Monday, December 11, 2017

hashtag, nurselife

I've just got off a seven day stretch. Silence at this time of day is strange. It is stark, particularly through the filtered daylight of cloudy, snowing skies. It is so very, very welcome.

I had an emergency massage last week. I threw my back out by sitting on the floor for too long. (Mrs X needed her toenails cut, and I was not going to make her wait a month to see the podiatrist.) When I got up I knew it wasn't just stiffness. I tried to stretch out at home with heat and yoga but this was not going to quit so I booked in at the spa with the first available therapist after work the next day.

Normally the LMTs don't make recommendations and they don't talk much, which I like. But this gal-- let's call her a woman, she was older than me-- after I briefed her on my occupation and issue, spelled a few things out for me. The compassionate take-away was: "'No' is a complete sentence and take the time for yourself, you are so worth it."

How could I forget? The business of caretaking is demanding and generally thankless. Mom would say a job well done is its own reward and now that I am middle aged I totally agree. So as I run down my to-do list at work which grows exponentially by how many staff we are short, I am focused on continuity and compliance. Get it all done by shift change, you know? Still, in the niche of geriatrics, there is a large component of care that is intangible but essential: spiritual care. That is, the patient might not be oriented to date, time or person, but they are damn sure they know how they feel. The primary emotion for 99% of my charges is fear.

So as I bust off the to-do list, I am addressing fear. "What are all these pills for? Are you poisoning me? Where's my Dad? My son? My dog? I want to go home. When am I getting out of here? I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM AND I CAN'T TELL YOU SO I'M YELLING AND HITTING YOU INSTEAD." All the soothing, redirecting, distracting and validating takes from my reserves and if I am not taking care of myself, I am not going to have anything to give. It is the difference between knowing if getting down on the floor is going to hurt my back or not, and whether or not I am going to cry openly or privately the next time Mrs. Z recounts her experiences in WW2 Europe as if they happened yesterday.

I do cry for what my patients have lost. Alzheimer's and dementia are devastating, tragic conditions. I very often think about how I can best help. Days like today, when I am silent and catching up on things at home, gathering myself, tending to my life, I think about what I might lose should I get that way. This is not idle morbidity, it is constructive appreciation for what I have.

I was cleaning Saturday morning and found the last Christmas card that Mom gave me. Quite unexpectedly I burst into tears. I touched for a moment the enormity of our relationship and the depth of her love for me (and all her kids). Later on I thought about loss being the tax on loving, and transferred these thoughts to my present relationships. I am still struck that I am only just beginning life and that I don't want to lose anything at all. It is humbling and I feel grateful for the time I have.

Knowing that I have to work all the holidays was making me feel resentful. "No balance, I need time for my life, blah, blah, blah..." Until I remembered what Mom said once about working holidays: "There's nobody else to do it. I can't just leave them." She was right, of course. She always sided with grace. Even if I don't have a choice about when I get to have a Christmas, I can choose grace, and that is good self-care. I'm worth it, as it goes.




Sunday, September 3, 2017

Nevermind About the Picnics

What a great season for fruit. We had so much rain! The apples this year are coming out plump and sweet and the neighborhood lawns are bound to stay green until the first frost.

You know I couldn't let this cool rainy September Sunday slip by without acknowledging how disinterested Summer was this year in being our girl. Yes, there were a couple of days when she put in overtime but that was just so she could take double the days off. You've done it again, Summer, you've broken my heart. The promises you made during that sweet last week of June were all lies, followed by rain, storms, and flooding on Fourth of July weekend. How could you? I got skin-soaked one afternoon just running from work to my car. Why, you even denied us a good look at the Perseid Meteor Shower in August-- nothing but cloudy nights. I suppose you could hang your hat on the temperate day of the Solar Eclipse and rest on your laurels for that celestial show, but I reckon you've never been such a lazy companion to us.

Don't try to apologize, I was fine without you-- working late, using the cool days to run fartleks at the track, do chores, and my wolfishly furry dog didn't mind the below average temperatures. What I missed the most this year, Summer, was that feeling of barefoot-in-the-grass, ice-cream-truck-at-the-beach-living; in the sunshine. Maybe it was because of my own concerns and preoccupations, but your presence really seemed half-hearted, like you didn't even want to be here.

Now what? Fall is here and you're already on your way to Australia and points south, and just LOOK what your weather pattern did to Houston. That's more than my one broken heart you've left in your wake. Summer, you can go get stuffed. I know Lady Autumn to be mature and reliable so I'll take my comfort there. I'm already into my wool socks. Never you mind about the picnics that weren't-- I'm banking on the crock-pots that will be.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Thinking of you

MOM--

When I told Lisa I was going to start working at your old place, she said: "If Mom were here she would try to talk you out of it!" I never really doubted anything you said about it; but now that I've literally walked in your shoes I'm so upset that you put up with all that you did. I thought I knew what I was getting into, and to an extent I've been right-- working short handed, old equipment, staff tensions, shift-blaming-- this is endemic in the industry and I signed up for it when I enrolled in school. I knew I would be tired but I thought I'd have adjusted by now.

I guess I am saying that haven't; and at this point I'm wondering if I ever will, and I wish you were here to tell me that everything is going to be okay.

And what the hell? How did you do it with your chronic pain and exhaustion? I'm angry at myself for not knowing just how hard you worked. Right, I didn't know, but I wish I had. Of course you were the agent of your own life, meaning, you would have changed things if you believed it was worth it for you and it is my error to apply my opinion to your choices. But SERIOUSLY, MOTHER-- you didn't have to work so goddamn hard.

Maybe it is my own disinclination for struggle that I am trying to justify, and maybe I need to just put in a little more time to it and sleep better. I don't know. I'm starting to feel attached to some of my residents and when there's time for TLC a bubble of joy and love floats up in my chest and I know without a doubt that nothing is wasted and there is beauty in everything. It makes me cry.

Every goddamn thing is making me cry. It's my day off, I think I'll cry.

Talk to you later, Mom.

Love,
Jan

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

In the Sweet By and By

Hey Mom,

About a year ago, your busted hip set off the chain of events leading to the end of your physical life. It really doesn't seem like that long, but I notice that years seem shorter as each one goes by anyway, the older I get. I'm doing okay, most days lately I would even venture into "great." I haven't updated the blog, I've been too busy with coursework and practice tests. I've written some of the book I mean to finish about my experience so far with grief and if I can find where I saved the chapter outline I might be able to keep going with it. I don't expect to finish that till maybe September, especially now my focus is on keeping my grades in the nineties and doing well with clinicals. I did my first med pass yesterday. After it was over I wished I could share it with you. Such a strange combination of sadness and esteem passes through at moments like that. I wish you knew Mrs. Vickers, she is my instructor for Med-Surg and supervised the med pass. She is a gentle soul who likes words (exopthalmos, vanillin myxomillan) and is truly a deep-cut, b-side nurse-- that is to say her nursing knowledge goes far beyond the popular Top 40 hits. Decades of experience (and teaching,) and curiosity make her an interesting person and stellar nurse but it is her steadiness that I think I like most. In that way she reminds me of you. I suppose I will often, if not always, look for your qualities in other nurses. Last week she asked me to represent the program at a career day and I was so complimented. So, suffice to say that school is going well and it is making all the difference in me getting past this first year without you.

Speaking of grief, Jon's Granny passed away this past Thursday. This event has refreshed thoughts and feelings related to loss and turns my attention toward mourning and loss but also and more importantly the way loss can bring the survivors closer. It reawakens compassion in me: for the bereaved and as an extension, self-compassion. It is a soft place to be, to be gentle with others, to be soft enough to be leaned on. Experiencing another's grieving-- to have the privilege of that-- facilitates knowing them more. Not that any person has a finite end point of who they are, just knowing what they are like in one particular grief and who they are because of their dearly departed. It is such a gift. I suppose it would be a lot trickier to open up to if trauma was what precipitated the loss. Gratefully, not now. I doubt I would see things this way if it weren't for losing you. Maybe.

Not much else is new. I'm still at odds with my hormones but I think I'm on the right regimen for the hot flashes and night sweats. It's kind of neat and I don't really mind it-- I feel a hot flash come on right between my eyes and on the back of my arms, then I want to be naked for the next five minutes, and then I'm fine. My flagging fertility is not going gentle into that good night, and I am okay with that. Can you believe your daughter is at this age?

In that tangent, Patrick is doing great. He picked up the ukelele and developing a sense of style. He was asked to be in a musical and has some upcoming singing solos. He is staying local for college and I couldn't be happier. At this stage of the game I want to keep him as close as I can.

It's snowing like hell out there. In fact, the world at large is chaos and I am grateful that it is not distressing you. You would be thoroughly disgusted if you saw the news on any one of these days. In some dark moments-- just moments-- I am scared for humanity, but I am restored by knowing that God is all; especially in death. And from what I can tell, death lasts a lot longer than a life. That kernel of faith is enough.

And that's enough for now, on that somewhat morose note. The mystery of your closeness juxtaposed by your physical absence continues to fascinate and comfort me, and I'm so grateful to be doing you proud.

Love,
Jan

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dan Rather; I am not

It's getting later and the dogs are shaking their coats because it is almost time to take them out. I wanted to sit for a few more minutes before the weekend came to it's official close, though.

Just a few more minutes. Then, just a few more.

Censor, censor, censor. No, I can't write that. Nor that. Especially not that-- and that other part about grief, nobody wants to hear that tonight, either. This train of thought about what to write is running because of everything I've read in the last couple of days. News, mostly, some disheartening, some triumphant, interspersed with a few personal essays, one of which, had it been on paper, I would have crumpled up and thrown it away.

Why is there so much bad and solipsistic personal writing out there, published? God-damn. So much fucking navel gazing to sift through. I tire of the personal triumph, the first-person coming of age and the how-I-made-the-right-choice-for-me stories written in the same twee tone. No more Huffington Post for me. I think I'm going to adjust my feeds to show nothing but doggo memes, PBS, and The Onion.

So sitting down to write for a moment is wrought with feelings of total paralysis about what I possibly could contribute by way of quality. I reach in and come up with nothing but a thunderous wet fart, a deafening brapper that blows us off the face of the internet. Already, an improvement.

Write what you know, said Papa Hemingway. Don't fucking lie, said Ta-Nehesi Coates. There you have it. The weekend is over. I'm going out to get some air and then I'm going to drag my sorry ass off to bed.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

On Love, This Season

What kind of holiday season are you anticipating for yourself and your loved ones?

Historically I have spent December in a state of mild depression; in bewilderment of and with vague disdain for the retail season that often concludes with a norovirus. For many years I've greeted the new year as if it were the cavalry, come to save my hide from ruin. Finally, we can all move on.

This year I stand as if paralyzed. Our country has devolved into an international joke. Who can think about holidays when next year, people might be persecuted for lighting the menorah? Yet I am drawn to the lights I see, the normalcy of heavy traffic near the mall and the rich holiday foods at the grocery store. It's Christmastime, and Christmas is a liniment for the soul. In the past I've dwelt upon the fuss that is made over a day. I've argued, to myself mostly, that the spirit of it was what mattered and one might try to practice generosity all the time instead of saving it all for one day. I admit this is perhaps sanctimonious of me. I know myself all too well, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Alas; at least I won't stop trying. To be present and generous now is all that I can do.

It is difficult to stay in the seat of now while our country is crumbling at the foundation. What of next year? What kind of holiday season will that be? I imagine the retail machine ever more garish, cheaply pasted together; while retail workers still don't make a liveable wage. I imagine health care without reform, with overtime pay withdrawn and pharmaceuticals priced out of the reach of the average person. I imagine families kept apart while their sons and daughters fight the new war. I imagine 500,000 teachers out of work and schools empty, while illiteracy and it's successor, poverty, spreads like plague. I imagine protestors jailed, injured and killed for speaking their hearts. I imagine good journalists silenced by threats, rewriting their columns in Newspeak with polite correction footnotes. I imagine religious and racial persecution becoming more visible and the act of rape being decriminalized. I imagine my shame when the beautiful people of Standing Rock are heinously undermined because the new regime moves forward with the pipeline anyway. I imagine a planet on the brink of total extinction because the new regime has thin skin and Tweeting has ceased being a satisfactory outlet-- and there is only one send button left to tap.

I imagine this is the last Christmas where life will look anything like it ever did since I've been alive. For that reason, I am going to celebrate it with generosity, laughter, guarded peace and measured actions. I'm squeezing in all the traditions I can because from here, it looks like I may not see them ever again. I imagine that I must never allow that to come to pass.

From the seat of now I extend love to all my brothers and sisters of the world. It is not my intention to scare you. I believe those of us who love-- be it family, planet, God, or just in general, are already scared. Those of us who love will choose action and hope over fear because it is right and true. It is the loving thing to do.

It's going to be a long road. It may even be a road of reconstruction. Whatever the case, I will do my part and continue calling the public servants in office in support of what is right and true, and I will continue to love those who need it the most.

I wish you and yours a holy season of deep joy and everlasting peace.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Birthday Card

Hey Mom,

Another birthday. I remember one year you wished me a happy birthday and I was feeling particularly grateful for whatever was going on with me at the time so I thanked you for giving birth to me. I wish I could remember exactly what you said-- it was nothing remarkable, just a modest and laughing "you're welcome," but these simple exchanges are missed and I sure could use one today.

I imagined us eating Stouffers macaroni and cheese in front of the news, grousing about the election. "There's more, clean it up," you'd say, and I would. Then we would eat birthday half-moons, commiserating that Bernie would have done it better. It would have been a very ordinary birthday that I'd be very happy to have.

Today is very ordinary, anyway. I had no expectations other than to get to school on time, which I did. In Med-Surg yesterday we covered the section on Multiple Myeloma. I could write the signs and symptoms without listening. I did ask about how it metastasizes, but I had already kind of figured it out. You must have had it for a long time before you were actually diagnosed. I saw one of your x-rays, you know, the left arm, and the bone was like swiss cheese. Last week was the section on death and dying, and it was actually kind of horrible to relive what happened to you.

I'm getting straight A's, but you know that. I sent a photo of my report card to Dad. I think he was pleased because he replied in all capitals. I'm going to put it on the fridge. I have a practical skills test tomorrow and clinicals next week. I'm really lucky, because since you've been gone, I've had a goal to work toward that relates to the work you did in your life. It is a way to stay close to you and fills the empty space that was left behind. I suppose I would call it constructive grieving. I've idly wondered if I am going to love life as much once school is over, but there are so many levels to nursing that I could probably go on till I'm fifty.

One set of suffix letters at a time, and all in good time, if it is meant to be.

Work is fine, the dogs are good, and Patrick is going to finally take his road test. Jon brought the half-moons home tonight. He's working days now. It's good to have him home at night. Lisa and I are going to dinner on Friday for our birthdays-- P. F. Chang's, because it's a way to have you with us. I signed up to work Christmas eve, I think I'd rather be busy. I'll be put to best use there. What a shitty night to be sick in the hospital. Anyway, Mom, I just needed to say hello and tell you how much I miss the simple, contented times we had. The ordinary evenings that make up a life are so much more than ordinary.

Good night, Mom. Thanks for giving birth to me.

Love,
Jan