Many cancer patients in the infusion clinic know I'm an artist and writer when I'm not at work sticking them with needles. In the beginning, I wondered if this would cause them to worry about their privacy, but not a single one has expressed concern. It seems they know I won't betray them. They do often ask if I'd prefer quitting nursing to make art and write full-time.
I don't know the answer to this question.
On the days when my focus is nursing, I chart objectively in carefully coded medical terminology. There is no room in a medical record for speculation or magical realism. In a medical record, words are tools used to convey information. They are not supposed to be lovely or melodic on the tongue. Regardless of the human drama occurring at the bedside, there is nothing poetic about charting.
Creativity is a vehicle for the emotions that oncology nurses experience daily. Nursing provides the stuff of my art -- the elegant gesture of a patient's wrist as he holds it out for me to button his cuff, because peripheral neuropathy prevents him from doing it himself. I find meaning in the act of creation.
On the other hand, nursing occupies a large swath of time each week, slowing down progress on projects of a grander scale than blog posts and sketches. If I had more time, would I have the source material? This is my quandary.
Knowing that patients and coworkers, as well as people I don't know, read my self-revealing words is sometimes uncomfortable. As a child, I was raised not to mention matters discussed at the dinner table. Sins were confessed to a priest behind a screen in the hushed confines of a darkened cabinet. These days, HIPAA restrains what nurses can legally (and ethically) divulge. Words posted on the Internet are as permanent as the Internet itself. This sometimes feels risky. However, the need for self-expression bangs determinedly at the door of my soul. The nurse’s private persona gives way to the voice of the artist inside, despite all I have been taught.
I'm not the only one in healthcare feeling this way. Some time ago, I held a curbside consultation in the hallway with an oncology surgeon regarding a patient we share. The surgeon also writes, and once our patient concern was settled, we briefly caught up on our artistic pursuits. The doctor felt diffident about writing, too.
Later, in the OR, this surgeon ran a scalpel through the soft tissues of a patient. I returned to my duties and slid an IV needle, slick as butter, into the vein of another patient, infusing a medication that could be harmful if given incorrectly. Neither the surgeon nor I felt as unsure in performing either task as in the self-exposure of the act of writing. I find this dichotomy amusing.
On One Hand...
Do your off-duty roles ever conflict with your identity as an oncology nurse?