Blue Christmas

sad christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for those who have a light heart and jolly spirit… for others, it seems like work to wear a smile and “go through the motions” that most people expect during the holidays. This year everything feels different. It feels empty to me. I lost my Dad three months and 21 days ago and I have missed him every single day since. My Dad REALLY loved Christmas. Each year he tried to out-do the previous year. He would always leave a voice mail message on my daughter’s cell phone (even at the age of 24!) saying “Ho Ho Ho! Have you been a good girl this year Shea bird? Santa Claus is watching!”… and always with the warning that “if you’re not good, you’ll get coal in your stocking!” Shea still has last Christmas’ message from my Dad, her Pop-Pop, saved on her phone. It makes us laugh and cry at the same time.

I truly believe that my father knew that last year would be his last Christmas. He asked each one of us to think about something special that we wanted. Instinctually I knew that he was “preparing” and wanted his last gift to be memorable and to always serve as a visible reminder how much he loved us, and was always with us, even when he could no longer be. I chose a pair of earrings which I have worn every day since he gave them to me last Christmas Eve. I will treasure them always; they are a reminder of a Christmas past that will never, ever be the same.

As for this Christmas…I just want it to be over. It hurts too much. Thanksgiving was difficult…but Christmas is much harder. I recently found a Christmas ornament that symbolizes the loss of a loved one and says that this year “they will be spending Christmas with Jesus”. Did it help? No. It just made me cry.

I am receiving beautiful Christmas cards in the mail and I am struggling reading them all. I can’t seem to sit down and write out my own greeting cards. I am still grieving. I hope everyone understands.

This year, I am working on Christmas Day. It is ok though. The distraction will be good and I will not be able to withdraw into my own thoughts or sadness. It is a gift to be able to serve others and have a purpose. I will be spending the day with amazing people who selflessly work in a profession that no matter how much you give of yourself, you always receive more in return.

I know that I am not alone in my sadness this year. My friend Susan shared this song with me today and it expresses everything that I am feeling… everything that I was trying to say in my blog, but stumbled along the way with broken thoughts and memories. Susan knows the pain because she just lost her father yesterday… another friend just lost his beloved service dog last week… The thing about grief is that it is so overwhelmingly painful by itself, but going through it during a time that is supposed to be joyous and hopeful makes the sadness feel even more profound and lonely.

Merry Christmas in Heaven Dad. I miss you.

Conflict and Honesty

I’ve attended several professional seminars throughout my career that have discussed how to manage conflict in our professional roles, and while they had great strategies to use (I’ve tried them all!), I’ve learned through personal experience that most conflict is typically not about the current event or issue that seems to have caused the argument, rather it is about (mis)communication and (lack of) trust. Communication can be tricky, especially if people are not comfortable with being vulnerable and open to hearing your version of the truth, which many people are not. I use the term “your truth” because truth can be relative. My truth speaks to who I am; my core values and worldview, while someone else’s truth may be completely different. It is not always a “right” or “wrong” situation. Speaking your truth can sometimes come across as being confrontational, and can make some people even more angry. I have felt this way also, but now that I’ve gotten older and much more experienced with pissing people off, and being pissed off in return, I find that speaking my truth can be very freeing. It (often) relieves the burden of holding onto pain, anger, and resentment, which over time, can be exhausting. However, if you have the ability and opportunity to just say what needs to be said, it can open up a dialog about what is (really) bothering you, and preventing you from moving forward.

The fact is, we each have our own version of the truth, and talking openly about it is a good first step to having closure and resolving conflict. Life is too short to hold onto grudges. In the end, we are only responsible for our own action, or inaction. The important thing is that you tried… if you care at all, you must try. Being honest with others, in a sincere, thoughtful, and nonjudgemental way, can bridge the communication gap, and strengthen the friendship/relationship. If the end result is that you “agree to disagree”, I consider it a win-win.

conflict

 

 

Starting over, again

Starting over in a new job is not easy. With each job comes new staff and colleagues (or what I like to call future friends!), new policies & procedures, and new rules and responsibilities. Earning trust and respect from those in a new organization is critical to your success in your role, and ultimate job satisfaction. You have to “prove yourself” to those who don’t know you and wonder about your level of competence and skills. Merely saying that you have been a nurse for close to 30 years is not enough; you have to show them you are worthy and that you know your stuff. You look at yourself in the mirror of the restroom to make sure that you don’t have dog hair on your black pants or food in your teeth, and you silently give yourself a pep talk, “you got this!” before you walk into the crowded auditorium.

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During the excruciatingly long week of hospital orientation, I sit in a room full of young nurses, most of whom are just beginning their careers, and I feel so old. I don’t have much in common with them, but eventually we begin to talk about what brought us “here”. We all feel grateful for the opportunity to work in such a wonderful children’s hospital, so that is the common denominator, and where the glimmer of hope and excitement begin. We are all on our own individual journeys and yet we ended up together in this room…starting over, again.

grateful

I recently received a beautiful book, The Wisdom of Sundays (Winfrey, 2017), from my friend Sandra, that I haven’t been able to put down. The book has brought comfort to me during what has been a very difficult year of loss. In one of the chapters Oprah talks about grace and gratitude, and she points out that gratitude opens up a new channel within oneself where blessings can be more clearly recognized. Winfrey (2017) quotes Eckhart Tolle, “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, that will be enough”. I’ve experienced many changes in my personal life and career; for better, and for worse. With every choice I have made, I have learned something from it; sometimes that lesson is filled with sadness or regret, but mostly it is filled with gratitude and thanks.

Change can be difficult and scary, but it is inevitable; one cannot evolve or grow without it. Making changes and starting over in our professional lives can be even more precarious…especially as I am inching closer to my retirement. Fortunately, I am not afraid of change, it gives me hope that the best is yet to come.

 

Reference

Winfrey, O. (2017). The wisdom of sundays. New York, NY: Flatiron Books

Saying Good-bye

I have been a nurse for many years, and in that time I have made amazing friends and memories. You tend to form close bonds with those that share common experiences… good or bad. We remember our favorite and least favorite nurses to work with, the best and worst docs, and the patients who remind us why we continue to do what we do. We mostly remember the best and worst shifts, and share stories that make us laugh, cry, or just shake our head in disbelief that that just happened. But eventually, many of us move on, and decide to leave jobs that are no longer fulfilling, or the organizational leadership changes into something that you can’t support, or you decide to be brave and try something else.. or, we leave so that we can be closer to home, and be more available to help our family during a tough time… or a combination of the above… and we are faced with saying good-bye.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves“- Viktor E. Frankl

Saying good-bye is hard. I’m terrible at it. It is so final, and the thought of losing one more person in my life that has become important to me, especially after losing my father recently, makes it even harder. Sure, we say we will stay in touch, and see each other soon, and stay connected on social media… but it’s just not the same. It is a loss, and loss is painful.

I have made lifelong friends in all of my jobs… they are the best of the best… but yesterday I had to say good-bye to some amazing people that I have grown to love in only 3 short years. I was leaving for all the right reasons, and I was prepared to say good-bye; I had been gradually talking about my need to leave my job for a few weeks; saying it out loud to reinforce to myself that it was “for the best”… but that last day was the worst. I cried. A lot. It was embarrassing. No one died, and yet today, I am in mourning. I don’t feel sad about leaving the place, or the job itself (it was a very stressful environment and a helluva commute to be honest); I am sad about leaving the amazing people that I worked with and got to know on a deeply personal level. They are some of the hardest working people I know. It is not easy to work in a huge Children’s Hospital in NYC. It’s a tough place that is indisputable proof of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory; only those who are able to adapt to an environment, and struggle for existence, can survive and succeed. If only I could transport these amazing people to my new job, close to home, I would do so in an instant. But it’s not possible, and it’s not about me.

I will always have this piece of my heart that smiles whenever I think about you.

GWB

Last Time for Everything

When I heard the song “Last Time for Everything” by Brad Paisley on the radio, it brought me to tears because I clearly remember the last time that I spoke to my Dad on the morning that he passed away; I told him that I loved him, and he responded as he always did, “I love you more”. At the time, I had a strong feeling that it was the “last time” because he was so ill, but just two days before, when he was having a good day, we sat in the living room together and talked about the usual “stuff” and ate dinner together…I had no idea that it would be the “last time” we did those simple, everyday things. “Things” that later end up becoming cherished memories. The regret is that you wish you said more, stayed longer, and listened closer. The moment when I remember that I can’t pick up the phone to call my Dad to share some news, or talk to him about my day, ask his advice, or laugh about something funny… makes me miss him terribly. Those “last times” become exponentially important when they are no longer a possibility. That’s when it all becomes very sad…and very final.

last time

Nurses are acutely aware of how, in the blink of an eye, a life can be taken, often without any warning. Terrible, tragic things happen all the time… being involved in a car accident on the way to work, enjoying an evening out at a Jason Aldean concert, dancing in a nightclub, even just walking around town… the world can be an unpredictable, unsafe place. Our country is experiencing trying times, and anyone who watches the evening news knows that no one is safe from the potential of harm. Life is cut short for those who are lost, but it is the survivors who have to learn to cope with a new reality and resulting pain. While it is difficult to overcome, it is also a sad fact of life. “No one gets out alive” has been quoted often. The meaning is that we all (eventually) die, and the advice shared is to “not sweat the small stuff”, or not to take things too seriously… which is really hard to do. There are those who are lucky (or maybe more enlightened people of faith?), who are able to not waste time or energy on the draining, exhausting act of worrying; I’m sure they are (much) less burdened with stress, negativity, and insomnia!

Nurses, in particular, are faced with the difficult task of providing comfort to those who have lost someone. They become the survivors…the obituary reads “he is survived by his wife of 55 years, his children, and grandchildren”. Nurses are at the front lines; they know the words to comfort and console. And sometimes there are just no words to be said, and a hug or a kind gesture are the only thing we are able to give to those whose lives are forever changed. What words can ease the pain of a parent who loses a child? There are none that exist. It is unspeakable; unimaginable. Nurses stay strong in times of pain and grief because they must; it is a part of the job. Our patients and families look to us for support and guidance to help them through the worst day of their lives.

If only there was a way of “knowing”. I think that there should be a text message notification from God giving us a heads-up to pay close attention and take it all in, because that’s all we will have left… memories. White Light Alert:This will be your last day with your father; make it meaningful“. Most times we aren’t aware of the timing and significance of a moment that could be/is “the last time” for something….last time speaking to your loved one, last photo, last Christmas, last birthday, last time saying “I love you”… fill in the blank. There are so many “firsts” and “lasts” that we rarely recognize it until it’s too late. There are many “things” that Nursing has given me, but the most profound has been the gift of perspective. Whenever I have had a rough day, or feeling bad about something that hasn’t worked out the way that I wanted, I walk into my job on the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology/ Bone Marrow Transplant unit and I am suddenly reminded that my life really isn’t that bad afterall… my child (who is now an adult) is happy and healthy, I am physically and mentally able to care for those in need, I get to leave the hospital at the end of my shift, and I have a great job that constantly challenges and inspires me to come back for more the next day.
Reference
Paisley, B. (2017). “Last Time for Everything”. Retrieved from Youtube.com

 

This article was published and featured on Allnurses.com:

http://allnurses.com/general-nursing-discussion/last-time-for-1132195.html#.WebPJt2icLs.link

 

What to do when you question why you became a nurse…and you will

I remember the exact moment I knew that I wanted to be a nurse. It was Career Day at my High School. Junior year, 1983. I walked into the building not knowing where to start, feeling completely overwhelmed with rows and rows of tables with feathered-out brochures displaying a variety of options and fields of study. There were smiling college recruiters promising success, and colorful poster displays showing happy, culturally diverse students hanging out at the Student Center, engaged in thoughtful discussion, books in hand. Many of the parents who attended this event seemed more excited than their offspring; each believed that their child was destined for greatness, hoping that at the very least, their child would exceed their own career choices.

It was during a mad rush of well-meaning parents, teenagers in tow, proceeding with focused determination to interrogate a recruiter from a nearby Ivy league university, that I was literally shoved into the corner of one table that was repeatedly being passed by, without even a second glance. (It is important to point out that back in the day, and by “day”, I mean, the 1980’s, there was a nursing shortage; it was not as popular of a career choice as it is now.) This table that I “found” had a sign that simply said: Be a Nurse. I remember thinking “OK, sign me up!” After all, I spent so much time in the school nurse’s office, she was on a first name basis with my parents; she always came through in the clutch when I needed a break from my classes and/or wanted to go home early. Call it fate, luck, or literally being pushed into a career; it was, as Oprah would say, my “Aha! moment“. I made the decision right then and there, and never looked back.

To this day it has been one of the best decisions of my life. It has been a job that has professionally sustained me for 29 years (and counting). But to be clear, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Yes, making the decision was easy; nursing school, not so much. The harsh reality of nursing was even harder. That first year after graduation was downright painful at times. As a new graduate nurse, you literally leave nursing school/college feeling on top of the world, thinking “I’ve got this!” (insert the laughing-out-loud with tears flying out of your eyes emoji here).

Then, you are “lucky” enough to get a job right out of college, working on the night shift, and your entire body, mind, and spirit are mercilessly handed to you on a silver platter (or bedpan, in this instance). You think that you are prepared to share your “gift” with those in need; heal the sick, save lives, cure cancer, maybe even meet a nice, handsome doctor (bring back that laughing emoji)…but soon, you realize that you are working with people who easily make Regina George from Mean Girls look like a Disney princess. Oh, and that handsome doctor is the one yelling, and hanging up on your for asking a “stupid” question. “Excuse me Dr. McDreamy, did you mean to order 500 mg of acetaminophen for a child that weighs 10 kgs”?

Yes, there have indeed been a few times (maybe more than a few) when I questioned “Whyyy am I doing this”? But here’s the thing, nursing is one of the best jobs in the world in my humble opinion. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Every time that I am asked what I “do” for a living, I am filled with complete pride when I say “I am a nurse“. For every challenging and painful shift, I have received tenfold in amazing moments. I have patients and families that will forever be engrained in my mind as my “favorite”. I have learned about compassion, courage, strength, empathy, hope, faith, and love almost every single day in the patients that I care for, and in the nurses who care for them. They are my colleagues. My friends. My brothers and sisters in healthcare. Yes, there are bullies, but they are small in comparison to the amazing nurse heroes that I have come to know and love. We share similar stories, and it connects us in the same way that brings sports teams to championships, and war heroes, solidarity.

So when you consider leaving your job as a nurse, and you will, it’s ok. We have all been “there”. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, “nothing worth having comes easy”. Tomorrow is another day, and if you still feel that way, consider this: “If you don’t like where you are, move; you’re not a tree” (author unknown). Just don’t give up on nursing as a profession. Nursing is the gift that keeps on giving, there are so many different career paths that you can take; try them all if you so desire! Please don’t focus on the bad shifts; each shift is a lesson learned and presents you with opportunities for greatness, I promise you.

This article was published on Allnurses.com:

 

http://allnurses.com/general-nursing-discussion/what-to-do-1126354.html#.WdrmeyONkoZ.link

Defending your Life: A Nurse’s Story

defending-your-lifeheaderI recently watched the movie Defending your Life (again, for at least the 10th time), which is a romantic comedy that came out in the 90’s starring Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks. In the movie, Meryl Streep plays someone who lived an exceptional life on Earth; she was brave and generous in her life, giving of herself, and her love without fear. Albert Brooks, while a good person at heart, was someone who made some bad choices because he allowed fear to rule his life. The concept of the movie is that all who pass (with the exception of children and animals), must stand trial in Judgement City to defend their actions in life; both good and bad. More importantly, the ability to overcome one’s fears was examined in order to be deemed worthy of advancing into the next phase of their existence… or, be sent back down to Earth for a do-over. The plot is complicated by both characters falling in love during their brief time in the afterlife; and Meryl’s character, who was brave and faced her fears in life, was judged to be able to move on; while Albert’s character, was not. Not to worry (spoiler alert), in the end, good ole’ Albert finds the courage to fight to join Meryl in her tram ride to Heaven; and those who had judged him not worthy, saw this act of bravery, and decided to let him stay with Meryl. The end.
This movie always makes me wonder if I would ever be deemed worthy enough to pass into the next phase of existence. I am basically a good person; I’ve made mistakes, sure, but let’s face it, who hasn’t? If I were put on trial today, would I be able to prove that I overcame my personal fears? I would say no, not even close. My fears and anxiety have only grown as I have gotten older. Let’s be honest, we are in trying times right now; between our twitter-happy commander-in-chief, the potential for war with North Korea, the questionable future of the Affordable Care Act in healthcare, climate change and the environment, and having to wait until 2019 for season 8 of Game of Thrones, our future is uncertain. Of course I realize that losing sleep and worrying over these important issues isn’t actually solving any of those problems, just adding to my neurosis. The best thing that I have going for me is the work that I have done/do as a nurse. Surely, that has to hold a lot of weight for the big guy, am I right?
Nursing is a very demanding and sometimes, thankless job. We care for all patients equally, risking our own health (mental and physical) to work long shifts, 24/7/365; missing holidays/special events/dinner with our families/sleep/bathroom and meal breaks, etc… and that’s just touching the surface. Each day is an unpredictable adventure that brings new challenges and struggles: short staffing due to sick calls, train wreck admissions from the Emergency Department, patients “crashing”, c-diff, isolation precautions… fill in the blank. Are we perfect beings, no, but we work really hard and try our best every single day to care for those in need. Heck, just showing-up is half the battle and deserves some form of recognition; three 12-hour shifts in a row should be bonus points for earning a place in Heaven for sure. But are nurses brave? Abso-freakin-lutely! In New York and New Jersey, nurses were some of the first responders that were in a state of readiness after the 9/11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center; all employees were called into action, waiting for patients that never came; this realization was the most difficult to accept. We were greatly affected after Hurricane Sandy as well; many hospitals were running on generators and managing to run safely to care for patients with limited supplies that were delayed in being replenished due to the inability to receive new deliveries for several days. Many staff were unable to get to work; those who were already there, stayed, praying that their own families were safe and sound at home. A few years ago, nurses were trained to safely care for Ebola patients; that took a lot of courage. Many were nurses who volunteered to be trained, even after a nurse in Texas contracted Ebola after caring for an infected patient. That is what nurses do; we care for those who need us. We must always be in a state of alertness and ready to be called for duty to provide care in any situation. I believe that nurses overcome some degree of fear every day; you walk into your unit never knowing what the next 12+ hours will bring. It’s always a surprise, good or bad. I also believe that nurses help their patients through their fears; when patients are their most vulnerable, and most afraid, it is their nurse that sits beside them, holding their hand, and letting them know that they are not alone. Nurses truly defend and advocate for their patient’s lives every single day. I like to think that in the end, if and when we are called to defend our lives, that is what is most important.