In life there is the path imagined & the path followed. The difference between these two paths is our experience. My experience on the path to becoming a Registered Nurse began in the fall of 1998 at West Chester University. For as long as I could recall I was possessed of an unmitigated passion for taking care of others. This passion, I was sure, this joy I found in helping others that seemed so much a part of who I was, would propel me through my undergraduate classes. In four years, I assumed, I would have a degree, would be starting a career as a professional nurse. This, the path imagined, was so clear. Then there was the path followed. The idea that life is not to be lived for selfish ends but for the principal benefit and aide of others was instilled in me by my parents, both of whom immigrated to the United States from Vietnam at the close of the war. They arrived with no money and but a few sets of clothing. What they lacked, however, in material wealth they compensated for with devotion: to each other, to their children, and to those traditions that they brought with them from Vietnam.
Born in America, but raised in a traditionally Vietnamese household, there were many points of friction. My parents often kept me home on the weekends to help with chores. A great emphasis was placed on academics and a great much of my day-to-day living was scheduled or spoken for without my input. Admittance to West Chester’s University’s nursing program was predicated on the completion of several pre-requisite courses. Their completion, however, did not guarantee immediate acceptance into the program. No longer bound to those traditions of family which had seemed so overwhelming, overbearing even, and suddenly unable to move forward in my studies, I drifted into the more social aspects of college. My grades reflect this: a person who has done so much correctly, so much for others, suddenly unable to help herself. Frustrated, I dropped out of college in the summer of 1999. Things had changed. I had changed. After the freedom of college, I couldn’t live at home. I left. I’d scarcely unpacked my overnight bags from the hospital when the vomiting started. I changed formulas. Changed milks. Changed everything a new mother would think to change. I would have changed the wallpaper if I thought it’d make a difference.
My son, eight days old, would not stop vomiting. The surgery he required to clear the bowel obstruction took just over 4 hours. The doctors told me that the obstruction, his developing it so early, could have long-term repercussions, could mean more bowel obstructions in the future. Was this the path? I made a phone call. I moved back home with my parents. I got a part-time job to help pay a share of their mortgage. In turn they looked after my son so I could attend school full-time. When I returned to school, this time to Delaware County Community College, in 2003 it was as a single mother with a two-year old boy and the understanding that though the path had certainly changed, it was still my path to make. I had received my certification as a medical assistant, but immediately came to realize the role’s many constrictions. The opportunities to create quality relationships with patients & to positively affect their care seemed so minimal, so fleeting. Filing charts, taking vital signs, these things were certainly important, but in the role of medical assistant it was all so abstract.
I am always thirsty for knowledge, but more importantly, for understanding. I knew then more than ever that I wanted to take on the role of the Registered Nurse. I transferred from Delaware County Community College to Drexel University and was immediately accepted into the nursing program. The path was clearing, I thought. That the obstructions would return just as he was entering Kindergarten and I my first semester at Drexel University was nothing I could have ever known but still wish I had. My son had gone years without issue, had grown happy and healthy. When the vomiting returned it was with a vocabulary. My son now cried tears of hungry and of pain. There were more hospital admissions, more surgeries, more bends in the path. In the meantime my employer began requiring a strict part-time schedule. It was my job or my education. I knew, though, that the financial stress, however great, would be, could only be, short-lived.
I was devoted: to my son & my family, to my education & my happiness. In my third year at Drexel the path was straightening, clearing. I received an offer from Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania to work on the Neuroscience Unit as a Nurse Extern. The value of such an opportunity was incalculable. I did not know anyone in Philadelphia’s major hospital networks or health care facilities. I could rub no shoulders or scratch no backs. I knew, though, after so many clinical hours, that that was precisely where I wanted to be, that my ambition was to be a bedside nurse. Travel arrangements, however, prevented me from being able to get to the hospital and so it was instead arranged that I would work at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center as a Pool Nursing Assistant.
I worked hard and in doing so tried to let my work ethic, my growing knowledge base, my approachable nature, communicate what so few words can: passion. True passion. The passion that propelled me as a single mother to provide the best for my son while honoring my parents. The passion that grounded me, that centered & focused me, humbled me, and that, at last, brought me to the end of the path imagined. My degree, my job as a Registered Nurse in the Penn Presbyterian Coronary Care Unit, my son’s health, my parent’s love: these were the manifold ends of single path, my path, a path I walk with passion.