I was a pediatric ER/Trauma nurse working on a travel assignment in Pittsburgh when I was caught diverting medication. After I was confronted by the director of the emergency department, I was immediately released from my contract, asked for my badge, and escorted to the door.
Looking back, I realized I could have died. They should have held me in the hospital-or at least offered me some kind of resource to help me address my addiction.
But they offered nothing.
The problem with addiction is that it is viewed as a moral deficiency instead of a disease. If I was diabetic and was diverting insulin and was in DKA, would they have treated me the same way? Absolutely not.
I received no support from the hospital. I lost my position immediately and all health benefits were terminated. Rehabilitation was dependent upon what I could finance. On average, rehab can cost anywhere from $5000-$30,000 per program-and that was more than I was able to pay. I had to turn to my family for help.
The hospital was completely negligent in how they handled my situation, just because they had bought into the stigma.
When I walked out of jail on July 13, 2004, I had a trash bag with my personal effects from when I was arrested. I had no home. The clothes I had on were sagging, because I had dropped 20 pounds in jail. I had no driver's license and, most devastating, no nursing license.
I had nothing.
But what I did have was a second chance and hope that the best was yet to come. I promised myself in jail that the addiction would end and I would never live another day in regret. I'd go back to school; I'd recover my license.
And that's what I did.
Before the Board
In March of 2006 I was given the right to practice nursing again, and I will never forget it. It was a battle hard fought.
During my hearing there were over 60 nursing students present, while all the dirty details of my crimes were put forth for public record. However, if it raised the awareness of just one of those student nurses it was worth my humiliation. It has taken me years to work through the shame and guilt of what I did and how I ruined a career I loved.
Nursing after a Felony
I gained back my license after lots of documented AA meetings, working with the voluntary state monitoring board for impaired health care professionals, performing random urine screens, working with a sponsor, getting treatment, attending aftercare-doing it all one step at a time.
I currently do not work in a hospital because I've been barred from working in any facility that is funded by Medicare (Medicare forbids convicted felons from work). So that narrows down my options significantly.
In May of 2010, I will graduate with a Bachelor's degree in health administration and policy and will be applying to grad school to pursue a Master's in public health. I may even focus on policy, because a lot needs to change in the way health care handles nurses' addictions.
We must abandon the secrecy that hides an epidemic that no one talks about but costs the healthcare profession thousands each year. We need to stop hiding. If we don't support our own colleagues, what are we doing to our patients?
Now that's the real crime.