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.

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

We get by with a little help from our friends…

post-1-1172930215

One of my favorite scenes from The Full Monty is where Gaz and Dave find themselves stuck in the middle of a canal. They see a man approaching, walking his dog, and it may be an opportunity to get help. This is how the conversation goes:

Man: “All right?”

Gaz: “Aye. Not s’bad.”

Dave (after the man has walked by): “Not s’bad? Not s’bad?! That’s not much of a chuffing SOS, is it?”

Why is it so hard to ask for help? We often seek to be the helpers but don’t want to be the receivers. Maybe it’s pride, vanity, stubbornness… in my own case, it’s definitely all three along with my ego and not wanting to be a disappointment- it’s stupid, really.

My son and I moved into our neighborhood almost 15 years ago; our neighbors, Wendy and Mike, were among the first to welcome us. Through many joyous celebrations and some tragedies, the most heart-breaking being the loss of their daughter to cancer, they and their son Jeff have become family to us… a very real family. We know each other well (the good and the faults), speak the truth when needed with unconditional love and without fear of losing friendship, and always have each others’ backs.

A few months ago, I had roof damage. Making the decision to not make a decision (one of my worst faults) and thinking I would eventually make the right decision, I’d ignored the problem and it had become more extensive. My deductible is high and I was scared of the cost.

Jeff came over one morning and this was our conversation:

Him: “I saw your roof.”

Me: “Yeah. It’s not so bad.” (Channeling my inner ‘Gaz’)

Him: “It is bad. Don’t be stubborn. Do you need some help?”

Me: (screaming in my head ‘NOOOOOOO!’): “Yes.”

Jeff took the tape measure he’d brought over out of his pocket and we went outside to survey the damage. He made a list of what was needed, did a rough calculation of supply costs, asked me if I could afford it, and then we were off to the hardware store. On the way, I told him, “I’m glad you came over when you did. I was thinking about arson.” He replied, “No one in our family has gone to prison yet, and we’re not letting you be the first.”

Over the next several days, we worked to replace rotten wood and repair the structural damage so the roof didn’t leak any more. Actually I’m using the word “we” too liberally… Jeff and Mike repaired the damage. I handed them tools, held stuff, and gave them water.

It wasn’t long before the next difficult but inevitable conversation took place; I needed a new roof. Jeff broke the news, patiently explaining that if I delayed I could have a few good months before there was further damage but that it might get worse instead. He hugged me through all the very dramatic whining and tears that he’d known were coming, and when I finally said “Let’s do it,” told me he’d already contacted five different contractors for estimates and the first was on his way.

I have a new roof, the bank account has made a recovery, and I’m so grateful for my neighbors.

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” My prayer for Jeff, the friend who has become my little brother, is that very soon he knows his worth and sees himself through the eyes of all of us who love him. That will  be a glorious day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eyes Have It-for Hank

Yesterday was my brother Hank’s birthday; driving to his home and looking forward to the celebration, I thought of some of the many things I love, admire, and respect about him…his love for his family, his integrity, his talent for great story-telling, his strong work ethic, his protectiveness (sometimes having to go so far as to privately tell us hard truths we don’t want to hear to protect us from ourselves- that takes a lot of courage). I want to be a better person because of him.

If someone were to ask me what my one very favorite thing is about Hank though, I’d have to say that it’s his eye rolls, and as his wife Claudia says, the degrees of those eye rolls!

The first is the story-telling eye roll. We love how it adds emphasis to an already funny tale! The second is the’ I’m-mildly-exasperated’ eye roll done with great exaggeration; the more irritated he is, the more pronounced it becomes. The third is the least common and rarely seen. It’s the ‘that’s-without-a-doubt-the-most-ridiculous-thing-I’ve-ever-heard’ eye roll and it’s to be taken seriously.

Hank is a kind man with a gentle spirit who has been married for years to the love of his life; they have two wonderful children. He grew up with three sisters and inherited another when his dad married my mom. He is quite patient with us all and we know he loves us. That being said, I think there’s not a one among us who hasn’t been the cause of an eye roll from time to time.

I love all the types of eye rolling, and this is why: his stories are so animated and his facial expressions make me laugh that much harder. The exasperated eye roll makes me turn my head away to smile (don’t tell him, but it’s really funny!) I always have to bite my lip hard to keep from giggling. The serious eye roll is the one I appreciate the most. As someone who tends to make things bigger and more dramatic in my mind than they really are, having a brother who loves me enough to let me know when I’m off track is just what I need most- I hope he knows that and keeps those eye rolls coming!

The One That Got Away

Or it’s all fun and games ‘til Jaws shows up…

Yesterday, I went to the beach at Grand Isle, and it was glorious! There’s definitely something soul-renewing about being on the beach, listening to the birds and the sounds of the waves, and feeling the warm Gulf breeze.

Before leaving, I decided to wade out into the water and had gotten only a few steps in when I saw a big triangular fin about twenty yards out moving parallel to the shore line. While I don’t remember backing out of the water, it was probably done at the breakneck speed of Wiley Coyote equipped with the latest Acme invention chasing the Road Runner. I thought of what Katie (my very smart niece who is pursuing a degree in marine biology) had said about sharks biting people because they looked like seals… ‘Try not to look like a seal’ and then ‘You’re standing on the beach already, Einstein.’

There were two state park employees nearby, a young man and woman, working on the bird sanctuary fence. I asked them, “Have y’all seen many sharks this summer? Because I see one now.”

Him, looking out into the water: “It’s probably a dolphin.”

Her, not looking up: “Yeah, it’s a dolphin. We see them all the time.”

Me (annoyingly persistent): “Ok… but it looks like a shark.”

Her, still not looking up, but friendly nonetheless: “It’s a dolphin.”

Him, finally seeing the fin: “Wait… it IS a shark. It’s a big one!”

Her, looking up now: “I see it too! It’s definitely a shark!”

shark fin
Not a dolphin!

Both of them whipped out their phones and started snapping pictures while I was thinking ‘Told ya…’

Her: “It’s not dangerous though… it’s not a bull shark. We don’t get bull sharks around here.”

(No offence, lady, but I’m not listening to you anymore. Aren’t you the one who told me the shark was a dolphin?!)

Him: “You might want to stay out of the water…” And off they went, speeding down the beach in their golf cart to take more photos.

Perfect timing- it is Shark Week on Discovery channel after all.

Stuff Happens- A Regrettably True Story

watre closet

In an effort to cut down on colorful language and not embarrass my parents (too much), I’ll be making a few word substitutions.
“Come help me! The toilet exploded!”
Those were my first words said to my son a few mornings ago. I should have known something was a bit off when I put a load of laundry in the washer and then heard a gurgling noise coming from the kitchen sink. We live in an old house and according to my neighbors, the folks who lived here before had an interesting way of performing home repairs.
As I rinsed a glass, I wondered why the water wasn’t getting very hot. When the loud gushing sounds reached my ears, I raced to the bathroom to find a volcano was erupting and hot, steaming, brown lava was everywhere. It coursed down the sides of the bowl, six or more inches up over the seat and with the speed and volume of the water at Niagara Falls… so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration… but maybe not.
“What’s going on?” my son asked as he came to join me in the bathroom. “Ohhhh…”
“The sewer line backed up and exploded. Inside. Grab some towels, there’s wit and miss everywhere!” I reached down to turn off the water- that didn’t help. Plunging only made it worse. Never try to plunge if the wit in the sewer pipes is going the wrong way.
“That’s old wit! Ugh, I’m gonna be sick! There’s wit from the whole neighborhood in here!” He did manage to find every towel we own and we worked as a team to at least cover the wit.
“Old wit, new wit, our wit, their wit- it doesn’t matter! We’ve got to get rid of ALL the wit!” Oh, what a twisted Dr Seuss rhyme.
“Mom, it’s all the way up to your ankles!” And off he went… heaving. Not everyone has a nurse’s stomach.
Mount Vesuvius finally stilled, leaving only steam escaping from its base. At least I knew where all the hot water had gone. The supply of towels was extinguished long before all the wit and miss had been cleaned, so I reluctantly started the washer up again, fearful of having the house fill with another explosion of wit. Once the towels were in the dryer, I had to get some bleach.
One of my neighbors was outside, so we chatted for a bit. I told her what had happened while she was getting some things from her boyfriend’s truck. She held one of his work boots, and then said, “Ewww, I wonder if he stepped in something… it smells like wit!”
“No, Cynthia. That would be me. I’m witty.”
“Oh!” Then quieter and a little sadly, “Oh… Sorry.”
Well, hoarding has come in handy; I had about ten of those cute little pocket-sized anti-bacterial thingies from Bath and Body Works. After pouring them all on my jeans, then running a little through my hair, there was a lovely combination of French Vanilla, Soothing Pear, Luscious Lavender, Citrus Peach, Christmas Holly, Merry Mistletoe, and Winter White going on to titillate the senses- what kind of scent is Winter White anyway and does mistletoe really smell like cinnamon?
Judging by the looks received from fellow Wal-Mart shoppers, not everyone’s senses were happy and there must have been a lingering cloud of wit surrounding me. Ah, so much for not embarrassing my parents with this story. However, I’ve never experienced shorter lines or quicker service while shopping! The lady in front of me at the checkout lane unloaded her cart at break-neck speed, no one got behind me, and the cashier’s hands moved so fast they were a blur.
Halfway through the decontamination process and while I was regretting not owning a Hazmat suit (you can find them on Amazon and the customer reviews are pretty entertaining), my sister Mary phoned to help me keep a sense of humor. We were soon laughing hysterically- me aided by the bleach-fumes high and her by the mental picture conjured from the stinky story:
Mary (her voice hitching through the laughter): “So it wasn’t just plain wit, but steaming wit? That really is a big hot mess!”
Me: “Yep, we are full of wit over here.”
Mary (so sincere)” Oh sweetie… I wish I was there to help you. Kind of.”
Me: “Thanks honey and I genuinely kind of appreciate that.”
Like a bad dream, it’s now all over- except for hoping to become best friends with the new plumber. Into everyone’s lives a little wit must fall. Keeping it in perspective, there really are worse things, this certainly brings new literal meaning to having a witty day, and if it makes my sister laugh then it’s all worthwhile. Kind of.

Those Awkward Family Moments

Last night while I was in the kitchen, I heard Matthew McConaughey’s voice coming from the TV in the living room. Looking up at my nineteen year old son sitting on the couch, I asked him incredulously, “Are you watching ‘Magic Mike’?!”

He looked up with shameful disdain. “Yep. There’s nothing else on. So I’m just sitting here. Watching ‘Magic Mike’.” He shook his head pitifully as he glanced back down at the television.

“Oh!” I replied enthusiastically, “I’ll come watch it with you!”

The horrified panic that washed over his face was comical. As I walked over to the couch and began to sit next to him, he pleaded, “No, no, no! Mom! Don’t do it!” I nearly collapsed from laughing so hard.

“Mom!” the poor boy exclaimed. “You just made this, like, two hundred times more awkward. This is so humiliating.”

“I know, sweetie,” I replied as he put his head in his hands. “You’ll be ok.”

Types of Nurses

Well, it’s a sad day indeed when I verbally acknowledge my own grumpiness and all of my coworkers agree! It’s a struggle to have patience… except with patients. With my patients, I give everything I have and am able to keep in mind that these are people who are loved by someone. They are fathers, mothers, sisters, friends, and sons and are dependent on us not only for medical care, but for preservation of dignity and independence. It is my goal to treat everyone like I treat my patients, but I fail…often…at least daily…sometimes hourly…
Thinking on this brought to mind the various types of nurses we have:
1. The Old Grouch: Sure, she has a lot of experience, but proceed with caution if you need to ask her anything. Approach only if her brow is unfurrowed.
2. Miss Sighs-A-Lot: She is productive and always busy. New tasks and assignments are taken on with massively exaggerated exhales of air and eye rolls. She isn’t mean, she just can’t help it.
3. The Martyr: She can frequently be heard in populated places making statements like these: “Ok, I’ll do the dressing change that no one else wants to do. Just let me take 30 seconds to shove my lunch down my throat. I wish I had time to pee.” Miraculously, she did have time all morning to conquer ten levels of Candy Crush Saga on her I-phone…
4. The Workhorse: This is the one who doesn’t take the time to pee because she is too busy doing all of her own work and most of The Martyr’s. Her patients never have to press the call light because she is always in their rooms anticipating every need.
5. The Savior: She takes her job very seriously, is smart, and wants the best for her patients. Unfortunately, her ego can get in the way as she thinks the unit cannot function without her. If you need to provide her with education on a better way to perform patient care, do so diplomatically and leave her thinking she came up with the idea. That’s a sure way to keep the peace.
6. Little Miss OCD: Her patient rooms are spotless with bandages and supplies arranged on the cart according to size…occasionally in alphabetical order. She hasn’t met a set of IV tubing she couldn’t untangle and label in record time. She NEVER leaves tasks undone for the upcoming shift; make sure you have all your ducks in a row if she follows you!
7. The Cheerleader: This one loves her job, wants everyone else to love theirs, and is consistently nice to The Old Grouch, frequently smiling at her when others slink away in fear. You’d like to be annoyed by her happiness, but you can’t…she’s too darn sweet.
8. The Professional: Nothing rattles this woman. Ever.
We work on a unit with critically ill patients whose conditions can worsen in an instant.
I was called emergently to a patient’s room. Thomas was a 32 year old man well known to us who had been admitted with post-op complications the previous night.
When I entered his room, I saw him pale and diaphoretic. His blood pressure was extremely low. As his eyes rolled back in his head, the Savior paged the physicians and started ordering blood, labs, and fluids. Thomas was bleeding internally. Rapidly.
The Workhorse and the Martyr worked quickly to obtain large IVs through which we could quickly give the life-saving blood and fluids Thomas desperately needed- they are two of our best IV starters. The Cheerleader scurried to get the code cart and raced back with it to the room. She’s fast enough to excel as a track star. The Professional and Miss-Sighs-A-Lot (both great nurses) manned the code cart, knowing which drugs were needed before the doctors even uttered the orders. Little Miss OCD was the one I wanted right beside me- we got the blood and fluids flowing into the patient as fast as possible. Within 20 minutes, Thomas was stable enough to go to surgery and have the bleed repaired. He has visited our unit several times since then, and is enjoying a productive life with his wife and two small children.
Though we may have conflicts because of our strong personalities, when emergencies arise, we come together and work as one to save a life. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Evacuation in more ways than one

It was September 2, 2008, and I was driving back home from my brother’s house in Jackson. My two dogs, the cat, and I had evacuated on the eve before Hurricane Gustav was to make landfall. Fortunately, my son had evacuated earlier with his grandparents since I had been at work and therefore left New Orleans too late to avoid the contra-flow. I spent the following day in safety, and returned home the next morning.

As I was driving south down I-55, the remnants of the hurricane were raging…the sky was black although it was the middle of the day, visibility was next to nothing because unrelenting sheets of rain were coming down, the wind was blowing fiercely, and the radio blared tornado warnings about every three minutes.

My cat was in a pet-keeper in the front seat (he had become half-feral over the course of two days, but was finally sleeping), and the two dogs restlessly occupied the back seat. Obviously opening the windows was out of the question. As the dogs grew whinier, I kept trying to soothe them knowing there was nowhere to pull over.

We drove on, and then there it was…

As the stench came rushing into the front seat, the poor cat awoke mewing pathetically. At the same time, both dogs attempted escape from the back seat by simultaneously trying to leap over my shoulders, one on each side. I pushed them back, and then frantically started looking for a towel while yet another tornado warning screeched on the radio. Little flecks of dog excrement were flying everywhere. Finally I found a blanket on the floor and managed to cover the mess in the back seat thus settling the dogs a bit. Thinking, “Oh, wow, I still have about two more hours to drive before I get home,” I ran my fingers through my hair and down the side of my face. That’s when I realized my hand was full of dog crap.

Now I won’t call the name of the culprit…but it was the big black one with the crazy white eye. Poor thing, he hates storms and must have had the worst nervous stomach of his young life.

Before, I left his home, my brother had given me a bottle of water for what we both thought would be a relatively short trip- I still had half of it left. Thinking it might help, I poured it over my hands, but as one might imagine, diluting the mess served only to make it worse.

I looked at my hands, looked at my clothes, and then did the only thing I could- wiped my hands down my shirt, shorts, and bare legs.

At the Jefferson Parish line, there was a checkpoint for those re-entering the parish. Because I am a nurse, I had a paper to allow early re-entry. As I slowed to a stop at the checkpoint, the two officers took one look at me and waved me through without my even rolling down the window- certainly couldn’t blame them.
When I finally got home, all of us rushed out of the stinky car with more of the… um… stuff… flying through the air. My neighbor was at her front door offering a warm hello and asking me to come over. Though glad to see her, I said, “I might be a while…”

In need of a shower more than ever before in my life, I still had to laugh. We were blessed that the brunt of the Hurricane had missed us and that I had a house to come back to!