Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Fart

I've been a nurse now for almost 22 years. That's a long time I figure, and working in the ER is the only thing that keeps me going in this profession. It's the continually changing environment and the unexpected that allows me to stay in this weird world of Western Medicine in which I frequently lose faith. I've seen a lot over those years and even though I've witnessed things I wish I hadn't or things that people shouldn't, I still can be shocked and amazed by an occasional left field experience. Last night is a good example. Not deep. Not life changing or even life altering but it was a new experience worthy of complaining, scratch that, writing about. I was accused of farting in front of a patient. OK, not a big deal like I said but it pissed me off because I didn't do it! And not only the patient, but her boyfriend as well said that I let out (and I quote) "a huge loud fart that stunk up the whole room!" Here's what gets me. The ER of any hospital can be a horrible experience for the average person having to visit one. Not only are you feeling miserable in the first place but you have to wait in line, often for hours, with a room full of coughing, sometimes vomiting, usually grumpy, just-as-miserable people who may have a different definition of 'hygiene' than you do. By the time you actually get back to see the doctor you kind of wish you'd never come to the ER in the first place. There are some people who know the system all to well and try to eliminate this wait by calling for an ambulance for things as life threatening as a toothache. The thinking is that by getting a $750 ride to the ER they will go straight back into a treatment room thereby avoiding the miasma that is an ER waiting room. What they forget, however, is that we ER nurses weren't born yesterday and we get really pissed off when people try to abuse a system that is already overstressed. It actually gives us a certain passive aggressive joy to watch the paramedics come into the ambulance bay doors, through the ER, and back out into the lobby to unload a healthy patient off of the gurney into the admitting receptionists hard plastic chair..."take a number, buddy, we'll get to you as soon as we can". Anyway, back to the patient who accused me of farting. What bugs me is that I wasn't even her nurse. I was just acknowledging the aforementioned misery of an ER and being nice to them by bringing extra blankets and soda's to make their stay a little more pleasant. After leaving the room for the second or third time, delivering a Pepsi and being more waiter than nurse, they put on their call light and the nurse caring for them entered the room. When she came out smiling she gathered all of us (this was too good not to share with the entire ER staff!) around the nurses station to share the news that I had just farted in room 6 in front of patient and family stinking up the whole room. After much levity and hours of ridicule and ribbing it became the joke of the day. Now, I can take a good joke with the best of them, but this is America dammit and I am innocent until proven guilty! It did help my case that the patient in room 6 came to the ER for an anxiety attack after losing all her money at the casino earlier in the day. But it still irked me that someone I had gone out of my way to help went out of their way to hurt. I'm figuring it was the boyfriend. He let one fly, got busted by his girlfriend and blamed it on the nurse. Dirtbag! Here is the skeleton in the closet...my mea culpa. I actually have farted in patient rooms before but never got busted...BUT NOT THIS TIME...I DIDN'T DO IT! Every other time it was when I was either changing an incontinent diaper, or giving an enema or cleaning up a nasty commode or...OK you get the picture. The rooms had already been a wasteland of biological-weapon air quality. A disaster by which, when adding a little more gas, couldn't really hurt the situation. So when confronted with this crime of fouling a perfectly fine room I got really angry. I guess you could say my angry reaction was just latent guilt for "passed" sins (couldn't resist).

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Getting Itchy, Gotta Breathe

I feel it coming on and the timing's all wrong. My heart and my belly are my barometers for change and the pressure is increasing as I know a high is in the forecast. How soon I'm not sure but there seems to be something at about the 2 year mark that sets me off. To hell with the 7 year itch, I have the A.D.D. version of that in which after 2 years the walls seem to close in a bit tighter and the colors look a bit duller and the rut feels that much deeper. Two years and I start asking myself that horrible question..."is this it?" Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Is this how I am expressing my uniqueness and individuality and creativity in this lifetime? Of course I know I have to make money in this lifetime and I know that I am lucky to have the kind of job that allows me to serve others while having a wage that allows me to work part time. I'm blessed that way and appreciative...and my feet are itchy for more or for something different. In other words I'm a spoiled little bitch, but we already knew that. This constant moving around from ER to ER isn't the best plan for financial stability but my left brain never was very well developed. My retirement planner (me, actually, whenever I bother to think about retiring and hope that Social Security will hold out for 30 more years and survive the Republican/Obama ideology of war vs. social programs) knows this is a horrible strategy for having money in the distant future. But I can't fire him no matter how bleak my "portfolio" looks. Right now, my employer will match money that I put away for retirement. It's totally free money! How awesome is that?!!! I remember as a kid, my glass-half-empty Dad telling me there is no free lunch. Great advice. Probably better given to someone older than a 6 or 7 year old holding an 'all you can eat for free' Denny's kids meal, but good advice none the less. As an adult I think of it often. If I stay at this job for the next 20 years I might actually have quite a bit of money on which to retire. Did I really just write that last sentence?!! There truly is no free lunch or lunch money. All I have to do is trade my 50's and 60's for some financial security in my 70's so I can look back and wish I would have traveled to places I used to think were cool in my 30's and 40's. Did I really just write that last sentence?!! As I did there was a tightness in my throat, some chest discomfort, slight nausea and a shallowing of the breath...very similar signs of having a heart attack. Not too dissimilar to the feelings I mentioned earlier and yet extremely different. Kind of like how the feeling of being intensely in love feels a lock like being intoxicated only a lot better. Listen to your body...trust your gut I hear my inner voice crying out. There is an inner wisdom that bypasses the normal cognitive approach and we logical beings like to ignore it. Why do most of us dismiss intuition as silly, or foolish, or something only yoga instructors in their early to mid 20's listen to for guidance? Because if we did listen to our inner...our body's way of telling us right and wrong the whole world would change in an instant. From the food we eat to the way we talk with and about each other and the work we do and the wars we wouldn't wage to how we spend our free time would all be radically altered. If it feels good (to your soul) do it. OK I am digressing badly and I know this because John Lennon's "Imagine" is now going through my head... "and the world will live as one".
You can see where I'm going with train of thought. It's the justification I need for allowing me to start dreaming again of travel...of leaving...of adventure. When I look back at my resume there is a distinct bi-annual migration that occurs in my life. Almost always in the fall and specifically in October, I change jobs and move on. I'm almost a full three months behind schedule now and am starting to jones for a life change...THE TRIP! It's not that I want a new nursing job, that's almost never it...and it's not a good time AT ALL for me to be feeling this travel bug. But how do you control what you feel or when you feel it?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Mom's Heart

The monitor was grainy. Black and white in the dimmed room. The mass of tissue indistinguishable under the ultrasound wand being pushed between my mothers ribs. Blobs of gray snow and black shadows smeared across the screen until the rhythmic beating became clear. "Take a deep breath, Mary Frances". The technician instructed my mom, yet I couldn't help but inhale deeply and hold my own breath until directed to exhale. The ER nurse in me was watching intently; both fascinated by the technology and curious professionally, looking for cardiac abnormalities. Reading an echocardiogram is by no means my specialty but my eyes strained anyways, while looking for any valvular anomalies, or calcifications or blood flow aberrations. It was a detached, medical, calculating, diagnostic and safe place for me to be while my mom lie on the table in front of me. I didn't have to think about the fact that she had recently suffered a heart attack.
She was on vacation in Hawaii visiting my sister Martha when she noticed a general malaise and an increasing shortness of breath upon walking even short distances. And here I have to say that even on her best days my mom could never be accused of being a great historian when it comes to describing her physical symptoms. When I talked to her on the phone from 3000 miles away her description of how she felt was, "I just don't feel right". Hardly worthy of a 911 call. And to be fair, people can have "silent" heart attacks where the usual symptoms of chest pressure, nausea, sweating, etc. just don't occur. But it's hard to know with my mom, Mary Frances... a woman who can find a silver lining in just about any rain cloud. Like, oh, I don't know, seeing the loss of a limb as an alternative weight loss program, for instance. But the lingering fatigue and winded feeling upon her return home, landed us an appointment with her doctor. And mom's reaction to Dr. Wingren, holding the EKG in his hand explaining how she had had a recent heart attack? Classic Mary Frances..."Really, well I'll be." Puffing her way back out to her car after receiving the bad news, my mom said, "I don't know, James, do you really think I had a heart attack?" The question reminded me again of the powerful combination of Polyanna and denial that I was raised with and that I now employ as a coping mechanism in the face of bad news. But not this time..."Yeah, mom, I think you did".
I pulled back from the memory and looked at the pulsating screen of grainy lines. But this time I saw something I hadn't earlier. I saw the beating heart of my mother. I was no longer an analytical nurse looking for answers. I was a mess. I understood for the first time in my life the actuality that my mom is mortal. That she is finite. That the heart that I was watching beat with the precision of a clock right in front of me, was winding down and would stop someday. The rhythmic beating of her heart was hypnotic in the darkness of the room and with each beat I was drawn deeper into the blackness of the space inside. I felt more connected to my mom at that moment than I had since I was a child as I could actually see the source from which all of her love poured out of her. The valves would close, perfectly white, and then open again to a black depth that seemed bottomless, was bottomless. That unending source of love that has been with me from my first breath here. I was overwhelmed by the thought that I could actually see the endless ocean of love inside my mothers heart. It became timeless as I sensed the heart of my grandmother and all of her love and her mother and her great grandmother and on and on. I couldn't look away. Somehow that piece of meat on a TV screen transformed into life and love and a connection between generations that flows now through me into those that I love.
I can choose to see my mom's heart attack as devastating as it signals change and loss. But I know, deeply, that it it will always be there for me and in a very real sense beat through me. I am so grateful for having experienced it all. Thanks mom.

Friday, January 08, 2010

What Are They Doing Up There?

I guess I'm just not well suited for it. The long haul, the monotony, the sameness, the tedium of being an adult. There is a gene I'm missing that almost everyone else seems to have. I think it gets activated at around 21 or maybe 30 years of age at the latest. I wouldn't know. It's the one where career building and learning about the details of money/society/politics/business kicks in and adulthood starts. For some it comes later in life and I'm still waiting at 47. "Maybe 50" I'm thinking. But that just sounds wrong. Fifty isn't for starting to figure things out. Fifty is for looking back and seeing your accomplishments and for watching that nest egg grow and for fantasizing about warm sandy beaches that you'll be able to visit when you retire in 15 years but won't because of the arthritic hip and your irritable bowel syndrome. It's not like I want to be an adolescent my whole life...that's not it. Partying and hanging with my buds isn't something I've ever wanted to do. It's more like I don't give a crap about the things that most people my age and even most people a lot younger seem to think about and talk about and worry about and spend time learning about. Retirement planning, 401-K's, investments, golf, meetings with division managers, the two week diving vacation in the Truk islands. I feel wrong. I feel like there is some big secret out there that I never was let in on. I think I cut class the day they discussed growing up. I have no idea how the system works. I read about the Federal Reserve and promissory notes and I'm more confused than ever. I laugh when I hear the term "futures markets" even though no one is joking. I can remember as a kid sitting in the backseat of the car driving in some city looking up at the sky scrapers thinking "what are all those people doing in there". I had the same damn experience last month. Millions of square feet of office space climbing up into the low fog of Seattle and I think the exact same thing! So I'm asking, "What are all those people doing up there?" I imagine dark power suits and meetings and business class airline tickets tucked into expensive shiny leather briefcases. I imagine stress and fluorescent lights and lots of money and after work, drinks like single malt scotch with the guys from the office...but what are they all DOING? Discussions of outsourcing and synergy come to mind but what they hell are they doing up there?
The other day my mom asked me why I never wanted to get into the management side of nursing. Thoughts of meetings with number crunchers came to my mind. Thoughts of data analysis and spread sheets came to mind. Money streams, patient flow, blah blah. I'd rather just actually take care of patients and help them to help themselves get better. It is hard work and yet at the end of the day I don't ask myself what I did all day...I work and take care of people by poking holes in their skin and pushing chemicals into their blood streams and...jeez, that just sounds messed up. But that's another topic for another day. I'm missing something here. Again with the question, "what are all the managers doing up there...why is it that managers make more than the people who actually do the work?" The system is totally backward in my mind and that once again makes me feel weird...like I'm missing something. Maybe I just can't beyond the concrete operational (geek reference to Piaget and the development of the intellect) thinking of a 9 year old. Like I'm missing that last piece of the puzzle that has it all make sense. It keeps me asking over and over in my mind how we all got to this place where we accept it as normal and right. It all seems cockeyed and haywire. It all seems false and strange. How is it normal that people spend most of their waking hours in cars driving to, and then hanging out in, buildings for pieces of paper so they can give those pieces of paper to other workers who raise their children and grow their food and build their houses and do all of the other things that normally would give them a sense of joy and accomplishment? Do you see where I'm going with all of this? The more I ask these questions of the normal world the more crazy and "childish" I feel. "The sane people in an insane society appear crazy"...that old chestnut. As I get older but just as unable to answer all these questions I feel, not quite crazy, but stupid, inept. Just asking the question seems stupid. Take the blue pill! Invest in futures (corn is looking awesome right now!) and enjoy the Glenlivet. But dammit, there is no blue pill...there is no 401-K. My retirement plan is to move to Dharamsala and spend my few social security rupies on chai and dhal and watch the snow melt off of the Himalaya's, breathing incense and spinning the occasional prayer wheel. Childish? Sane?...depends on whether your looking up at the skyscrapers or out from their tinted windows. Looks like I'll never grow up.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Lord of the Couch. By JRR Tolkien

"If Frodo Baggins says goodbye, again, to one more hobbit I'm going to shoot myself...and take out a few other people with me". My wife Sheryl just groaned, stewing away in her own pain and trying to ignore my empty (unarmed) threats. It's what happens when people sit too long suffering through an entire day of non-stop TV...by choice no less. We weren't even sick with the flu or on forced bed rest trying to pass the time. It all began when we thought it would be fun to have a New Years Eve party involving our two teenagers and whatever friends they wanted to have over for the day and watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back.
I remembered each movie being about three hours long and steeled myself for a butt numbing veg out of epic proportions. Now I love movies. I love the emotional impact and the visual beauty and the transportation to landscapes both interior and exterior that move me like few things can. I remember being rocked by the L.O.T.R. movies years ago and was looking forward a repeat. But doing the back to back thing was kind of daunting. Thank god it was dark, cold and rainy as it begged for the Great Indoors all day. To avoid the ordeal that the hobbits endured, staving off starvation by eating lembas ( geek reference to a sort of Elvish hardtack) we had prepared for the day. As Sheryl and I mounded bowls of pretzels, chips, guacamole, salsa, crackers, and hummus next to the gallon of assorted soda's onto our kitchen table, Corwin our 16 year old ordered the other teen staple of long haul movie watching...pizza. We planned for the movies to begin at 1pm thereby giving us plenty of time for stretch breaks/pee breaks/get outside and MOVE breaks plus a short dinner break. We figured that, as Frodo rode off into the sunset with Gandalf nine hours later (!) we would have just enough time to shout out our "Happy New Years!" by midnight. We planned wrong...for Corwin grabbed the 'Directors Cut' version of each film. You know, the one where Peter Jackson couldn't part with any scene...no matter how insignificant, tangential or LONG.
Have you ever seen the end of a marathon long after the winners have crossed the tape? Where the runners barely arrive, exhausted and flagging, soaked in sweat? That's what we had prepared for...the 26 mile as kicking of a 9 hour movie day. We hadn't trained much, not owning a TV and all, so we knew that there would be some end of the day fatigue. But we were not ready for the Ultramarathon of the Peter Jackson version of L.O.T.R. Have you ever seen the end of an ultramarathon? Probably not as watching people run non-stop for 100 miles doesn't make for very interesting television. The finishers of an ultramarathon look, well, bad. Incontinent of stool, poop running down their legs into their shoes, gaunt and dazed and skeletal they look a lot like the ER patients I see. Our 9 hour marathon had just become the ultramarathon of moviedom. And while the adults in the room shifted nervously, the teenagers couldn't believe their luck. Twelve glorious hours of couch surfing, TV and junk food all sanctioned and encouraged by the adults who always nag them to turn off the electronics and go outside for some exercise!
As Sam and Frodo began their long and epic journey I was starting to relate to them. A dark and painful road lay ahead. By the middle of the second movie, six hours later, we had shared many ordeals; black riders, bands of murderous orks, a guacamole shortage, the end of the Dr. Pepper, the wandering eye of Sauron and the onset of 'flat butt syndrome'. A painful and debilitating disorder characterized by numb ass cheeks, agitation of the lower extremities and a strong desire to spank yourself. By the end of the 3rd movie, approaching 2:00am, the pain of Sam and Frodo baking in the lava fields of Mt. Doom paled to our own agony of indigestion, arthritic joints, muscle atrophy and chair sores (a lesser known form of bed sores). But just as the love and friendship of Sam and Frodo deepened through shared hardships, so did those of our family. In the future they might not sing songs and write poems about our ridiculous yet heroic movie day, but it will be remembered for a long time to come. Roll the credits!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Voices...The Voices...

One thing about the long winter nights here in the great Northwest; introspection. The endless summer days which call for hustle and bustle are long gone. The gardening for hours after work or BBQ's on the West side watching the sun go down at 10pm or warm 8pm bicycle rides. Those busy times are way back in my memory and I can remember even then looking forward to the slower pace and the longer nights of winter. WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?! Ah, the grass is always greener I guess but God alive bring back the longer days and the warmth and the 4:30am sunrises...please! And even the bustle...especially the bustle.
Introspection. While not really wanting my life full of the distractions of the nutty, 24/7, overstimulated, over-caffeinated, "news" filled, "weather reports every 15 minutes and traffic reports every 12 minutes" world we all think of as normal, listening to the voices in my head all the time, all winter long doesn't really feel all that great either. I keep forgetting, as I lie there in my bed this morning, that the thoughts going through my mind are just the thoughts going through my mind. Nothing more and nothing less. The fact that I start believing them or the fact that by having those thoughts my emotional state is actually effected bugs me. I've read Eckhart Tolle, man. I should know by now, and I DO know by now that the thoughts upstairs have nothing to do with what is actually going on in my life. As I lay there this morning listening to how my life is not going anywhere and I'm just wasting away this precious gift of 'awareness' on 'time-wasters' like movies or DVD's I started to get that horrible feeling of worthlessness I get when everything isn't just perfect in my life (whatever that even means since everything actually IS perfect in my life...even the imperfections). I get taken away by those thoughts and transported to some land of pain where I am less and every one else is more. Where I am a loser and everyone else is a winner. Where I can NOT and everyone else can. I forget that those thoughts are only neurons firing in my brain and nothing else. The actual reality is that I was laying down wrapped up in flannel sheets. I was feeling the softest, smoothest skin on the planet (Sheryl's) and was well rested for whatever the day brought. It was a perfect moment...until I started to spin out on the thoughts in my head. I SHOULD be doing something else with my life. I SHOULD be...oh, I don't know...happier, deeper, more aware, more outgoing, less outgoing, more friendly, less banal...it's endless and it's absolutely ridiculous as there is no fulfilling the needs of my 'shouldy' brain. Have a shouldy day it says. I've been told I need to stop shoulding on myself. And I do when I actually remember what is real in my life and what is just crazy thinking. Sheryl just got a bumper sticker. "You don't have to believe everything you think". I love that. If only I could remember it. And that is why I am writing today. So that I can have this one way conversation and expose my dark self hatred to the world and just open it up to the light and see the thoughts. It helps. Thanks for reading...that helps too. Just knowing you're out there. The weather is still too cold, and the days still too short but it still helps dammit.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Long Winters Night

It's dark. The blank bland page stares at me daring me to write. Challenging me to be creative when all I have inside is a reflection of the the long winter days outside. In the darkness there is no reflection and as I stand at the nocturnal mirror I see just that. Yes, metaphor. I know, after 5 months of nothing in this damn blog I start up again with dark winter metaphors. But hey, give me a break here...not only have I NOT been traveling to stimulate my inner writer, I just finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Holy Crap! Talk about depressingly dark. I had to have Sheryl lock up the medicine cabinet and hide all the razor blades just so I could finish the thing. What a great read (hm, masochism anyone?)! It made me sad for that inevitable day when we go too far and the tipping point is reached and the end is nigh and the heavens will crack and the lord Jesus will come down and God will rain down his wrath upon all non-believers and the faithful shall rise up into heaven and rejoice for evermore in the love of a compassionate God while the rest of us burn forever wishing God were a bit more compassionate. But the second coming isn't really what I wanted to write about...at all. The Road, while being bleak, had the effect of me really appreciating all the wonderful things our ridiculous culture has created. When it's all gone; sunshine, warm food, chocolate, fruits shipped from 4000 miles away, hot tea, flashlights, cabinets with food inside, cars, the ability to walk out in the daylight unarmed...how sad. Not to mention the biggest loss of all, NATURE! The color green! Blue skies, fresh water, deep azure glaciers, salmon, open spaces, polar bears...oh crap, I shouldn't be walking down this road. "HONEY, KEEP THOSE RAZOR BLADES LOCKED UP A LITTLE LONGER"!
But right now we do have all these wonders. We have a beautiful life. We have plenty. We have what we need. We have love, and star fruit from SE Asia, and tennis shoes from China, and family with whom we are happy to spend time, not to mention great cheeses from France. And all of it is here right now in front of us to be enjoyed. I need to keep remembering the magic and the perfection of all that this world has to offer. Internally and externally, beauty is everywhere, even in the darkness. If I can stay present to that thought I can make it through another 16 hour winter night. Or another news headline about how our leaders in Copenhagen have sold the future of our life on the planet for short term profits (is anyone surprised here?). Or another...oh yeah, right, stay focused on the positive. Look in the mirror, with the light on, and see your reflection. You are absolutely perfect. With your messy hair and muffin topped belly and wrinkled skin and clothes, you live. Feel the air enter your lungs, you live. Every moment is kind of amazing... just because of the incredibly unlikely event that you even exist. We just get so damn used to existing it seems ordinary. IT'S NOT ORDINARY! My brain, my heart, nervous and circulatory systems seem conjured and fantastical and not to be taken for granted. How magical (and yes I really do mean magic) is it that I can write down my thoughts. How magical is it that you can read them on an electric device from wherever you are. It's all so mind blowingly cool! How can I focus on anything but the amazement of it all? And yet I can and do and get lost in the funk of the darkness. Gotta remember to keep the lights on... keep the internal spaces lit up with awareness and appreciation so that when I look into the mirror I can see a reflection there.