In a different world, I would have spent this past midterms week studying for a physiology class and practicing skills for clinicals. Instead, I spent this past week scouring over my human communications textbook and writing papers about the impact of teen movies on society. Over the summer, I changed my major from nursing to communication and have since found a whole new love for college. My assignments allow for more creativity and the content I learn genuinely excites me. People are usually surprised to learn that I was once a nursing major; STEM just doesn’t suit me. But it was never the science or my love for learning about the human body that made me want to be a nurse. Rather, it was my desire to help children and their families the way that my nurses had helped me.
I was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means that my left heart was undeveloped—in my case, the left ventricle. I had my first open heart surgery when I was just days old and had two more before I turned five. Since then, I’ve had a few other small corrective procedures. In St. Louis, where I grew up, there is a really strong community between children with heart conditions, their families and the doctors and nurses who take care of us. Patients all go to a summer camp together that is run by our doctors and nurses. We visit each other whenever someone is in the hospital, and some of us are best friends or even live together. Growing up around these people made me feel included and proud of my heart. But it also left me with a sense of wondering. I knew families whose children didn’t make it. I came back to camp each summer, scared to ask why some campers weren’t there that year. Why me? Why had I gone through all of this and why was I still here? There must be a reason.
This nagging feeling, this thought that I must be destined to do something important, led me to thinking that I was destined to help people. It made sense— I’d had so many doctors and nurses in my life who had helped me—now it was my turn. Then, I took an anatomy class my senior year of high school. I usually never had any interest in science classes, but this was different. It made me feel so empowered to learn about the things that I’d heard my doctors talk about for years but never truly understood. It all clicked. I was meant to be a nurse.
Once I’d declared nursing as my major, I felt so complete. Everything had come full circle. When school finally started, I found solace in the fact that, despite how isolating and scary college during COVID-19 was, I was studying something I was really passionate about. I didn’t love my classes, but I reminded myself that biology and chemistry weren’t the reason why I picked my major. I also worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle the blood, that I would be too grossed out to insert a catheter. I wondered how I would react when, inevitably, I would have to witness a patient’s death. Whenever I had these worries, I reminded myself how special it would be when I would get to have a positive impact on a family and their child. I thought about how I would be able to understand them on a deeper level, having been in their situation myself. And wasn’t that worth getting over my fears for?
By the end of my freshman year, I was more than burnt out. My classes kept me busy, but not interested in the material. I spent at least three hours each Tuesday and Thursday taking notes for my anatomy lecture. I dreaded my schedule for the next year, which included clinicals at 7 a.m. And at this point, my concerns about nursing weren’t a few little things that I could overlook. Almost everything about the profession either bored me or worried me. The only thing that still interested me was the aspect of getting to help people. Eventually, I understood that even though I wanted to help people, I didn’t have to do that through a healthcare profession. I realized that my strengths lie more in the reading and writing sector, and that I could use these skills at work with a non-profit organization or any company that provides a service for people. Now, I’m halfway through my first semester as a communication student and feel so much more myself in this major. I get to do more reading and writing-focused assignments and learn about topics that I am truly interested in. I know other heart patients who are current health care workers. I know students in the nursing program who are pursuing that career due to their own experiences as patients. But I now know that is not for me. And that’s okay.
I try not to spend my time wondering why I’m still so lucky, why I’m in good health. Instead of comparing myself to other patients, I choose to just feel grateful. Grateful for my amazing doctors and nurses. Grateful for the support from my friends who also have heart conditions. And most of all, grateful for the opportunity to receive an education about something I’m passionate about.