding than the acute care floor, which is where I was when I was pregnant with my first child. In acute care, you have three to four patients, so you're running around. It's very physically demanding. In the ICU, you only have to bounce between one or two rooms. I can be on my feet for like two to three hours at a time. But it's not like boom, boom, boom, boom, all over the place.
But I don't know, you're just, you get there and you focus on your job, and then you've got the adrenaline. And you don't really realize that you're pregnant until, you know, like the baby kicks. Or you accidentally fart when you're not supposed to, that kind of thing. You're like, "Oh, yeah. I'm pregnant. Should have locked that up." I just have other things to keep my mind occupied, and don't really realize until the end of the day, like, "Ah, I'm tired. My back hurts."
How do you juggle being a mom, being a nurse, and all the other responsibilities you have?
Sara: My husband's very supportive and we have family close by. We wouldn't be able to do it without the help of our family. And nursing is such a wonderful career in that I get to make my schedule. Like I get to choose what days I want to work. So I'm able to work my schedule around my husband's job and my mom's job so that we always have somebody with our son. And, you know, there's a lot of crossover between nursing and parenting. So I'd like to say that nursing helped prepare me for parenting, and I learned a lot of things from parenting that I can bring back to nursing.
How has your experience been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic at work?
Sara: I think the hardest part was at the very beginning, especially when visitors weren't allowed. That was really tough–– like family members couldn't come and see their loved ones that were sick and hurt. It's since gotten better, like the visitation policies have gotten a little bit more loose, but that was probably the hardest part for us.
And at the beginning, you'd get this new patient, and then have to wait like, "Oh, gosh, are they going to come back positive for COVID? Did I expose myself?" But we never really had issues with PPE, I feel like we were very fortunate with that.
One of the other things that we saw on our unit was the side effects of COVID from, like, social isolation–– like suicide attempts, or people that ended up drinking excessively and killing their liver or pancreas because of that, or getting into accidents because of that.
How do your hospital and your unit support you (if they do)?
Sara: I mean, nursing is teamwork. Sure, you have your own patient. But, like, you can't do everything by yourself. I am very fortunate to have always had a really great team of people that I worked with, even on my old unit. It was just so wonderful. Here–– the current unit that I'm on? So much support, so many resources. Everybody trusts everybody. It's really wonderful to be able to go to work and know that people have your back and can help you out in emergency situations.
I feel like, if there's a tough situation, we always debrief after it. Mental health days are encouraged. If you need to just take a day off to decompress, that’s encouraged as well. Having a good support system at work, and then outside of work, is really important.
What does the word "defy" mean to you?
Sara: I would say "defy" just means going against tradition, or what is expected of you.
How do you defy stereotypes and expectations?
Sara: You know, I don't look like a lot of other nurses that some people have encountered. And sometimes that can be a challenge, you know, defying patients' expectations. Like, this is how I dress when I go to work. And oftentimes, some people that's all they see. They're pretty fixated on that. So, you know, trying to get past that, so that we can get to like, "All right. Let's work together." And, "Let's help take care of you." That can be a challenge when they're used to nurses that don't necessarily look or dress like me. But I take that opportunity to be like, "You know what? This person probably hasn't encountered many brown people in their life. I'm gonna show them how cool brown people are. And then they can go and tell their friends," and all that stuff. So it's a challenge, but also an opportunity to change somebody's mind.
And then having switched from being an acute care nurse, where I was very comfortable and the person that people would come to when they had problems or questions, to being in this whole new role in the ICU... that was also a new challenge. Getting your first full trauma patient as a brand new ICU nurse, you're just like, "Okay. I'm gonna do this." And then at the end of the shift, when you're done and you did everything great, you're like, "All right! I defied my own expectations." So you're always in there challenging yourself and always impressed with the things that you can do and accomplish.