“They” say that having kids will change you. Beyond the things that every parent experiences, I never knew how much my life would really change after I had kids.
You see, I said that I would never work for anyone ever again. After quitting my job and starting my own business, I figured that I would work for myself for the rest of my life. And after taking care of my parents for the past nine years, and all the baggage that came along with it, I convinced myself to believe that I was finished with a life of service.
The change in my mindset was most likely a defensive mechanism that I created to protect myself from the stress I’ve experienced during the last decade. Most people will never experience the role reversal of having to take care of their parents, and even if they do, it’s not normal for someone to have to start dealing with it in their 20’s.
So, while I have been dealing with my parents, I’ve been trying to live the other part of my life as if it was normal. I got married, bought a house, and had kids. In order to survive, I’ve had to cut out a lot from my life. Namely, my social life and relationships with friends have but nearly died. I have read that one of the best ways to keep caregiver depression at bay is to make time for yourself and keep up with friends, but if you’ve been in my shoes – it really is the last thing you think about.
It might be different for people in their 40’s or 50’s who provide care for their parents, because their kids are most likely a little bit older and self sufficient. Me, I’m still running around chasing my tail trying to balance the time to work, take care of my responsibilities, and raise my children right. Needless to say, things have to be prioritized and the things that don’t really matter have to be let go. The anonymous letters from my neighbors about the state of my front lawn is testimony to this.
But this might be a little more background than is needed right now. Let’s get to the point, as it’s still going to be somewhat of a long story.
It was the summer of 2015. My first born daughter, Alyssa, was just turning 3. She started preschool going three days a week to get used to things during the summer. In August, she got a short break as we took a family vacation with my cousins to the Big Island of Hawaii for a week. After our return, Alyssa went back to school and started attending five days a week, full-time, at the beginning of the regular school year.
During the time period after we arrived home from vacation until the end of September, Alyssa was getting sick off and on. She really didn’t have any symptoms other than getting a fairly high fever. As September dragged on, the duration between the time she would get sick would be shorter and her fevers would be higher. We didn’t think anything of it, as many people said that this was par for a kid her age just starting school.
Things got more serious at the end of the month when she had a high fever for more than three days and the Motrin we had been giving her was no longer providing relief. At that point, we decided to go to Urgent Care to have her seen. The physician’s assistant we saw tested her for strep throat and examined her, but came to the conclusion that she just had a virus and it was common for school-aged children to be sick often, especially after being exposed to a new environment where communicable diseases were easily spread.
We took her home and did our best to keep her comfortable, hoping that it would pass and she would get better. She didn’t. The next day, Alyssa started complaining of pain in her abdominal area and her fever was reaching new highs. We decided to take her to the emergency room of the children’s hospital. The physician that saw her thought it might be a UTI and tested for that, but again sent us home with the explanation that she had a virus and was most likely getting exposed at school. He also explained that the pain in her abdominal area was due to the failure of children being unable to localize and accurately describe how they physically feel.
The following day, Alyssa took a turn for the worse. Her pain became unbearable and she refused to take anything by mouth. We resorted to trying to keep her hydrated and fed with electrolyte fluid and liquified food delivered by syringe. In the afternoon, her breathing became shallow and rapid. By nightfall, her pain was excruciating and her breathing was unbearable to watch. Because of the result of the past two visits to medical professionals, we were reluctant to take her back as we felt as we were just being paranoid parents.
It just so happened that our younger daughter, Layla, had an appointment to receive her scheduled immunizations in the morning. We took both kids to the pediatrician, hoping we could get her seen and diagnosed. As it so happened, we saw the oldest (read as: most experienced) doctor of the group. We filled her in on what happened during the past several days and she proceeded to examine Alyssa. After she completed her exam, she said, “I’m not sure why no one else caught this, but she is extremely sick and she needs to be treated immediately. Take her back to the emergency room at the children’s hospital and I will call them, tell them to expect you, and tell them and what to do.”
We all piled back into the minivan and drove directly to the hospital. I dropped Jeannie and Alyssa off at the curb of the ER and proceeded to drop off Layla at my aunt’s house. By the time I returned to the hospital, Alyssa was being admitted. I was devastated to hear from the attending physician that it was the worst case of pneumonia they had ever seen at the hospital. It was so bad that she was in the beginning stages of sepsis. The pain Alyssa was feeling was actually empyema – the fluid (pus) would shift as she sat up or repositioned her body. There was so much fluid accumulated in her pleura that she was scheduled for surgery that same night.
To see my own daughter in a hospital gown lying there in pain, almost lifeless, was so painful. It hurt even more to see her prepped for surgery, to kiss her, to tell her that I love her, and to watch her wheeled away in a gurney to be put under general anesthesia. There was nothing I could do to help her.
Since there wasn’t anything we could do but wait, I sent Jeannie home. I know that for however much pain that I felt, she was in twice as much agony. I wanted her to shower and get some time away since she was at the hospital all day. She reluctantly agreed; and so there I was – in the surgery waiting room questioning all of my life choices.
Since Alyssa’s surgery was an emergency add-on case, and it was late at night, she was the only one on the status board. It was surreal pacing around the large room filled with empty chairs by myself. I remember I tried to take my mind off of things by watching something on my tablet, but I couldn’t sit still and quickly resumed pacing. I felt scared, angry, frustrated, anxious, sad, and guilty all at the same time. I questioned whether I could have done something better, if I could have done something different, or if I could have done something to prevent all of this. The truth of the matter is, I couldn’t have done anything. That’s exactly what needed to change.
Several hours later, the surgeon came to the waiting room to meet with me. He showed me the before and after photos from the endoscope so I could see how bad it was. He explained what he did and what to expect over the next several days, but stressed that it was going to be a long recovery. The reality of the situation didn’t really hit me until I was called back to the postanesthesia recovery unit and saw Alyssa still sedated with tubes coming out of her chest.
Jeannie arrived back at the hospital just in time to see Alyssa slowly wake up. She was in a lot of pain, but she took it like a champ. Even so, knowing that she was in so much pain that she needed a morphine drip for several days was tough to swallow. After she could fully breathe on her own, Alyssa was transferred to the med-surg floor where we spent the next three weeks.
Our time as temporary residents of the hospital is another story in itself, but that’s where I directed my angry dad energy into researching how I could be part of the solution – how I could empower myself. As they say, never say never.
Between the time needed to comfort, feed, and entertain Alyssa, I was looking to see if medical school could be a possibility. I wondered if it was too late, if I was too old, or if I even had the capacity. The idea of me going to medical school was not new, per se. But up until this particular moment, I had zero inclination to work in health care. When I brought up the idea to Jeannie, I got the eye-roll followed by, “Are you serious? I told you to go to medical school years ago!”
But in all seriousness, I reflected on all of my experiences. From how I grew up, the time I spent in the military, my work at the police department, the experiences I have had while caring for my parents, what was happening at the present, and what the future might hold. I finally realized that I had the right motivation, but was moving in the wrong direction. After I came to terms with my true self, I knew what I had to do.
It was the nurse who cared for my loved ones. It was the nurse who took the time to educate me. It was the nurse who fought for us when the residents weren’t doing their jobs. It was the nurse who sat with me and put her arms around my shoulders when I couldn’t contain my feelings anymore. It was the nurse who was at the bedside, day and night. It was the nurse whom I came to respect and admire.
When I arrived at this epiphany, I knew that I could return to my true calling in a life of service. As transitioning into a second career as a registered nurse (technically third/fourth career for me) and eventually becoming a nurse practitioner would be a realistic option and something I could be happy doing.
After Alyssa was discharged from the hospital in mid-October, I stayed home with her while Jeannie went back to work. I started researching nursing school requirements and was attending information sessions by November, registered for prerequisite classes in December, and started school at various community colleges in January of 2016. I was accepted into my school of choice for a combined Accelerated BSN and Family Nurse Practitioner MSN program in December of 2016, and formally finished my prerequisite classes in May of 2017.
If you asked me when I was younger what I wanted to be, I would have never told you that I wanted to be a nurse. I accomplished a lot of things that I wanted to accomplish, and I’ve certainly compromised with the cards that I’ve been dealt, but becoming a nurse is not something I ever saw on the horizon. At least, not until I had kids. They say that kids change you. They certainly do.