Story of Resilience: “I Woke Up in Pain, In a Dark Room” – Then He Discovered Nursing

Story of Resilience: “I Woke Up in Pain, In a Dark Room” – Then He Discovered Nursing

When Cade Conville took the podium at the Fall 2021 Accelerated Masters in Nursing Pathway Senior Recognition Ceremony, what could have been a typical award speech turned into an emotional account of his path to nursing and his story of resilience.

Six years ago, Conville was a gunshot wound victim. The bullet injured the left side of his face, and he was rushed into life-saving surgery.

“I woke up in a lot of pain, in a dark room. I was alone except for my nurse. I couldn’t do anything but cry.”

“I woke up from later that night and realized I was still alive. I was relieved, but at the same time I woke up in a lot of pain, in a dark room. I was alone except for my nurse. I couldn’t do anything but cry,” Conville said. “I was a 21-year-old and supposed to be this big, strong athlete, but I felt weak and powerless. But my nurse stayed there, comforted me during my worst moments. That inspired me to want to do something to help other people.”Cade Conville, MSN in class.

Over the next few months, Conville underwent several surgeries and faced a long road to recovery. His initial plans—playing college baseball and attending medical school—were derailed as recovery took a mental and physical toll.

But the support of friends and family and an opportunity at UAB Hospital helped him rediscover his passion.

“It was very difficult for me to take my next steps forward in my education, but the one thing that always spurred me on a little bit, or kept my feet moving, was my nurse that night after surgery,” Conville said. “I can’t remember her name, and I hardly remember her face, but I will always remember what she did for me.”

His nurse’s care led Conville to seek out ways to help others. When a family friend and Senior Director of Emergency Services at UAB Medicine Frankie Wallis, DNP, NP-C, NEA-BC, COI, reached out about a shadowing opportunity in the emergency department, Conville jumped at the chance.

“I knew Cade wanted to help people and make a difference, and I said that if he wanted to be in health care, UAB was the place to be,” Wallis said.

“It was very difficult for me to take my next steps forward in my education, but the one thing that always spurred me on a little bit, or kept my feet moving, was my nurse that night after surgery.”

After shadowing in the emergency department, Conville knew it was the right next step.

“UAB is such a big, bustling hospital. I recognized all of our patients in need, but there is also an excitement because there was so much we could do at once,” Conville said. “It brought me back to this team atmosphere, where I could be part of a group that cared about something, where everyone pulled in the same direction. That spoke to me—I put my resume in the same night.”

Conville took a job as a patient care technician and thrived in the experience, but eventually, he felt compelled to return to school and further his education. Through the support of his family and Wallis, he applied to nursing school.

“I looked up to the nurses I worked with, and it brought back the memory of the young woman who helped me that night,” Conville said. “I thought that if I could do the same thing for someone else, it would make all the hours of extra work worthwhile.”

After consulting with mentors, including Wallis, and doing research of his own, Conville decided the Accelerated Masters of Nursing Pathway at the UAB School of Nursing was the best step forward. The program is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree or higher in another field and creates an accelerated track toward licensure and a master’s in nursing.

“I knew the program was for me. I already had a degree under my belt, but it also felt like I had the time management skills to take on such a rigorous program,” said Conville, who also has a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology.

“I’ve had several other staff members who have come through the AMNP program,” Wallis said. “It’s a great program, and when I talked to Cade about it, I had every bit of belief he could do it. I talked to him about pursuing this degree, while cautioning him about the tough road ahead. But at the end of the road there is a reward.”

When Conville started the AMNP program in fall 2020, he found another team in pursuit of helping others. Faculty offered continuous support and encouragement throughout challenges, he said, and provided the tools necessary to move forward.

“I looked up to the nurses I worked with, and it brought back the memory of the young woman who helped me that night. I thought that if I could do the same thing for someone else, it would make all the hours of extra work worthwhile.”

“One day I sat down with [AMNP Pathway Director] Michael Mosley, MSN, CRNP, ANP-BC (MSN 2012) and we talked about why he pushes us so hard to get the right answer and to understand why we got that answer,” Conville said. “He said that when you’re working with a patient, you’re not just checking boxes. And while you can make two or three mistakes on a test and still get a 96, if you make two or three mistakes with a person, you can really hurt them. That told me a lot about him as a person—he truly cares about us and wants us to be the best nurses possible.”

Conville also made an impact on his peers in his AMNP cohort. They selected him as the fall 2021 recipient of the Florence Nightingale Award, a recognition of his passion for quality of nursing care and pursuit of excellence. It was also the reason he stood up to speak about resilience at the Senior Recognition Ceremony.

“This award reiterates Cade’s personal characteristics and his commitment to nursing,” Wallis said. “It shows his dedication and how well he works within a team, how he incorporates team theory to develop relationships with his peers and colleagues. He is a great young man with great potential, great abilities and he will move forward to do great things in the future of health care.”

Conville finished the AMNP program in fall 2021 and accepted a job at UAB Hospital in spring 2022. He wants to further his education and work toward a career in nursing management.

Conville continues that refrain of resilience, for his future and the future of nursing.

“I know the state of nursing isn’t perfect right now, that a lot of us who are graduating and going into the workforce have a difficult road ahead of us,” Conville said. “We’re joining health care in one of the most difficult times to be a health care professional, and we just have to be as diligent as we possibly can. We need to understand that our patients need us, and we need each other. We’re going to get through this together. While there are a lot of tough times going on, it’s still a great time to be a nurse.”

Q&A With The Inspiration Nurse Donna Cardillo

Q&A With The Inspiration Nurse Donna Cardillo

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, knows just how powerful a person’s story is. Known as “The Inspiration Nurse,” Cardillo is masterful at making the best of life’s curve balls.

For Cardillo, those insights came the hard way—through a grinding period of struggle in her own life that is the basis of her new book “Falling Together: How to Find Balance, Joy, and Meaningful Change When Your Life Seems to be Falling Apart.”

Cardillo recently spoke with Minority Nurse about how struggles can make you stronger and more compassionate, even when it seems like you’ll never get through it.

Q: How did the idea for “Falling Together” come about?

A: The idea originated a little over 20 years ago when my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That was the same year I started my own business. I made the leap to self employment, and my husband was diagnosed with this devastating illness. We went through a very dark period in our lives, and it changed our lives dramatically. For 18 months we had a dark cloud hanging over us. We were shocked, stunned, confused, overwhelmed.

But after 18 months, I was looking out the window in the kitchen and realized that no matter what happened, the sun continues to rise and set. Life goes on. My family needed me and that was a turning point for me. It was like coming out of a thick fog. Even in our darkest moments, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You have to get through it and come out of it.

Q: Did you know this topic would touch a nerve for people?

A: I met so many nurses who told me stories of their challenges. We are all faced with challenges, some of us have them bigger than others. For some, challenges become the focal point, even to the exclusion of everything else. Others navigate their way through it and make something better from it.

Big challenges tell you what’s important and what isn’t. Something devastating happens and you realize nothing else matters except the people you love and how you live your life. Some people let it devastate and consume them and others not only survive, but thrive.

Q: It must be pretty tough to sort it out when you are in the middle of it.

A: It’s hard to imagine that your darkest moments can be an opportunity for your greatest growth. This took me 20 years to be able to gain this perspective. I also needed to become a writer in the process. I had a lot of work to do and to articulate and to write that as well. My mother calls me a late bloomer. The universe has its own time schedule.

Q: Do you have to go through it to experience it and then let it settle?

A: To write about it all, there had to be some time that passed so I could look at it objectively. When you are a more substantial person in a sense. I am a different person today than I was 20 years ago. I am wiser and more compassionate with myself and other people. There’s a chapter in my book devoted to finding my voice. I didn’t have the confidence, communication skills, and the world experience then. I went through personal growth that brought me to a place to complete this book.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges nurses tell you about?

A: They are so diverse, but illness is a big one. If your spouse is chronically ill or your parents or when a child is sick, that’s big. Most nurses have to continue to work in spite of that. Divorce or relationships breaking apart, whether you are married or not, is devastating to many people, and especially if you are left as a single parent with financial challenges.

Q: What else did you hear about?

A: Nurses who find themselves challenged career wise. Maybe they are not happy, they don’t know what to do to get to the next step. A lack of self care is a big part of that. So many of us are constantly putting our energy out and not replenishing that energy.

Burnout is just constantly spending your physical and emotional energy. I learned this the hard way. I had the presence of mind to step back and start taking care of myself. Self care isn’t just about laying on a massage table with cucumber slices on your eyes. It’s routine maintenance for the mind, body, and spirit.

Q: You mention insecurity and self-doubt are big roadblocks for women especially.

A: That paralyzing fear and huge self-doubt that holds you back? Many of us feel that way. We feel like we don’t have anything to offer. Nurses who want to start their own business or make changes but often feel fear. If you feel fear, you are challenging yourself and on the right track. But you don’t have to make a big change. It’s making small steps out of that comfort zone rut you are in. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. You don’t have to create a big plan. Just go online and look up three colleges or go to one meeting of a professional organization.

Q: Real change can be small?

A: Start making small decisions and then you can make bigger decisions. You have to start somewhere – that’s the secret. I tell nurses to go get business cards made for themselves. People feel important when they have a business card. You can present it when you are out in the world. I want nurses to understand we are all sharing in the same human experience.

Everybody has a story to tell and has a challenge and has a weight they carry. Confidence and courage will come. I hope the book is an inspiration to take action. That’s huge to me. That’s the bottom line. People say to me, ‘Your experiences are so similar to mine.’ Sometimes we just need someone else to put it into words and give voice to our experience to shift us from the powerless to the empowered.

We encourage readers to leave questions for Donna Cardillo to answer. Do you have something you’d like to ask her about struggle, challenges, and growth?