May 5, 2009, 8:29 pm

I’m No Superman

essential-qualificationsI love this ad.

I was about this age when I decided to become a nurse.

Maybe a little older.

I was holding a book instead of a teddy bear.

I wouldn’t have been caught dead in that cap, though. Even in those days I knew how to make a totally cool nursing cap out of paper.

That looks like a pillowcase.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember why nursing sounded like a good idea.


You don’t realize it’s happening.

You set a goal and you do what you have to do to get there.

For awhile, you manage to do it all.

Nine semester units.

Working 24 hours a week.

No sweat.

Been there, done that.

Lived through it.


But things start piling up.

Work needs you to pick up some hours.  Coworkers on leave, folks needing time off.

You say yes, because when you need time off, they will make sure you get it.

Only your body isn’t cooperating.

You are in bed for the night at 1600.

And up at 0530.

Then you can’t fall asleep before you go in at 1900.

So you’re up for 28 hours. Straight.

Twice in one week.

That worked when you were eighteen.

It kills you at fifty-one.


So you work, and work is uncharacteristically busy.

You start getting depressed four hours before you go in.

Then you start getting depressed because you have to work the next day.

Your coworkers are getting on your nerves.

You are really getting on their nerves.

You hit the ground and twelve hours later you sit for the first time. In the car. For the ride home.

To sleep for ten hours so you can go back and do it again.

Before your one day off.

That you sleep through.


You fall behind in class; the professors are cool and allow you extra time for the assignments.

Which you need because you are so exhausted you cannot think.

But you won’t give less than an “A” effort so you stress and research and study and fine-tune and finally turn in the missive 48 hours after it is due.

Only to discover your classmates managed the assignment in two paragraphs.

How the hell did they do that?


You start to lose it.

You don’t leave the house on your time off.

You stay in sweats all day and don’t bother to fix your hair.

Your husband thinks you are having a breakdown because he hears you laughing hysterically one minute and bursting into tears the next.

Except it’s not a breakdown, you are just watching “Scrubs”.

(Why the hell did they kill off LaVerne? Idiots.)

You start scanning the ads for a desk job. Part-time. Days. No weekends.

No blood. No pain.

No death.


I’ve been here before.

The demon is back.

I’m in full blown burn-out.

But no major life changes.

Not this time.

I know what to do.

No more extra shifts.

The money is nice. Sanity is nicer.

No more twelve-hour shifts. Kudos to those who can do them.

I can’t.

No summer school.

I’m 12 units away from a BSN.  I can graduate in the Spring of 2010. I gain nothing by sacrificing my mental health to do it by December.


I’m scaling back, I’m taking a break.

For the next few months, it’s all about me.

More visits to Starbucks to read blogs.

More visits to Starbucks to read novels.

More concerts.

More mini-vacations. Son’s graduation. Nascar race in Sonoma. BlogHer in Chicago.


I wish I could do it all and be it all and have it all.

It’s hard to face the fact that I have limitations.

But, I know,

I’m no Superman.

And that is a major bummer.


  • Annemiek

    May 6, 2009 at 1:50 am

    Good for you to know what to do about it! It is sad to feel that way, but we do have limits on what we can do even if we want to do it all!

  • GrumpyRN

    May 6, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Oh you sound so much like me, except I’ve not quite burst into tears yet. Managed to get my degree a couple of years ago so don’t have that problem – should I do masters? No way. I am also in my early 50’s and 12 hour shifts are slowly killing me and I find I do nothing on days off.
    Agree with you about Scrubs, one of the finest shows on TV, along with Big Bang Theory. Just waiting for the new series to hit UK.

  • Candy

    May 6, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I’m glad you pushed all these heavy chains aside and are taking care of you. The fact is, you CAN do it all and be it all and have it all — just at a slower pace, and not at the same time. You need to enjoy the ride, because that’s what’s important. The destination is still there, so take time to make the trip a fun one. I applaud you, SuperWOMAN — nurse, mom, wife, blogger, student and one hell of a friend!

  • jennie

    May 6, 2009 at 7:54 am

    I’m in my 50’s as well and in my last month of an accelerated BSN program. I can relate to every single thing you say. Some days I ask myself “what WAS I thinking?” I’m not 20 anymore, my body and my sanity need more care. Good for you for slowing down, and taking care of YOU. I love reading your blog, I don’t see how you keep up, I have hardly written in my own blog all year.

  • sara

    May 6, 2009 at 9:02 am

    thank you for posting this! in my short experience as a nurse (about 1.5 years) i’ve noticed nurses are the type to overextend themselves time and time again. i took a class a few months ago about relationship based care, and one of the most important things i took away from it is how important it is for us to take care of ourselves, so we can better take care of others. i am happy you are going to give yourself some time to do the things you enjoy. i’m a bit younger (just entered my 30s) but i’m already at the point where i can’t handle things like these 22 year olds can.

    thank you for taking care of yourself, and happy nurse’s day!

  • Katie B.

    May 6, 2009 at 10:48 am

    We take the Nursing theory of Self care for granted, don’t we? Happy Nurses Week!!

  • Reality Rounds

    May 6, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    That’s the best nurses week advise anyone can ever give. Life is too short. We need to take the time to take care of ourselves. Enjoy your Starbucks!

  • Rita Schwab

    May 6, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Good for you Kim! I’m taking a work break myself and absolutely loving it. After all, what better thing to buy than a little time?

  • AlisonH

    May 6, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I’m glad you decided to take your time. Congratulations on your son’s graduation!

  • Medic999

    May 6, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Been there 6 months ago. Different man now.
    Dropped out of Uni, resigned from all of the extra committees and panels I was active on. DRASTICALLY cut down on the overtime, handed over some research I was leading on AND finally realised my family are the most important things in my life, not my work…
    Ahhhhhh…..that feels so much better!
    Hope you enjoy easing off a little (although not too much easing off on the blog!!)

  • bigdogu

    May 7, 2009 at 9:22 am

    After 10 continous years of school and the final ACNP certification, I have come to realize I am not my job. My job is what I do. If you don’t take time for yourself no one else will. The degress are great, got me where I want to be career wise, but now my life is for me not them. Great blog and have a cup with your feet up and a good book.

  • Margaret

    May 8, 2009 at 6:04 am

    Sorry to hear about your burnout, and I’m so glad you have made the decision to scale back a bit. There is life; smell the roses. Drive to the top of Conzelman road, with a picnic basket and your husband, at sunset and watch the Bay Area at dusk.

  • wardbunny

    May 8, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Keep fighting! You’re nearly there!

  • Jay

    May 8, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    You know you have it within, and you can do it to get over your burnout!! dont let yourself down wit something like that 🙂

  • Karin RN

    May 9, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Enjoy a well-deserved meeh time.

  • Black Cloud ER Tech

    May 10, 2009 at 10:40 am

    MORE POWER TO YOU!!! I, too, have had to scale back. I was working 2 12-hr night shifts, turning around to teach EMS to law enforcement, going to school for nursing pre-req’s, and picking up add’l shifts when avail. I had no life and was going nuts. I did what you did Kim. I stopped teaching, work my scheduled shifts, and go to school. I am only one person!

    I will be at Starbucks right there beside you (in theory of course) surfin the web, drinkin my Americano!!!

  • RehabRN

    May 10, 2009 at 11:19 am


    I’m with you on dropping out and I’m younger. I have to do it periodically. I long ago realized that I am not Superwoman, nor do I want to be her. (It would require too much work!)

    Yet, I am planning on going back to school for a master’s…why? I just have to do it, even at a turtle’s pace. I see the ghosts of my parents who died young and/or were disabled young, but still had their minds and bad employment situations or lack of employment. I’ve seen this on my unit, too, this year, and it ain’t pretty.

    Even if my back goes out on the floor, yours truly, will do something, anything to be an RN flying a desk, especially if it can keep people on the floor.

    The journey of a thousand miles always starts with that single step…and I’m ready to roll!

  • RehabRN

    May 10, 2009 at 11:21 am

    And BTW, I didn’t realize you were in Seattle (saw that in one of your posts recently).

    I made my pilgrimage to the Pikes Place Starbucks while I was there for a conference and am a proud Gold card member and stockholder (Warren always says buy what you like and use!).

    You name the espresso drink and I’ll be there with you! ;->

  • Healthcare Today

    May 10, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I’m No Superman // Emergiblog…

    This is a “must-read” for anyone in Nursing or thinking of going into nursing. It speaks to the exteme importance of maintaining your career-life balance and making sure you use the time you have to take care of yourself….

  • […] I’m No Superman […]

  • Dan

    June 15, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Avoid avoidable interruptions:

    “Everyone should check out Dan Abshear’s post under the discussion board on patient/caregivers rights. . . and I mean everyone, i.e., patients, advocates, providers, reps, etc. It’s one of the most concise pieces on the topic I’ve ever read, born of experience.” — Dr. Mark

    As one who did patient care for over a decade before becoming a medical salesman, I’d like to offer these recommendations to those patient caregivers who are perhaps new to their profession:

    1. Do not let those in the pharmaceutical or medical device industries, for example, interfere with or take priority over patient care.

    2. Do not let the industry befriend your staff to gain access to doctors that work with them who are restoring the health of their patients.

    3. Do have nurses only accept drug samples from drug reps. No literature of any kind from them. Likely, any clinical information the drug rep may have regarding the drug samples he or she may leave you is inaccurate.

    4. Do let those you work with know they have a right to refuse interaction with the medical industries in their practice.

    5. Do not answer questions from drug reps about what doctors prefer prescribing for their patients as it relates to their promoted products, or anything else about the health care providers at your location, for that matter.

    6. Do not accept any promotional material unless it is truly beneficial for their patients, without branding on the material offered to members who work at your clinic or medical institution.

    7. Do let the nurses know that drug reps. are overall not in their clinical setting to facilitate patient care, but to rather increase the volume of what they many be promoting, as this is the etiology for their interaction with you.

    8. Do let others who you work wth that, if asked by medical representatives to have a disease screening day of some sort at your facility, or has invitations for such a screening for you or others to attend, consider refusing this request. Often, the screenings are conducted by front groups to expand the diagnostic boundaries of a particular disease state.

    9. Do make others you may work with aware, or reiterate to them, that generic drugs are preferred over branded drugs for many reasons, including cost and experience with the medication while providing the safety and efficacy your patients need. Such drugs are listed in what is called an Orange Book.

    10. Do let the nurse know that drug reps have in their possession the prescribing or buying habits of health care providers, and will tailor their interaction with them and the prescribers based on this data.

    11. Do let others you may work with know that the drug reps are, overall, decent and friendly people who are just doing what they are instructed to do by their employer, and they should be aware of what they may be doing could be detrimental to the health of their patients, if such situations develop.

    12. Do let those you may work with know that medical representatives who may be in your patient treatment area can question doctors about what they may choose to prescribe a patient. Yet such representatives should be aware that their time at your patient treatment area is limited.

    13. Do let others you may work with know that there are doctors who receive inducements, incentives, rebates, and remuneration from particular drug reps. These gifts that are actually bribes are largely based on the prescriber’s affinity for the drug. rep’s promoted products or the volume of prescriptions a doctor writes compared with other health care providers. The potential consequences of accepting such bribes which the industry calls many things, including ‘gifts’, could have on the health of patients and the choices of treatment for them. Such bribing may cloud the judgment of the health care providers who receive such gifts..

    14. Let others you may work with know that pharmaceuticals are not the answer to all symptoms or medical conditions. This is of particular importance when it comes to the issue of utilizing psychotropic drugs and antibiotics, as drugs are very over-utilized in the United States.

    15. Let others who may work with you know that they should make patient care paramount when seeing patients, and should not let the industry coerce them into thinking otherwise. In other words, their idealism and passion straight out of school should be maintained, however difficult this may be at times. As a patient caregiver, you may get overwhelmed at times.

    16. Let others you may work with know that, in the U.S., medical reps. have little training, education, or clinical knowledge relevant to what they may be promoting, however may have charming personalities and appear to possess quality genetic stock. What they may share with you about their promoted drugs is likely embellished or fabricated, if not fully understood by the medical representative.

    17. Let others you may work with know that whatever is done for or with patients should be entirely for their benefit, and not for the benefit of a drug company or a health care provider, if such a situation develops or are noticed.

    18. Speaking from the perception of the situation in the U.S., there is a shortage of nurses, and the demands on them are cumbersome and exhausting. Remind the nurses that this should not affect the treatment and care they give their patients, as difficult as this may be for the nurses. The pharma industry only amplifies this situation in various ways at certain times and locations. To say again, do not allow others to interfere with patient care.

    19. Let others you may work with know that their vocations are noble and needed, and what they do for others most choose not to consider, such as drug reps., for example.

    20. “Nursing would be a dream job if there were no doctors.” — Imo Philips

    Dan Abshear

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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