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  • Michael Apollo Lira

The reason I put a slash through my zeroes

Updated: May 3

Short answer: BECAUSE I CAN.

Long answer: (DEEP BREATH)


A long time ago, I decided to start putting slashes in my zeroes when writing them. At the time, I thought it was kind of cool. Nobody seemed to be doing it and it was a clear way to differentiate the number zero from the letter O. And there was something oddly satisfying about drawing the perfectly aligned diagonal line through a zero (to this day, it's still hit and miss as far as aim goes, but I suspect that's a condition of having a Y-chromosome).


I've always liked the sound of the word "zero". I like that a number gets really big if you start putting zeroes at the end of it, and I really like it if that number is on a check that is going into my bank account. Currently, the zeroes appear to be more interested in leaving my bank account than entering, however. Adulthood is a rip-off.


When I was in high school, one of my favorite shirts had a giant zero on the front of it. I remember one day in class, a girl I didn't know very well walked straight to where I was sitting, pointed at my shirt, and informed me "that's what you are".


I actually thought that was quite hilarious and started laughing.


Fast-forward to around 2008, when I was a brand-new nurse. It had been a very challenging year as a new grad. I had tunnel vision for my career goals and was absolutely determined that the only acceptable first step for me as a nurse was to work in an emergency department.



This decision would result in:

  • Party 1 (myself)

  • shooting Party 2 (also myself)

  • in the foot

  • on multiple occasions

...in my attempts to accomplish this.





I turned down a small handful of job offers simply because they weren't emergency. I wanted emergency, and emergency was what I wanted.


Things would eventually start to look up when I received an offer for a new grad emergency nurse position in late summer that year. I was living in Eastern Washington at the time, and the employer (located across the state) hesitantly mentioned that the position happened to be starting in only a couple of days.


I hit the road, ready. This was my calling.


As I like to say, life has a funny way of happening. This job, as it turned out, would ultimately not be a good fit for me. And much as I wanted to work in emergency, it became apparent that I was too green for the field, and I just didn't fit the culture of where I was. Wrong place, wrong time I suppose. You couldn’t have told me that at the time, of course. Call it stubbornness, tenacity, idiocy, blindness, foolishness, determination…all of the above? I just wanted it to work. I mean who doesn’t, right?? We want to – nay, need to believe in what we do.


One of my preceptors was a nurse who was much older than me. She didn't seem to like me very much. I noticed that most everything I did seemed to annoy her one way or the other. Maybe she didn’t like being a preceptor. Maybe she didn’t like being a preceptor to me, specifically. I couldn’t tell you.


A precepting moment from a historic documentary titled The Goonies


Emergency work is a specialty that generally requires some degree of experience, knowledge, and clinical background to become involved in. Looking back now…that wasn't me. I can say that now. I could not say that then. I simply didn't know. You don't know what you don't know.


I distinctly remember the constant stress and working very hard, all the while feeling out of place and a bit like an outsider. And I remember the various moments when my preceptor would sigh, roll her eyes, or visibly lose her patience with me during all of this. One time I gave a patient a sandwich. She grabbed me and quietly said to me “Don’t feed the bears”. Another moment that stuck with me happened while I was filling out a paper next to her. She stopped me and said, "Don’t cross your zeroes," in an annoyed tone.


So I stopped crossing my zeroes on that day.


We look to the experienced when we're green, hungry, and growing - and we listen. For better or for worse. And whatever they feed us, we will often eat because we trust them and we don't know better.


After 3 months, I would be pulled into the manager's office for a group discussion about how things weren't working out. It was a hard pill to swallow, to work your hardest for 3 months and for it to not be enough.


But, they added, they would offer a recommendation to one of the other hospital floors to hire me where I could get my feet wet, learn, and grow a little as a nurse. They had received plenty of positive feedback from the patients I had worked with in the emergency department. And in a couple of years, who knows - maybe I could apply again. Personally, my tail was too much between my legs to stomach the idea of setting foot back in that ER. I felt defeated. This was not a part of that big plan I had envisioned upon graduating.


But here is how some things would go down because of that fateful day.


  • I accepted that job offer on their medical-telemetry floor. I would work there for a couple of years and make lifelong friends of my fellow nurses there.


  • I would then apply to an Emergency Department in a different hospital, where I worked for a few years after that. I would receive my certification as an Emergency Nurse during that time.


  • Through friendships and connections, I would then be recruited by a private air ambulance company, where I worked as a part of a small flight crew transporting patients long distance in a medically-fitted LearJet. I would travel to countless locations domestically, and even go on a handful of international trips.


  • From there I would be recruited as a critical care transport nurse for a private ground ambulance company; I would spend my time working in an ambulance and helping care for critically ill patients all throughout Western Washington and the Seattle area.


  • I would then be hired by one of the nation's top ICUs where I work alongside some of the the best nurses out there, caring for critically ill burn victims, pediatric trauma patients, and the remaining overflow from our hospital's other ICUs. My nursing career would take amazing turns into rare and unusual adventures that few get to experience as part of their career.


  • In my free time, I would travel to dozens of countries, improve my Spanish, speak to nursing classes and encourage them on their journeys, become a competitor on American Ninja Warrior, pick up crafts like soap making, meet an amazing woman, and become obsessed with voice acting.


Things might not always work out the first time around. They might not even work out the second time around. Or the third! That’s just life. It doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish what you set out to do, or even discover a more rewarding path entirely. Some of the most interesting and inspirational stories come from the people who experienced failure along the way, were told “you can’t”, or were told that something wasn’t possible. Hang-ups and unexpected difficulties don't mean it's over. It doesn't mean anything, really, unless you let it.


That preceptor nurse I mentioned before: was she a bad person? I don't know - who cares? She's probably still there, doing the same thing. To me, she is there to remind me that whatever I have to share with others, I will try to do so from a place of grace…because we aren't green forever, and we can foster the eager or we can poison them, and only one of those leads to a better future for everybody.


Oh, and by the way-


I’ve started putting slashes in my zeroes again.




#Goonies #Nursing #Emergency #Failure #Preceptor #Career #Tenacity #Determination #Zero #Life #Inspirational #Foster #Success #Travel #ICU





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