Starting over fresh can be one of the scariest and most exhilarating things we can do.
This is her story:
“You need to get out of here. Now. While your self-esteem is still intact,” my nurse hissed at me as we pretended to be conferring over a particularly challenging medication pass.
I simply stared at her, my eyes threatening to fill with tears.
“I mean it. This place will chew you up and shred you into a zillion tiny pieces. Get out now!”
I nodded, afraid my voice would give my distress away.
“You okay, Boss?” another nurse came by our “difficult” medication pass.
I shook my head no.
“I saw what just happened – the whole dining room did. What she did was NOT okay, Boss. You deserve better. You’re a good lady,” she continued.
The tears spilled down my cheeks.
“I saw her hit you,” a CNA, also “conferring” on the “difficult” medication pass crept over to chime in. “That’s abuse.”
I nodded, trying to cling to the last vestiges of my leadership. They were right. I just didn’t know what to do: I loved my job, my staff, my building. It was just her.
“Why the hell did she hit you?” yet another CNA pressed some Kleenex into my clutched hand as she wandered up to see how I was doing. “That’s just NOT okay. You can’t work with an abusive boss. Why do you think so many of us leave? We can’t take her.”
“I-I-I,” I stammered trying to wrap my brain around it. “She’s mad at me. There was a misunderstanding.”
“Misunderstandings don’t constitute abuse. I heard her yell at you last week about being a “failure,” for something that was my fault,” the second nurse chimed in. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I replied. “I’m trying to be the buffer between you and her.”
They all looked at me sympathetically. “That’s not your job,” the CNA stated flatly after a moment of silence.
“I know it’s not,” I replied. “But if I don’t, you’ll all walk out and you’re some of the best staff I’ve ever met. And I love my job…. when I can actually do it.” I smiled wanly.
They clucked around sympathetically before I gathered myself together, hugged them, then walked back into the fire, my head high.
“Get in here,” she yelled across a dining room full of staff, residents and family the moment she saw me. “And shut the door.”
I sat perched on the edge of her chair, waiting for the onslaught of insults and character assassination that I knew would follow. I loved my job, but I hated this part of it.
Nurses I’d noted, more than most professions, are more likely to accept abuse and ill-treatment thanks to the way they’re treated on the job. I knew this, and still I stayed, loyal to my ethically-challenged boss, or, at the very least, my amazing staff and the residents whom I adored.
Sure, I’d taken to vomiting on my drive to work from the stress of working with my boss. Sure, my anxiety about being even five minutes late because I dared stop for gas often led me to weep in the car. Yeah, I spent most days walking on eggshells and taking the abuse she loved to dole out. But I had a job! And I loved it! How many people could say that?
I sat there and listened to her berate me, my face impassive, as I allowed the words my coworkers had said to wash over me. Carefully, she’d documented any transgression I’d made from not signing my name on a particular document to daring to be several minutes late following a routine doctor’s appointment. It was all bullshit and I knew it.
I also knew from watching her do this in the past that she was building a case to ensure I wouldn’t see a dime of unemployment. That was her way. I’d been waiting, like the rest of the staff, to be fired during one of her outbursts. We often joked, when she wasn’t around, that we stashed boxes in our office to quickly pack our things because we never knew when the ax would fall.
She offered me probation, a salary cut, and various other indignities, all over being unreachable by my cell for several hours on my weekend, even though I hadn’t gotten a single call on my land-line. She, I knew from experience, didn’t have any desire to listen to me; she was in punishment mode.
And sitting there in her office, I stared outside at the bright blue sky as she continued insulting everything she could think of, then began to lie to fill in the gaps, tuning her out.
A lightning bolt hit me as clear as a bell: this was it. I could sit there and take her shit, continue vomiting into a plastic bag on my way to work and panicking every time my phone rang, or I could start over. I was a grown adult and I was damn good at my job. Certainly this wasn’t the only place I’d be able to work. If I’d learned anything in the past year, it’s that life is too short to be miserable all the time.
When she was done assassinating everything from my dislike of sandwiches to my coffee habit, I stood, shook her hand and looked her in the eye.
“Thank you,” I said, my eyes hardened and cold, momentarily knocking her off balance with my response, as I held out my hand to shake hers. She didn’t take it.
She stammered something cruel as I turned my back, opened her door and walked out, ready for the next chapter of my life to begin.