Yes, it’s been forever since I’ve done a blog post. There are multiple reasons for this including finishing a whirlwind summer of clinical last year, graduating, having another baby, staring a full time NP position…etc. And I won’t promise that I’ll blog again anytime soon but I’d like to tell some stories now and then. I’ve had one story in particular on my heart and I want to share it because it links many pieces of my life together and illustrates how the most difficult things can turn into the most stunningly beautiful moments.
Last summer was one of the busiest seasons of my life. From May until August I was working 4-5 days at clinical per week along with 1-2 hospital shifts on the weekends. Yes, when you do the math it adds up to around 60 hours/week. There was a point where I didn’t have a day off for fourteen days straight. There was nothing I could do to change it. The hours had to get done and the shifts had to be worked and so everyone in my life put their big people pants on and we made it happen. My husband did all the household tasks, my mom helped take care of my daughter, and I powered through like a long-distance runner, focusing on the next step, the next day, afraid to look too far back or too far ahead. (Then I had to stay up every night entering my clinical logs thinking, WHY IN THE WORLD DOES THIS TAKE SO MUCH TIME? That’s a different blog post, though.)
Add on the fact that I was, oh yeah, pregnant in my third trimester. Yes, that’s right! I was giant pregnant, waddling around on swollen ankles as I pretended to be a nurse practitioner on weekdays and knocked out some ICU shifts on the weekends. People would often stop me and ask, “how in the world are you doing all of this?” and I would simply answer, “I have no idea.” Because honestly, I didn’t. I still don’t. God put the path in front of me and He made a way for me finish it. I have no better explanation than that.
Thankfully, my little guy was a trooper even in the womb. I had a breeze of a pregnancy and worked past forty weeks. (I took and passed my boards at thirty eight weeks and three days if you’re in the mood for something that might cause you have a panic attack. I burst into ugly, giant tears the moments the lady at the testing center handed me the paper that said, “passed” and everyone let out a high sigh of relief that I hadn’t gone into labor during my test). My little guy kicked and punched and learned how to be a NP right along with me like my own little stowaway. And at the end of it all, on my last day of clinical I went home and got promptly sick with a terrible cold, as if my body had been waiting until I was finally done to shut down. But we made it.
This point of this dramatic re-telling of my summer is not to look for some validation, not to search for pats on the back for making what seemed impossible possible. No, the point isn’t about me but it’s about my daughter, Evy. She is one of the real heroes of this story, the real trooper, and she deserves some praise for all that she had to go through last summer.
I’ll cut to the best part of the story. On the day of my hooding (a nursing tradition for graduate students, akin to graduation) the three of us (Evy, my husband and me) got up, got ready, and got in car. We drove to the campus. I put on my robes. And they snagged a seat in the auditorium. We all had to wait a long time as rows and rows of other graduates passed before me, each one waving wide, stunned smiles just like the one I had on my face. Family members were shouting out from the audience, some of them yelling things like, “that’s my wife!” or “that’s my sister!” garnering laughs from everyone in the audience. I sat in my seat thinking how surreal it was that I had finally, after three years, made it to the end of this journey and how miraculous it was that I was still healthy and pregnant. It all seemed like it had been too hard to be real and now too good to be true.
My turn came and I wobbled up the steps in line with the other FNP graduates. I waited for my name to be called and finally someone with a pleasant, punctual voice announced, “Natalie Bridges.” I had been trying to spot my family in the crowd but hadn’t been able to find them yet. I knew they were out there but I didn’t know where to look so I scanned the crowd as I walked across the stage, nearly blinded by the spotlights. The whole thing felt like a dream, like one of those moments that you know you need to remember but you still feel like is slipping through your fingers.
And then, just when I had given up on finding my family in the crowd, from the middle of the auditorium I heard a tiny voice that I recognized. It was the same voice that had asked me every night after work to, “tell me about your patients!” The same voice that had instructed me how to do check-ups on stuffed lambs and owls and baby dolls. The same voice that had never said an unkind word about me having been gone so much that summer, that didn’t know how to hold a grudge, that gave nothing but love to her mommy who was struggling to juggle so many balls at one time. And that little voice shouted, with all the pride she could muster, “that’s my mommy!”
As soon as I heard her I knew it was the last straw for my fragile emotions. I burst into tears, right there on the stage, completely forgetting what I was supposed to do as I walked toward the instructor at the other end. Evy’s voice was surprisingly loud in the midst of the crowd, carrying so far that the whole audience laughed. The instructor whispered in my ear that I had to lean down so that she could place the hood over me. I obeyed her, tears streaming down my face. And then Evy shouted it again, even louder this time, with her own little determined fervor, as if this was a message that could not get missed. “That’s MY MOMMY!!”
And as my heart ached with love, shreds of myself spilling out through my tears, all I could think was, “this is it.” This is why I did all of this. Yes, to help people. Yes, to find a fulfilling career. But what could top my little girl being proud of her mommy? She was telling me, and everyone else, in her own little way that I had done something valuable and that I was valuable to her. It was a thank you I hadn’t expected and one that I will never forget.
I will hold onto that day in my heart for the rest of my life.
She’s still offering me so much grace as I now work full time as a nurse practitioner. I’m away more during the week but home every night for dinner to tell her all about my patients, to teach her all my “diagnosis’s” and to explain, yet again, why patients don’t need antibiotics for a cold. She’s full of excitement and creativity and promise and I hope that I will inspire her to do something daring with her own life. She’s the encouragement that I still need as I take a step into a career that still feels very foreign and overwhelming.
It really is all about the little people in life. This precious daughter of mine who can already, at only four years old, do a dang good physical exam, and my little son who makes me feel like the most important person in the world every time he looks at me with those big, blue, inquisitive eyes. They give so much grace, so much love, and without them everything I have gone through in the past few years would have an entirely different meaning.
I enjoy my patients; I enjoy my job, but in the end, that little voice from out in the crowd means more to me than anything else in the world.