Saturday, November 24, 2012


I watched my sister walk across an icy runway to board the plane that would fly she and her husband to Anchorage for their connecting flight home to Seattle and felt tears well up in my eyes. 

My sister Linda and I spent many years "not getting along".  I was convinced that we were too different to be close - an idea that my mother had planted in my brain - and while my mother was alive the three of us formed a triangle.  Never a good shape for relationships.

We've worked hard on getting to know each other since my mother died.  We've been honest with each other and dismantled old barriers, healing old wounds in the process.  Today I realized how important that work was.  As I watched her walk away, I said to a stranger standing next to me, "I hate to see them leave."

When Linda and Art realized that my husband and I wanted to fly to their house for Thanksgiving but couldn't because of my husband's work schedule, they arranged to fly up to our house.  They arrived on Tuesday, two of four suitcases full of fresh fruits and vegetables (we don't have great produce up here during the winter months).  Art cooked the entire Thanksgiving dinner while Linda and I talked.  The following day he cooked a roast.  I didn't have to make one meal, not one.

On Thanksgiving night we planned to join our cousin Georgia and her family for dessert.  I was in the bathroom checking on my appearance prior to leaving for Georgia's house, and grabbed what I assumed was my purple can of hair spray from under the sink.  I shut my eyes and sprayed around the crown of my head when suddenly I realized that the hairspray was unusually heavy and smelled different in a very bad way.  Opening my eyes, I saw that I had purple foam all over my head.  I had sprayed my hair with Kaboom - a very effective bathroom cleaner.  Turns out Kaboom is also useful if you want to strip color from your hair.  I suspect it is also an easy way to have your hair break off at the roots, however, I managed to dive under a faucet quickly after recognizing my error to prevent that from happening.  We laughed about this on our drive to my cousin's house where I shared it with our extended family.  That lead to a roundtable discussion of "the most embarrassing thing I've ever done".  More laughter.

Last night we watched "Home for the Holidays" and marveled at the dysfunction portrayed by a group of truly fine actors.  We watch it every year that we're together on either Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Our family used to be like that.  Every holiday was ripe with tension, hurt feelings, and fear that someone would upset our mother.  Our holidays aren't like that anymore.

I love my sister.  She's smart and funny and creative.  So am I.  I love her husband, too.  He's smart and loving and humble and he loves to cook and has taught me how a man is supposed to behave.  I am so lucky to have them in my life.  I don't know what I would do without them.  When the hell did that happen?

I hate to see them leave.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Guilty as charged

I work a 12-step program, and one of the concepts to which I've been introduced in meetings is "contempt prior to investigation."  To me, that means thinking I know something that I don't, and finding out later that I was dead wrong.

In an earlier post I waxed on about not liking either my pediatrics or obstetrics classes.  I certainly wasn't looking forward to my clinical rotations in either, and last week I spent my first day in the labor and delivery department of a hospital.  It was a slow day, and the best I could say about it was that I got to sit down a lot, which I like because I inherited my mother's foot structure and my feet hurt when I spend any time on my feet in almost any pair of shoes.

Today I crawled out of bed at 4:45 am and got myself to the hospital for another day on the obstetrics unit.  I wasn't looking forward to it, and resent that I have to get up that early to do anything, much less something I am not particularly fond of doing.

Then I got my hands on a newborn.  She was soft and small and healthy, and absolutely adorable.  She made the sweetest little sounds I've ever heard.  I listened to her little heartbeat and examined her fingers and toes.  Then I did the same with a male newborn.  He was just as precious and heartwarming as the girl had been.

Then I got to see a birth.  Out of the miracle of a woman's body came a tiny bluish-gray human being who almost immediately took his first breath and, over the course of just a few moments, turned a robust pink color.  He curled his little fingers to make little tiny fists, and his cries of protest sounded like music.  We weighed him, measured him, and swaddled him before handing him to his father.

I left that labor/delivery room and couldn't remember where I was for a few minutes.  I found a chair at the nurses' station and stared off into space for a few more minutes.  That was several hours ago, and I'm still stunned.

How could I have been so wrong?  How could I have not known?  I LOVE obstetrics.

Yeah, I could do that.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Professor J

I'm drawn to tragedies.  Tragedies like 9/11, huge weather events, earthquakes, wars, random mass shootings, and transportation accidents.  When I receive a CNN alert on my phone and know that something really awful has happened, I turn on the tv and watch in horror as the story unfolds.  I don't know why I do that, but I do.  I consider myself a compassionate person and I hate seeing others in distress, so while I'm watching the media coverage I generally wring my hands and cry and repeat a Buddhist chant.  A sane person would read the CNN alert (or not sign up for them to begin with), take a moment to send positive thoughts for those in harm's way, and move on with her day.  Not me.

Usually when one of these horrific things happen somebody mentions the fact that there are counselors/resources available to help the survivors cope in the aftermath.  I had never really thought much about that until today.

My entire nursing class received an email yesterday stating that there was a mandatory meeting scheduled for 1 pm today.  That was all it said: mandatory meeting.  Shortly after we received the email there was much discussion on our class Facebook page.  Nursing school (ours, anyway) is a pretty terrifying experience; it seems as though every instructor is firmly committed to making your life a living hell.  Therefore, our immediate reaction to the email was a unanimous expression of anxiety.  What had we done?  Had we all failed?  Was the university closing?  If the university was closing were we going to have to start over somewhere else?  The prospect of that was simply unthinkable.  Furthermore, how dare they mandate that we show up at the college on what was, for most of us, a day off?

We gathered in the designated spot at the designated time this afternoon.  We were visibly nervous.  At the front of the room stood four of our professors.  They looked very serious, and a little fragile.  There were 45 students in that room, and you could have heard a pin drop.

In a carefully measured tone, one courageous professor gently let us know that another professor, one who had not been well earlier this semester and had been absent for several weeks, had died last week.

We sat, shocked and processing and still silent.  One by one the professors dissolved into tears.  There was a heaviness to the air in that room that I've never felt before.  The heaviness was thick and cold and locked us in our seats.  It was much bigger and more powerful than we were and it held 45 bright, driven, competitive, assertive, strong students in its grasp for maybe ten of the longest seconds in each of our lives.  Then it was gone, and the air became regular old air again.

That's why the survivors of tragedies need to know that they have access to counseling.  Once you have felt that heaviness, I don't think you're ever going to forget it, and you might need to talk about it, because it is deep, profound and infinite.

The woman who died was perhaps in her fifties.  She was tougher than nails on the outside, and soft and caring and human on the inside.  She was a bit controversial, very outspoken, and an incredibly knowledgeable and competent nurse.  She cared deeply for her patients and for her students (although she probably wouldn't have admitted to the latter).  She was one of those people you either really, really liked, or really, really didn't.  She had obvious strengths, and equally obvious weaknesses.

Rest in peace, Helena.  The Facebook page is unusually quiet tonight; you are already missed.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


My sister messaged me on Facebook tonight.  She noted that I have said so little about nursing school recently that she (almost) wondered if I had been going to classes lately.

Oh yes, I've been going.  I've just been hating it. 

It's not just about the subjects I'm taking this semester: pediatrics and obstetrics - but I'll start there.

I like little tiny babies who can't roll over, my friends' kids, and all adolescents.  The babies' heads smell good.  My friends' kids are prepared to like me (probably because their parents have told them that I am old but cool).  Adolescents are flat out fascinating because they're borderline adults and full of intense emotion.  But all that stuff about developmental milestones?  No thanks.  I have absolutely no interest in being able to rattle off at what age (in months, mind you) small people can swallow iron-fortified cereal, stand on one foot, or poop in the toilet.  I realize that some of my fellow students really like pediatrics and I thank God for that, because I just can't stand it.  I got my lowest exam grade ever on my last pediatrics test and I just didn't care.  I studied hard for that exam but I'm just not interested in the subject and I'm not good at it and I don't even care.  My worst nightmare:  the only job I'll be offered when I graduate is as a pediatric nurse.  I'd rather flip burgers.

Obstetrics is a little better.  It really is amazing that most women can grow a human being in their bodies, and even more amazing that they can squeeze that human out into the world through what is an impossibly small orifice.  Most amazing of all is that two cells get together and nine months later most of the time a baby is born with all its organs in the right place and working perfectly.  Still, I've just seen too many vajayjays lately.  I feel as though I'm being stalked by a giant vajayjay -it haunts me during my waking hours, peering at me from my maternity textbook.  The nights are worse.  I wake soaked with sweat from nightmares about being lost in a maze of laboring women who are all screaming for epidurals and I can't find the key to the medication room.  Mind you, I haven't begun my clinical rotation for obstetrics yet.  It's possible that when (if) I witness a birth I'll fall in love with obstetrics, but I doubt it.  Too many vajayjays.

As if that weren't enough, this semester has been chock full of faculty drama and disorganization.  Balls have been dropped, picked up, and dropped again.  Professors have resigned, clinical rotations have been rescheduled, most of the online video lectures don't play, and everyone is grumpy.

Still, there have been moments.  I started an IV on a classmate about a month ago.  That needle slid right into that vein and I felt as though I had just summitted Everest.  I literally felt high for several hours after that.  Sometimes in class a correct answer to an instructor's question will pop out of my mouth and I'll realize that I'm becoming a nurse.  I can look at blood test results now and know what they mean.  Those things rock.

I'm hanging on to thoughts of next semester.  My last semester.  Finally: psychiatric.  Ladies and gentlemen, I could TEACH that class.  Some of my classmates are already positioning themselves to line up behind me like ducklings.  I'm like, "Come to mama.  Mama will tell you all about depression and panic disorders and anxiety disorders and chemical dependency." And Adult Nursing II!  Emergency medicine and intensive care and REAL drama.  Back to livers and spleens and hearts and lungs and brains.

For now, though, I'll go back to writing this absolutely riveting paper I'm writing on teaching six year olds how to brush their teeth.