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Nothing Could Stop Me From Becoming an ICU Nurse

A nurse in blue scrubs and full surgical protective gear prepares for an operation

I grew up in a household in which parental guidance wasn’t readily available and higher education was considered an unattainable goal. I realized that in order to get an education and create a better life for myself, the only person I could rely on was me.

Mom was an alcoholic and Dad struggled with mental illness. They always fought, mainly when Mom had been drinking. Dad’s usual response to Mom’s alcohol-fueled rage was to pull me out of bed in my pajamas and hide in the bushes until things settled down. He didn’t know how to deal with confrontation.

When I was 15, Mom left. Dad couldn’t handle it and attempted to take his own life. Since then, I was the parent for both of us. I was the one who filled out the public assistance forms, so we had a roof over our head. I was the one who made sure the house was clean, food was on the table, and that all my homework was done. 

Somehow, I graduated high school with honors and was fortunate enough to attend Suffolk University for both undergrad and grad school, finishing with a Master’s in Education. I wanted to help young students like myself navigate the same challenges I experienced. But trying to enter the workforce as a new grad in 2010 after the country’s job crisis in 2008 brought new challenges.

To keep a roof over my head, I worked multiple jobs outside of my field of study, while I applied for academic adviser positions at colleges and universities. After five years of interviews without callbacks, I decided I should try to help people in other ways.

Persistence and dedication

In 2015, I decided to start over and took classes at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). I also started working as a clinical technician at INOVA’s Cardiovascular Neuroscience ICU. Working as a tech gave me a glimpse of what it was like to be an ICU nurse. 

Over the next few years, so many nurses took me under their wings and showed me everything there was to know about being a nurse — how to think and how to react in crisis situations.

I eventually applied for an accelerated BSN program. When I didn’t get in, I was heartbroken, but I didn’t let that stop me. In the spring of 2020, I started my first semester of NVCC’s RN program. COVID-19 was on the rise, shutting everything down. 

With going to school and working full time in the ICU during the height of the pandemic, witnessing hundreds of deaths, that first semester of nursing school challenged me physically, mentally, and emotionally. But I never wavered from my goal to become an ICU nurse. If anything, the pandemic showed me what real heroes look like.

Momentum and gratitude

The greatest success I have had as a nurse is the impact I have on patients and their families. Being told by a daughter how much they appreciate what I did for their mom, a patient’s wife thanking me for giving her more time with her husband, or a patient saying they were going to miss me as they were being discharged, has meant so much to me. 

Over the years, my father and I would eventually become estranged. I never received the support that I desperately needed. He passed away in November 2022. I didn’t attend the funeral, and I haven’t been in contact with extended family. Even though it pains me to not have that close family support, I have created a new family and get support from my loving partner, Rico; our two beautiful cats, Ozzie and Earl; and close friends who have been there for me every step of the way. 

Their support has given me the strength to continue when I didn’t think I could. I will forever be grateful to the family I chose to share my life with.

It’s been a long, hard journey, and there’s still a long way to go. I’ve faced many challenges throughout my life, but I’ve learned that if you can overcome them, there is opportunity on the other side.

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