Life's Other Adventures · Nursing

Plan A


Nursing wasn’t my Plan A. Princess was. But somewhere between learning to walk and growing out of my childhood ball gown I learned my dream would never be reality. My blood would never be Royal.

I moved to Plan B. Ballerina. My mom had been a professional dancer and I wanted nothing more than to follow her path. But again, somewhere between tight hamstrings and Crohns Disease that dream was lost as well.

So there I was, seventeen years old and my life was over. The two things I had poured all of my being into for seventeen years were being ripped from my white knuckled grip. I had spent over a dozen years trying to force this dream on my tired, sick, struggling body. I hadn’t yet considered other options. I didn’t have a list of potential college majors, or like my friends, a list of things I wanted out of my future university. I had a desire to be on stage, to improve my technique, to perform flawlessly. I wanted the perfect combination of strength, agility, and beauty that the finest ballerinas possess.

But my body wanted something different. It was tired. I had been diagnosed with Crohns Disease three years prior after a long and painful battle with doctors, tests, continued weight loss, uncontrollable fatigue, and pain. Anorexia had been the initial diagnosis and by the time it was replaced with a distinct medical cause I weighed 80 pounds. I was exhausted, out of school, out of dance, and very, very discouraged. I had spent weeks in the hospital through multiple inpatient stays with countless other hours spent at the gastroenterologist’s office. It was here that I observed firsthand how medicine works. I had no idea at the time how valuable these experiences would be.

After three years of diseased dancing my body called it quits and I finally listened. I set my dream aside and reluctantly started over. I did what every good high school senior should; I inventoried my experiences, my personality, my strengths, and my desires. As I looked back on my life’s experiences the nurses I had spent so much time with stuck out in my mind. They had been patient, kind, and present throughout my hospitalizations. The doctors had masterfully formulated treatment plans and medication regimens, they had performed surgery in a way that achieved the desired outcome but still left me feeling whole, unbutchered. They whisked into the room to examine me, but often quickly whisked out, on to the next of their heavy patient load. Through all of this though, it was the nurses who were present, who came into the room and stayed. They brought be milkshakes when I would drink nothing else, they answered my questions in words I understood after the team of physicians left the room. They assured me through my vulnerable tears that I would in fact have a life again, friends again.

I loved the biology of the human body, but not enough to lock myself in a library for years. What I loved more was the humanity of medicine. I loved the weight the nurse carried in the determination of my day. The days my nurse was short, dismissive, insensitive, or unkind I struggled to maintain a positive attitude. Yet when my nurse was the opposite of those things I felt rejuvenated, revived, whole, and most importantly, like I was healing. I wanted to be a part of that.

And so I slowly loosened my grip on ballet, one finger at a time. For a moment I lingered in the balance of uncertainty. And then just as slowly, as the details fell together, I pinched onto nursing then tightened my grip, one finger at a time until I held it in my one hand, my nursing school uniform in the other.

I had surgery again part way through my schooling, confirming again that I was where I needed to be. I still mourned the loss of dance, I missed the feeling it had given me as I clumsily fumbled through drawing up meds, turning patients, and organizing an overwhelming adult med-surg assignment.

Near to the end of nursing school I took a job in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I was so unsure of my decision; if I would like it, if I could cut it, if I could handle the emotions and the intensity. My orientation lasted an entire summer. In the months that followed I settled into my new role and I loved it. Suddenly my job was everything I ever wanted and never knew I needed to be doing. When I cared for a critical patient; organizing lines, monitoring drips, addressing issues with the physician, confirming my assessments with my senior nurses I began to experience a familiar feeling.

When I worked I felt the perfect combination of strength, agility, and beauty that the finest ballerinas possess.

The strength was now more than physical. The beauty was now outside of me, it was the awe of what I was able to be a part of. The vulnerable, scary, and then overwhelmingly joyful moments I was able to share.

Life is most beautiful in its rawest moments.

I found myself exactly where I needed to be and I could never have chosen it on my own. I could never have planned this without the loss of what I thought I wanted.

See, that’s one of the funny things with life; the plans and the disappointments. Plan A is rarely the course ultimately taken, the course succeeded. I have had so many experiences at the loss of a plan A when it feel like everything is falling apart, life will never be the same, things will never again fit like they once did. But eventually, over time, you find yourself somewhere else.

You make it to Plan B or C or Z and suddenly there is a moment when it feels so right, it fits so well, that it seems like it truly was Plan A all along, you just didn’t know it yet.

Taking a break from playing Princess
Taking a break from playing Princess

9 thoughts on “Plan A

  1. I have subscribed to your blog once I had read the “just a nurse” blog. You are gifted, it seems, in both nursing and writing. I very much enjoy reading your blogs. I have never met you, probably never will, but I feel like I am beginning to know you. I find myself slightly yearning for your next entry. Thank you for allowing us to read about your life.

  2. Kateri,
    Your blog is helping me mentally and emotionally prepare to fully enter the nursing profession after I graduate in December. I am so nervous, but my excitement is overflowing for this new chapter in my life. Your blog is fueling this excitement! I am currently completing my preceptorship on a step down unit and am loving every minute of it!

  3. Hi Kateri, well-written and insightful as always! My plans A, B, and C (carpenter, paleontologist, and astronaut) kind of came and went and shuffled throughout my childhood. They were all out the window by high school, and by graduation I was well on my way to becoming a research biologist or professor. And sure enough, here I am doing biology research. But the funny thing about my plans isn’t my vocation so much as my avocation(s) – I took up woodworking several years ago (close enough to a child’s view of carpentry) and just this year I’ve enjoyed renovating an old house (real carpentry). Seems like I made it back to Plan A in one sense after all! I’m finding it meaningful and fulfilling in ways that are surprisingly similar to some of my childhood hopes. I’m also very happy with my career in Plan ~E, for different reasons that I didn’t even consider as a child. (I think B and C are still on indefinite hold, though…)

  4. Kateri,
    I am so happy to have found your blog! I was a dancer as well– not nearly as serious as you, but I understand perfectly what you are saying about the intersection of strength and beauty, where you are like a living work of art. It’s amazing. And I’m thinking about a nursing career as well, so your words are very encouraging. And you are a wonderful writer! Do you write poetry? I bet you’d be very good at it.

  5. Most nurses, myself included, would say that nursing really wasn’t their first choice. But as you go along the process into becoming a nurse, you get to meet astounding people and find that helping patients and becoming a change agent is great.

    For a nurse educator such as myself I like to see my students pass the NCLEX examination on the first try. Which is why I have developed a website that has all the tools needed to better prepare students such as test taking strategies, study cards and question trainers. I also have a mobile application that helps students review for the NCLEX anytime, anywhere! All of these can be found at

  6. I would like to get permission to use parts of Just a Nurse at a 50th reunion of my nursing school class. I think it would add something to the years of nursing we have all practiced

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