I took a circuitous route to my writing career. A registered nurse, I worked as the clinical supervisor of the coronary care unit and the assistant clinical supervisor of the intensive care tower at Baptist Integris in Oklahoma City. My life revolved around live and death decisions every day. I could almost smell the spirit of death. Ours became a competition. He determined to take lives; I fought to save them.
I was a worthy opponent.
Later, I accepted the position as director of the inpatient and outpatient cardiac rehab program. The same patients I’d shocked back to life, I now monitored on the treadmill and marched around an outdoor track.
During those years, I always scraped together the money from the departmental budget to attend the top cardiac rehab conferences in the nation. There I leaned not only the latest science regarding the heart but also the best techniques for keeping it ticking.
Years later, I left nursing and took classes to learn how to write. My instructor insisted that we write what we knew. I knew about cardiac rehab. How in the world could I parlay that into a writing career? It seemed impossible.
Soon after that, I read that the Oklahoma Nurse was hosting a writing contest! How freaky was that? Writing nurses. Who knew?
I studied the contest guidelines. Then I wrote a personal experience piece about Bob, one of my cardiac rehab patients. He was only 40 when he had a massive myocardial infarction. That’s medical speak for the kind of heart attack that’s called a widow maker. So much of the muscle of his heart had died that only a small part of the interior wall moved when his heart beat.
Interpretation: his goose was cooked.
Bob’s cardiologist sent him to us for emotional support since no one expected him to live. We took him through a month of cardiac rehab, having to be very careful with his activity. Afterwards, he graduated from rehab and joined our hospital based PACER® Fitness Center. He was the most compliant patient we’d ever known. He never missed his exercise. He followed his diet with precision. He just kept getting better.
After two years, Bob was in such good physical condition that the only way to increase his training effect was to let him jog. Another year passed and then Bob asked to participate in the Tulsa Run. We had to talk long and hard to convince his doctor to agree.
The story I submitted to the contest was Bob’s journey through cardiac rehab and the day he ran the Tulsa Run. Our physical therapist, who slow jogged next to him, wore emergency syringes filled with drugs taped to the skin under her shirt, just in case she had to resuscitate him.
The race was long over by the time Bob topped that last horrible hill. It was raining and miserable. The crowds had left. The judges long gone. The road littered with confetti. We formed a human chain across the street where the finish line had been. We cheered and chanted as Bob trudged up the hill and ran into our arms. We wrapped him in a group hug and wept. I wove enough science into the story to make sure our readers understood that his performance wasn’t an improvement in his heart but something called the AVO2 difference.
I won the contest.
I told the editor of the Oklahoma Nurse that I wanted to submit the story to the American Journal of Nursing.
She laughed at me. Mocked me. “The AJN is a scientific journal. They never print personal experience stories. Don’t waste your time.”
I sent the story anyway, knowing full well that I would get a rejection letter.
Here’s the thing. Rejection is…let me sum this up…disappointment. It’s not life or death. For almost 20 years, I’d worked at a job where a mistake meant someone might die. Hurt feelings? Come on. I’d had to stand toe to toe and nose to nose with prima donna doctors who screamed at me.
Hurt feelings? Disappointment? Pfttt.
AJN not only published the story, the editor called to ask what else I’d like to write. I told her I would enjoy doing a round-up piece about the top cardiac rehab programs in the nation. When that article was published, two things happened.
I got a call from the director of the top cardiac rehab conference in the nation. He. Asked. Me. To. Speak. I was the only nurse and the only woman on the faculty.
The next thing that happened was the editor offered me the job as Cardiovascular Editor of the American Journal of Nursing. I didn’t want to raise my children in New York City, so I passed on the offer.
My point is this. You never know what one publication can do for your career. Stop being afraid of being rejected and start submitting.
It’s not life or death.
Except for your career.