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Managing Your Career
An RN’s Second Chance after a Felony
Hope for regaining your license after a conviction.


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.

Jail Time

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.


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39 Responses to “An RN’s Second Chance after a Felony”

  1. Bonnie Says:

    Well, I am very happy for you that you are recovered, and I certainly commend your efforts, but I disagree with you on this. Obviously those that have drug dependencies should not be in a position to handle medications meant to help their patients, but I don’t think anyone’s hiding except health care providers that have issues. The costs are from people who can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar, and I think random drug tests would solve that problem.

  2. Jack Stem Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Congratulations on your sobriety and your passion for changing the way this disease is perceived and treated (or mistreated). My experience was similar to yours with the exception of me getting my license back. The stigma associated with this disease prevents impaired nurses as well as any other addict from seeking help. It’s exactly why I became an advocate for impaired nurses. I wish you all the success in the world!

  3. Carla Says:

    Congratulations maybe your story will give me hope. My situation is a little differnt and i dont know what to do. back in 02 while dispensing meds my rn supervisor accidently gave wrong med to wrong pt. he died. I was charged with misdimeanor because i knew of the error but because i didnt call md eventhough it wasnt my mistake i was charged. currently excluded from medicare/medical for another 2 years. currently on probation with the boards for one more year. im supposed to work for at least 6 months but cant because of exclusion list and couldnt find place to hire me. I dont know what to do. How do you request to meet with the nursing boards. I was told by my probationer i wouldnt have any luck if i tried. Im running out of time and im desparate. I feel like everything is going against me. I worked so hard for my license. Anybody in the same situation and know where i could volunteer for six months as an RN? Every place ive tried doesnt even give me the time of day.

  4. Anne – nursing prof and NP Says:

    While I am happy that you are clean, I think you are very very wrong. Your attitude suggests ‘entitlement’ and anger because the hospital didn’t care for you. Well, guess what-you didn’t do YOUR part.

    You worked inpaired and could have harmed patients and employees. You didn’t ‘recognize’ your illness and seek help until someone caught you. You needed a ‘wake up’ call and you got it….you are responsible for your actions from the first moment you chose to take a drug to the moment you first chose to divert to the moment you chose to continue behavior you knew was wrong and potentially a danger to patients.

    Insulin dependent diabetics don’t choose to have the disease, may have problems in spite of making responsible choices, and rarely deny they have a medical condition. Further, they rarely steal insulin on the job.

    While addiction does have a strong genetic and medical component, the choice to act on the addiction is a CHOICE. And no nurse who makes that choice should whine about what the hospital or anyone else should have done.

    So they kicked you out of the hospital and you could have died?? Really? And what about the patients who could have died because you were impaired on the job?

    So buck up, grow up, and take responsibility for your choices. Until you do, you will never be fully recovered. Believe me, I know first hand.

  5. Leslie K. Machuzak Says:

    Anne:

    Its very evident from your reply that your very uneducated related to the disease of addiction. No one chooses to make that desicion and after a certain point the choice is no longer yours.

    We as healhcare professionals is where patients come to receive the support and direction in what to do when they want to get help or even in situations where they may not be open to help but instead of ridicule and telling a patient to “grow up” is the exact kind of nonscene that is both inappropriate and judgemental, but only you suffer from that kind of uncompassionate viewpoint, and once again my point about addiction being a moral deficiency and treated as such is what needs to change.

    I repaid my debt to society, went to jail for 18 months and now am working towards my grad degree. I have also regained the priviedge to practice nursing again. I can only hope that your fabulously compassionate attitude and outlook improves. Maybe you should put yourself in the shoes of a fellow addict nurse. Addiction and alcoholism more than parallels alcohol and drug addiction within the general population. If anything, you should encourage the best for ALL who suffer.

  6. Leslie K. Machuzak Says:

    Bonnie,

    Thank you for your comments. I am wondering when a nurse is caught diverting meds, do you hear about it…and please don’t think that it does’nt happen in your facility because it does. Whens the last time there was an inservice on the presence of alcoholism and drug addiction within your facility or how much education did recieve while in nursing school about a disease that is ravageing the ranks of nursing all over the nation. Health Practitioners Intervention Program recently documented the astronomical number of facilities that were not interested in an education session bringing this issue to the forefront. And what about your patients. How do you treat them. Alcohol and drug addiction is an occupational hazard that too many of you are in denial about. Its sad and the saddest part is not so much the way you treat your colleages but your patients. But I guess some feel they are above it…..it could happen to anyone if the genetics are there.

  7. Leslie K. Machuzak Says:

    Anne,

    The scariest part of your comments is that they are coming from a nursing professor who is perpetuating the continued cycle of denial and misinformation about addiction and what an occupational hazard it really is. Telling addicts to “Buck Up” is not what addiction is even about. I would encourage you to do some research on addiction, especially within our profession, how it happens and why.

  8. Paula Says:

    I am sorry but I agree with Anne….being an addict is a choice. You make that choice the first time you use. It is time for this country (and others) to place the blame where it belongs. On the addict.
    You cannot compare apples and oranges (diabetes with drug addiction). I am glad that you have recovered but part of recovery is accepting responsiblity and it does not sound like you have fully done this yet. And please don’t tell me to do any research about addiction. I have lived with it in my family my entire life and I still think the blame lies with the addict not with the institution. Should we blame the grocery store for obesity!

  9. MCKean Says:

    Nurses and docs that demonstrate such a lack of self control have no business in the field. It is just too hard to lose a license and too easy to get one back.

  10. Leslie K. Machuzak Says:

    As I am sure Dede would agree….being an addict is never a choice. Before you make such comments you should do some research on addiction and alcoholism, which I am sure none of you have done. Go sit in a couple AA meetings and listen to the number of people who have “choosen”…as you have put it, to destroy their lives. But my purpose is not to convince people such as yourselves whether addiction is a disease or one of self control, my purpose is to help those who struggle with the disease of addiction and face biases with courage and the belief that people with addiction deserve a second chance, because they do.

  11. Paula Says:

    Okay Leslie I am sure you are the expert here since you are the addict….but the first time you picked up that pill or that syringe you made a choice. Pick it up, don’t pick it up. You picked it up….you became an addict….I didn’t pick it up….I didn’t become an addict. That is what addiction is. Yes we all know how much you struggled but it was your choice to become addicted. I didn’t force you. Nor did the hospital that fired you. I am proud of you for kicking the addiction but you have yet to accept responsibility for it.

  12. socretes3 Says:

    I suppose it depends on the state you’re in when you go through school, but in Oklahoma they’re really big on addressing the addiction thing with nursing students. Our state board of nursing requires all students to attend disciplinary hearings of nurses (not just about drug use, but at least one of those cases always comes up). We learn how easy it is in that environment to become a user, and that most addictions generally start out harmlessly when a nurse has a surgery or something and is prescribed pain medications, and how it can get out of control. I’m sure everyone who has commented here understands how addictions work, that after a point you don’t really have a choice anymore. But that’s the main thing “AFTER A POINT” which means, there is a time in there that what addicts do is a choice. And anyone who has know an addict personally (drug addict, gambling addict, etc.) knows that the addict doesn’t have a chance to recover until they are honest with themselves that what they are doing is wrong, and that they can change the choices they make. We’re not saying it’s easy, but addicts still have to be able to take responsibility for their actions.

  13. Maria Says:

    Thanks for sharing…

    Addicts..recover..or die…

    Personally, I hear all the hard work you have done and will continue to do…I ask myself, would I want you taking care of me?

    Yes, we are all human, yes we do all make mistakes however YOU knew what YOU were doing and YOU made that choice…

    I know alot of nurses that CHOSE to go down that wrong path and that was THEIR choice!

    Tough situation..wish you the best…

  14. Bonnie Says:

    Leslie:

    Firstly, I’m wondering why you wrote this post to begin with, because as most of us have responded with our opinions that are contrary to yours, we have been attacked for our comments, and on a personal level in some cases. I guess I don’t know why you are surprised. We’re not haters, we are compassionate care givers, and we worry for the sake of our patients, our selves and the institutions we all work at.

    Secondly, I am sympathetic to any one who has a disease, that’s why I’m in the field. I just don’t think that an addict needs to be in that arena. Would you think an alcoholic needs to be a bar tender? Does someone who is clinically obese need to work in a McDonald’s? I know that’s simplifying the problem, but your just not going to get most people to agree with you on this.

    There are other jobs, better suited to someone who is a recovering addict, and I feel sorry for you, I hope it works out, really.

  15. Brian Says:

    What I find strange (and dangerous) is the author’s willingness, or need, to refute those who disagree. Those of us in recovery understand that this kind of resentment can be dangerous. In a worst case, one may return to substance abuse. At the very least, it will diminish her ability to help others, which is the true gift of recovery.

  16. shannon Says:

    for the person who says go to aa meetings and listen to those who “have chosen to destroy their life…”… I am sorry , but we have a serious lack of personal responsibility in our society. Using drugs is a personal choice. Maybe you later lost control of it … but personally thats why i wont start using drugs in the first place, because I will loose control of it and its generally a loser thing to start doing . MY CHOICE that I made . Maybe …. we should just feel sorry for everyone that is only a product of their environment or genetics : rapists, child molesters , violent crime commiters all of these have been shown to have genetic components …obesity is a “disease” beyond your own control .. WAH your job didnt help you just kicked you out. I would have said- dont let the door hit u on the ass on the way out. Poor patients – drug diverters are stealing from them

  17. Shannon Says:

    Leslie,

    I think it is great that you are recovering. There may have been extenuating circumstances as to why you did what you did and that is not my place to judge. I have been around addicts before and I have seen their struggle to stop drugs and sometimes it takes an intervention to stop the abuse. I do think the hospital should have at least offered help for you. I am glad you got your license back because I have heard of nurses who never did.

    I think that as long as you are honest with yourself and accept the fact that once an addict always an addict you can move forward. I know that may be difficult to hear but it is true. That is not to say that you will ever relapse.

    There is a Christian Recovery program that I have seen help a lot of people. It is called Celebrate Recovery and it uses the same 12 step principles but in a Christian format.

    I do wish you the very best on your new career and keep on moving forward.

  18. anewmo Says:

    Wow…some of the comments made are the exact reasons I remained anonymous about being in AA at my job. I am a nurse and just responded to Dede post. I am now facing 2 felony charges for I guess the correct term is diverting a drug. I have had 2 yrs. of sobriety and when I started drinkng at the age of 16 along with all my other high school friends on weekends at parties and yes it was a choice I made then…soon it became the only coping skill I had. I grew up not learning or even being aware of any other way to cope. And I am not blaming my parents for my disease even though my father is a raging violent alcoholic.

    Circumstances happened in my life and drinking remained my only way to cope therein beginning a viscous cycle of shame, guilt, hopelessness and despair. And how do I cope with all these feelings that I don’t know why I have? You got it…I drink. Drinking was my solution to all my problems and it was not a choice any longer.

    A informative and useful reference in nursing schools would be the first 164 pages of the basic text book of Alcoholics Anonymous, more commonly known in the AA fellowship as the “big book”. The 1st chapter is called, “The doctor’s opinion” basically explains the action of alcohol on chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy. A mental obsession coupled with a phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it…problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.

    A physical allergy, mental obsession and phenomenon of craving…whether genetics plays a part or just innocent drinking quietly developing in your body and mind to full blown alcoholism. Once the manifestation of the allergy has developed it can never be eradicated. Total abstinence was the only relief. That is where the debates could arrise. And honestly AA is quite amazing if you really think about the history of how it can to be… one alcoholic helping another, sharing experience, strength and hope. Of course taking my only coping skill I believe is normal away has to be replaced with healthy coping skills and that is where AA becomes essential to sobriety. And I do believe that once you have been given this priceless gift of recovery and you completely surrender to alcohol then you do have choices once again in life. In AA they say the only step of the 12 steps you have to do 100% is step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives have become unmanagable. This disease is the only disease that tells our body we don’t have a disease. The big book classifies differant types of alcoholics. I could go on but I have homework to do. This has been helpful for me in my sobriety.

    Back to my recent divertion of a drug, it started out as a valid RX for a fractured mandible. And just like that everything explained above happened to me and yes I chose to take the drugs and that leads me to my last comment. This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. My dream was to be a nurse and raise my kids in a safe, healthy home unlike what I had as a kid…I achieved that dream and my thinking took it away. My sickness, illness, disease once again returned and I am learning yet more about this disease and how patient it can be…it lays dormant in my body it never goes away.

    I truly believe in AA, one drunk helping another…and if you don’t suffer from this disease, god bless you and if you do suffer from this disease, god bless you.

    The highest result of education is Tolerance.
    – Helen Keller

  19. Simone Says:

    Leslie,
    You sound so intelligent, so bright. I know you have a lot to offer, keep going. Keep moving foreward.
    Simone

  20. Mike RN Says:

    Leslie

    I’ve read through all the ill informed and frankly ignorant comments. The lack of compassion and empathy is appalling, and this is coming from a pretty hardboiled ER nurse. Keep your chin up and walk proud — you’ve done well.

    Cheers
    Mike

  21. BERNADETTE Says:

    LESLIE I AM GOING THROUGH SOMETHING SIMILAR IM A LPN UNDER SUSPENSION IN OHIO IS THERE ANYWAY I COULD EMAIL YOU OR YOU EMAIL ME INEED SOME ADVICE SUPPORT SUGGESTIONS MY EMAIL IS PRETTYLITESKIN00@GMAIL.COM PEOPLE KEEPS TELLING ME I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO WORK AGAIN ITS A VERY HURTING THING

  22. Cindy Says:

    Thanks for sharing…you are absolutely right…..nurses are the first ones to judge you once something like this happens….you would think that your co-workers that you befriended at work will call and ask how you are doing or hold your hand or just see how you are doing, but instead, they are too busy talking about how you messed up…..I was in the same boat you were, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me…I no longer have to hide my addiction, I have my family back, and my nursing license is intact…I am working on my recovery one day at a time…God had a plan for me…..And he will never give me anything that I cannot handle……Good luck on your endeavor!!! I will be praying for you 🙂

  23. Zula Says:

    This is slightly after the fact, however…to those nurses refusing to “be a friend”.
    A “friend” of mine was diverting drugs and was also an alcoholic. Well, she wasn’t a good friend, but an associate and we occasionally went out with a group for activities. Didn’t know her enough to realize there was a problem…she was just one of the gang at work.
    When she was caught, she phoned me from her hospital bed (she OD’D) and asked me to tell them that the drugs were actually mine (valium). With disbelief, I said an emphatic NO but was hauled in anyway to the Dean of Nursing’s office and asked many questions and then had to sign an affidavit of what happened and what I knew etc.
    Some friend. No wonder no one wants to get involved. Maybe try for the sympathies of your professional…but leave me out of it. I have MY license to worry about and the moment YOU jeopardize that ….is the moment I stop caring.
    I actually DO care for my patients …and until YOU are a patient of MINE….you can find your own support system.

  24. Deb Says:

    I,m an RN with 18 years experience, 10 years in ER and 8 year in oncology clinic. I had been prescribed hydrocodone years ago for hip & knee pain. Years later, I experienced very intense family stressors. I remembered how the hydrocodone let me feel disonnected from my problems. Since I was now working in a very stressful cancer clinic, working a lot of overtime jut to make contact with patients afterhours to report results of diagnostic tests, I left no time to take care of me. I thought temporary us of hydrocodone would at least get me through the temporary family stress. The temporary stress lasted 2 years. Actually, the 2 years weren’t the issue, it was that 1st pill I took that took to hell. Taking pills to change the way I feel and obsessing how to get more is the definition of addiction. I soon found I was having withdrawal symptoms when I tried to stop. I also knew the devastation waiting for me if I asked for help. It took three years before I was found out, and thank God I was found out. By this time I was calling in prescriptions for myself just to avoid withdrawal symptoms. I had withdrawn from my family, never spent time with my husband, always made excuses not to talk to my sisters when they called. My kids were old enough that they didn’t spend much time with me, however, I was emotionally incapable of being a mother. The shame, guilt, and self hatred kept me isolated. I was no longer feeling the effects of the pills, just staving off withdrawal symptoms. When my supervisor confronted me after she received a call from a pharmacy trying to verify the latest RX I had called in, I admitted everything to her. This was the worst thing I could imagine, and it was God doing for myself what I could not do for myself. I knew that I would loose my job and have to relinquish my license, and the respect and trust of the nurses and physicians I had worked for the last 8 years, not to mention the respect and trust of my family members.
    I entered Detox the next day, spent 7 days in a lock down detox facility in a hospital, then went to a 28 day rehab program voluntarily.
    The second day in rehab, I was visited by a police dectective. He seemed compassionate, stated he just wanted me to get better, but he needed to know about how I had gotten the pills(hydrocodone) He said honesty would help me, but if I refused to talk and got a lawyer to fight him, he would charge me with every Rx I had called in over the last three years. I was relieved to tell him everything. He said that 2 or 3 or 4 charges would be processed, and that I would have to go to court, but that he would speak to the DA and he felt sure that all the charges would be consolidated into one, and probably reduced or dismissed due to my co-operation. This did not happen. When I completed 28 days in rehab, I started aftercare and was attending NA twelve step meetings daily. I called the dectective and arranged to turn myself in, so they would not have to come to my house and arrest me. As it turned out, I was charged with 10 counts of felonious obtaining heroin or opium by fraud ( the drug I took was hydrocodone) and 4 counts of trafficking heroin or opium ( I never touched heroin or opium, but because hydrocodone is synthetic opium, ie:opiod, they could charge for heroin or opium) I never sold any pills. I wasn’t going to share the pills that helped me and then became my master. The DA said the amount of pills I had constituted trafficking. They never found any pills on me or at my home……..I took them all. Taking 1 or 2 pils every 4-6 hours, I used 100 pills every 2-3 weeks.
    Although the NC BON is working with me in their chemical dependency program, it will be six months before I can request a hearing to receive a provisional license. However the District Attorney had offered to drop trafficking charges if I plead quilty to all 10 felony charges of obtaining controlled substance by fraud, with each charge to run consecutively. No consolidation of any remaining charges.I did not traffick any drugs, no drugs were confiscated. I cant’s be sure, but I believe I can get same of better deal from the judge, so I have decided not to accept the DA’s plea deal.
    My goal today is to accept what the court decides is fair punishment. I know that when I took that first pill, I opened the door for the monster to come in. I’ve also learned that I can choose to make love to the gorilla, but I’m not thorough until the gorilla says I am through.
    My trust in the legal system has suffered. One of my friends in NA has told me that when he has trust issues with any person or situation, that means he has trust with God. This speaks to me. Another NA friend told me that I am exactly where I need to be right now.
    I am working on acceptance. I love nursing and am an excellent nurse. Aren’t most nurse addicts overachievers? More compassionate because we have had pain in throughout our lives, so we worked extra hard to relieve our patient’s pain.
    I have 5 months clean and would love to be able to be employed in nursing again, but not where meds are available. I have considered RN case manager with insurance co. If I do end up with felony convictions, I know reemployment as RN will be extremely challenging to obtain, maybe impossible. I and working on the possibility that I may need to be exploring other options for careers, as much as that hurts now. I need to accept my higher power’s (whom I choose to call God) will for by life.
    Staying focused on my recovery and living in the present and keeping in touch with my spiritual power is what I am doing today. Afterall, I am exactly where I need to be right now.
    Love and hugs and prayers to all alcholics and addict who are in recovery, and those who haven’t received the choice for recovery, and to all the babies born into addiction through no fault of there own…….Amen.

    PS…….
    Zula, I am sorry and embarrassed that your co-worker actually got you investigated for what was her responsibility. Sometimes it takes time to accept our own actions. No excuse for involving you. I pray she can get into recovery. I pray for you also, Try to forgive her, for your peace of mind, not hers.

  25. CodeBlueRN Says:

    I am amazed at the complete and total ignorance of.. the medical community. Get off your high horses. Ever read how many DOCTORS go back to practice after this very thing. Addictions are a disease. Do not post here if you are too ignorant to know this, or please, surrender your licenses today. Good job in recovery and I hope you prosper. The rest of the nay sayers, they have a special place for those who judge others. Hope you have ice water.

  26. cindyb Says:

    As usual, our profession has difficulty finding compassion for one another while we extol the vitues of how compassionate we are for our patients. As a recovering nurse with 7 years of sobriety, I am amazed at how ignorant (lay as well as healthcare) people are about the DISEASE of addiction. I was especially disheartened by the comments from Anne, the nursing professor. Unfortunately, she is teaching our new nurses her biases and perpetuating the ignorance of most of America. I disagree with several points, particularly regarding addiction as being a choice. When I was a child I never thought, “When I grow up, I want to be an addict. I want to destroy my marriage, family, career and I to feel immense shame, guilt, and self-loathing while I’m at it.” I would like to ask Anne if there is any room in her world that acknowledges nothing is ever black or white? And yes, you can compare diabetes to addiction. No one asks to be born with either disease and despite good or poor choices, some get better, some maintain and some die. I think one of the best comments I’ve read today was from “anewmo” who suggested people read the first 164 pages of “The Big Book” of Alcoholic Anonymous. Even though my drug of choice was not alcohol, I could see myself on every page. I finally understood what I was and that I was NOT ALONE. Regrettably, our culture in the United States teaches everyone is personally responsible for their actions regardless. We can’t seem to take into account the differences we all face and one size does not fit all. My greatest wish is that we as a nation would educate our children about addiction and TREAT not incarcerate our addicts. By the way, what “CodeBlueRN” said regarding physicians is completely true. Because there are less of them, they usually do not lose their jobs or their licenses and are allowed to go back to work right after treatment but they generally have longer and more stingent monitoring.

  27. Leslie Says:

    Thanks to all of you who commented good and bad to my article. My sobriety is the number one priority in my life today. I have found that right actions equal right results and as long as I do the right thing I cannot go wrong. I got my license back but that I found was just the beginning of a long struggle. Through a lot of self searching, therapy, working the steps I found that my profession was my identity. I was a nurse first and an individual last. I grew up taking care of an alcoholic mother and younger siblings so no doubt I went into a profession that mimicked what I grew up in….taking care of everyone and that became my identity. I never entertained any other profession when I was growing up. Now I know why.

    I believe that addiction and alcoholism is a disease that cripples just as many in health care as it does in the community only it is the big secret of our profession. No one talks about how substance abuse runs rampant in out professions. I did return to nursing, of coarse with a felony I could no longer practice in acute care so I had to accept that and that was hard. I did go on to work in a number of different roles within medicine but ultimately not being able to return to acute care was the killer for myself. I went back to school and am working on finishing a degree in health administration and policy. I realized that I had a number of strengths outside of medicine and that forced me to finally get to know who I really was outside of my profession. It is possible to go back to our careers if we are willing to be responsible for what we have done and seek recovery like only the dying know how. If you do not have any felony charges, nine times out of ten with time you can get back to the career you had before but if you were someone who stole medication from your place of work you have to ask yourself if your life is worth it every time you go to work….it can be done and I know many who do but it is a conversation you owe yourself to have. We are talented, amazing people who work as nurses…..Anything is possible, in fact more than we would ever have imagined but we must become more open to the fact that addiction/alcoholism is not a moral defect, it is a disease that claims the lives of more and more people.

    I am certainly open to helping anyone who is looking to navigate the BON in their state. It’s hard but worth it. Please contact me with any additional info that I can provide anyone. lkmachuzak@yahoo.com

  28. Friend O Leslie Says:

    The author of this article died on October 10, 2014.

  29. Gil C. Says:

    Leslie passes away today losing her battle with depression. Do you think you all can be compassionate now? I shake my head at all you so called medical professionals in here saying addiction is choice. Does this mean depression is a choice? Mental health differs from physical health and as a nurse don’t qualify to pass judgment.

  30. johnny machuzak Says:

    hello all! I am the brother of the woman that wrote this article. Sadly my big sister committed suicide last October. I’m posting below what I wrote and read at her funeral. Sadly Leslie was never really able to come back from losing a career that she loved so. She was a damn good nurse and trust me when i say that the day she decided to use on the job haunted her for the rest of her life. Thank you!

    Johnny Machuzak

    REMEMBERING LESLIE 4-13-73 TO 10-10-14

    I once knew a staggeringly beautiful woman who wore high cheekbones and as much make up as her face would hold. An extraordinary extrovert, this woman had a jovial laugh and a sparkling energy; energy that spread like wildfire and warmed everyone around her. She loved dogs and Chex Mix and slapstick humor like a bad Billy Madison movie. Sadly this woman committed suicide after a long battle with alcohol and drugs on October 8th, 2014 at the young age of 41.

    This woman was my sister Leslie., Leslie Machuzak— daughter, sister, alcoholic, drug addict. I share this with you, not because I am in search of pity but because I yearn for the moment when those who suffer from, and have fallen victim to the horrific disease that is addiction will be given the memorial that their souls truly deserve. Many of us, and particularly those lucky enough to have never been touched by this disease, are unaware that addicts are powerless against their addiction. Until recently, this has been a difficult concept for me to grasp.

    I saw my sister transform from a hilarious, confident, and powerful woman to an individual dwindling away, as if a python was slowly constricting around her neck. What I finally realized was that none of us are ever in competition with that python. For addicts, there is never a choice to be made.
    For years I wondered if I could have been a better brother, if I could have changed her in some way. I practiced tough love and sent her books and information on recovery.

    What I didn’t realize was that I am a part of the vast majority of humans that can have an alcoholic drink or two and not feel the need to continue feeding that beast. I’ve never ingested a substance and yearned for something more powerful to fill the darkness within me.

    But my sister wasn’t so lucky. She woke up every morning, physically ill, her body surging with pain until she would succumb to the desire to resort to numbness. True, unabashed addiction is a level of suffering I cannot fathom.
    My sister was found dead on October 10th 2014. I was given the task of telling the rest of my family of my sister’s passing. This is not something a younger brother ever expects to do and I’m sure that this will stay with me for a long time.

    To describe the details of my sisters death to all of you now, is allowing me to truly embrace the fact that as her brother, I will always love her and I’m still proud of the woman she once was, and the woman that will forever be in my memory as my big sister. When i went to clean out my sister’s place a few days after she died, I saw something that will stay with me forever. On my sister’s dresser were pictures of me and my dad and a newspaper article cutout of when I was arrested for an animal welfare organization I proudly worked for.

    Even through her struggle and haze, and when I had nothing nice to say to her whatsoever, my sister still went out of her way each time we spoke to tell me that she was proud of me. She bragged about me, to the point of my own embarrassment, and never faltered when it came to expressing her love.
    She once told me that one of the only thing she hated in this world was having a part in disappointing or hurting me, and she clung to that until the day that she left this earth.

    My only hope is that, in her final moments in this life, she knew that she never disappointed me. In all my years with her, I have been supplied with a lifetime of hilarity, the drive and desire to reach out to others, memories of my sister making an absolute fool of herself simply to bring joy to those surrounding her. I see her in myself everyday. I never saw her as a “junkie,” or a “waste” or someone “deserving of death” all I could see was a beautiful woman, inside and out.

    I hope that all of you, Leslie’s friends and family, will join me in honoring her memory by practicing compassion over judgment, to always offer a helping hand to a person or animal in need, to always look beyond stereotypes. Because at the end of the day, every living being was once someone to somebody.

    Thank you.

  31. DR. Rn Says:

    I have read some replies to some nurses experiences and difficulty with the DISEASE of addiction. I too am an impaired nurse. I am now doing a five year probation with my nurszing license. However i am now pursuing a degree in psychology and a certification in addiction counseling. I’m sharing this because my expereince and story can help someone else, especially having knowledge first hand about the disease of addiction. Thisi s not something that a person say i think i want to be a addict. It is not alway a person’s choice. Nuses give so munch of themselves and take care of their family patients children and themselves last.

  32. Dr Says:

    As a clinician, I can say that most of the absurdly negative comments on here are just cruel and ignorant. People with addictions struggle from chemical imbalances created by their use of the drugs. True, maybe the made poor choices but so did the diabetic who over indulged. We give the diabetic a chance to resume their normal life, why wouldn’t we try to help those with addiction? Oh wait, it’s because we can take the moral high ground with addiction. How about everyone on here who posted about addiction asking them self if ever in their life they drove inebriated. By definition then you put someone’s life at risk–your own, a fellow driver.
    Yet when you break the law, you think it’s ok but when an impaired nurse or colleague takes a medication from the hospital they are the lowest form of scum of the earth because they may potentially harm a patient. That is hypocrisy at it’s finest.
    Leslie, unfortunately most people on here haven’t experienced loss or tragedy to know what suffering is and they may never know. I hope that you can put your life back on track but maybe medicine is not the right place for you. Being surrounded by detached, cold, uncaring people will not help you in recovery. There are other jobs to look at and perhaps it will be the best thing knowing that these people are no longer part of your life and they can keep their misery to themselves. Maybe in their darkest hour they won’t have someone to care for them either.

  33. Dr Says:

    Addendum:
    I just read that Leslie committed suicide Oct 2014–what a waste of a life. She had compassion and yet no one would give her a chance. To everyone who posted on here that was negative and judgemental, shame on you. You and all your administrative types who took a punitive, holier than thou stance caused a person to take their life!
    The tragedy is you people live your lives in a bubble and don’t understand tragedy, suffering, and redemption. Until you do, this story will repeat itself.

  34. Male nurse Says:

    Such a sad society we live in. Addicts already know what they are doing is wrong. They do NOT need someone to criticize them and beat them down further, they are already down. I’m overjoyed to see all those perfect nurses that have never made a mistake. Good for you. Rest in peace Leslie.

  35. Johnny Machuzak Says:

    Thank you all for kind words in honor of my sister. She loved nursing and felt so good about herself when she got her first job as a nurse. For the neg comment makers-How can you truly be good nurses if you lack empathy for people suffering in your own field? If I had a choice of which nurse took care of me when I needed it i certainly would never chose any that lack empathy. Try To just think outside your small boxes. You will see things differently I bet, I know I did and it’s a gift my sister gave me that I’m forever greatful for!

    Thank you!

  36. Dawn Hiott-Mendez Says:

    This is for (little) John Machuzak. This is Dawn, we worked together in the late 90’s at Sports Authority in VA Beach. I’ve been looking for you for years and I found this. I’ve moved back to the area and would love to reconnect with my friend. Please email me and let me know you got my message. I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. I know how much you loved and looked up to her.
    Dawnmendez1972@gmail.con

  37. RN_in_Shameful_Silence Says:

    I came across this article and comments just today- as I am searching for answers, hope, and belief in the old adage that “all things happen for a reason.” I am just 1 month out of being walked out for narcotic diversion. I was told that diversion was a “disease” of addiction, that it was understood and would be handled with grace and discretion by my hospital, and that it was non-punitive but rehabilitative and restorative. I self-reported (within hours) into what was known to be the rehabilitation and monitoring program for our state’s BON, as shame, loss, embarrassment for risking (and now possibly losing) everything I had worked so long and so hard for. The BON acknowledged this self-reporting and we have all been working together in these very early days. Then, at the 3 week post incident point, I was contacted by a local detective stating he was following up on what occurred as my hospital was required to report the loss of medications diverted. He stated he was only contacting to get my side of the story as my hospital was worried about me. In hindsight, it was discovered that at no point did he tell me I had the right to remain silent (“miranderize” me) or that if I wanted to speak with my attorney before making any statements I had that option. Having never been faced with anything like this in my past- I didn’t even know that continuing to be transparent with my situation would prove not to be in my best interest. The detective advised me that he had grounds to pursue charges based on the information he had and that he would be completing his report and he would be in touch within the next week if a warrant was to be executed. Now, this “non-punitive, restorative, rehabilitative” situation has been elevated to the possibility of punitive Felony charges. With my head a-spin I came across Leslie’s story- I have accepted my choices, the control my addiction had over me- I remain in a state of limbo and disbelief. My faith in the system, the misinformation, those who stated they were there “to help” has been rocked to its core.

    I came upon this article looking for possibilities of the outcomes if I was convicted on a Felony charges. I am leaving in utter shock and awe over the events around Leslie’s plight, respondent’s harsh judgements of another (who clearly had mental health issues that accompanied physical pain- and mistakingly sought the wrong coping mechanism), and ultimately Leslie choosing to take her own life over the shame and loss she was suffering.

    Every Nurse has a bad day, a horrifically terrible week- some go out and have a few drinks, some pray, some work-out; these are all coping mechanisms; self-medicating is also a coping mechanism, albeit a poor one-the wrong one, especially when it crosses into taking medications that are not yours to use. Please, try to refrain from bias and judgement- we just weren’t raised or programmed with the right coping mechanisms. As humans- we are always growing and learning. Those of us suffering from addiction just have a bit more growing and learning to do.

    To John Machuzak- I am beyond sorry for your loss. Her spirit may have been broken in life- but it is whole and intact and at peace now.

  38. Miss Doctornurse Says:

    Wow. What judgement had been passed here. Keep your head held high and do the next right thing Leslie. I appreciate your courage with this post. I am an addict and have been through a similar journey, one in which I do not wish on anyone. Being an addict is a disease, not a choice for you ignorant responders. These types of responses are why people continue to die every day from addiction. Shame on you. I’m Phd prepared and an NP so I am more than qualified to speak to this. Let’s project positivity when needed. Good luck moving forward.

  39. Tall RN in Oregon Says:

    Johnny, We used to know each other a dozen years ago.
    I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your sister. We would like to think that God does not give us more burden than we can bear and that someone is looking out for us in our times of need. Although Leslie is gone, her story lives on and will help others facing the same struggles.
    Time Heals all Wounds….believe me I know, but it takes an awful lot of time not to hurt anymore.
    Sending my love and encouragement across the miles.
    T- xoxoxo

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