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


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.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Day 364

Hi Mom.

A year ago tonight I drove back from Hospice, singing the entirety of Jesus Christ Superstar. It kept me from crying and kept me safe on the interstate.

I had kissed you good night for the last time.

When I sat down just now to write about tomorrow's anniversary, I remembered the anniversary of today, how I left work early to go and be with you. I had you all to myself. It was sunny and clear, like today. Lilacs and all. I sat and listened to the O2 concentrator and watched you breathe. I prayed. I cried. You said, "Love you too." I turned out the light and drove, the peepers chirping in the roadside bogs. You were going to miss so much. You were going to God.

While Jon and I finished walking the dogs tonight I was thinking ahead to tomorrow. I got a lilac to plant at the cemetery and we're all getting together at Lisa's. It occurred to me that it had been an entire year since I saw you last, and, I am doing okay. As a catbird whistled his mixed up medley of mimicked bird calls overhead while we wrangled the dogs, I thought of the catbird that laughed from the trees after your funeral services. I wondered if a wave of grief might come on graduation, and who knows, maybe it will. However, as I switch gears from instruction to review for the boards, I'm more likely to cry because school is over, I will to miss my friends and the now familiar rhythms of study. Pins are ordered. Uniforms sized. Boards applied for. It's really over.

Life changes again.

Patrick is flourishing. You would get such a kick out of him these days. He won "Mr. Congeniality" at the Mr. Holland Patent competition-- that was second place! He played and sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on his ukelele and did some brave comedy involving tight purple shorts. Then he was Pumba the warthog in The Lion King production they did, and he brought down the house. He was hilarious. Finally, this past Thursday, I watched his last vocal concert of high school, and he won the Vocal Ensemble award. He was so happy and I am so proud! I said to him the other day: "You know, just an observation-- you don't seem to be buying in to the idea that you are an adult now that you are 18." He said, "I look the same. I feel about the same. And, I'm really not all that mature, so, no."

There you have it. It is highly likely that I will cry on HIS graduation day!

So-- yes, I miss you, Mom. It hardly seems like a year ago. However, I know I will always feel close to you. We'd have a lot to talk about. It is a shame that our conversations are mostly one-sided. Oh, guess what? Of all the facilities that hire graduate nurses, your old place is looking like my best bet! So at least for now, that's where I'll go. Even if you told me not to, I am going to anyway. There's more to learn about what your life might have been like-- the people you knew and the space you worked in, anyway. It seems right. I'll let you know how it goes.

So-- I'll talk to you later?

Good night, Mom.

Love, Jan.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Note on Understanding

I am easily frightened by unknown things. I doubt that this is unique to me. When I was small I was terrified of our house burning down but, with experience and education, I learned that fire prevention is a powerful institution and statistically there was a greater chance of me being in an automobile accident. Why blunt-force trauma is less scary to me than being burned alive, I don't know, but I could see that the necessity and benefits of car travel outweighed the risks of being a passenger, and I trusted my parents as safe drivers. At any rate, my fear of immolation dissipated once I gained some understanding.

The same holds true today. I am frightened by unknown things, and understanding makes them less scary. However, even this usually reliable practice of acquiring knowledge as an antidote for fear sometimes does not work. This is twofold: the availability of sought information, and my own resistance to actually seeking it out. Read: sometimes I am scared that I won't find any answers, and sometimes I am scared that what I find out will be worse than what I already know.

As I breathe, work, study, and commune with people every day, I am aware that I am enjoying a truly golden period of my lifetime. Family is happy and safe; my son is coming in to his own and his life is squarely ahead of him. My relationships with others are flourishing. I do work that is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fulfilling and my career is only just beginning! How wonderful for me, what tremendous blessings and good fortune. This is not something that happened overnight. Careful cultivation, right action, and hard work got me here. I value life on earth as I never have.

This state of appreciation and gratitude is so rich and pleasant that I've formed an attachment to it. It feels good and I don't like feeling bad. I am of greatest use to God and others now, therefore, I don't want it to end. I'm just beginning.

This is why I am more scared of unknown things today: such as missile raids, sub-nuclear detonations, domestic terrorism and shadow governments. First of all, what is accurate and truthful that will help me to understand? Second of all, I am scared that a deeper look will prove what I already suspect: that good, action-minded people like me are impotent in the fight for truth, peace, and equality. Learning that it is all for naught might be too great a burden to bear. So, I keep on, calling my reps and saying my piece even if they don't listen and vote the contrary. What other power do I have if understanding eludes me?

Perhaps as a human being I am missing a bigger picture-- that the planet cannot sustain technology as we've established it. Perhaps, as George Carlin said, we humans are just a surface nuisance to be shaken off this planet like a bad case of fleas. Perhaps consciousness-- that thing that makes us different from animals-- has made us too self-important and it's time for an evolutionary reset. Is a cataclysm impending? I do not know and I cannot assuage your fear of it if you have that. Just be brave, do your best and choose love, and I will too.

Beyond general knowledge and understanding, I've learned that it is having a soft and loving heart that is the greatest freedom from fear. At any given moment, I must remember God is my governor and therein is deep deliverance.

Edit; 1155pm. I wrote this instead of the piece I wanted to write, which might have turned out melodramatic and hopeless. There is always hope, which is why I wrote this instead. Even in these strange and uncertain times, we have each other.

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.


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.