Sunday, September 30, 2012

sugar and spice

I spent this weekend at a camp for kids. This was an opportunity to earn credit for my clinical round in pediatrics.  I was happy at the thought that I'd be able to avoid six days in the pediatrics unit (which includes rising rather early) at the hospital by volunteering at the camp.

 I am not familiar with kids;  I have none of my own and just haven't ever spent much time with any.  I was asked to babysit for a friend's month old son a number of years ago and did enjoy that experience immensely.  It was easy.  I fed, burped and changed the little guy and put him in the middle of my queen sized bed penned in by pillows (yes, I put him on his back) - then I'd go play games on the internet until he woke up and I'd repeat the process again.  The top of his head smelled so good.

Volunteers for the camp are required to attend two five hour training sessions, which I did.  This Friday through Sunday outdoor experience has been created for children who have lost someone close to them and the activities are carefully structured to help the kids feel safe enough to work through grief.  At the training sessions we were taught how to facilitate each child's expressions of a wide range of emotions.  When I learned that I was assigned to the cabin that would house 10 girls ranging in age from 6 to 9 years, I felt a flutter of uncertainty (I had hoped to be assigned to the teenager cabins, but figured that those making the assignments knew what they were doing.)

I arrived at camp at 4 pm on Friday and left the grounds at 3 pm on Sunday.  Following is some of what I learned.
  • Little girls like to scream.  They like to scream just for the sake of screaming.   They will scream alone, but they prefer to scream with others.  Put ten of them in a 16' X 16' cabin in the woods, and they will scream for hours without becoming the least bit hoarse.  The camp schedule read, "10:30 pm - Camp Sleeps".  Little girls will begin telling "scary stories" at 10:30 pm and scream until adults from other cabins show up at 1:00 am and request (beg, plead) that they stop.
  • Little girls' mood swings make PMS look like a walk in the park, especially when they are grappling with something as serious and tragic as loss.  They are the bravest little souls I have ever encountered and being with them is liked riding a very fast, extreme roller coaster.  Two of my classmates who volunteered with me developed what they thought was a slight case of the stomach flu on Saturday.  I think they had motion sickness.
  • House 9 female nursing students ranging in age from 24 to 60 in a cabin in the woods (maybe 500 feet from the building containing toilets and showers), provide them with rickety bunk  beds and plenty of electrical outlets and you'll soon have pandemic constipation (I mean really, who can do that in a public toilet with screaming girls nipping at their heels?) and previously well-groomed women wearing funky hats to cover unwashed hair because it's just too daunting to consider carrying toiletries, a change of clothes and a flashlight through an extremely early snowfall to a bath house that may or may not still have hot water.  With regards to the electrical outlets: count on ghostly silhouettes created by the lights of smartphones at all hours of the night as the students quietly tap out desperate texts to loved ones - unable to sleep due to the cacophony of snoring and flatulence (remember - we're constipated).
  • It's not a good idea to tease the one nursing student who likes to go to sleep earlier than the rest by waking her several times before everyone else hits the sack.  She will rise before the crack of dawn and wake you up to tell you that you're snoring, then ask to borrow your flashlight so that she can make her way to the bathroom.  You will then be unable to go back to sleep because everyone else is snoring (that's right, it wasn't you in the first place).
  • It is possible to earn a bit of spending money if you tuck antacids, analgesics, and wax earplugs in your backpack before leaving for camp.  Nursing students housed next to screaming girls and snoring peers will pay top dollar for these lifesaving items.  She who remembers to pack a nightlight?  Well, she is forever held in highest esteem
  •  Last, but not least: children are the sweetest of souls, even if they do scream for fun.  Some of them grieve the loss of a parent who drank too much or smoked too much or a sibling who shouldn't have waded so far out into the water.  None of these actions are within their realm of control, but they are left with the overwhelming task of navigating the rapids of fear, anger, guilt and sorrow at an age when they should be treading the earth with wide-eyed innocence and joy in their little hearts.  Today I climbed a ladder to a top bunk in a cabin in the woods and held a child who expressed her grief with such deep sobs that I knew I'd stand on that ladder for as long as it took for her to breathe quietly again-in spite of the fact that my legs grew stiff and shaky and sore.  I did not let go until she pulled back, squared her shoulders, and faced the day with astounding courage.

Scream on, little girls!  Life awaits you, and some of it is wonderful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Near miss

Four years ago I worked for a large healthcare corporation in California.  A series of bizarre events occurred during my tenure with said company, and I found myself moving from the position of sales and marketing representative to Vice President of Sales and Marketing, complete with a corner office, company vehicle,  and six-figure salary (blah, blah, blah).  The experience I gained was good (in the event I ever want to move into a management position again), but the stress level was high and one of the coping mechanisms I employed to offset that stress was spending money.

Retail therapy is fun.  The rush of pulling into a parking space in front of one's favorite store is magic.  The heart speeds up, as does respiration, and one (one like me, that is) slides effortlessly into "acquisition mode".  I could never get out of the car fast enough.  My autonomic nervous system kicked into "flight or fight" and I was off.  I loved shopping for clothes and shoes, but my favorite store was always Bed, Bath and Beyond.  One can never have too many bath sheets, 1,000 thread count bed sheet sets, comforters, rugs, lamps, bathroom accessories, curtain panels, decorative curtain rods, pillows, throws or candles.

Times change.  Finances change.  Hopefully, coping mechanisms change in response to the finances.

I awoke today knowing that I needed a white long-sleeved stretchy cotton shirt to wear under my scrubs, as my obstetrics clinical rotation begins on Thursday.  I contacted a friend who is in school with me, and she directed me to Old Navy.  There is an Old Navy store about four miles from where I live, but I hadn't been there before.  My friend gave me the address and I found it easily.  Fortunately, I located a shirt for $8.50 and, after making my purchase and heading toward my car, I spotted a Bed, Bath and Beyond at the far end of the parking lot.

My heart rate sped up a bit.  I started my car, put my forehead down against the steering wheel and called upon the gods of reason.  If they answered I couldn't hear them and I drove to the BB&B parking area.  Breathing rapidly, I leapt from my vehicle and strode purposefully through the doors into nirvana.

Colors, sounds, aromas and textures assaulted my senses.  I stood for a moment and absorbed the surge of energy in that store.  It warmed me from my center spreading up the back of my neck to my head and down the backs of my legs.  I was soon bathed in warm pulsing comfort mixed with streaks of excitement.  Glorious.

And, terrifying.

I spun around and headed for the doors.  I had to get into my car and as far away from the store as I could, and fast.  I kept my head down because I didn't want to make eye contact with a helpful store employee or (God forbid) lay eyes on a display containing 1,000 thread count sheets (offered at the sale price of $175 for a queen sized set).

I practically vaulted into my Jeep and peeled out of that parking lot.

My heart rate has since returned to normal.  I called my husband on the drive home and told him what had happened.  He shouted, "YOU CAN'T GO INTO THOSE STORES.  THEY ARE A VERY BAD PLACE FOR YOU!"

Yes, they are.  Score:  BB&B - 0  Alyx - 1

Friday, September 21, 2012

And the gifts just keep on coming...

When my mother died four years ago, I "inherited" her collection of costume jewelry.  I keep it in a big cloth grocery store bag.  Mom liked bright colored  big cheesy necklaces - I know she bought most of her accessories during the 70's and 80's when that type of jewelry was socially acceptable.  She also loved earrings.  She never had her ears pierced and had a large collection of clip-ons.

I wouldn't be caught dead in the majority of what's in that bag.  I mean, when was the last time you saw someone wearing huge red plastic beads with matching earrings?  Still, I've been hanging on to her collection.

I'm going to be participating in a camping weekend for children who are grieving the loss of someone close to them, and one of the scheduled activities will be puppet-making.  While attending a training session for camp volunteers, I was told that donations of fabric, buttons, raffia and other random items that could conceivably be sewn or glued on a puppet were being solicited by Hospice of Anchorage, the organization offering the weekend to grieving kids.

I thought, "Hmm, I must have some stuff at home that I can donate."  I knew that I had raffia and a few remnants of material, but it wasn't until today that I thought about that damn jewelry.

I've been thinking of Mom a lot lately because while training for the camp I've waded through some grief exercises.  Hospice of Anchorage requires that people helping with the weekend experience some of what the kids will experience and I've shed a few tears remembering my mother the past couple of weeks.   Today I went through her jewelry piece by piece, and honest to God I could remember days, gatherings and situations in which she had worn every single item.  Those ugly, chunky necklaces, earrings and bracelets morphed into priceless jewels in my hands as I held them.  Visions popped into my head of my mother before she was sick - when she was still youngish and vibrant and taking yoga classes, entertaining friends at a local country club, and traveling the world while wearing her funky jewelry.

The bag is in my car, ready for my return to Anchorage early next week.  It's a little lighter than it was when I dragged it from my closet this morning because to my surprise I found three necklaces in there that I actually like and might wear.  While I'm volunteering at the camp next weekend, I wonder if I'll watch a child choose a bauble that belonged to my mother and use it to craft a puppet that represents the person that child has lost?

Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Monday, September 10, 2012

dueling da do do do do do da do

I'm back in my little room at the bed and breakfast for the fall semester.

The weather forecasters predicted 110 mph winds on Tuesday night.  Very unusual for this time of year in Anchorage.  The national weather service posted a dubious warning on Tuesday afternoon that alerted everyone who isn't blind to the fact that the leaves are still on the trees, which translated to a greater than normal risk of downed firs, cottonwoods, and birch.

I have a big window in my room and watched in awe on Tuesday night as the numerous trees in the backyard reacted to 130 mph gusts of relentless wind..  Branches tangling and flapping, bending so far that the tops of the trees seemed to touch the ground.  Constant movement.  I could hear the gusts coming even with the window closed; the trees would all sway and bounce in the same direction, returning to some semblance of upright with a violent rebound, only to be buffeted again and again.  The lights began to flicker on and off in my room, and my computer printer would shut down and then make a noisy return to a powered status.  Eventually I turned the thing off.  It sounded tired from all that activity.

I woke on Wednesday morning to a symphony of chainsaws.  No power, no cable (no internet or tv).  The wind was still blowing, but at a perfectly respectable 30-40 mph.  The sun was bright in the sky.  Alaskans were out cleaning up the mess and turning it into fireplace fuel for the fast approaching winter.

We hadn't lost one tree, but almost everyone else had.  They were down everywhere; big ones, small ones.  Some had snapped in half, while some had fallen over with their roots attached.  Big trees lying on the ground with their entire root systems perpendicular to the ground, dirt and leaves and earthworms dangling from them.  Not one person on our street, or any of the other streets near us, had sustained any structural damage to their homes or garages.  The trees just seemed to know how to fall without striking roofs or decks or cars.

The power came back on for us by 10 am on Wednesday, although the cable took another 48 hours.  There are still people here who are without power.

Gotta love Mother Nature.