My Next Chapter

yvonne stolworthy

In January 2020, after 36 years as an RN, I retired. I left the bedside in ICU three years prior. It was time. I worked in quality services prior to my retirement. For the past year, I had been planning the date of retirement and how I would spend my time; I had no intention of just staying home. I have 36 years of nursing experience that I was sure could be used to continue my purpose of helping patients. But first I was going to travel while I considered my options for the next chapter of my RN career.

When my maternal grandmother was a teenager, WW1 broke out. She volunteered at Clatterbridge Hospital near her home, which became the start of her nursing career. When I was 17, she tried to get me interested in nursing, but I wanted no part of it. I think having to wear a uniform was a big part of my decision. I had no clear idea what RNs did and would not entertain the idea of becoming one. A decade later I was a single parent trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

My direct experience with the healthcare system was related to pregnancy and childbirth. I was a healthy mother with two healthy children. My interactions with nurses and physicians during my hospital stays made me realize just how important nurses were to patients and how nurses informed the physicians of the needs of the patient. As time went on I was struck by how the general public held physicians in high esteem but rarely considered the impact of nurses on patient care outcomes. The statement that really annoyed me was: Nurses just give out Tylenol and empty bedpans. This led to my desire to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps and become a registered nurse.

As a nursing student I was like a sponge and was fascinated by the material. As an introvert I had some challenges performing a thorough health history and initiating therapeutic conversations with my patients. But I persevered. Upon graduation I worked on a medical/surgical floor for 4 years before transferring to ICU. Most of my career was in ICU. I had some educator roles along the way but always seemed to go back to the bedside in ICU.

As my retirement loomed, I decided to explore non-clinical roles for RNs. I had developed a passion for understanding heart failure and its impact on patients who are diagnosed with the various types of heart failure. There seemed to be a national, serious situation with patients returning to hospital soon after discharge following an initial diagnosis or worsening of their heart failure. Perhaps I would make a good patient advocate. Perhaps a post-discharge nursing care business was in my future. There were so many business ideas to explore. So little time. When I realized that I was winding down my career and not in a position to begin down a whole new path, things fell into place.

I decided that following retirement I would return to my role as an educator to help patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals understand heart failure, its impact on patients and the importance of following the proposed regimens that are intended to optimize the patient’s quality of life. I would begin by writing on the topic and offering small presentations at local venues. I would be using what I know rather than trying something new.

But first I would travel. I had booked trips to Hawaii, London and Kenya for the first half of 2020. After returning from observing the animal migration in June, I was going to get serious about writing and speaking on heart failure. But, as often happens in life, two large obstacles presented themselves almost immediately.

I live in California, and the state passed a law which became effective on January 1, 2020. This independent contractor law was intended to help exploited workers in the gig economy. The unintended consequences of this bill affected many freelance workers including journalists. Freelance journalists are limited to 35 annual submissions per media outlet. On the 36th submission that was accepted the freelance journalist became an employee. The penalties would be applied to the employer retroactively to January 1, 2020. As a precaution, media outlets stopped hiring freelance writers from California, and many freelance writers had prior contracts cancelled.

And then the coronavirus pandemic happened. My trip to Hawaii was cancelled. My trip to London will probably be postponed to September. I can reschedule, but the trip must be taken before the end of the year. The trip to Kenya might be cancelled as June is apparently the best time to see the animal migration. And it might not be possible to reschedule all the components of this group trip. We were going to learn about maternal-child nursing in Kenya with tours and meetings with government officials and NGOs.

At this time, I have not made much progress on my next chapter. I have joined some writing groups and organizations. They provide resources to help me launch and grow my writing career. There are many online opportunities and support for medical and healthcare writers. I have found quite a few RNs who have become writers due to their passion for writing about specific topics. Some talented RNs have become successful writing on a variety of topics.

COVID-19 has the world in a tailspin. I am concerned for my friends and colleagues who are on the front lines and running out of gowns, face shields and masks to protect themselves and their families from this virus. I am doing my part by making masks that will hold a 0.3 micron filter. It is my understanding that this will provide protection nearly equivalent to an N95 mask. I have chosen not to return to the bedside as I am in the “vulnerable group” and don’t need to add to my friends’ burden by needing their care when I become infected.

When I look back, the 36 years have gone by so quickly, and I realize that becoming an RN was absolutely the right thing for me. Even though during the first couple of years of my career I often thought I had made a huge mistake. I have come to realize over the decades that my life rarely goes according to plan no matter how carefully I have planned. I have also found that new and different opportunities come along after my plan has been thwarted by life in general. This time I am going to be patient, and when the worst is over and the new normal has become accepted as life, I will be fine. There will be opportunities to share my expertise to help patients with heart failure to live well. I will make plans to travel next year when it is safe to do so and all the borders that are currently closed will be open once again. I will get through this and will find ways to make a difference, and we will continue to support each other and our communities. I remind myself to just breathe and meditate.

Yvonne Stolworthy, MSN, RN, is a retired RN with 36 years of experience. Many of those years were spent at the bedside in ICU and as an educator in a variety of settings. She is an aspiring writer and speaker with a passion for helping people to understand and manage heart failure so they can live the best life possible.


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