Just as I did when my mother died, I am making this post a little more personal than usual. When you live in a foreign country, especially if English is not the official language, certain life events can affect you slightly differently than if you were back home in your own state. This is one of those times, though don’t get me wrong. I am not melting in a puddle of despair, but rather something has given me pause because of my current circumstances.
The title of this post references the three stated ages here in Mexico. The second age is adulthood. The first age refers to those not yet adults. The third age is where I’m at – those over 65. I even have my Tarjeta de Tercer Edad – my I.D. card for the third age, or, as I jokingly refer to it, my “Old Lady’s Card.”
Well, moving on from that explanation…..Yesterday, I made my professional license “inactive.” Registered professional nurses renew their registrations every three years, and mine was due to expire in October this year. The choices were to renew or make it inactive which meant that to reactivate it, I would have to pay a fee, take review courses and I’m not sure exactly what else, but you get the idea.
First, a little background. I entered nursing school in 1967 and graduated in 1970.
It had been three years of blood, sweat and tears and medicine was quite different from today. No CT scans, MRI’s or PET scans. Bird respirators – not the fancy ventilators we have today. No antibiotic resistant organisms, and the list goes on.
For diabetics, we did not check their blood sugar. Instead, we collected a certain number of drops of urine, added a few drops of Benedict’s Solution, held the test tube over an open flame and when it changed color, compared it to a color chart to determine how much insulin to give. And the choices of insulin were pork or beef, U-40 or U-80 (indicating how many units of insulin per milliliter). And the syringes – glass with metal needles that had to be checked for burrs, and sterilized in an autoclave after each use.
So the changes I’ve seen over time can be compared to the changes my grandmother witnessed in her lifetime, having been born before the Wright brothers invented the airplane and witnessing men walking on the moon before she died.
Over the course of 45 years as a bedside nurse, my specialties were neurosurgery, vascular surgery and finally heart failure, and at the age of 61, finally earning my BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Also during this time, I became a certified Medical-Surgical nurse as well as a Certified Heart Failure nurse.
As the years wore on, I also volunteered and most of my volunteer work involved nursing. I was also becoming more and more sick and tired of the ice and snow of New York. Perhaps if I had had a job where I had snow days, I might have felt differently, but 45 years of having to travel to work no matter what the weather surely contributed to my desire to leave everything behind and find a place where I would never have to see snow again. And so, my mind began to focus on moving to Mexico after retirement, a place where I had volunteered for several years. Figuring that it was on the same continent, I spoke a little Spanish, I knew a lot of the people by then and I would NEVER have to see snow again, I took that leap.
To say I was overjoyed when my final shift was over would be an understatement.
My final shift before retirement. My son told me that he had never seen a photo of me where I looked so happy…..
Retirement was exhilarating, but still felt a little strange. However, it didn’t take much effort to get into the swing of things. I had always been active in volunteering, and people would laugh when I would talk about retirement, saying I wasn’t REALLY retiring. My answer was always, “I am retiring from THIS job, but will still be very active.”
Well, little by little my Spanish improved and I became very involved in community life, continued to help Project Amigo (the literacy project where I had been volunteering for many years) and through this newfangled concept of eClubs was able to continue to be a member of Rotary International by joining the Rotary eClub of the Southwest USA.
Still, in the back of my mind, was the nagging desire to continue my life as a nurse, in whatever form could be managed. My friend Magda, a Mexican nurse, had introduced me to the head of the nursing department at the University of Colima years prior to this. While I could not work as a nurse in Mexico unless I took my boards again – in Spanish – I could still teach with a work permit. I became a CPR instructor before retirement, thinking perhaps I could do that.
As time went on, I decided I did not want an official job again and felt guilty. If I had stayed in the U.S. I could have tried it per diem or part time and if it didn’t work out, it would have at least been a learning experience. However, Spanish which is passable during everyday conversations is not enough for professional duties and truthfully, I was and still am enjoying being in charge of my daily life without the bother of having to punch a time clock.
However, once a nurse, always a nurse, and I am still active in the field, but not in the usual way. I was going to say traditional, but tradition has several meanings. Traditional can mean the village health worker, or the healer, or the dispenser of herbal medicines. And here I have found myself between those two worlds. A person can go into Colima, or Guadalajara or Mexico City and get first class medical care. Here in my village, you also have people like my friend Lourdes who can tell you the medicinal uses for any plant that you see.
I don’t know how scientifically accurate their beliefs are or if some of it is just a placebo effect, but supposedly my pasiflora fruit from my tree is calming and helps you to sleep when the pulp is mixed with water as a drink. The leaves from my chayote vines supposedly help lower high blood pressure when mixed with hot water as a tea. Just about everything I grow on my property supposedly has medicinal uses.
When you think about it, many of today’s medicines are plant-based My pharmacology textbook from 1967 included pictures of plants, and dried purple foxglove leaves were still chewed for heart conditions. The purple foxglove is the plant from which Digitalis is derived.
Fun fact – I went to a lecture by Dr. Andrew Weil years ago. The topic was medicinal plants and one anecdote was about Digitalis. He said in medical school, instructors would say the first sign of Digitalis toxicity was nausea, but nobody ever became nauseated. He wondered why. Turns out, in the old days, people would chew on the leaf and the first sign of toxicity was nausea. Once the drug companies extracted and concentrated the drug into pills, it became so concentrated that the minor symptoms were often bypassed making the more severe effects the first ones witnessed or experienced.
Anyway, I digress. In village life, I guess my life has become more like the village healer of ancient times in some small way. If someone needs an injection, the doctor gives them a prescription, the patient and their family fill it and then must find someone to give it. I swear the entire village knows I am a nurse, so I have become the Injection Queen of Cofradia. When someone is not feeling well, they call me and I am not shy about telling them they must go to their doctor.
My heart failure training came in handy with another woman, as I explained to her and her family about low sodium diet, the importance of taking their meds as prescribed and bought them a scale, teaching them about daily weights and when to call the doctor. So while I am not practicing as a nurse, I am doing what any family member would ordinarily be taught to do (such as checking blood pressure) and explaining to them what they do not understand.
On the professional side, I am a member of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors (a fellowship for healthcare professionals and medical allied professionals worldwide – it is not a requirement that you be a physician). This has kept me in contact with healthcare professionals around the world to promote education and projects to medically benefit diverse populations. I also continue to read journals and study guides in an attempt to stay as current as possible.
I had seen online a video of a 90 year old nurse who was still working and how her colleagues celebrated her. I felt twinges of guilt for joyously embracing retirement after seeing that and hearing similar stories of nurses who worked well past retirement or after retirement came back to work part time or per diem. I have the impression that they are being celebrated for their dedication – so what does that make me?
I struggle from time to time with that thought and have come to the conclusion, which sometimes I need to consciously make an effort to remind myself, that this choice that I have made to live in this village is just as worthy as the lives of those who work into their 80’s and 90’s. I am living in one world and attempting to make a difference in those lives with which I come into contact. At the same time, through the wonders of modern technology, I can interact with the greater world, stay in touch with a host of other healthcare practitioners, and also make a difference there without leaving my new home.
While this post might be overly long and maybe a bit boring, my thought is that there are sure to be many other people, both still in the United States as well as in the ex-pat communities, who have also experienced these feelings. Perhaps they grieve the loss of their professional life. Perhaps they grieve that they are in their own Tercer Edad. These people may have experienced this for quite some time, or have just entered it or are fast approaching this stage of life.
While it will not be exactly the same for everyone, I just wanted to share my personal experience, my thoughts and actions, to let people know that this is not unusual and they are not alone. Hopefully this also gives a small indication of what might happen when retired in a different culture or a country where English is not the spoken language.
So, in the meantime, whether you decide to remain in familiar surroundings after retirement or go out to explore the world, please remember to find joy in all the little things in life. That is my motto and my wish for you. Please feel free to submit any thoughts you have, and questions or sharing of experiences. I would be more than happy to hold a conversation with anyone who wants or needs to talk.