Nurses choose the area of nursing they want to work in for many reasons. Sometimes, though, they choose the patients they want to treat because the disease affecting the patients also affected their family in some way. That’s exactly what happened with Melisa Fincher, RN, charge nurse at Black Bear Lodge (BBL) in Cleveland, Georgia.

“I personally chose to work with these types of patients due to my family being affected many times by addiction. My husband has also been in recovery for 12 years from addiction,” says Fincher.

Fincher took time to answer our questions about her line of work. What follows is an edited version of our Q&A.

As a nurse who specifically deals with patients going through opioid withdrawal, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

I do daily nursing assessments of patients in withdrawal to include vital signs, withdrawal assessments such as (CIWA/COWS), AIMS assessments, pain assessment, and assessment of patient’s emotional state. I give patient detox medications, regularly scheduled mental health meds, and regular medical medications. I do admission assessments on new admission of patients coming off the streets in active addiction. I discharge patients to home and educate patients on their discharge medication regimen. I provide ongoing education with my patients about their disease processes and recovery.

What ages of patients do you work with?

BBL treats patients of all ages above 18 years of age.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

Helping patients get through the physical and mental challenges that detox from opiates and other drugs and alcohol cause them to go through. They often come across as angry and unappreciative, when in reality they are just so sick they can barely stand. The emotional dysregulation that a person goes through when in detox can be very difficult to deal with. And one of the biggest challenges is when a patient isn’t quite ready to do the work that it takes in recovery and then wants to leave against clinical advice. It is very difficult to see a patient leave before their treatment is complete because I know where the life of addiction is going to lead them back to if left untreated.

What are the greatest rewards?

There is nothing like seeing a person leave BBL healthy and happy again after most of the world has seemingly given up on them and most of the time they have given up on themselves. It is amazing to see them have hope again and to hear stories of how their families have been restored and how they have become productive members of society again.

What would you say to someone considering this type of nursing work?

Addiction is real, and it is a disease process that needs to be treated just like any other diseases of the body that we treat. Leave any preconceived ideas or prejudices about addiction being a “choice” at the door or don’t choose working in addiction medicine. Be ready to face some of the most challenging, but most rewarding times of your career.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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