By Penny Poole, RN, CNOR Jackson, Mississippi

It’s funny how life has its way of coming full circle. I was an infant when I was burned by boiling water over my right chest, axilla and medial upper arm. It was 1954, in a very small rural community in the delta of Mississippi; the closest hospital was 17 miles away. When we arrived, they could not care for me. They sent us to the next-closest facility, which was 25 miles away. The only assistance offered was an IV for fluid replacement and a transfusion of blood; this was done so I could make it to the next hospital in Jackson, some 40 miles away.

As luck and fate would have it Dr. James Hendricks was new in town, a plastic surgeon, the first in Mississippi, and a very well-trained young doctor, I’m told. He and I began a relationship as patient and physician; no one could have known or suspected how it would affect my future. I spent the next year in the hospital under his care. My grandparents and my mother told me stories over the years of how I would scream and cry and try to climb out of my crib to get away from any doctor or nurse. The white uniforms, coats and stethoscopes were a dead giveaway every time. None of my family ever believed I really wanted to be a nurse when I grew up. I never thought of being anything else, nor have I ever regretted the decision.

After several skin grafts over the first year, a Z-plasty at age eighteen to release the contracture of the axilla, reconstruction of the right breast and a nipple reconstruction at age 27, I was learning a few things about plastic surgery.

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My work as a nurse, however, took me down many different avenues before I worked in plastic surgery. After 30 years—10 as a surgical tech and 20 as a registered nurse—I took a position at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as an assistant coordinator of the plastic surgery service. I have spent the last seven years establishing a working relationship with Dr. William Lineaweaver, a world-renowned plastic surgeon. He is cited several times in our reference books for the RNFA course.

Dr. Lineaweaver left UMMC 16 months ago to begin a private practice and I am here with him as Nurse Manager of his practice and his first assistant in surgery. Once again, things are changing in my career. We are about to embark on a new road, taking care of—you guessed it—burn patients. I am very excited about this opportunity. I feel as if I will have a special bond with the patients.

I have told you this story to make this point: ten years as a tech, nine years in the military, LPN licensed, RN licensed, a certified nurse of the operating room, I am now 55 years old and in the RN First Assistant course with the National Institute for First Assisting (NIFA). Education is a lifelong process whether in a formal setting or everyday life. Look for it, enjoy it, and just see where it can take you.