For most students, nursing school is already hard. What if you have a disability or illness? It becomes much harder. Yet as this contributor to the book “Nursing Students with Disabilities Change the Course” shows, it’s difficult but not impossible. Here’s the story:
At about the age of 15, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. The doctors encouraged me to do exercises and they wanted to put me in traction. For a few years, the exercises seemed to be enough to keep my spine from getting any worse. But when I was enrolled for my Bachelor’s degree in a nursing school, my problems really started.
The scoliosis progressed and the pain started while I was in my nursing program. It was like being at a freak show. Thankfully, an orthopedic surgeon was doing an outreach program at the university. I saw the worst cases of the disease and the most advanced conditions.
I was then seen for a complete work-up and surgery was scheduled for my winter break. I planned to have the surgery, finish the spring semester, and graduate with my class.
I met with the Dean and let her know that I was planning the surgery. I asked her if she had any suggestions for me. She said, “No big deal! No problem, you’ll do fine!” I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be a breeze.
I had the surgery and they inserted a rod in my back. My mother came to pick me up on a Friday and drove me home. I recuperated from Friday night to Saturday. And then on Sunday, she drove me back to college. I was in a full body cast! I lived alone in an apartment off campus, about a mile away.
Walking was good for me and walking was what I did. Driving a car was out of the question. I did have problems with pain, bathing and sitting.
The professors helped out by letting me sit in the back of the class so I wouldn’t have to turn my head. My neighbor was also a nursing student who had a car. When we had classes together, she would take me home.
Adjusting to the Circumstances
Since I knew that I was going to have the surgery, I planned my course work accordingly. I planned to take community health nursing in my last semester. Community health nurses usually don’t wear uniforms. I couldn’t get into a hospital uniform because of the body cast.
The course required that students drive to patient’s homes so I took the bus to visit with my patients. Patients would say to me, “What happened to you? Shouldn’t you be the patient?”
I would recommend that a nursing student with a disability be set up with counseling sessions. I really didn’t come to terms with any of my emotional healing. It was a major loss, not only of time being a young person, a senior in college, but my physical body.
Starting All Over Again
I graduated and went back home to recuperate. I got the cast off in September and got a job as a nurse in intensive care. I had that job for about two months and then the rod in my back broke and I had to have surgery all over again.
I can remember the day that they got me out of bed. My girlfriend was there. I was so weak, like a rag doll. I had no strength in my legs and I was incontinent, embarrassed to think that my best friend was wiping my butt.
It was a horrible year. I was in a body cast and couldn’t get a job. I had to collect disability. I did a lot of self-reflection and tried to use the time as an opportunity for personal growth.
I started applying for jobs while I was in the body cast. They said, “Come back after you’re out of your body cast.” “Who wants a nurse with a bad back?”
Finally, one hospital did hire me with the condition that I would start work after I got the body cast off.
Coping with Challenges
When I look back, I would have done it all over again. I’m still working on things like anger and sadness. I have been involved with the Scoliosis Association, attend meetings and try to be supportive to others.
It would have been helpful to have accommodations from the nursing program. Somebody could have taped the classes and “a buddy” would have been a great help.
My spine is fused, so it’s like my spine is in a cast. I do have occasional problems with arthritic pain that is related to stress and repetitive strain from computer work. When I have to do anything physical, I try to get two or three people to help me so I don’t hurt my back.
There is a lot of pain that goes along with nursing school than the physical work of being a registered nurse. I knew that I had a great mind, but also knew that I didn’t have a great body. So I took the opportunity to get my masters in nursing. I now work as a nurse practitioner. I’m very mobile.
So far, so good!
To read more inspiring stories, grab a copy of the book “Nursing Students with Disabilities Change the Course,” as compiled by Donna Carol Maheady, EdD, ARNP from lulu.com. Proceeds from the sales of the book will help support ExceptionalNurse.com, a nonprofit network for nurses with disabilities.