Could You Do It Again? Would You?

Da Goddess @ 23:56

Over at Deadspin, Drew Magary writes about retaking the SAT at age 35.

At first you think, why would anyone want to do such a thing? WHY? Didn’t you get your fill of torture back in high school? But then you get to thinking, “I wonder if I’ve become smarter or dumber since leaving school…” and there’s really only one way to find out. You gotta take the test again.

While I didn’t do SAT or ACT in high school, I did have a couple of big tests I had to face later on to do the whole nursing thing. And Drew’s story made me remember, all too vividly, those events.

Here is that story (for those who may not have read it before [different iteration, same basic tale] and would like to take pleasure in my severe discomfort).

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

I never took the SAT or ACT. I wanted to go to college, but I figured I’d start out at a community college and work my way up. (Somehow, I figured it would be easier to figure out what I really wanted to do by spending less money on classes that only inspired me to drop out, drop back in, drop out again, and, well, you get the idea.)

It took me until I was 30 before I was ready to tackle school again, and I had picked a major: Nursing. I went into nursing. I went the old “tech school” route. I still had to take an entrance exam and general education classes to get to the nursing track, but I did it. And not only did I ace the entrance exam, I CORRECTED THE MOFO for the school. The one thing I’d remembered about algebra was order of operations and they messed it up, setting the “correct answer” incorrectly. For this half-brain dead second-time mom (really, only months after having kid #2…and at that point, you’re still not sleeping well, still haven’t recovered the brain cells the kid sucks out of you during gestation) who pretty much grasped math but hated it for anything unnecessary in life to correct an entrance exam at a school and have the school dance around me, throwing confetti, handing me champagne (okay, I probably just imagined the party), that’s pretty damn good, right? Right. And it was a good thing I had done so. Because, little did I know, I was about to enter the world of pharmacology. EVERYTHING involved with pharm and dosage calculation is all about numbers and scary equations. Multiplying and dividing fractions! Adding all sorts of scary other numbers. Worst of all, you were told: “YOU MUST GET THESE EQUATIONS RIGHT. A WRONG ANSWER COULD BE FATAL FOR YOUR PATIENTS.” Absolutely no pressure there. None. Just more sleepless nights and bald patches on your scalp, from all the hair-pulling. I don’t think I had fingernails for a whole year.

After you finally finish nursing school, you have to take your Boards. Yes, there is one final scary, piss-your-pants, sweat-stain-your-clothes exam that makes any other test seem like a cakewalk. I, fortunately, had gone to a school that had just been purchased by Kaplan. We got free Kaplan test prep classes. Thank God for that week of 8 hour sessions and practice tests. Thank God for the practice test books and CD-ROM tests I bought. Still, when I went in for my Board exam, I was terrified. TERRIFIED. But, as ready as I would ever be. All my belongings were locked in a locker. I was handed a pen, an erase board, had my driver’s license, too, and sat down in a chair in front of a large, intimidating gray computer screen. (Technically, I would call that shade of gray “grey” because it was so oppressive and scary.)

The thing about the NCLEX (Nursing Board exam) is that you know for certain you’ll have a minimum of 75 questions. Or you might end up with the maximum 500 questions. Or something in between. No indication if you’re doing well or not. You can take as long as you want to finish the test, but you can’t go back if it suddenly dawns on you that you answered something wrong. You just keep going forward. When the program determines you’ve answered enough questions correctly or incorrectly, it shuts down. Blank. No Porky Pig sayin’, “B-b-b-b-b- That’s all, folks!” Just a blank screen. At some point along the way. No warning.

I sat in my plastic chair in front of the GREY SCREEN OF DEATH and went through question after question. I applied all I’d learned through the Kaplan study course to make my life easier. Until it came to dosage calc. I didn’t have a calculator. Just my sweaty and horribly fatigued mommy brain. But I got to it, did what I had to, and got through each question as it came along. I floated back into the confusingly worded questions I liked so much better, hoping pharm wouldn’t come up again, but it did. Each time, I chicken scratched away on the white board, got my answer, and prayed it matched something on the GREY SCREEN OF DEATH. It did. It always did. Right or wrong, my feeble brain came up with something that someone else had kindly included in the multiple choice section.

After noticing that I was nearing question #75, I broke out in a new kind of sweat that I hadn’t known existed before. It’s the sourest of sour sweat and it’s super extra runny, drippy. I had to blink it away from my eyes. Finally, I gave up and started using my t-shirt to blot away what I could while I worked. My breathing was ragged. My hands were shaking. I thought for certain I was about to pass out in front of all the other people taking their boards. Somehow, I managed to avoid that indignity altogether. My mouth when dry as #75 popped onto the GREY SCREEN OF DEATH. I closed my eyes, took a long, deep breath, exhaled slowly, and then opened my eyes to find a question I knew without a doubt I could answer correctly. So, I did. And then the computer shut down. Blank screen staring back at me. I began shaking even more.

WHAT? Did I break it? Is the test really over? Does 75 questions mean I passed or failed? Help! HELP!! There was nothing left to do but pick up my pen, dry erase board, my locker key, and my driver’s license and take them to the administrator. I noticed my classmate Geraldine was still taking her test, and another couple people I knew, but I couldn’t say anything. Not even, “good luck!” Only after I had turned everything in to the administrator did I find out I’d finished in 45 or 90 minutes…something like that. The woman told me not to worry. The first person done always freaks out, even if they had all 500 questions. She told me to go home, take a warm shower, drink some Gatorade, and try to find a dark, quiet place to rest for a bit. “You need it, honey. You’re drenched in sweat and you’re so tense you look like a pretzel…and not one of the pretty ones that everyone eats first.” Gee, thanks.

I did go home. I did take a shower. The longest shower I’d ever taken in my life. It was so long, I emptied the water heater tank. No easy feat at our house. But I did it. I put on my jammies, grabbed a cold drink, went into my bedroom, curled up into the fetal position, and cried non-stop for two hours. Once the relief of being done with the test was fully out of my system, I picked up the phone and called everyone I knew. For those who were in the room taking the test with me: I had to leave messages. Apparently they were still there taking the test. For those who hadn’t taken the test yet: I went through the whole experience, leaving no detail out. I tried to give them as many questions as I could remember (although the database has an unlimited supply of questions and the chance of one of my classmates getting the same questions I had was basically zilch, we’d promised to do this for each other). Once I was done with the nursing school students, I called the three teachers I’d formed strong bonds with over the year. They talked me down off my ledge of anxiety and gave me the list of places I needed to apply, places they’d carefully chosen for me, and each ended our conversation with gentle, upbeat, life-affirming words of wisdom.

After that, I called my mom and started crying all over again. It took a full week for me to truly come down and chill out enough to get back to normal day-to-day activities. Well, at least until the day we knew we could call the Board of Registered Nursing (about 3 weeks later, if I remember correctly) to see if we’d passed (we could wait for the mail to deliver the results, but why wait longer when you can get the results quicker over the phone!). You didn’t just call in and give your name and have someone tell you, “yes, you passed. Your license number is 1234567”. You had to listen to a block of numbers and names read by a computerized voice. You had to pay attention to the numbers, too, because if your name followed it, that was your license number. And you might have to call back later if you hadn’t heard your name yet because they updated the system every two hours. It was nerve-wracking. By my third call, I figured out the easiest way to get through the system and when I finally heard my name, there really wasn’t much left to do but jump up and down and whoop and holler loud enough to wake the baby across the street. I had passed! Better still, I discovered my friend Geraldine had passed, too, as her number was right after mine.

Getting my results in the mail a few weeks later, along with my actual nursing license, was one of the proudest moments of my life! Much blood, sweat, tears, hair, vomit, diarrhea, and finger/toenails, not to mention money, were sacrificed for that glorious piece of paper and that little plastic card. Once again, I woke the neighbor’s baby, but didn’t stick around long enough to care. I raced over to show off my “trophies” to my mom, dad, mother-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law, my husband, my kids, and anyone else I could possibly bore with my tale of horror and, ultimately, victory.

Part of me is glad I never had to face the SAT or ACT because I would have crumbled. I wasn’t nearly as strong as a teen to endure that sort of pressure. I was barely just strong enough as an adult to face my nursing board exam (which was much more difficult). And I know if I’d had taken the SAT or ACT years before, I would have never wanted to sit for the NCLEX. It’s a trade I’m glad I made because by the time I got to nursing school, I was focused and clear on what I wanted to do with my life and I had my family, especially the kids, giving me all the motivation I needed to work hard and stay on task. I did it and I will never, ever…EVER…do it again. That was plenty for me.

1 Comment

  1. I have had similar thoughts in the past. Would I, or even could I, go through paramedic school again? I recall all the flash cards I made up with drug names on one side, and all the product info, dosages, indications, side effects, etc on the back side.

    While I like to think my brain is still pretty much ok, I know for a fact I am not as sharp as I used to be when it comes to memorization. I’ve been out of the business now for 25 years. I still have a lot of that information available with instant recall, but have forgotten sooo much – and I am positive I couldn’t learn it all from scratch as readily as I did before. At this point, I wouldn’t want to either.

    Comment by Stu — 2012/03/28 @ 14:30

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