Heather’s powerful story reminds us that, even when circumstances change, the fabric of your identity remains the same, especially during challenging times like this pandemic we face.
Never has the vital role nurses play in our society been more apparent than the present. Nurses everywhere are bravely rising up to meet the challenge of our lifetime, a worldwide pandemic. Nurses look COVID-19 in the eye with defiant resolution to deliver comfort in the face of crisis. Nurses have long dared to stand boldly in the gap between comfort and sorrow, health and tragedy, life and death. Nurses are the face of compassion, the deliverers of kindness and the instillers of hope.
I am a nurse. I have a visual disability. I will always be a nurse. The attributes of a nurse are woven into the fabric of who I am. My decision to become a nurse was not the culmination of a lifelong dream, it was rather the result of the right words falling into the right ears at the right time. After hearing a radio advertisement for the nursing program at University of Nebraska Medical Center, I took a chance and applied to the program. I graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing in 1994. Like the pieces of a puzzle, my career fell into place. I did not choose nursing, it chose me. It called me to a greater purpose and revealed to me that the best way to find myself was to lose myself in the service of others.
Nursing suited my strengths and interests well. I enjoyed working in many areas including med/surg, pediatrics, labor and delivery and oncology. Years later, I developed symptoms of autoimmune arthritis and began taking the medication hydroxychloroquine. The medication is now receiving a surge of attention after being touted as a potential cure for COVID-19, the virus responsible for bringing our strong nation to its knees. Over a period of about four years, I slowly developed damage to both of my retinas as a result of the drug. A rare side effect of this medication changed my life forever, ending my 21-year nursing career.
Although my disability prevents me from practicing as a nurse now, I am as proud to be a nurse as the day I graduated. My heart swells with pride each time I hear a news report describing the courage being displayed by my fellow nurses, but the feeling is bittersweet. It is often followed by unexpected pangs of loss. Just as it did five years ago when my maculopathy was diagnosed, grief washes over me in waves, ebbing and flowing as I strive to navigate the unfamiliar paths that now lay in front of me.
I long to stand beside my fellow nurses on the front lines, but I instead stand in solidarity with them in my heart. You see, I am no longer called to the front lines of patient care, I am now needed elsewhere. My role has changed, but my life’s mission to nurture, support and encourage others remains steadfast. The spirit of resilience possessed by all nurses is within me as I, too, rise to meet each challenge set before me. My life is not what I envisioned, but it is filled with meaning and is rich with more blessings than I ever could have imagined.
Vision loss changed my ability to see objects that are right in front of me, but it does not have the power to change the way I see myself. It has changed my eyesight, but it cannot change the vision I hold for my life. My area of influence may have changed, but my opportunity to share my gifts and talents cannot be minimized. And so, with diminished eyesight, but enhanced insight, I press on with a vision for the future that knows no limits; the vision of a nurse.