Wake me up when September ends

Remember your why.

People often proffer this advice whenever attempting something hard. Like running a marathon. Or starting, then completing an advanced degree. How about starting a blog. Or a new job. Life is hard, and certain seasons are harder.

You could see the despair in their eyes. The hopelessness. The helplessness. The longing for a life that will never be the same. And me? Well, I was overwhelmed, but I tried not to show it.

The ink on my actual diploma was barely dry. My actual certification was less than two weeks old, and my license to practice had been granted just three days ago. I worked my final shift at the hospital I first started my healthcare career a mere 36 hours before starting my first ‘grown-up’ job. I was scared to leave the secure environment I was in– scared to leave my friends and my supportive co-workers. But growth comes at the end of our comfort zone, and moving 4 hours away to start a job in a pediatric hospital with a level 1 trauma center, level 3 NICU, pediatric cardiac unit, was way, way outside my comfort zone.

I was supposed to start in September

September 12 to be exact, but I graduated August 10, took my licensing exam on the 12th, and was granted my license on August 15. I called my soon-to-be new program, told them my ‘good news’, and my subsequent start date was moved up to the 22nd. So on August 21, at 8am, after a 12 hours shift, I wished a Happy Birthday to my best work bud, and left all I knew behind. Two weeks early. A whole extra ‘adult’ paycheck. Let’s do this.

The job asked for volunteers on Thursday. Despite being employed there for only 4 days, I jumped at the chance to ‘go into the field’. I only hoped I wouldn’t be in the way. I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough to be actually helpful, but I was hopeful I could be of some value.

On Friday afternoon, I packed my backpack. Who really knows what to pack for a natural disaster? I packed as if I were going camping. Tech pants, wool socks, hiking boots, a hat, my Steri-Pen, my (brand-new) stethoscope, and basic some toiletries like a toothbrush. National Guard transported us and we were allowed one bag. On Friday night at 11pm, I and a handful of other healthcare volunteers, were picked up by the National Guard convoy headed to Mississippi. If things went well, we’d be back in about two weeks.

Spoiler alert: Things did not go well

A little hurricane name Katrina made landfall and damn-near wiped New Orleans off the map. Hospital generators failed. Patients died in hospitals and other care facilities. Roofs turned into front porches. And we waited. Waited because we couldn’t advance. Waiting even though people we dying. Waiting for the storm to pass. Which it did–eventually. And then the people came. Without anything. No medical records. No identification. Not even a spare change of clothes.

I triaged more people that I’d ever seen in my life. I saw more death than I’d ever seen in my entire life. South Mississippi looked like a war zone. New Orleans looked worse. But we didn’t make it that far. People came to us broken and tattered, and we did what we could to comfort them. To treat them. To make things normal. But life would never be normal again. Not for anyone Katrina touched. Wake me up when September ends.

Seven years have gone so fast

Seven years passed since that first September when I considered a career in health care until I started in healthcare. At times, it seems as if no time has passed at all. Other times, it seems like a lifetime ago. And that’s the way life is sometimes. Time isn’t linear. Things don’t happen on schedule. People often quit when things get hard and that’s why it’s important to remember the why.

At the risk of sounding obvious, I got into healthcare to help people. But not just anyone. Of course, I will help anyone I can, but what feeds my soul, is being present when disaster strikes. I don’t know what all this means for my future career. But I do know that I’m where I need to be. At least for right now.

Shout out to Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends for the title of this post.

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