The Bedside Table and Rollercoaster Rides

Being a witness to true, pure, selfless, and unconditional love is so powerful that it can transform the soul and change a heart forever; I was blessed to have seen that kind of love a few days ago with one of my patients and her husband. God must have known my heart needed to be filled as He showed me the special bond between a brother and his little sister just the very next day.

Jo is a woman in her 60’s who has been a patient on our unit off and on for the past few months. She has a big heart, a dry sense of humor, and is well-loved by her husband, Robert, and their three adult children. Her liver is failing fast as she waits for a transplant and none of us know how much time she has left. Whatever her course may be, Robert will be right there by her side.

When I first entered Jo’s room that early morning just as the sun was beginning to make its appearance above the dark blue clouds, she was sleeping and Robert was sitting in a chair beside her bed. He was fighting tears as shared with me how scared he was because she’d become so sick very quickly. His voice cracked when he said, “Just a few months ago, she could do everything for herself. She was normal. And now…it’s just…I’m afraid of losing her.” I longed for the right words to say, something comforting…anything really… but sometimes there are no words and none came at that moment. All I could do was nod as we shared the silence that followed.

After I’d seen my other patients, I went back into Jo’s room. Robert had lifted her from the bed to the chair, and I found them sitting across from each other sharing breakfast on the battered hospital bedside table. Our tables are used for many things- a place to set medicine cups, water pitchers, procedure trays. This was the first time I’d seen one used for a breakfast date with a couple who’d been married 40 years and it was such a beautiful sight! A true gentleman, Robert made sure his bride was seated so she could look out the big window and have the best view. He told Jo, “I wish I had some flowers so you’d have something pretty to look at,” to which she replied, “I like looking at you.”

Jo left later that day to have a diagnostic test performed, and Robert finally laid down on the couch to rest. When she returned and I heard him snoring, I tried to be quiet as we moved her from the stretcher to the bed, knowing how tired he must be. As soon as he heard his wife’s sweet voice, though, he immediately awoke and jumped up to help. I wanted so badly to tell him, “It’s okay, we’ve got her,” but then remembered the words of a coworker far wiser than me caring for another patient near the end of life who said, “I used to think I knew what was best for patients and their families. I had good intentions but I was wrong. It’s not for us to decide what’s most important to them; it’s up to us just to honor whatever that is.” It was a gift that day to hear their lively banter during Jo’s good moments and see the gentleness between them during her bad ones- the kind of love that develops from spending a lifetime together.

Will is a 20 year old young man who received a liver transplant after having developed an autoimmune disorder. He and his parents were so sweet and engaging; I loved getting to know them all. Will had become really ill right after he started college and had spent the past year living back at home. He has an older sister and brother who were able to take turns being with him at his sickest when his parents had to work. He also has a little sister. Because their home is out of state, his siblings had not yet been able to see him since his surgery but were making the trip the following weekend.

When the doctors made their rounds, Will’s mom asked them all the “important” questions- about medicines, follow-up appointments, wound care, etc., then said, “ I just have one more question. I promised his 14 year old sister I’d ask this. Will he be able to ride roller coasters again?” I’ve never seen the surgeon smile wider than he did just then! He was grinning when he said,” Yes. Not right now! But please tell her ‘yes.’ In a few months, he can definitely ride roller coasters again.’ We loved hearing that a little sister’s top concern was that her brother could do fun things again… with her.

Will was discharged later that day. I waited with him while his parents left to load the car and he told me how excited he was to see the rest of his family. He said, “I really love all of my siblings. My little sister and I are especially close and I can’t wait to see her!”

I have a shameful secret, one that’s very hard to admit. For much of my life when I saw two people in love, I was happy for them, but there was always the whiny and very selfish thought, “Why not me? Why can’t I have that kind of love?” There are a myriad of reasons. I’ve made poor choices and have lost myself before in relationships. I’m not social. I like people pretty well but am so much better with dogs. I’m stubborn. Fortunately I have a few good friends who know me well and love me anyway. They keep me grounded, ask the hard questions, and yell at me if I isolate too much. I may never have the kind of love that Jo and Robert share, and that’s ok. I’m grateful to God that they have it and all the selfish thoughts are gone for good.

Recently while my brother and I were talking about our father, he brought up some thoughts about my previous relationships with men. He’s always conscious about being tactful (his sister should try to be more like him in that way) and he was afraid of being hurtful but sometimes when you see someone you love making bad decisions for a long enough period of time, the words you’ve held back just come tumbling out. I’m so glad he did. It was a relief for both of us and has brought us even closer together.

I have two brothers. Though we didn’t grow up together, we entered each others’ lives when we were supposed to and with Divine timing. They show their love in so many of the wonderful ways that brothers do- through their words, actions, and the examples they set- and I couldn’t be more thankful to have them in my life. In addition, they have both gone above and beyond in unique ways: one has promised to intervene if I become completely crazy (it’s a slippery slope) and the other has promised to pluck unwanted facial hair if I’m ever in a coma! Both vows are of high value and equal importance.

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The Reason-for Austin

For the past 18 years, my son has found a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every Christmas morning. I don’t think I ever told him why…until now.

As it does for many of us, decorating the Christmas tree and looking at all the ornaments collected through the years brings forth so much nostalgia; there are my favorite handmade ones from my son Austin, old ones from my grade school classmates, ones Austin and I bought on vacations we took together (Mom and I started that tradition many years ago when we’d go on trips), some from my childhood, and many given as gifts by cherished family. There’s one from the wife of a patient who died –she gave it to me as thanks for caring for her husband- and another from the first new nurse I mentored. One of the ornaments I treasure is a hand-blown glass angel from Copenhagen. Mom took me there when I was a teenager and we bought matching angels. Some years later, when I moved out on my own, my mother packed up all the ornaments she’d collected for me through the years so that I could have them for my own tree. Despite her careful and gentle packaging, I somehow managed to break off the tip of one wing. For years, I’d position her on the tree so that no one could see the flaw. As I got older, that changed. The beautiful angel now takes her place front and center on the tree and is a reminder that sometimes we are stronger because our wings are a little broken.

But back to the point- I’m always painfully slow getting to one… thinking about Christmas brought me back to the one when Austin had just turned four. We went to the mall to have his picture taken with Santa. It seemed as if we were in line forever, his warm little hand in mine, and I wondered if he’d be ok sitting on Santa’s knee by himself-historically, that had not been the case! He did it, photos were successfully snapped, and he ran back to me afterwards with a big proud grin.

As he gave me a huge hug, I asked him what he told Santa he wanted for Christmas. He said in the earnest way only small children do, “A hot wheels car, a blue cereal bowl…and earrings for you, Mommy.” The look of pure joy on his face when there were earrings for his Mom Christmas morning was unforgettable. The blue cereal bowl, too cracked by now for use, is carefully tucked away, there has been a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every year since, and he still has the same unselfish spirit he had when he was a young boy.broken-wings

The Cumulative Effect-for Jeff

Our hospital chaplain and I were talking earlier that morning about the effect seeing human suffering has on caregivers. Over time, it can change a person; seeing so much pain, fear, and death wears you down to the point that even the most joyous times (like watching a patient you never expected to make it walk out of the hospital) are just a little less fulfilling. Fortunately, for most of us, these feelings are cyclical. The pain subsides, the joy returns, and we go on…but you have to wonder about the cumulative effect. Who would we be if we didn’t witness all the suffering?

Yesterday one of our patients died. We tried to save her and we couldn’t. Every single time we have a code, I hope that it will be the last one I ever see…odds are it won’t be.

I was on the opposite end of the unit with a couple of the other nurses when we heard the code alarm. We rushed to the patient’s room where someone opening the code cart and CPR was in progress. As I took over chest compressions (I’m usually the one in that role first just because I’m tall), I thought of the many times I’ve had my hands on someone’s chest doing those same compressions and I prayed for the lady’s heart to start beating again on its own. It didn’t.

As charge nurse, by default I have to be the nurse leader during a code until we have a designated physician leader present; I don’t want to be the leader. It’s usually for only a couple of minutes but it feels like forever. I have to make sure someone is manning the cart and defibrillator, someone else is getting defibrillator pads on the patient, that we have working IVs, someone is recording, we have a backboard under the patient, and that someone is getting the meds ready.

When one of the young doctors took over compressions, I helped a nurse ventilate the patient while the anesthesia MD was preparing to intubate. I saw the panic in her face as she struggled with the ambu-bag initially then the relief as she got it right and heard me say, “Yes, sweetheart, just like that.” I’ve been in codes where people yell and it never helps anyone.

Real-life codes are not like the ones depicted on television. We are jammed together tightly around the patient and we are covered in sweat that is not just our own. Regardless of the outcome, everyone is shaken at the end of a code and there are some tears shed. We take it personally when a patient dies.

Dr. S was our physician leader; not only did he run the code perfectly, he was very calm and set the tone for everyone else. We gave numerous rounds of meds and performed CPR continuously. Everyone in that room worked hard to save the lady’s life. Several times, Dr. S had four of us do a final pulse check before he “called” the code; if one of us even thought we felt a pulse, we began the whole cycle again. After 46 minutes, there was nothing. He had to announce the time of death and one family was changed forever.

While we prepared for the patient’s family to see her, our chaplain met with her sons. I see death only occasionally; he shares others’ grief weekly- not just the patients and their families, but also our staff. Afterward, he updated me on the family while I was charting, then said he wanted to check on the nurse whose patient had just died one last time. As I watched him take the lonely walk down the then eerily quiet hallway, I thought to myself “But who’s gonna check on you, buddy?”

Please don’t ask me to cut my hair

hair

Beauty is something we women obsess over, cry about, and feel that we can never achieve. Because of our own insecurities, we find ourselves inadvertently bringing other women down with us, thereby fulfilling the old saying, “Misery loves company.” This is not an intentional act, but rather something that has been handed down to us from generation to generation. It is way past time to stop. We have been programmed since early childhood to “know” what a beautiful woman looks like. Madison Avenue tells us she should be tall, very thin, have long legs, porcelain skin, etc. The message is that women who look like this will be desired by all and will achieve ultimate happiness and women who don’t are out of luck.

Here’s the deal…We all want to be happy and we all want to be desired. How many of us as very little girls twirled in our dresses wanting to be seen as beautiful? How many of us pretended we were a princess waiting for our Prince Charming? How many of us fantasized that we were the heroine of a story… beautiful, strong, and irreplaceable? I think the answer is that a lot of us did. So despite having grown into rational, clear-thinking adults, we are still influenced by past perceptions and hurts. Perhaps our fathers called us plain, or our brothers criticized our choice of dress. Maybe we were teased in school for being the ‘ugly duckling’. Our mothers may have been critical of our bodies, pushing us to lose weight for our “own good” so that we could “be happy.” Every woman has at least one story to tell, and most of us have several that have stuck with us for many years, and can still bring tears to our eyes.

We work toward achieving the image of beauty that has been burned into our minds and our very psyche, constantly striving and continually disappointed. Some of us live in despair knowing we will never obtain the perfection we are looking for, while others are just as frustrated seeing how close they are and thinking, “If I could just do a little more, then I would be happy.” Have you ever been witness to a conversation between two women who are good friends? Often it turns to the dissatisfaction over their bodies. You will hear one saying, “I only ate 500 calories all day yesterday, and I worked out for three straight hours.” The other will nod in commiseration, saying, “If I could just lose five more pounds, life would be good.”On and on this goes, as they discuss their self-hatred. It is such a sad thing to witness, and I certainly have been guilty of this same behavior. These are women who truly care about each other, yet instead of lifting each other up, they bring each other down in their battle for perfection. Certainly this is not what our Creator wants for us. He has decorated the world with His beauty:

Psa 93:1 The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty:

Surely He has made us beautiful as well.

Psa 45:2 (45:3) Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee forever.

We spend countless hours and not an insignificant amount of money viewing information to make us feel bad about the way that we look. We watch TV shows and read magazines that tell us how we should dress, i.e. make your hips look smaller if you are pear-shaped or fuller if you are an apple shape (why is it ok with us to be compared to fruit?), dress to minimize your derriere or maximize it if it is too small, hide your full bust or enhance your small breasts, etc. In short, the message is that we should all strive for the same “perfect” body. Why should all women try to look the same? It seems we should rejoice in our diversity, each of us recognizing our own beauty that is a gift from God.

Women with pure intentions give their friends the same advice that they themselves have received from other women. They desire the best for their friends and want them to be happy, so they advise their friends on how to dress, on how to wear their hair (hence the reason for the title), and on how to do their make-up. Often, this advice, though it is given with love, has the opposite effect from what was intended. Instead of making us feel better about how we look, we feel worse knowing we have failed miserably in the area of “beauty.”

I have long hair; I like it that way and intend to keep it long. End of story. I have received numerous negative and unsolicited comments about my hair from other women, some who love me and some who don’t. Here are a few:

“Your hair is long.” My reply is usually, “Yes, it’s long.”

“Your hair is too long.” “What is the right length?”

“You should cut your hair.” “Why?” “Because it is too long.” See above.

“You would look better with short hair.” “Really?”

“Your hair is long. Are you gonna donate it to Locks of Love?” “No, I think I’ll keep it.”

And my all-time favorite (usually said with a self-righteous smirk), “You know, after a certain age, women should not wear their hair long.” “Who says?”

There has never once been a man who has advised me to cut my hair.

Why do we women do this to each other? It is a spirit of unrest, which does not come from our Father. There are always two forces at work, and Satan tries to destroy us by creating our fears and then preying upon them as he did with Eve. Life is brought forth from God through us when we give birth; Satan can bring only death. Isn’t it clear why he hates us? He is the one who brings us fear. In the Bible, whenever angels appeared to men, the first words they uttered were, “Fear not.” Instructions regarding fear are present in the Gospels as well, these being just two examples:

Luk 1:74 That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear;

Luk 12:32 Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.

Mankind is drawn to beauty and through it we get glimpses of God’s glory. Who has not had his or her breath taken away by an awesome sunset where the sky is painted with deep shades of purple, pink, red, and orange? I believe that God created woman to be beautiful for men to be drawn to Him through her beauty. So, of course Satan will try to make us feel that we don’t have beauty. He certainly wants to keep man from moving towards God.

We have received instruction regarding concerns that we are ‘not enough,’ whether it be not smart enough, beautiful enough, or so on.

Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. Mat 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31 Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows.

I think of women I have been around, some of whom are from cultures different from my own, who are able to see the beauty (outward and inward) that they and their friends possess; they are a joy to be with because they are relaxed and at peace. Instead of striving in discontent, they have happiness which shines from their souls reaching their countenances. They enjoy each other simply for who they are rather than sharing unhappiness and personal dissatisfaction. How refreshing! Have you ever met someone who, at first glance, is not physically attractive, but once you got to know that person, you viewed them as gorgeous? And conversely, someone with great physical beauty that became completely unattractive once their spirit was revealed? Let us all stop the striving for the cookie-cutter beauty that Hollywood dictates we must achieve, and recognize the gifts that God has given us. Oh…and please don’t ask me to cut my hair.

 

 

 

 

A Prayer

Dear Lord, tonight I feel weak and I ask for Your help
-that I may be a beacon and not a burden
-to be accepting and not controlling
-to be patient, kind, and forgiving
-to remember the times that You have forgiven me
-to be thankful and joyous instead of anxious and regretful
-to listen with my ears and with my heart; when I speak, to ask You for the right words to say
-to carry Your Light which chases away all darkness
-and to love, no matter what, no matter when.
Thank You for all that You have given me. You have always been in my life, even during the times I tried to push You away. Please continue to watch over my family.
In Jesus’ name I pray.

Our last breath

We don’t know when it will happen, where we will be, or who (if anyone) will be with us when it comes. What we can do is make good use of the breaths that we take now by uttering words of kindness, love, support, and encouragement instead of anger, disappointment, admonishment, and hurt. The last conversation that we have with someone may be the last and we don’t want to look back on it with regret.

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

-A quote belonging to Percy Shelley.

Every year, seniors in my old high school choose a quote they would like placed under their photo in the yearbook- this was mine. I wish I could say that I chose this one after much deliberation and thought as to how I could best represent my outlook in life, or even that it was because Shelley was my favorite writer, but the answer is no to all of that. Actually, at that time, I didn’t even like Shelley’s writings (sorry).  The truth is that this quote was chosen because I had waited until the last minute, Shelley’s works were in our literature books, and I attended high school way before the “just Google it” era. Looking back, a quote about procrastination would have been much more appropriate!

This quote came to mind yesterday as my son and I enjoyed a walk together around the neighborhood. It has been an unusually cold winter, even for those of us in the Deep South; it was great to see the sun shining and feel its warmth on bare arms, to pass our local playground seeing girls practicing softball and to hear the cracks of the bats connecting with good pitches, to hear the sounds of lawnmowers starting,  to see children playing outside still in their school uniforms so eager to get outdoors they didn’t bother changing clothes, to hear the beautiful sounds of childish laughter from our very youngest neighbors…  the sights and sounds of hope and life were all around us.

I thought of our family and our own long ‘winter ‘with my brother’s life-threatening illness… how dark and cold everything seemed for a while even as prayers were answered daily and hope was always there. I thought of Hank working so hard with physical therapy to return home to his beautiful wife and of her immeasurable strength, faith, and love.  

And now, there is the glorious promise of spring coming! Although winter is not over yet, the glimpses of warmth we see and feel let us know that it won’t last forever. There is still work ahead as we clear away the debris harsh weather and tough times have left behind, but we know that there is new growth coming with strong roots of love.