Thursday, December 16, 2010


Most days that I work at the hospital, I am filled with anxiety, dread and a sense of "don't want to" as I prepare for my day. Days start early - I have to be there by 6:45 AM - and they run long, until 7 PM or later, with only a 30 minute break (and two theoretical 15 minute breaks that just don't happen most of the time). I dread on an intellectual level the kind of work that is done. Cleaning up human fecal matter is difficult work. Bathing someone whose entire body aches to the point they would rather be filthy than moved as much as being bathed requires is difficult work. And usually there is at least one very demanding patient who needs attention the least from a medical standpoint but demands attention the most due to internal emotional needs, and that can wear you down if you are not careful. I guess these things turn over in my head and make me fear from a boundaries standpoint. I give up a lot of "self" during my days at the hospital. There isn't time to wonder what my kids are doing or to worry about things that tend to worry me. My focus is absolutely required to be in the present here and now. If it isn't, things get missed and someone is let down, either the patient or the nurse I am trying to help out, who I have found is just as important to my sense of accomplishment as the patient is. It seems to be a challenge to me, to win over the most difficult patient or co-worker, to find out what their unmet needs are and at least acknowledge them if not help relieve them for a day. I find, at the hospital, I am a natural wizard, a "people whisperer". Outside of the hospital, I am socially inept I think. People like me, but not enough to call me to go out for margaritas, and I don't make close friends easily. A lot of the time I have no idea what makes people tick, and get me into a crowd situation where politics start to come into play and I am hopelessly lost. I have no idea how to successfully negotiate those waters. I tend to be a "both guns blazing" kind of girl, which tends to make people use words to describe me such as "abrupt" or "terse". I am blunt I guess.

But at the hospital, I am noticing a pattern to my days. I wake up and am filled with dread. I sludge through my morning ritual and turn the music up in the car on the way to the hospital to boost my energy. I come in, tackle the morning job of getting vital signs, and set myself little goals. Have a positive first contact with the patient. Get faster while maintaining accuracy. Do it all with the lights off because I remember how unpleasant it was for someone to come in, flip on the lights and act all happy before the break of dawn while someone is in the bed and frighteningly sick. So I do these things. And take note of who my "total care" patients are - those would be the ones who cannot feed themselves, toilet themselves or even turn over in bed by themselves. I introduce myself to the nurses I am working with, ask brief questions about the patients, tell them anything they need, just ask me. Then I get to work fetching fresh linens, helping people get their breakfast ordered and trying to set some kind of schedule to my day. At this point, time starts to fly and relationships are made, both with the nurses and with the patients. The old man with no teeth and the scary facial hair who I want to avoid in the morning is the person I can hardly bear to say goodbye to at the end of my shift. The nurse who was glaring at me when she learned I am new and a student is thanking me and asking me if I am coming back tomorrow before we both leave for the night. And I get told I am good at my job. Sometimes the vehemence with which the nurses thank me stuns and embarasses me. I don't think I am particularly good at my job. I just do it happily, which I do think matters as well. I think, if I am projecting myself into their shoes correctly, that it makes their day a little better for their needs to be met expeditiously and with a smile and a "no problem" rather than a sullen expression and barely civil grunt. I honestly don't think I do my job better than any of the other techs there. I do think, though, that I do it happily and I think that is probably a big difference sometimes. All I know is that I leave without fail...and I truly meant WITHOUT FAIL at the end of my day feeling like I spent 12 hours doing task that truly matter in the spiritual sense of the word. And I feel good about myself. And I feel humbled in the sweetest of ways. I leave with perspective on the world and its woes and my place in it. I learn every single day that I am not the only person on the planet to have gone through a catastrophic event. And I learn despite all the awful memories of this time of year four years ago wandering around my head, that somehow I came through all that with something left to give, and a ticket to happiness that few ever find.

On some levels it makes me horribly homesick for Joseph. I will never understand why it took a blow like that to shake me into the person I am meant to be. I am not sure I will ever forgive myself for that. And on other levels, it makes me intensely grateful to have the knowledge I do, both of self and of others. Finally, finally, finally I have found something I am extremely good at - something practical that I can do that battles my inner tendency toward depression, that gets me past aching feet and fretting about the size of my butt and whether or not my lipstick stays on or my hair falls just so. I am moved past my vanity and pride, into a place where there is more of value contained in one look or touch or word than in all the bank accounts I could own. And what is more, it makes life less fearful. Because compassion and strength are two things that I have learned the experiences of life cannot topple, steal, corrupt or pollute. I can't lose them and nobody can take them. It wells up from some hidden place inside me and while I am engaging in these activities at work, flow out of me like an endless season of spring. I cannot explain it. It baffles me. Truly. I am one of the most impatient, selfish, rude, disorganized people I know. But put me in the hospital next to someone who desperately needs to be seen and heard and somehow, some way, I see and I hear. I do not know how that is. I dread that job every single day. And I come home happy with what I have done. Every. Single. Day. No exceptions.

I don't know where I am going with this. I sat down to write and this is what came out.

This time of year is hard. So very, very hard. I find myself having to actively fight off intense sorrow and a desire inside to wallow. Wallowing is one of the most unhealth activities human beings engage in. It is selfish and does nothing good or useful at all. I don't want to be that person. But I am sad - intensely, almost debilitatingly sad. I miss him. I am angry that he isn't aging. That he is still just 13. I worry still if he knows how I love him. If he is happy and okay. I wonder and worry these things daily at this time of year. I cry easily. I am needy. Clingy. Overly sensitive. Working at the hospital is a godsend. Finally, I can manage to see I am not the center of the universe. And that comes as a relief. If I am not a victim, I have power. And if I have power, then I can do all these things - without missing the forest for the trees. I have wondered many times this week if my patients ever suspect that they are healing me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Faith Vs. Doubt

I am not terribly religious. I was watching footage of Elizabeth Edwards, who died this week, and some things she said really struck home for me. One of those was the expression that God is not what she thought He was. That He is a God of salvation and redemption, but that after her son died, she could no longer pray. That He was no longer a God who saved people from their natural fates. Oh yes. I could relate to that. My moments of pure prayer since Joseph died have been few and far betwee. However, since he died and particularly since I started to find myself, I do find moments of communion with God, in which I am not really praying or conversing, but more sitting within the spirit of what I know or have felt God to be.

Every now and then I get a sign or a sense that there is a higher purpose in my life. Something has happened of late that I wish to discuss here, and I will let you decide for yourself if it is the hand of God or merely coincidence. I suspect far more.

One of the requirements for third semester nursing is that we do something called "service learning". In essence, we are required to put in a certain number of hours volunteering nursing services within certain approved organizations. As I looked at the possibilities, saw much of this involved doing things for kids - Friday Night Friends (babysitting), the pediatric clinic, diabetic camp - things like that. Well, as much as I love kids, I think I would rather stick a fork in my eye. Pediatric nursing, thus far, is definitely not for me, and the idea of doing my service hours for something that does not contribute to my career in any way or at least my sense of satisfaction was depressing. I went to the faculty in charge of this and asked if there wasn't something else. She gave me the name of a woman in charge of a cancer program that seeks to enrich and support the lives of cancer patients, family members and caregivers...far more than just a support group. Needless to say, my pulse picked up with excitement and I called this woman that very day.

When we finally connected, she told me she was not sure what she neededd would match up with what I neededd to do to meet my school requirement. Now, mind you, this individual has NO idea where I come from other than the college, no personal knowledge of Joseph or Alex or my blog or anything.

Then she told me. What they are looking for is someone to do a seminar for the group on the benefits of journaling through the cancer experience.

Now, I will tell you....since JOseph died, my moments of faith have been few, far between and very very frail. And yet, there have been a few moments of "no doubt about it" signs that Joseph still knows and loves his family and that he is still with us in another sense. This definitely falls under that category.

So it seems I will be doing a seminar on the benefits of journaling/creative writing through the cancer experience and then subsequently leading classes on how to get started, how to utilize this tool to make the whole ordeal a little easier to bear.

My hair stands on end. I am not a woman of strong faith. But now and then, God lets me know I am being steered in a definite direction. And I have no doubt at all this is one of those things.

I love you Joseph. I miss you most at Christmas time. Help me be strong. Help me know what people need and help me learn to use my experiences not to focus on myself, but to help others get through where their lives are right now.