Nursing in Recovery

Ashley Jones, LPN

I started my nursing career as a correctional nurse. I spent over a decade working in a handful of prisons and jails firmly believing that inmates deserved a good quality healthcare. It never bothered me that day in and day out I was surrounded by murderers, rapist, child molesters, or drug addicts. They were all my patients. I built my nursing motto on being “firm, fair and consistent”.  But I also firmly advocated that my patients still deserved compassion and a good quality of healthcare that was often overlooked. In corrections the jails often operated on the minimum standards. In my book, minimum standards are not sufficient when it comes to someone’s life, especially when that person is going thru detox or withdrawing from substances. 

I once did a nursing assessment on a patient that was just brought into booking. I documented in my nurses note that he was active in his addiction and a high risk for withdrawal. I forewarned the other nurses then went home for the weekend. I came back after 3 days off to find out he died in the jail. His death was directly related to the lack of care provided to him as he was in withdrawal. He had severe muscle cramps that caused his entire body to tense up and he died as he was trying to get up off the toilet. Absolutely preventable. Minimum standards were not enough. The system failed him. No one deserves to have the physical symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea that leads to severe muscle spasms from an electrolyte imbalance. Simply a bottle of Gatorade and a shower could drastically have helped improve his withdrawal symptoms.

After a decade of taking care of people on the worst days of their life, I found myself wanting to help prevent people coming to jail. I wanted to take a more active role in helping the same population of patients who were affected by the opioid epidemic by supporting them in their road to recovery. I wanted them to know that they had someone in their corner cheering them on day in and day out, reminding them they are worth it. So, I hung up my scrubs, left the correctional field and took a job in the recovery field. 

I ended up taking a position as a dosing nurse at a Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic that focused on the harm reduction model. I quickly went from nurse to director and ended up overseeing the clinic for 3 years. I took pride in taking care of patients that I knew as frequent fliers at the jail. Patients came into the clinic daily, so staff get invested in their patient’s life. It was extremely rewarding seeing them go from actively using at the beginning of their treatment to becoming sober and healthy, getting a job, being able to pay their bills, provide for their family, and overall becoming productive members of society. 

Then the pandemic hit hard. People found themselves with large sums of cash from the stimulus issued from the government. The stress and heartache from the pandemic and this large sum of cash caused a lot of patients to spiral downward and into active using again. It was heartbreaking to watch.  In the heat of the pandemic, I decided I needed a change. I wanted to support others in recovery from a different angle of treatment. I left the harm reduction MAT model and found myself at BTG.

With my nursing background, I was intrigued by the integrative and holistic approach of tackling the disease of addiction by rebalancing the neurochemical deficiencies using amino acid therapy. The amino acid program was intimidating to me initially, but the more I studied up on it the more I realized the need to tackle the deficiencies in order to make a stable hemostatic balance in the brain.

As patients come into BTG, they typically fall under two brackets. Some are actively using and will go through withdrawal. Others just got out of detox and are starting to feel better. Though they are not completely clear minded yet, they are definitely out of the medically unstable period. When I first came to BTG I knew that I wanted to help improve the withdrawal protocols that were in place. Having the physical symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea while not in the comfort of your own home, is most definitely not my idea time of fun.

The protocols we now have in place are created to help our patients get through their symptoms to feel better as quickly as possible. We strive to offer the gold start treatment, and not the minimum standards. We strive to make our patients comfortable, so that as their physical symptoms reduce and they start feeling better, they are getting comfortable with the staff and ready to tackle learning about their disease of addiction. One way of doing this is that we begin the amino acid program on day one. By starting it right off the bat, we are directly targeting the neurochemical deficiencies. We also tackle hydration and sleep issues that one typically experience in early recovery. Our goal is to manage the medical symptoms so that the patient can then focus on the therapeutic work to treat the underlying issues that is needed for a long-term recovery.

Recovery is not just a short stent in rehab or sobriety. Long lasting recovery is suiting up and showing up every day. It is self-care. Whether you are actively using, having just crossed into the front door of our facility, are a family member or friend of someone suffering from addiction, or have been in recovery for a long period, I am here to root for you. I am here to let you know that you are worth it, that I will be in your corner day in and day out. I am not just your nurse, but I am part of your support system for your recovery journey.

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