The Mirror

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Recently an interpersonal conflict I’ve had with someone for years came to a point of needing intervention. At first I had feelings of validation (like “Yeah! She’s been doing that for years! Someone finally noticed! Awesome! See?”)

It’s been humbling to realize that I am just as much to blame as she is for our conflict  because of behavior I have chosen. No one made me behave the way I did. It’s not a reaction to circumstances, not something that made me act that way. It’s nobody’s fault but mine. My choice and my responsibility.

Sadly, I didn’t start strolling down this road of truth through some honorable desire for self-enlightenment…no, not this stubborn hard-head. It took a kick in the pants by someone I respect who knows us both raising his voice and finally letting me know his frustration!

So there I was, sprawled out face-first on the “truth road” with scraped knees, a bruised ego, and a mouthful of dirt thinking “What the hell do I do now?”

I’d just finished reading a book I like called “Just Listen” by Mark Goulston. The author recommended a book he said changed his own life: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. I thought, “Okay, this should help me deal with that person who’s making me miserable and I’ll find the way to fix her.” Again…awfully hard-headed…

I started reading right away, thinking “I’m really not sure I like this book but Goulston did so I’ll keep going.” The truth can hurt and we don’t always like to change the way we look at ourselves. When I got to the meat of the book, the twenty challenges in interpersonal behaviors the author writes about, I thought, “Hmmm, that’s interesting,” then “okay,” progressing quickly to “uh-oh,” and “oh sh*&!”

I made a list of behaviors I want to change, obsessing over it for a few days, adding and erasing, before going to a very trusted friend who I knew would provide completely honest and blunt insight. We went over everything in detail and talked for at least an hour. I am grateful for the help and I suspect he was relieved to finally tell me what he knew I’d needed to hear for a very long time. Having a friend like that is a rare and precious gift.

While the process was extremely humbling, I also feel more empowered than I ever have before. Apologies have begun, I’m choosing to change my behavior, and although I know it’ll be a marathon not a sprint, it feels so good to be happy!

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For all nurses- with love, respect, and gratitude (in response to Senator Maureen Walsh’s comments)

“I’m sorry to inform you that your father has had a massive hemorrhagic stroke. His prognosis is very poor.” I was at work that day twenty-one years ago, summoned to the nurses’ station for a phone call in the middle of a chaotic shift. With the sounds of call bells buzzing,  telemetry alarms beeping, and my fellow nurses rushing to their patients’ rooms, I gave the physician consent for a DNR order and chose goals of care for my Dad. I was taking care of five patients that day, three of whom were recovering from major surgery, and carried on to ensure they received safe care until the oncoming  nurse could relieve me.

Dad had been a patient at a rural long-term facility in Northwest Louisiana, hours from where I live in New Orleans. When I left work to pick up my three-year old son, my Mom was already on her way from Alabama to my home; she didn’t want me driving by myself knowing that my Dad was dying. I made two phone calls to Dad’s nurse along the way… checking on his status, his vital signs, the medications he was receiving. The information she gave me during the second call let me know there wasn’t much time left, and I asked her, “Will you please tell him I love him? I may not get that chance.” Her beautiful response was “I sure will, sweetheart. I’m going in his room right now.” Knowing, truly knowing, that a nurse, a lady I’d never met but a nurse, would be with him in his final moments when I couldn’t brought immeasurable comfort and peace.

It was only by God’s Divine timing that I was able to be with my father one last time. I entered Dad’s hospital room and saw how very well he had been cared for… he was in a comfortable position, clean, had oxygen on, was being monitored, and was receiving IV medications to alleviate any distress. His nurse greeted me and then gave me privacy to say goodbye with the assurance that she was right outside the room if I needed anything. She came to me when the monitors alerted her that Dad was gone. Though I don’t remember her name, I will never forget her sweet face, the way her own eyes filled with tears, and how she hugged me tightly as she said, “I’m so sorry, baby.”

It’s because of Dad’s nurse and all the nurses like her that I’m angered by Senator Walsh’s comments:

“I would submit to you that those (small hospital) nurses probably do get breaks,” Walsh said. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

We nurses do put patients first, Senator, whether we work at a “small” rural hospital (the only place for miles patients have to go if they are involved in a major farming accident, have a baby with a 104 degree fever and seizures, or have had a hemorrhagic stroke) OR if we work in a hospital with the capacity for advanced care (like life-saving transplantation.) There is no sitting around and ‘playing cards’ going on.

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Whatever It Takes

 

photo-1484100356142-db6ab6244067 (1)It’s funny how our minds work, and the way we never know what random memory might pop up during conversations about something else. My nephew and I were talking about looking forward to seeing each other on Easter (we don’t get to be together often enough) and about music. In a family with some really talented singers, we always joke that we are the ones who can’t carry a tune despite never giving up trying… repeatedly…  loudly. I suspect he really can sing but holds back to spare my feelings! Talking with him reminded me of what happened with one of my patients years ago.

Adam was a 35 year old man who had received a transplant several days before I took care of him. He had been in relatively good shape prior to surgery so the team and I were eager to get him up walking. Unfortunately, he was not eager at all. He would walk once a day, sit in the chair for maybe 30 minutes, and then he was done. Finished. No more.

His sisters and I tried everything we could think of to make him increase his activity; they would plead, beg, threaten… I tried compassion, empathy, bargaining, and taught him about the risks of post-op complications until my mouth had gone dry every single time I went in his room. He’d laugh, blow us off, say “maybe later”, or sometimes just refuse to speak altogether.

By the end of my third shift with him, his sisters had gone home to take a much-needed break. I totally understood as my own patience was wearing pretty thin too. At 6:00 pm, armed with last-ditch determination and a co-worker by my side, I entered his room, saying “Okay Adam. The time has come. Up you get, we’re going for a walk. You had your pain pills a half hour ago, so let’s do this!” His response, as predicted, was a yawn, a stretch, and a “Mmmm, maybe later.”

“No! No later.”

He started laughing which led me to doing the unthinkable.

I said, “Adam, if you don’t get up right now, I’m gonna start singing. I’m serious. You don’t want that.” My coworker, always a great team player, jumped in enthusiastically and told him, “Yeah! We’re gonna sing Ebony and Ivory!”

I think it was pretty fair that we gave him to the count of three to make his move. When that didn’t happen, we burst out singing as loudly as possible with “Ehhhh-bon-eeeee and Eye-vor-eeeee, live tooooo-getherrrrrr in puhhhhrrrr-fect har-monnn-eeeee!” Before we even got to the word ‘Ivory’, Adam had his hands out scrambling to sit on the edge of the bed and pleading, “No more! For the love of everything good, please stop singing! I’m getting up!” When the three of us got to the hallway, everyone was gathered around wondering why we laughing so hard!

Adam has done great with his transplant and comes to visit me at the hospital a few times a year. It’s great seeing him healthy and enjoying life! For some reason he always declines my offer to sing for him.

 

 

A Fill Up

 

img_1273After seeing something like this several years ago (and thinking each January 1st that I’d do it but not following through… thoughts and ideas seem to stay in my head a long, looong, painfully long time before there’s any actual action), it’s finally in our house.

The idea is to paint a pretty jar, bottle, or catch-all, write down special memories that happen throughout the year, then read them New Year’s Eve.  Many of us reflect on struggles we’ve had during the current year as we welcome in the new one, and I thought this will be another way to honor the good. There’s always so much good… a great conversation with a friend reminding us we are loved, a car ride with a son who makes us laugh so hard our sides ache… and I don’t want to forget those moments.

So the first day of 2019, I sat at the table with a little clay pot, armed with ambition and positive thoughts, surrounded by paint bottles and brushes, then remembered I am NOT an artist! Not even a little bit. I spent the next few days brushing on uneven coats of paint, letting them dry, discovering they were indeed not dry as I left many thumbprints thinking “Lemme just check and see if it’s dry…nope, not yet,” and making plenty of goofs with paint dripping where it wasn’t supposed to go.

Realizing that it would be July before the paint job would be ‘perfect’ and that would be just another way to justify in-action, I decided the little pot was finished and on came the over-thinking phase. What should you call it? Why do you have to call it anything? But if you do call it something, come up with a good name. Merry Memories? Beauty Bucket? Cheery Chamber?

Finally I decided on Happy Pot- one because it made me smile, and two, because the name was safe since my son is no longer school-aged. I can only imagine being called in for a teacher’s conference if we’d started the ‘happy pot’ years ago:”We have some concerns. Austin says ‘Every time we come home from doing something fun, Mom goes straight to her happy pot. She loves her happy pot!'”

Taking the gloves off finally…

Sometimes it helps me to look back so I don’t go back… I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of love lately and reflecting how the more you give love, the more you have. This was a worry filled time in our family a few years ago. I’m grateful to God for pulling my brother through.

Middle-Aged Musings: a Collection of Writings

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When I was a young girl, one of my uncles taught me how to throw a punch. Since I was always a bit of a loner, he must have sensed I’d need to be a fighter.  He wanted to make sure I grew up strong and confident, ready to face any battle… neither of us could have imagined the battles that I would wage against myself.

Almost 34 years ago, my mother married my step-dad, and our families merged. It takes a special man to love a child that another man created as if she were his own- that is what he has done. Though I still had my father at that time, he treated me like I was another of his daughters and welcomed me into his family. He had four grown children (three daughters and a son) who graciously accepted my mother and me even though they must…

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The Great Escape

“The horses are out.” I’d seen one of the guilty culprits passing by the window after he and his partner in crime had evidently found a weak spot in the fence.

“Well shoot!” My step-dad really did say ‘shoot’ as he jumped up, but I was thinking another word might work better. “See if you can grab Scamp and I’ll get in the car to go find King.” So off we went, headed out opposite doors leaving Mom by herself on Christmas morning.

All my life, my mother has been a very organized woman… everything in its place, house impeccably clean.. and she always made sure that Christmases were perfect. We had been in the living room in front of the fireplace opening gifts while the breakfast casserole she’d made hours earlier while everyone was still sleeping was baking in the oven, the glorious scent of cinnamon and fresh coffee in the air. It was an unusually cold day and we got to enjoy the fire without the air-conditioner running- Mom did this often; she always wanted a fire Christmas morning and we lived in the Deep South so we had to get creative. I was a senior in high school that year. Looking back now, I think she knew there wouldn’t be too many more holidays spent at home so each one became more precious than the last.

As I raced out the door, the rush of ice cold air bit into my lungs. The morning sky was a solid, heavy, dark gray and there was nowhere for the sun to peek through. The worn out fleece sweatshirt and pants were no match for the freezing wind and I was relieved my horse came to me when I called for him…

…I’m pausing the story for a second here. We had gotten Scamp a couple of years earlier and I fell in love with him. Mom told me a full decade later that she and my stepdad would watch me from the window with a mixture of amusement and genuine irritation as I called out from the bottom of the field. They’d hear “Scaaaa-yaaa-uump,” (because no word is really just one syllable when you’re from Alabama), and would start saying to themselves, “Why  is she calling to him like a dog? Listen to that. ‘Scaaa-yaaa-uump’ He’s never going to come to her.” Sure enough though, they were wrong, and I’d hear the thunder of the horse’s hooves as he’d gallop to me. Every. Single. Time!…

I stood holding onto Scamp’s halter, shivering and waiting for my step-dad to reappear with King. It wasn’t the ‘first rodeo’ for either one of them, so King was likely to be close-by.

My mother has done many wonderful and extraordinary things for me…never has my appreciation for her been greater before or since as suddenly feeling a heavy weight on my shoulders and instant warmth when she came outside and placed a thick hunting jacket around me. I think she had even put it in the dryer right before so it would be extra warm.

It wasn’t too long before I saw the prodigal son returning. Dad was driving his old big four-door Mercury very slowly, leading King along beside the car with a long rope holding it out the window. Fortunately our road saw hardly any traffic back then!

I don’t remember what happened next, but based on history presume that the fence was repaired quickly. My step-dad had lots of practice grabbing the roll of barbed wire and come-along and could repair a downed fence wire lickety-split. He was equally adept at jumping a car battery with almost no light available- he passed on that skill to me as we had lots of opportunities with the old Mercury!

I think I kept that jacket on for hours and we were really excited to have a story to tell when the rest of the family came over later.

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Scamp and me. I was 17 and he was 4.

 

 

 

 

The Little Things- A Brother’s Love

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“Mom, what if my brother doesn’t know how much I love him?”

After I came home from work last night, my son was uncharacteristically quiet for a long time until he somberly posed that question. “I think he knows, honey…tell me what’s going on.”

A little backstory here: After we divorced, Austin’s dad had another son; he and Nathan are five years apart. The family has had unimaginable losses over the past several years, losing both of Austin’s uncles on his dad’s side a few years ago and then his grandfather last month. Nathan leaves for boot-camp tomorrow and Austin is scared of losing him too.

“We all three went bowling today, and when Dad and I were in the car, he started talking about his brothers.” His voice began to falter. “I’ve told Nathan I love him but what if he doesn’t know? I’ve been a shitty brother.” The tears were welling up so he couldn’t say any more… but he still needed to talk, even if talking meant just hearing another’s voice.

“I’ll bet Nathan would have a different take on that.” I got a shrug. “You drove in the middle of the night to go pick him up when PawPaw was dying so he could say goodbye.” A slight nod. “And you helped him through it after… You’ve told me over and over again how much fun you guys have smack-talking and kidding around. And picking on your Dad!”

A real chuckle here… “Yeah, we do. He is pretty easy to pick on!”

“You show Nathan you love him by having fun together and letting him know you like being around him. And you’re smart to tell him you love him.” It was my turn to have a breaking voice. “Remember when Uncle Hank – (my brother) –  was so sick a few years ago? We didn’t know if he’d make it and I kept thinking about all the times I could have said ‘I love you’ but didn’t. When I finally got the chance to say it again, I told him I loved him and guess what? He already knew.”

There have been many times in my life I’ve been so weighted down with regrets that I couldn’t move forward. Two years and twelve days ago in my sister’s backyard, Hank said the following words to me and they changed my life: “Learn from them and move on. You’ve already lived the story. Stop opening the book and re-reading it.” I was able to share them with Austin last night.

This morning, Austin said “I called Nathan last night. We had the best talk ever!”

Thank God for brothers.