Commitment Makes You an Artist or A Nurse

That I am an artist was never questioned by anyone other than myself. It took time for me to believe in myself as an artist, because I felt I would know when I became one. Some artists laugh at such thoughts:

In artistic work one needs nothing so much as conscience; it is the sole standard. — Ranier Marie Rilke

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

How do I know I’m an artist?
The same way I know I am a nurse: Not because I am paid for my work, but because of my commitment to nursing. Commitment manifests itself as time set aside for continuing education, and time to practice skills. It’s not enough to want to do something. You need time to practice skills, whether it be starting IVs, or developing a series of paintings for exhibition. You commit to nursing through education, taking boards, and continuing education. You have to commit to creativity, too.

Begin with one hour a week, every week. It needn’t be the same day or time each week, although a set schedule may make it easier, childcare and weird nursing work schedules may necessitate flexibility. Protect this hour as if it were a difficult-to-reschedule dental appointment.

What will you do with this hour each week? You will have a creative date with yourself. For now, don’t invite a friend. Free yourself completely of taking care of other people. You need to hear your voice to find your creativity. You may already know what you’ll do with the time: write a poem or short story or resume piano, dancing, or voice lessons. If you’re drawing a blank about what to do, here are a few suggestions:

  • Wander the aisles of an art supply or craft store. Give yourself $10-$20 to spend on pens, paper, stamps, inkpads, dried flowers — whatever. Need ideas? Check out, or Pinterest.
  • Wander the aisles of an office supply or dollar store with $10-$20. Buy felt pens, stickers, glitter, glue sticks, and an inexpensive scrapbook. Tear pictures from old magazines of everything catching your eye. Paste them into the scrapbook using a glue stick. Decorate the pages with your glitter, stickers, and felt pens.
  • Buy a cheap rectangular or square flower vase made of clear glass. Fill it three-quarters full with small glass beads. You can use small, polished stones instead, but they tend to scratch the implements. Use it to hold pens on your home or work desk.
  • Go for a walk with your camera. Take snapshots of anything that attracts your attention. Take lots of pictures without over-thinking the process. You’re practicing how to “see.”

The important thing is to make a habit of allowing yourself at least an hour a week to explore and develop your creativity. What ideas can you add to this list?

One More Skill On My Resume

Years ago, I had a coworker with the best attitude about learning new skills. At every in-service, sort of like Kenneth Parcell on 30 Rock, he would smile a toothy, freckled face grin, and say, “Hey, it’s one more skill to add to my résumé.”

In May 2010, I wrote Not All Days Are Magically Delicious, a post in which I describe my frustration while learning to apply a wound vac to a patient’s wound. In case you don’t feel like reading the post:

A wound vac is a small mechanical device in a fanny bag, worn by the patient 24/7. Black sponge is packed into the wound and covered with an adhesive, transparent film. A suction tube connects the dressing to a canister attached to the wound vac. When the wound vac is turned on, it sucks all the air out, compressing the sponge tightly into the wound. There is barely any sound as the machine “vacuums” the wound’s drainage into the canister. The suction stimulates healthy tissue, often reducing healing time dramatically. If an air leak is present, there is a loud sucking noise when the machine powers on, and the sponge will not compress. This means it needs more transparent covering to seal it. If that fails, the entire dressing comes off and redone, which is not very comfortable for the patient. (Excerpt from Not All Days Are Magically Delicious by JParadisiRN, May 2010)

For that post, I even made a little painting of a wound vac so you can see what I’m talking about:

Wound Vac by jparadisi 2010

Well, I’ve come a long way in two years. I am happy to report I have changed many more wound vac dressings since writing that post, and each time the machine starts up with the sponge fully compressed and without that awful sucking noise, the very first time. The trick is realizing that you can never apply too much drape (it’s like self-adhesive Saran Wrap). Doing so prevents those wicked little air leaks. I can now spot the problem areas before powering on the wound vac.

Whether you are a nursing student returning to school, or a seasoned nurse struggling with new technology, don’t give up. Keep at it. One day, that piece of equipment you struggle to manage will be another skill you can add to your résumé.

Oopsy! 9,999 Units of Blood

photo: jparadisi 2011

I don’t remember what year of my pediatric intensive care career I discovered an aptitude for electronic devices, but I do remember I was caring for a patient with multiple monitoring lines: intracranial pressure (ICP), arterial pressure, central venous pressure (CVP), pulse ox, transcutaneous CO2 monitor (TCOM), as well as intravenous access lines and realizing that if I could maintain all of those wires and tubes safely, I could probably set up my stereo system at home without help. And I did. Next, I discovered setting up a computer and adding on a printer wasn’t difficult either. I plunged ahead fearlessly, learning to use ATMs and grocery self-checkouts before some of my male friends (sorry, that’s sexist). Today, I own a trove of personal electronic devices, including a smart phone, tablet, and a reader. I fully credit my initial interest and competence in electronic devices to my ICU nursing background.

That’s why it’s so funny that last week, I accidentally “released” 9,999 units of red blood  for a single patient on our hospital’s new electronic medical record system (EMR). Fortunately, in EMR lingo, “releasing” 9,999 units of blood is not the same thing as preparing 9,999 units in the blood bank, so only the two units ordered by the physician were prepared. No blood was wasted due to my error. The problem was accounting in nature: I couldn’t clear the remaining 9,997units from the EMR.  A very nice peer specialist came to our department and explained my error before he fixed it. Maybe it was inappropriate, but I couldn’t help but break into a quiet chorus of “9,999 units of blood on the wall, 9,999 units of blood… Take one down and pass it around, 9,998 units of blood on the wall.”