Hello my lovely OHN Family. My name is Shannon McPeek. I am the founder of Operation Happy Nurse and today I wanted to take a moment to tell my story.
I started nursing in the summer of 2016. I went in feeling thrilled because I had found my “dream job”. How lucky was I that right out of college I got to work in a Level IV NICU?! They had everything I wanted.
About 6 months into my career I found that there was much about the profession that school doesn’t prepare you for, that no one warns you about and that the hospital doesn’t support you with. Prior to nursing I had never really had to deal with death, and now I was confronting it head on.
I remember going to one funeral and the family called me by my nickname thanking me as one of this sweet angel’s nurses. I remember them saying how hard it is to make sense of a death so young, but to look at everyone sitting here celebrating their life. In such a short period of time this young life was able to touch so many.
Already difficult to understand, death can affect so many in so many different ways. During this time we were offered no services to cope. During work hours we weren’t given time to express our emotions because we had other patients to care for, but for me I didn’t want to try to understand it at home. I didn’t want to relive it in my safe space.
Instead of providing coping mechanisms to the nurses, we learned about mistakes others had made that caused patient harm. We learned “what not to do”. We learned that we have the power to change things for the worse. We weren’t taught that we have the opportunity to in fact change things for the better. This ate me. I developed an intense fear that I would cause the pain that I saw in the families of those that passed. I was so afraid that I would make a mistake, that I would miss something, that I began to develop signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I believed that if I checked things X amount of times that there is no way I would miss anything. That HUMAN error wouldn’t apply to me. I didn’t trust my eyes, my brain, or myself. I became machine-like. I started waking up with a chest ache every day. I counted down the days until I could leave my job, because the less days I worked there the less chance I had to become the human in human error.
Now you could read this thinking it would be obvious I was going through something. That I would show it on the unit, or be “less capable” of doing my job. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I loved taking care of really sick patients. Seeing them succeed is still one of the biggest honors of my life. No one noticed I was struggling. I came into work with a desire to learn, to precept, to take on tough assignments. I told no one what I was going through. I explained my OCD as simply “being particular” or a “germaphobe”.
As my OCD tendencies grew, my personality began to alter in my personal life. I had one friend tell me they could no longer be a part of my life due to the changes they saw. After this I realized I needed to make necessary changes. I started researching different stress relievers, developed changes in my life, and spoke with other nurses. I learned that my journey wasn’t unique, and that in fact many nurses had similar struggles.
I think it is important to note that nurses are human and mistakes do happen. We are not immune from them simply because we have the title Nurse. “A nurse’s job is to care for others.” “Nurses have “system support” and therefore mistakes shouldn’t happen.” “Nurses signed up for this.” All these sayings are harmful. Nurses cannot properly care for others unless they also care for themselves. Nurses make mistakes. Systems are broken. Nurses may be the last line of defense, but there are other defenders who have responsibility as well. We are a team, not a group of individuals. Nurses need the ability to express emotion. Nurses cry too. We did not sign up to be hit, yelled at, injured, or fearful for our lives. Nurses need your support as much as you need ours.
The community has the ability to help make change. If you have a nurse in your life who has positively affected you, who has saved you or your friend or your family member, who has been there for you during difficult times, this is your chance to be a helping hand to them.
Operation Happy Nurse was honored by L’Oréal Paris. They have helped show that people do care. Help us support the nursing community by voting for Operation Happy Nurse to win an extra $25,000 grant. With this money we can expand the resources we offer, provide community events, and truly make lasting change. You can vote at the link below.