Pondering Dreams

Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011

Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011

People who deny themselves the privilege of dreaming are doomed to failure.

Oscar Hammerstein II

I met a twenty-something student who wants to become a doctor. He’s completed a GED and is taking art classes at a community college. For some reason, he enrolled in a science class and became enchanted by the organisms floating on a glass slide he viewed through a microscope. That’s how he decided to become a doctor. He asked for my opinion. Not wishing to throw doubt on the dreams of another, I pondered my response.

His question reminded me of the only writers’ workshop I’ve ever attended. Introductions were made around the library table where we gathered. At my turn, I introduced myself as an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse. The eye rolling, and general lack of enthusiasm expressed by the group clearly implied my dream was ridiculous. During lunch break, a fellow participant actually told me, “You know, it takes an MFA to become either an artist or a writer.”

There’s a saying in poker: If you look around the table and can’t tell who the rube is, it’s probably you. At this table, surrounded by other wannabe writers, I was the rube.

A few weeks later, despite the dissuasion of the workshop participants, I submitted two stories, “Voyagers” and “Icarus Again,” to the publisher of an anthology of nurse stories. Both were published. Encouraged by kindly, professional editors, my writing and artwork have been published nationally many times since. My first art exhibition, fresh out of art school, was favorably reviewed by a local art critic, which is more difficult to do than it sounds.

I am an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse.

So there.

I think about this a lot when hooking up chemotherapy infusions to patients with advanced, metastatic cancers. Their prognosis is terrible. Though it’s impossible to know what I’d choose unless actually facing similar circumstances, sometimes I think I’d choose sitting on a tropical beach staring at the ocean until the end, and not spend my last few weeks or months in an oncology clinic fighting the odds. That’s when I remind myself that any patient perhaps belongs to that small statistic of people who survive or go into remission, allowing them one more birthday, one more Christmas celebration, a family wedding, or a grandchild’s graduation.

If there is no hope, then why am I an oncology nurse? Have we nurses witnessed so much human crisis that we’ve limited our capacity for dreams? Where lies the division between dreams and realism?

What are your thoughts? Which is the larger transgression: offering overly optimistic hope or being a gatekeeper? How is this idea reconciled with diminishing healthcare resources?


Learning to Observe, Observing to Learn

Street Art, unknown artist. photo: jparadisi

Here’s a collection of loose observations I made last week:

  • People who lie or cheat believe that everyone else in the world does too.
  • People who feel paralyzing guilt over a mistake they made believe they are the only one in the world who’s made one.
  • Nursing students and new grads still believe in patient centered care and patient advocacy (Thanks Nurse2be for writing about one of my posts. I feel relevant).
  • Precepting is an opportunity to develop a colleague I love to work with.
  • I am a preceptor even when I don’t have an orientee. What do I teach coworkers about nursing culture through my nursing practice and behavior?
  • A patient and I commiserated over frustrations with health care. I said, “I’d like to change it, but they won’t let me be queen.” He touched the ring on my left hand under the nitrile glove I wore, and said, “You have this ring; you’re somebody’s queen.”
  • Nursing is my profession, but it does not define my entire life. Good shifts, bad shifts, when I leave the clinic I return to the life I create.
  • It’s all about choices.

The Boxer, a Nurse, and an Artist


study detail for painting. JParadisi 2010

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade, 

and he carries the reminder of ev’ry glove that laid him down or cut him 

till he cried out in his anger and his shame, 

I am leaving, I am leaving, 

but the fighter still remains. 

                                                                           The Boxer    by Paul Simon 


     The other day I came home from work and went directly to bed. It was 6 o’clock in the evening. I’d had it. Worn out.  Didn’t want to see or talk to another person for the rest of the night.  It had nothing to do with my patients.  To me, patient care is the easiest part of nursing. It’s all the other stuff that sometimes wears me down. 

     Still, I continue to grow my  nursing skill and knowledge. If I’m going to spend so much time a day, a week, a year, an entire career doing anything, I may as well be good at it. Why would a person spend twenty or thirty years doing something she isn’t happy doing? For the money? Few things in life pay that well. If I hated nursing, I would continue to do it long enough to finance retraining in another profession, then quit. 

     I read an article asking readers, when did they fall in love with art? I don’t think I ever fell in love with art. I remember falling in love with the red and blue crayons I held in my two-year-old hands as I drew a double line around the white walls of my newborn brother’s nursery. I remember looking at the plain, white walls and being consumed by the desire to make a mark on them. I am not in love with art the way collectors are, but I am obsessive about making it. 

    In the same way, I’m not sure that I’m in love with nursing,  but I am in love with using my skills to help others. Everyday I go home from work, I leave knowing that despite a frustration or two, or disagreeing with a colleague, I did something that directly improved the life of another human being.  Perhaps I’m sentimental, a character flaw with negative connotations in both art and in nursing these days, but I like possessing skills that the average person doesn’t have and seeing the result of their use improving the plight of another human being. I like to think that making a piece of art which expresses a clear thought to another person also helps humanity, and so I keep returning to the studio as well, despite the frustrations that accompany the life of an artist. 

     The fighter still remains.