there are people who will tell you that you create your life the good things and the horrid things are there because you allow them or they fill some deep need do I respond to life or create it? do affirmations make things real? can a vision collage bring my dream house on the beach? my ideal relationship? pressure is all around to be whole and healthy it is a lot to do all the self care time for yoga, flossing, affirmations and gratitude meditation, hot baths and massages it is a lot when I just want to get in my car and drive to Maine and eat a giant lobster roll was it down with a cold beer and keep my cell phone off so nobody can find me and stare at the waves while I breathe in the salty seaweedy air it is a lot to be a compassionate listener to be the stable rational one to always be the one with the answers when really there are no answers it is a lot
I always knew I loved leaves
viewed from below
as I lay in the dirt daydreaming
their shapes like hands
open to catch the rain
but I didn’t know I loved
the space inbetween
that my grandmother urged me to study
if I scrunch my eyes
the leaves fade and the sky takes shape
coming forward like a cartoon
flat and smooth with edges
I can take a bite out of
tasting as buttery and soft as the snickerdoodle
that I stole from the cooling rack
I know I love a celebration
when friends come inside with hugs
and smiles and bottles of wine
stealing private conversation
while everyone is dancing and toasting
but how about the ordinary days
not marked by events or memories
those days that stretch and meander
like a lazy hike to the top of the hill
out of breath and panting
breathing in the aroma
of cow paddies and dead grass
grateful for legs and lungs
and my mountain.
Rage Writing with Seema Yasmin
— Read on seemareza.com/rage-writing-with-seema-yasmin/
There are people who will tell you that
you must care for the drunk driver who
was unaware that her decision ended the life of the mom whose
teenage son’s world is about to change when he
wakes up from the sedative given to fix his fractured wrist
he must heal his heart and body without her
the mom who would fill the ziploc with ice and carefully wrap it in a kitchen towel
who would wipe his tears and wrap her arms around his big man body as he cries
in the one bed in the flat they share with his school papers strewn on the floor
There are people who will tell you that
you must forgive
forgive those who slash open your heart with the betrayal
of the only promise that really mattered
they tell you forgiveness is for you not the one
who undermined your reason for living
I want to be hated by those people who want to silence the rage
that falls from my pen
the depth of anger that erupts through my scalp
at the man who harmed the child we promised to protect
that man who walked through his life with
an earnest face and a vile secret
there are people who will tell you that
that life with three squares and no freedom is enough
enough to atone
is there atonement for the hate?
Thank you Seema Reza for your work with us on Community Building Art Works. and to Seema Yasmin for the special online writing workshop The writing group for healthcare workers has been so nurturing and inspiring, giving me hope through these dark days
This is nurses week, the internet is swirling with recognition for nurses in the midst of two months of talking about the frontline heroes. It makes me squirm a bit. While it feels good to have a moment to recognize the work we have chosen to do, I don’t feel like a hero. Before the pandemic put us in the limelight, we were doing the same work, just different dangers and on a different scale. We have always paid attention to hand washing, wearing masks, isolating patients at risk for infecting others or at risk for becoming infected. But we face more dangers than infection on a daily basis. We deal with an inordinate number of patients who have poor coping skills and treat us badly for trying to provide care to them. They verbally abuse us, threaten us and assault us, then accuse us of not caring. As an ER nurse, I am presented with unknowns with each patient and have to balance protecting myself with making that patient feel like a human being and not a potential threat. I am thrilled when I have a patient that appreciates my care, one who says thank you, or even just doesn’t yell at me. I think the worst thing someone can accuse me of is not caring. I care so much that I put my health on the line to come to work every day. I care so much that I work at a public facility for lower pay because this patient population needs care. I care so much that I strive to hear each patient and look into their eyes with reassurance. I care so much that I risk being wrong or ridiculed when something just doesn’t seem right with that patient and I drag a doctor to the bedside. I care so much that I want to learn everything I can about this current pandemic so I can answer their questions, so I can keep my family safe, so I can keep working and support my coworkers. So when a patient screams at me that I just don’t care and storms out of the ER unhappy, I am brought to tears. I realize that this is an indication of how overwhelmed we all are. I usually have a tougher skin at work, and I know the insults are really the patient’s lack of coping skills. Yet this is how fragile I am.
Our hospital has not been overwhelmed by COVID-19. Nor have other hospitals in SF. The bay area has been successful in flattening the curve and keeping the death toll low. I watch what is happening in other areas of the country in horror. I read about the experiences of the doctors and nurses in those areas and my heart breaks. I worried at the beginning of all of this what I would do if faced with having to choose which patients to tend to, knowing that others would suffer. To be honest we were already doing this before the pandemic when our waiting room routinely had 40-50 patients waiting hours to be seen. We always seemed to find room for the ones that were truly at risk of losing life or limb, but others also with genuine complaints had to wait. I hated telling patients that I could see they were suffering but there were no open beds and another patient was in worse shape. As triage nurses we know that some need immediate care and some can wait, and we are skilled in discerning the difference. However as a human being, I also know that all suffering is real suffering and everyone deserves to be heard and receive care. The hard part was that we couldn’t provide what many of the patients needed, such as warm, dry shelter, regular nutritious food, connection with people that care about them, purpose in life, healing for their trauma that landed them in the place that they are. In the end they all get seen and cared for if they are willing to wait, though for many a tylenol, a sandwich, a clean shirt and socks, and a bus token is all we can truly offer. Most of these patients are not coming in right now. They are scared, they don’t want to get sick, and if they are able to cope a little bit, they stay away. We are definitely seeing more suicide attempts, more intoxication with alcohol and drugs, and more peopleunable to cope with the anxiety and depression. I get that, I have resources and coping skills and I also feel it. This week we are starting to see more accidents and fights which makes me think some people are at the end of their patience with the shelter in place order and are going out anyway.
I think we are coming to an understanding that we have to balance the risks we are willing to take. The risk of being ill, or infecting others vs the risk of the mental health effects of sheltering and not connecting with people vs the risk of a failing global economy. As we learn more about how this virus works it becomes clearer that we can emerge from sheltering in a controlled way. The scientist in me understands that we won’t have herd immunity or a vaccine for quite a long time, and this virus is proving to be very infectious and quite dangerous for anyone with chronic health conditions. By using a reliable antibody test in a widespread way we can find the people who have likely developed immunity and can safely circulate. We know how to protect vulnerable people from infection, we have done that for patients in cancer treatment, who have HIV or other immunocompromising conditions. We should be able to shield or shelter the elderly and the ones with chronic health conditions while we slowly have others get back to more social interactions. It will be a new normal; groups will be small, people will wear a mask, more hands will be washed and attention to cleaning commonly touched surfaces. We will continue to test both for the virus and for the presence of antibodies to understand how this virus is spreading and how we as people are responding. We will need patience with the medical and scientific community to digest and process the garden hose flow of new data. We will need patience with our governing leaders to help us organize how to be in society with each other. We will need patience with each other and our various levels of acceptance and anxiety around the pandemic. And lastly we will need patience with ourselves as we adjust to a new normal and regain some balance. Breathe, and be grateful for that breath.
I had a night off the other evening and I was walking in the neighborhood in SF looking for coffee, a nightshifter’s perpetual quest, when I heard the sounds of a party. People were yelling, drums banging, and I was completely confused. I have gotten used to the quiet in the streets, the feeling that I am alone in the world, even outside. I wondered, who is partying? in defiance of the distancing? I felt my anger rise at the disrespect, until I started hearing people shouting THANK YOU! and my heart shifted. I realized this is the 7pm cheer for frontline workers it was the first time I had actually heard it. I looked up at open windows with people in them clapping and cheering. I sat down on a nearby stoop and cried, letting the gratitude wash over me. I have been holding it together for weeks, I heard about the 7pm cheer, but hearing it in person was so encouraging.
These weeks have been exhausting. while the ER is not seeing as many patients as we usually do the patients we do see have been changing. There are very few traumas, no commuting= no car accidents, no bars open= no falls and fights, there are fewer of the traumas of violence that we usually see. These have been replaced with more people in respiratory distress, and more psych patients. The virus is moving through the homeless population as well. These patients come to us when there is nowhere else to go and they stay with us because the psych ward is full and the shelters won’t take patients until they have a negative test. There are special accommodations for the homeless that are positive called COVID hotels but they only take people in the daytime. So we hold psych patients and the homeless as a social service. This greatly reduces the number of beds available for the actual emergencies.
We have actually sent ER nurses up to the ICU every few hours to help with the turning of patients. The ICU is eerie, everyone in full PPE, talking to each other over the banana phones on speaker through the door to the patient room. We carefully follow the step by step instructions to turn the patient while minding all the IV tubing carrying life supporting drugs and nutrition, the breathing tube, the feeding tube, the urine catheter and on some patients, the continuous slow dialysis lines. The patients are almost all latino, male and in their 40’s and 50’s.
In SF the curve has been flattened, the hospital can handle the number of patients coming in because the public has followed the recommendation to stay home and distance from each other. It is working for now, slowing the rate of infection and death, and bought us some time to learn how to best treat patients, and how to best prevent the spread. It buys time to develop a vaccine, though we need a long time for that.
We are beginning to realize that this will be our normal for the months ahead until we come up with a vaccine or a lifesaving treatment. What looked at the beginning to be similar to the flu, has turned out to be so much more infectious and so much more deadly. What looked like a purely respiratory infection has turned out to have dangerous effects on the heart, kidneys, brain, and blood. It is not easy to predict who is most at risk, though we know the age and chronic health conditions do increase vulnerability, there are deaths among the seemingly young and healthy. We must stay the course until we learn more.
I love the adrenaline rush of working in the emergency room at a level 1 trauma center. I walk through the doors at the beginning of my night shift and enter another world, a world where keen observation precise and clear communication and quick decisions can save someone’s life. The majority of people leave the ER alive and feeling better, some require follow up, long recoveries and rehab. Some leave with their lives drastically altered forever. Some though, never make it. It is part of the reality of where we work. We witness much tragedy and violence, as well as love, appreciation and healing. We are with people in some of their most vulnerable moments of their lives. Of course it takes a toll on us, we walk the line between opening our hearts enough to have compassion and keeping emotions in check enough to do our work and keep showing up. We keep each other motivated, have each other’s backs, share humor, and stories of our lives and families outside of work, cheer each other on and commiserate and vent our frustrations and even share a few tears. We see so much, our hearts break, we breath deeply, maybe cry a little in the med room, and then go see our next patient. When I walk out the doors in the morning, exhausted, calling “sleep well” and “see you tonight”, I leave that world behind and come home to regular life. I may share a story or two with my family, but I have learned that most people don’t really want to hear details of how we had to go on lock down again after a gunshot wound was dropped at the door, or how I had to delicately determine if the woman asking me to find her husband, is the wife of the unidentified dead stabbing victim in room 6, or how my patient who had just been beaten and sexually assaulted was being harshly questioned by the police because she allegedly hit her assailant with a bat. These stories stay inside the ED. Before the pandemic, the news didn’t usually cover what we do everyday. We have been short staffed my entire career, and short of the resources we need to take care of the patients. We are inundated with patients who are aggressive and violent, have drug addiction and mental health problems, are homeless and without a way to stay clean and fed let alone take care of their chronic health conditions. It is the balance of normal life outside the hospital that keeps us going and gives us the resilience to keep doing our work.
This pandemic however has been extremely challenging, in that there is no break when we go home. The news is full of images of nurses and doctors taking care of Covid19 patients, talk about masks and ventilator shortages, counting of cases and deaths in China, Italy, Seattle, New York. People are anxious, and concerned for their own health as well as their loved ones. Social media is teeming with good information, bad information, advice, and some humor. There is no getting away from it. The first several weeks I found myself reading everything, and digging into the research as it was coming out, trying to understand for myself and my practice and to be able to answer questions for my friends and family. I quickly became buried in data, and the opinions of all the journalists and public figures. The anxiety level at work is up as well, our preshift huddles are longer due to the daily changes in protocols as we prepare for the surge of Covid19 positive patients, and the shortages of PPE and equipment. Right now we have enough PPE, we get one mask and gown per shift, it is not ideal; they are supposed to be disposable every time you go in and out of a room. But we have them and we are protected for now. There is a sense of foreboding as we watch the number of cases and deaths go up around the country and wonder how long before our hospital is overwhelmed. One of my coworkers described it as being in a building with an active shooter, you know they are out there with a loaded gun, you know they are coming through the building room by room and you are just waiting for the S#*$ to hit the fan. It is going to happen, many more people are going to get sick, they are going to come to the hospital, when will it start? will we be ready? Right now it is eerily quiet. Our regular patients are scared to come in, there are fewer car accidents, bar fights and drunken falls with the stay at home order. The patients that do come in are real emergencies, today we put 5 patients on ventilators, and our ICU is full.
The rhythm of my days has not changed, I am not home with extra time on my hands. I am not going to lie, I am a little jealous of the people who can work from home, spending time with their families, planting gardens, reading more books, getting projects done, or even meditating more. I miss hanging out with my family. I miss coffee with my friends. I miss going out to dinner, seeing movies, going to the theater and the opera.
I know I have been exposed to the virus, but I am more worried about bringing it home to my partner or kids, than I am about getting it myself. I have a pretty tough immune system, but my partner does not. At this point we are not quarantined from each other at home but it may come to that. We all handle anxiety in different ways and I have had to learn to be more vocal about what I need to replenish during my time away from the ED. What helps me is SLEEP! Walks outside in the sunshine, playing my guitar and singing, watching sappy funny movies, talking on the phone with my friends and my kids. Just seeing my kids on a screen, live, in real time warms my heart and settles the protective mama bear in me. We are lucky that we have some amazing technology to stay connected in so many ways. For this I am grateful.
Some links if you are interested:
We are 10 days into our local stay home order, and a week into our statewide order. I had to cancel my trip to the midwest to visit my mom, who is elderly and 2 years out from open heart surgery. She lives alone with my sister nearby and is doing great by the way. This meant I had 6 nights off before going back to my ED nursing job. I was faced with a choice; do I pick up extra shifts because our department always operates short staffed even before the pandemic started, or do I take advantage of nights off at home, to rest up and eat well and get outside in the sunlight. I spent time reading the emails from my manager and the hospital administration, I read posts from colleagues about nurses being quarantined, I read about the PPE situation in the department and, the posts from my union rep about actions to take and I realized that this pandemic is going to be a marathon so I decided to take the time off as a gift. I rarely stay home when I am off from work more than a few nights, we usually travel somewhere, so this time at home feels like a gift. I have been spending the time doing spring cleaning and reorganizing the kitchen. I am working on a project clearing out 32 years of stored stuff that I have been avoiding for the last 5 years. I have had time to snuggle on the couch in front of movies, do a little cooking and play my guitar.
I find myself reading studies about SARS trying to understand the truth about what we actually know. Nursing is my third career and my first one was as a research microbiologist. I know how to look at data, and read research studies, and I understand infectious diseases and how they spread. I question every headline and statement I see in the news or on social media, how do they know that? what studies are they basing that statement on? I follow the CDC, WHO and other data driven websites and make my own conclusions about what the data seems to be telling us. I try not to post statements that I can’t back up with facts, and I don’t apologize for being a nerdy science type. Because of this background I am usually calm and don’t freak out at every little thing because I can look beneath the sensationalism and find the facts. This virus is new however, and we have little history about it’s behavior. We can extrapolate and predict based on the behavior of similar viruses, we can model systems of transmission and study how to protect ourselves. The truth is, we are not far enough into this pandemic to have the data we need to make some of the decisions we need to make. It is going to take time and trust in the scientific community (not the political or corporate community) to do the experiments; studying the epidemiology, developing a vaccine, and developing antivirals that can mitigate course of infection and maybe even act prophylactically. We have not seen anything like this on a global level before. Other novel infections have been contained in certain locales long enough to develop ways to fight them with vaccines or medication protocols. The time for containment of this virus is long past; we must self isolate, be meticulous with hand washing and take care of our immune systems.
So what is the good in this? Many people get to spend more time with their families, focused on each other and what is important to them. We as a community are finding ways to help each other with errands, check ins, and support. We are all learning more about technology and how we can connect virtually. There has been an outpouring of music on the internet from artists all over the world. In the long run our healthcare system will have to improve, as this pandemic is exposing lots of places where we are grossly unprepared for a pandemic or other kinds of disasters.
I tend to look at the world though a healthcare and science lens, and rely on others to take care of the economy. I don’t have talent or much interest in deeply understanding how the economy works, however, I have been forced to learn a lot in the last five years since becoming a single parent and putting a child through college on a single income. I am grateful that I have a good, stable job (that I happen to love) with great benefits. But not all are so lucky. Two of my 3 young adult children are without income right now. I am supporting one and the other is managing on savings and scrambling to create new income streams. It is a scary time for everyone, and I am quite aware that my family is privileged. My kids will be ok in the long run, they are resourceful, smart and generous, and I am in a place to help them if they need it.
My heart aches for those without safety nets. Without income, or most of all without people to lean on. I try to end each day with gratitude.
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. Khalil Gibran
Helloooooo out there! I feel like I have come out of the dark, risen from the ashes after five years and I want to participate in life again. I have missed blogging, I want that connection with people to share stories as well as work through my growth and changes. Five years ago I went through a traumatic explosion of my marriage that shook me to the core. There were multilayers of betrayal, lies and secrecy and at the time I really didn’t think I could go on. I want to get to the point of being able to share the story, to have conversations and maybe even help others who feel as isolated as I sometimes do. However, right now there is still too much shame and anger that gets triggered that leaves me wanting to hide under the covers with my cat. It is my goal to break free from that. At the time I rallied for my kids, grateful for a job that was my refuge and a posse of friends that helped me piece my life back together. My life became small for a long time, I focused on surviving. Take care of my kids, get myself to work and pay the bills. I really didn’t do much else. Slowly I started healing thanks to my devoted family, passage of time and the burning desire to get out of pain and feel happy again. Now five years later my kids are grown, I am in a new relationship and I am feeling more optimistic. I am ready to reengage. Five years ago this blog was a place for notes about my knitting and other crafting, kitchen creations and a little about my nursing adventures. I am not sure where I want this blog to go now, I still want to talk about creativity and about nursing but I also want to explore who I am on the other side of trauma. I have done so much therapy, read so many books, gone to so many workshops; journaled, meditated, and cried gallons of tears. I guess I thought that somehow I would get back to the confidence and stability that I had before. But no, the innocence of that former time is not coming back. I may be a stronger more compassionate human, but I will forever have a dent in my trust and a scar on my heart.
Reflecting about the winter solstice and went back to this post I wrote so many years ago. I think it is time to revive this tradition and make it one of our regulars. Our lives have scattered since then, the boys are grown, and Rose is about to fly. We need more traditions to keep us bound. Move into the light.
I haven’t posted for a month, some of you have been checking in to see how we are doing and I really appreciate that. I struggle with posting, these have been dark days. I have been sad, angry, resentful, weak, lost, melancholy, resigned, and unmotivated. I have had to force myself to finish the work for the three classes I was taking, I think it helped to have that to focus on, it gave my brain something to do. December 13, I was done and my friends were all asking how it felt to be done with school for the semester, and I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t really feel anything, I expected to feel relieved and lighter but I didn’t. I felt empty, and pressured by expectations that seemed meaningless. I am still mourning my Dad, Brian is still looking for work and we are living with uncertainty. Then…
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