Nurse’s Week, and why it’s different this year

I’ve always felt pride when I said the words “I am a nurse”… but this year, amid the health crisis that our world is facing, those words mean so much more than they ever have before. This year, pardon my language, but the “shit” is real. This year, the world has changed; we are living in a time where we must be six-feet apart, and wear masks just to shop for groceries. Hand sanitizer, Lysol, and toilet paper are being sold on the black market, and meat is being limited per person; we are not used to such (dare I say), “hardship”.

Nursing, in the year 2020, has changed. No one ventured into the Nursing profession thinking that we would be risking our lives, or the lives of our families, just by showing up and doing our job, caring for those in need…and yet, here we are. We are experiencing a new reality that brings even the most healthy among us, to our knees.

I have friends who have tested positive for Covid 19 and have recovered (or, who are in the process of recovering), and I knew people who were not as fortunate; who died alone, having no closure at all. I just pray that they had a kind nurse, or other healthcare provider, staying with them, holding their hand, and telling them that they were loved.

While most of us are staying at home, practicing social distancing, almost all (active) nurses and healthcare providers are going to work every day fighting the good fight. The timing of Nurse’s Week this year actually makes it quite ironic, because while most Nurse’s Day/Week celebrations are cancelled (and that’s ok, we have bigger fish to fry), we all agree that the cause is too great to risk any progress that’s been made to flatten the curve. We’ve also been blessed to receive so much love and kindness from the community, shown to us with generous donations of food, treats, and supportive messages to show their gratitude for our work. This year, we are being called HEROES… and that is pretty special indeed!

I wish all of my Nurse friends and family a very Happy Nurse’s Week… I love you, I support you, and I thank you for showing up, even when it’s hard… please be safe.

Be Safe

“Be safe”. We are saying this to one another at the end of almost every conversation lately to let others know that we care about them and their well-being. We are all afraid of the invisible virus that we cannot see, but one that is consuming our days and nights. The biggest fear most of us have is from the unknown; who has “it”, are we “safe”, and if we are, for how long? We lock ourselves behind closed doors and hope that it won’t find us, but you can’t turn on the TV or login to social media without reading about it… without hearing the latest statistics and body count… without seeing the damage that it is causing, near and far, but it’s the “nearness” that is the most scary.

Hospitals are running out of masks and protective supplies. We don’t know if we will have enough hospital beds or ventilators. We don’t even know if we will have enough healthcare professionals to get us through this nightmare of a virus, especially if it doesn’t go away soon. It’s not like other serious illnesses are taking a step back and not requiring treatment or hospital beds… no, they still exist and deserve our full attention as well.

Those who are fortunate are able to work from home, but the bravest people I know are showing up to work every day, even though it’s hard; even though they are afraid and don’t know how or when this will end… while the cowards are out buying up the last rolls of toilet paper and hoarding them because they don’t care about anyone else… as if that will save them.

So if I haven’t already said it to you… please be safe. Please take care of yourself and know that I care about you.

Carrying our Grief

I came across the story of an orca whale whose calf had died; she was photographed carrying her baby’s body across the sea, holding it with her nose as if it would miraculously, in time, come back to life. She carried that baby for seventeen days and 1,000 miles on a “tour of grief”, until finally, the mother whale let it go. It was heartbreaking to watch or think about, and yet many of us can relate to this feeling of loss and deep desperation.

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice (Bob Marley)

Losing someone that you love is hard; devastating really. I thought about this mama whale because a dear friend recently lost her child; he was a very bright and successful young man, and he fell into a dark place that he could not escape. He took his own life and I doubt that he knew, or even imagined, the ripple effect that his act of despair would have on the world around him… how could he know… he was in unspeakable pain that he hid from everyone, and he felt alone. While we all pray that he has found eternal peace, his family and friends are in mourning; their world has forever changed, and there is a hole that cannot be filled; it remains empty with the ghost of a lifetime of memories; the only thing they can hold onto. 

We all experience grief differently; some fall into a deep sadness, and want to push through the pain alone, while others prefer to tell their story… over and over…sharing memories to keep their lost person alive in some way. While there is not much that we can do or say to lighten this burden of grief, we can try to just “be” with them…be there, be gentle, be kind, and be a good listener.

Going GOLD

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness month; we encourage everyone to “Go Gold” with the goal to shed some light, and increase awareness, for those affected by this terrible disease. Here are some facts about pediatric cancer: according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization (2019), each year there is an estimated 15,780 children aged 0-19 diagnosed with cancer in the U.S; approximately 1:285 children will be diagnosed before their 20thbirthday… that’s a pretty scary statistic. It becomes even scarier when you receive that diagnosis for your own child.

I’ve worked as a staff nurse and nurse leader in Pediatric Oncology, and although kids are surprisingly (and extraordinarily) resilient, sadly some do not survive, even with the best doctors, and most up-to-date protocols… but we never stop fighting, and we never, ever give up! And the kids and their parents…well, they become superheroes and fight like champions against this heartless, evil “villain” living inside them. 

Taylor Swift performed her song Ronan on the Stand Up For Cancer fundraiser event several years ago; she wrote the song in memory of a 4 year-old boy (Ronan) who passed away from cancer after reading a blog written by the boy’s mother, Maya Thompson. The following is a link to her performance:

References:

American Childhood Cancer Organization. (2019). About ACCO. Retrieved from https://acco.org

Swift, T. (2012). Ronan. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/tvN7BOAQn9I

Sacred Ground

When I was young, I remember that my Dad used to joke every time we passed a cemetery, “ya know, people are dyin’ to get in there” … he thought it was so funny, and we would give him a courtesy half-laugh over the predictable double entendre. I realize that cemeteries may seem like a morbid subject to some, but I find them so interesting. I’m drawn to the history and the peaceful solemnness of the permanent resting place of so many; it is sacred ground. Every grave holds a story, and I think about the people who have walked this Earth, lived a life, and are now memorialized six feet underground by a tombstone, marking the ultimate ending to their story; the inevitable great escape to the unknown. Who were they; what did they do with the time that they were given; did they have a life well-lived; how did they die; how will they be remembered? I think about these things. That “dash” between your years from birth to death represents a lifetime; “only those who loved them know what that little line is worth” (Ellis, 1996).

Gravestones are an everlasting memorial to a life lost, but they tell very little about the person… some show a long life, and tragically, some are quite short. The picture below shows actual gravestones in the cemetery where my Dad, grandparents, and other family members, rest:

These lost souls are only to be remembered as Father, Mother, and Annie; no last name; no dates; seemingly anonymous to all who come across them.

One can only guess that these modest memorials are due to the immodest cost of a burial and gravestone… or, perhaps, those who buried them cared little about a name, or some dates… they chose to remember them simply. We will never know, and perhaps that is the way it was intended.

Do you believe in ghosts? As nurses we often witness the passing of a life; ask any nurse who works in an ICU or Oncology unit whether they have seen, or felt, something unusual, like a “presence” on their unit, and I would guess that many will say that they have. When I worked in pediatric oncology, one nurse told me that after a young boy passed away, his young cousin told his mom not to worry, she saw her cousin walking away, holding his father’s hand (his father had passed away a few years prior). Some may find it hard to comprehend such stories, but I find it comforting to think that we will be reunited with loved ones when we pass.

Reference

Ellis, L. (1996) The Dash Poem. Retrieved from https://thedashpoem.com

Being brave

I reconnected with an old friend recently, and as we were catching-up on this crazy thing called life, he gently reminded me that we all have stories. While some stories are harder to tell than others, most of us are fortunate enough to have a surplus of great memories that we carry as a reminder of who we are, and where we’ve been.

Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” (Brené Brown)

Being brave can mean different things to each of us… it all depends on your ability to face your fears. Overcoming such an intense emotion isn’t easy; in fact, it can make us extremely uncomfortable, and is often the result of an act of love or necessity. My challenges with trying to be brave have changed as I have gotten older. As a child, being brave meant getting a “shot” from the doctor; as a teenager, it meant trying to overcome self-esteem issues; as an adult, it has been more about being honest when the truth was hard to hear; it was letting go after losing trust; it was starting over as a single mom. Being brave is stepping-up to a new challenge and trying again (and again) after failure. It is saying “yes” when every fiber of your being is feeling afraid and anxious and wants to (safely and comfortably) say “no”. Being brave is facing your fears and fighting a battle that you know you may not win, but will never give up trying.


Hope

“While there’s life, there’s hope“- Tolkien

Hope is exciting; it makes you feel that anything is possible. It is powerful and profound. The feeling of having hope can make even the tiniest spark of light seem like a sunrise in the making. Hope can make one walk a little lighter and feel a little happier. It can make you forget everything bad and painful, even if only for a short time. It is wise to be cautious with expectations, but I have found that even the slightest chance of something awesome happening, can make all the difference in the world between giving up or getting up.

Nevertheless, she persisted

This is not a political post; rather, it is quite personal to me, as I can’t help but deeply relate to the slogan, “nevertheless, she persisted“, which became popular in 2017 after Mitch McConnell condescendingly uttered it while trying to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during the U.S. Senate vote to confirm (recently fired/resigned) Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. He did not know at the time that those words would resonate with so many women; me included… and yes, I bought the T-shirt. If you have been following my blog, you know that I was recently diagnosed with a rare spinal cord condition called Arachnoiditis. It is something that I had never heard of (even as a nurse), but it has come to be my fate after complications from my last spinal fusion in 2016. I am presently coming to terms with trying to advocate for my own healthcare needs and navigate through hours of online research to educate myself and practice patient-centered care; this time with me starring in the role of impatient “patient”.

I consider myself a (mostly) private, independent person, but I must confess that I feel so helpless… it is scary to consider how this diagnosis will affect my future, both personally and professionally. This little blog that began as a way to express myself during a time of loss, continued on with my writing from a personal perspective about my love of Nursing, has now entered into a new challenging phase of my life. Please bear with me as I stumble through this unknown territory, one day at a time.


Change

Change can be hard; we become comfortable with habit and familiarity. The longer you stay in one place, the harder it is to leave. I feel strongly that in order to grow, one must be open to, and adapt to, the challenges of change. I (especially) advocate for trying new things in one’s career, such as earning professional certifications, or going back to school to pursue a higher degree. I have written many letters of recommendation endorsing fellow nurse friends and colleagues whom I truly believed had the potential for great things in the field of nursing for other positions, promotions, or awards… even if that meant that they would be leaving my own unit/organization for bigger and better opportunities. I applaud them for being brave to try something new. As a nurse leader, it is my responsibility to raise others “up”, and I am proud to do so, just as it was done for me by my mentor, Nicole; she taught me many things about leadership and change, and led by example. Nicole also re-introduced me to the rare genius and leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln on Leadership (Phillips, 1992).

“I have simply tried to do what seemed best each day, as each day came.” –Lincoln

Some of Lincoln’s greatest quotes have held the test of time and have proven to be especially true and powerful in our current political climate.

A house divided cannot stand“- Lincoln

Yes, change can be difficult, but believe in yourself and your ability to overcome obstacles and take control of your future. Confidence comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding one’s experience, expertise, and perspective in other areas. In my 30-year nursing career I have worked in many sub-specialty areas in the world of Pediatrics. I was never afraid of change; it actually sustained my love of nursing. I was challenged with each and every opportunity. These different experiences have proven to be invaluable to a nursing career well-lived and loved; I wish the same for you!


Reference:

Phillips, D.T. (1992). Lincoln on leadership: executive strategies for tough times. New York: Warner Books

Smiling through the Pain

Nurses are caretakers; it is our job and natural instinct to be the provider of care, and not be at the receiving end. I’ve been on the other side of the bed (as a patient) a few times… each experience was pure torture for me; I cringe when I think about the compromising positions that I have had to endure. I am a terrible patient. I have severe trust issues; when one has worked very hard to be fiercly independent, it is an uncomfortable feeling to be vulnerable. I have been living with back pain for years; after two spinal fusions, I have (almost) gotten used to it. I megadose on Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen two- three times a day, and I try to smile through it and not complain. I carry on with my day and know that others have it far worse than I do. I joke that it’s “tough to get old”, and I am fully aware that I am at the age where it is natural to feel aches and pains; but the reality is, pain can be exhausting. It affects everything that you do, or want to do; a simple trip to the Mall to go Christmas shopping becomes less fun and festive by the minute, and you eventually rationalize that gift cards will be a win-win this year, and head for the comfort of your car… and if you are being honest with yourself, you know that this is not normal.

The MRI showed arachnoiditis. I do not know what the future will bring, but I got through today, and tomorrow I will do the same.