Monday, April 20, 2009


Working in health care is rewarding, hard, scary, and at times, wonderful. At times I feel as though I'm expected to have a magic wand inside my stethoscope, and when I am not able to fix it all?

Sometimes it feels like a failure.

Then again, there are some situations when I wish I didn't know something. I remember one night at work we had a very critical patient in the ICU. We, as a medical team, had done everything we could. But "everything we could" sometimes isn't enough. After the patient passed suddenly despite our efforts, I left the unit to finish some work on another floor. I walked past the waiting room where the family was seated and overheard one close family member speaking into his cell phone.

"Well, it was a bad accident but I think she is going to be ok. I hope that...I don't know. Just pray, ok?"

Sobbing into his cell phone he said "God be near us."

I knew she had passed and I knew the news they were about to receive. I heard the doctor's footsteps behind me, walking towards the waiting room to deliver the words no one wants to hear. As I distanced myself physically, I tried to distance myself mentally as well. The sounds of screams and sobs filled the hallway and I knew what they knew. Life was forever changed for them.

Life would be divided into before and after.

I couldn't help but think that just a few hours prior life was normal for them. Maybe they ate breakfast together and spent that saturday afternoon enjoying the weather or catching up with an old friend. Maybe they laughed as they drove down the road, not realizing that our paths would cross in a way no one wants to imagine. Maybe they discussed their plans for the week as I clocked in for my shift.

Tragedy can touch any of us. I truly believe life is more precious and delicate than most of us realize. And while none of us can fix it all or make anything perfect, I do believe we can take steps to humble ourselves and take nothing for granted.

Life isn't always fair, it's not always just, and at times we are inundated with a downpour of pain. I try to keep that in mind when I encounter someone who is less than *ahem* pleasant.

Later, that same night that I lost my patient, I encountered a family member in another unit that was less than polite with me. Let's face it, I was having a bad night. I felt down and I felt sad. This patient's daughter was rude and abrasive. She swore at me and I could do nothing right.

"If only she knew," I thought.

I left the room to fetch the millionth "petty" request for her. This time I think she had asked for a drinking straw. I had silently asked for a winning lottery ticket.

As I walked down the hall, the nurse stopped me and said "She just found out her mom's cancer is terminal. They are moving her to hospice tomorrow. Here's her new orders."

"If only I knew," I thought.

My approach with her was different, and although she remained verbally abusive and harsh, I knew that she was probably in the middle of her own personal storm and she probably didn't even realize how she was coming across.

What if, whenever you encountered rudness you treated that person as though they were in the middle of unknown pain? If you treated them a little kinder? It's not our place to judge others or seek revenge, but I know when I encounter hostility it's easier for me to be defensive than it is to give kidness. I can't always fix the whole picture, but maybe I can make it look a little better.

When I returned to their room I turned to the daughter and said "I'm so sorry for what you are going's that straw you asked for. If there's anything else I can do just let me know. " With tears in her eyes she said "Thank you...that means a lot to me."

If only we knew.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


A few years ago, Adam and I lived in NYC while employed by a health care travel company that sends RTs/Nurses/etc out to hospitals, that are short staffed, on a contract basis. We were contracted for 3 months, but later extended it to a full 6 months. I remember arriving in Manhattan and unloading the car behind what would be our home. I also remember stepping inside our borrowed apartment where we would be living the next 6 months. It was fully furnished, but in reality it was a blank slate because I had no memories associated to it. It felt cold and unknown. I felt intimidated by the big city. Like a small animal scurrying among the bulls and the bears.

After unpacking just enough to get settled, and walking to the nearest market for some culinary necessities, we came home and leashed the dog up for a walk. He had spent the first year of his life in Vermont, and the previous few months in New Jersey, so he wasn't prepared for the gauntlet that would be his daily walk. Sherman rode the elevator to the first floor and emerged eagerly into the marble floored lobby. Tugging and yanking he choked through the lobby as his gasps of hurried excitement echoed through the large entry-way. His nails made a "clickity" sound on the floor as his tongue draped out the side of his gaping dog smile. I remember the doors swinging open as a gust of wind greeted us both in the face.

Welcome to New York City.

Sherman clomped down the steps and I immediately tugged him gently to the right so we could join the flow of pedestrian traffic. It was shortly after 6pm, so the streets were very busy. We were housed on Broadway and Wall St., so with that in mind, I'm sure you can picture what it looked like at that time of day. You could see the instant our pup realized that he was in a big new world. He stopped dead in his tracks as people rushed past us, nearly tripping over him and darting around him. He gazed around with wide eyes trying to make sense of it all. He lowered himself to the ground and nearly laid flat as if to say "Stop! Just stop while I figure out what this new life is!"

I feel the exact same way, puppy. I'm with you on this.

I encouraged him to keep walking and slowly he gained the confidence he needed to enjoy his walk at a leisurely pace with his chin held high. And soon enough I felt encouraged too. Sometimes all you need is a gentle tug in the right direction to give you the push you need to keep going.

I remember the night before we left home; I had packed all my things for what would be a minimum of 90 days away from what had been my home for 10 years. I looked around my apartment trying to memorize the color of the wall, the scent that was my home, the feel of the tile under my feet, how my kitchen looked when I was cooking in it, and the lush green trees out my windows. I was memorizing the familiar in anticipation of the unfamiliar.

I was supposed to go to my mom's place that night so she could wish me a "fond farewell" (as she puts it). I still feel guilty about this, but I called her and said I wouldn't be able to make it over, that I had too much to do, so we would have to say a simple "see ya later!" over the phone. She understood and wished me a safe trip, I wished for a stronger character. Truth is, I just couldn't bare to say goodbye to one more person. I had already said so many good-byes to friends and co-workers that I needed a simple "see you later". I needed some routine. I needed to be alone with my fears of the unknown and let my heart break a little bit by myself.

Anyone that knows me very well knows that I am a "Nester". I love being home, I love being close to my family and friends. Once I get comfortable somewhere, I have a very hard time breaking the routine and venturing into the unknown spaces. The whole traveling/contract thing basically fell into our laps. Due to some major issues with our previous employer, we felt that we absolutely had to leave and do the "traveling thing".

It's actually amazing how sometimes life throws you a curve ball and while it seems scary and out of place, it's exactly what you need at that time.

Sometimes we need to fall to get to where we are supposed to be.

I learned so much those months, and I look back at that time as a period of huge growth. I may have started out panicked, but something tugged me in the right direction and gave me the courage to walk leisurely ahead.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Island Hygiene

When Adam and I went to Belize in November of 2007, I had never been to a carribbean destination before. I had not even been to a tropical destination for that matter. The closest I had been up until that point was Disney World. Spinning Teacups, Mickey Mouse, and throwing up a $9 hot dog from a place called "Goofy's Grub" can't really be defined as "tropical". But, Disney World has palm trees, people. So by that alone, it is very tropical.

It's all about the palm trees.

When we arrived in Belize City, we wandered through the airport to catch our connecting "puddle jumper" flight to Ambergris Caye. Philip S.W. Goldson Int'l Airport looks more like a Hertz car rental. They actually announce your name overhead when it's time to board the plane. Needless to say, the island vibe was evident as soon as I entered the country. I remember standing in line waiting for customs, and feeling a tad nervous. I had my fresh new passport in hand, declaration form filled out and patiently waited my turn. When the customs officer - a Belize native - motioned me to his podium I quickly realize my nerves were for nothing. He glanced at my passport and then stared directly at my chest and said "What does your shirt say?"
::blink blink::
My shirt had text in a circular shape over my, ahem, heart. I told him what it said, he smiled at me and welcomed me to Belize. I honestly don't even think he looked at my name on my passport.
So there you have it. All you need to get into Belize is a passport (for posterity's sake), and a shirt that has text over your boob.
Belize, I love you.
We spent the week in a beach front condo-style resort, with the ocean lapping gently against the shore that was our front porch. I'll never forget the bath-water warm waters, kayaking as the sun set, the lush island plants, bicycling through San Pedro, fishing, and most of all how relaxed I felt.

In addition to clothing, I had packed the usual travel necessities: hair dryer, flat iron, styling products, and make-up. After 2 hours on the island I realized I had wasted my time, and wasted space in my bag because I wasn't going to use any of it. I was an island girl, if even for a short time. I spent the rest of the week in shorts and t-shirts that would normally only be used as loungewear at home. One day I even ventured out to dinner in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that I usually used as pajamas.

There really is nothing more joyous than eating dinner at a resort in your pajamas. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it.

As the trip wore on, I found my standard of hygiene slowly slipping. I was re-using shorts, sniff testing t-shirts, and recycling cover-ups. I distincly remember one morning grabbing a t-shirt that I had tossed into the dirty pile, sniffing it, and wondering to myself how I could have thought it was dirty enough for the "Take Home and Wash!" pile. It smelled of sand and SPF. Perfectly suitable for an afternoon of beachcombing and gorging on key lime pie. I probably would have considered a Wal-Mart t-shirt and some Hanes shorts "black-tie" by that point.

Like I said, the standard of hygiene was, umm, slipping away. It was really hard to return to work and have to actually make an effort on my appearance. It was even harder to drive through rush-hour traffic and drive at the same pace as everyone else, when I really felt like floating down the highway at 30mph. I was in slow-mo for a solid 2 weeks after that. What bliss.
I thought I wouldn't ever find a place as wonderful, and as conducive to relaxation, as Belize.
But then we went to Hawaii. And it was just as sweet. I spent many an afternoon lost in the blissful warmth of the island, sipping away at a banana smoothie with the scents of plumeria and tropical fruit in the air. I noticed a distinctive scent in our room each day...I still haven't figured out what it was (flower, fruit, etc) but it was there, each evening, as I fell asleep to the waves lapping the shores. It was the scent of the island. It was the scent of what it's like to take a deep breath and feel paradise all around you. That may sound like an exaggeration, but that is exactly how I felt.
And, once again, I found my standards of hygiene slipping away with my cares. I lived in ratty shorts and tattered shirts. My bathing suit was my closet staple, and my skin was smoothed by sand rubbing away the top layer of my busy life back home. There's nothing else quite like putting on gym shorts and feeling a tad overdressed for dinner.
But that's the island life.