Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why do I want to be a hospice nurse?

I'm asked this question a lot. Many people are concerned with me going into a career that involves so much death. These same people don't seem to realize that hospice involves a whole lot of Life, too.

I was originally going to school to work on my kinesiology degree so that I could get personal training certification and help people to live healthier lives. I had been through a lot with my own health, and I wanted to be there as a cheerleader and coach for people who wanted to follow their own path.

Then my Grandma's health declined.

My Grandma had been my best friend since I was a little girl. I would visit her when she lived in Florida, and she would come out to stay with us for weeks at a time. I remember telling her, through a message written in Scrabble tiles, that I had started my period. She smiled at me and said, "Oh goodie, now you can give me great-grandchildren!" (I was 13. She was teasing. I think.)

When I was a rebellious teen, I would often stay with Grandma in her "tin can" house not far from my parents. We would get up early in the morning, make Taster's Choice coffee, and go watch Regis and Kathie Lee. If it was tennis season, we would watch Andre Agassi smoke the pants off his opponents, and she would tease me about my crush on him. She would make me tapioca pudding and microwave pizzas, and bring me warm things to calm my painful mouth after a visit to the orthodontist. We would sit out on her patio and people-watch, commenting on the awful clothing the other senior citizens would wear. On Sundays, I would accompany her to church, even though I felt out of place in that old building.

Grandma became weak and weary very quickly. She often told me that she'd had enough. The last time my boyfriend visited with her, she told him "I love you. Take care of my girl." It was like she was welcoming the end, and I couldn't really blame her. She had been through a lot in the last few years, emotionally and physically.

I was called by my dad one day, and he told me that Grandma had been put into hospice care. Within 24 hours or so, it became Crisis Care, which means that death was imminent. I took time off from school to be with my family, and we took turns sitting by her bedside. The hospice nurses were amazing, and spoke with all of us about anything and everything. They soon became a part of our family.

One afternoon, I was sitting by myself with Grandma, studying my Anatomy book. I was holding one of her hands. She wasn't really conscious at the time anymore, but I still felt her with me. I took a break from reading, and told her that I would be okay, that I had a great man in my life and that I wanted to marry him. Very slightly, she squeezed my hand.

It was early one afternoon, and Dad and I were sitting with Grandma. Suddenly, her breathing changed, and my heart stopped. The nurse put her hand on my shoulder, and said that it was close. Dad and I changed positions so that we were on either side of Grandma, each holding one of her hands. We spoke of memories while her breathing slowed. She took one more deep breath, then was still. I remember sitting there, waiting... waiting... waiting for another breath.

Nothing. She was gone.

I fell apart. My best friend was gone. I remember feeling the weight and warmth of the hospice nurse's hand on my back as I sobbed into my Grandmother's neck. I still cry now, remembering that day.

Turning around after I had calmed some, I saw the nurse was crying, too. And that, that moment, is when I felt my life change.

Two weeks later, I changed my major to nursing. I began volunteering for the same hospice program that had helped us so much. I remembered how the hospice program had treated my other grandmother back East, and that solidified my determination. I wanted to help families the way that we had been helped.

Hospice isn't just about dying. It's about helping patients and their families to really live during those precious last few moments.

Holding hands for the last time.
(Me and Grandma)

Monday, August 22, 2011

30 Days of Shamelessness - Day 5

Quick blog tonight because I'm supposed to be working on orientation stuff for tomorrow morning. 5 a.m. comes quickly, and this needs to get done. 

Procrastination at its finest.

Today's challenge is to rave about an uncool movie that you love. I love many uncool movies. I thrive on the SyFy channel's Saturday night escapades with bad CGI and stories of crocodiles the size of mountains. I love 80's kitschy movies that have absolutely no plot at all. I crave the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies.

1. Twister

While this might seem like a cool movie to many, it was NOT a cool movie to many more. When this movie came out, I was an amateur meteorologist in love with severe storms. I wanted to chase tornadoes. I watched every video imaginable. I still have about 7 VHS tapes of tornado programs. I love the stuff.

I saw the movie 14 times in theaters. By the 8th go-round, the ticket guy just let me in. By the 12th, I was usually the only one in the entire theater. I still watch it when it comes on TV. I used to have the movie poster in my bedroom.

I'm a dork.

2. Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Remember this one? Ugly-as-f*** clowns come down, kidnap poor, unsuspecting citizens by doing shadow puppets, and then wrap them in cotton candy until they dissolve into a gooey, sticky mess?

Yes, I still love cotton candy.

3. The Money Pit

Have you seen this? It stars Tom Hanks and Shelley Long as a couple who find an unbelievable deal on a mansion. As soon as they buy the house, it falls apart. Hilariously. My favorite scene is when the bathtub falls through the floor, and Tom Hanks starts laughing hysterically. Cracks me up every time.

4. Earth Girls Are Easy

Remember, Jim Carrey, Jeff Goldblum, and Damon Wayans are furry aliens that are made over by Cyndi Lauper and Geena Davis?

Uh, yeah. *drool* Jeff Goldblum. (Embedding disabled... blah.)

So, there are a few of my favorite things. Now back to my regular scheduled programming, which includes a lot of hot tea, Benadryl, and hopefully some sleep soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Power of Laughter

"Thank you. I haven't seen her smile or laugh in months."

This is what a patient's family member told me today as she was leaving the hospital. While I considered this a huge compliment, I was immediately saddened that it had been months since this woman had any publicly-displayed joy. I also was confused, as my patient and I had had a fantastic day (minus a couple of intense "sundown" hours) in which we giggled and planned a trip to Paris.

She did her hair and I brought her a choice of gowns to wear. Her eyes lit up at the green gown with the blue pattern, and she caressed it like I imagined Marie Antoinette caressed a new silken fabric. We pretended that her bedroom slippers were pointy-toed satin pumps. I made a big show of tying the bow in the back of her gown, fussing about as if it was some slippery ribbon that needed to be bowed perfectly.

When her dinner came, I made much out of the plastic domed plate, whisking the dome away with a washcloth over my arm as if she was in an expensive French restaurant, being served escargot and fine wine. I poured water out of the pink plastic pitcher as if it were Dom Perignon of the finest quality. When she went to sleep, it was on the best linens, of pink silk spun from Brazilian caterpillars.

Now I sit here in my plaid pajamas, eating Nutella with a spoon, while my princess slumbers in fairyland. I laugh and cry at the same time, enjoying the memories of today, and hope with all my heart that she might have more times like this in the future.

Did it take effort? Not at all. Did it take anything away from my day? Absolutely not. My life was enhanced by knowing this woman for half a day. I became a Duchess, today. I was on a cruise to Thailand with my new friend. We flirted with handsome pilots (paramedics) and conspired with each other to buy the freshest produce on the island before any of the other tourists could. The purple orchid that came on her dinner plate was immediately traded between her hair and mine, until she said that I was prettier than the flower, and I could keep it as a memory of our trip.

So, my Countess, I hope you are having sweet dreams. I hope you are in far-off lands with some dashing prince from a small country who drapes you with emeralds. You are beautiful. Thank you.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I lived in a closet.

There is a wonderful blog/site entitled “Just Be Enough”. The ladies who contribute to this site have offered their stories, and have asked us to stand up and BE PROUD of ourselves. We are asked to tell of a moment that we are proud of. That makes us feel strong. That gives us a boost every day to get out there and do it again.

I want to tell you about what it feels like to know that you have beat something that literally kept you living in a closet when everyone else was out living life. I want to tell you how it feels to be able to take out the trash. I want you to hear me when I describe being able to shake someone’s hand without thinking that they’re conspiring against you. I want you to imagine the joy of having lunch with your mom in public without needing anti-anxiety medications.

Agoraphobia and panic disorder ran my life for over a year. I remember the day it started. I remember it very well. I was lying on my bed, talking on the phone with my mom. We were supposed to have lunch that day. All of a sudden, I felt this sweeping heaviness, like an energy form of Dread had blanketed me in cold weight. I fought it for several minutes; what was wrong with having lunch with my mom? We’d had lunch together many times in my adult life. Why was this so different? The feeling grew stronger and engulfed my entire being. It became a singular thought: “I can’t go out there today.”

Mom understood, although I’m sure she was confused. After we hung up, I lay there for many minutes, attempting to deconstruct this weirdness I was experiencing. It soon dissipated, and I went about my business, although sad that I had missed lunch with my mom.

That night, I was on the computer chatting with friends. Without any warning, I began hyperventilating and feeling as if my heart was going to burst through my chest. I was shaking so badly that I had to crawl into the bathroom to throw up. Tears flowed without provocation down my face. I felt hot, cold, hot, all within seconds. What the hell???

Imagine that happening up to 20 times a day.

When this became unbearable, I asked my mom to take me to the doctor. I was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. This was on top of anti-depressants that I had already been taking for quite some time. (Nasty divorce, bad experience with biological family members, work stress, severe illness, chronic pain, etc.)

While the panic attacks began suddenly, the loss of my ability to leave the house happened slowly in comparison. After having to turn down lunch with mom, I was still able to go grocery shopping and out with friends. One night, I was driving back from the grocery store. I passed through a stoplight, and immediately thought, “I could easily have driven through a red light, ran someone over, and killed them. I could have driven up on a sidewalk and killed someone. I could have lost control of the vehicle and killed someone.” That was the last time I was able to go grocery shopping normally.

I would walk into a store, fill my cart, have a panic attack, and have to leave before the crying started. I’m sure the store I went to became used to me leaving cartloads of groceries behind as I ran, wailing, out the door. I would try to buy a lot of food, because I didn’t know when I would be able to shop next. My mom would bring me things a lot.

Trash piled up in my kitchen because I would be too afraid to bring it to the dumpster. I was adverse to the idea of even running into a neighbor, because they would be able to see through my exterior, into the fear and hot mess that I was inside. I would buy cans of SlimFast and Starbucks because they wouldn’t stink up the kitchen. I would triple-bag kitty litter.

When I was actually able to go get my mail (at 3 in the morning), the box would be empty with a note inside. The mailman thought that I had gone on vacation. I would sleep in my closet during the days, because nobody could see me there. Blinds were drawn, curtains were pulled over them, but still, I thought everyone could see me. I lived at night. I could be me at night, in my apartment, with just the cat to see what a horrible state I was in. I could talk with people over the Internet without them really knowing how I lived.

This went on for over a year.

It had to stop. I became really determined to beat this. I was too damned young to let this rule my life. My life!

I would push myself. Open the front door for an hour. Step outside at night for 10 minutes. Take out a load of trash. Walk to my car. Sit in the car. Drive to the end of the block and back. Wave hello to people.

I had an enormous supply of anti-anxiety medication, and I used it. There were probably hundreds of times where I tried to go do something and I wouldn’t be able to do it, BUT I TRIED!

I remember the day that I walked into a crowded shopping mall for the first time in 16 months. I was terrified. The whole world was watching me. I could feel their eyes on me. When I came out of that mall, having done nothing but just walk through it, I was elated. Overjoyed. Empowered. I called my parents immediately from the car. “You guys, I did it!!!”

I continued my struggle. I signed up at a gym a few months later. I signed up for classes at a local community college. I WANTED TO LIVE!!!

Years later, I am now in a wonderful nursing program. I have earned two Associate’s Degrees and am working on my Bachelor’s. I want to earn my Doctorate. I have friends, and I have my family who never gave up on me. Most importantly, I have Me again.

Every time that I start telling myself that I can’t do something, I look back at that time in my life in which I literally couldn’t do anything at all. I look at what I did to beat that.

I am proud of me.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

30 Days of Shamelessness - Day Two

Continuing on our merry path from the challenge of Jen O.'s 30 Days of Shamelessness, we are told to tell a story about a time where we were made to look a fool.

Well, after trying to narrow it down to just one, I remembered a story from when I was a kid. I guess there is a two-fer here, because my Dad and I looked like idiots that day.

I was probably about 8 or 9. Dad worked for a rather large company here in town, and they had annual Summer picnics down by the water. Growing up, we didn't have a lot of junk food in the house (including soda), so I was all excited about getting to have a root beer. It was a Dad's Root Beer. I still remember the can. Do they even make that anymore? Yes, evidently they do.

This scene occurred:

Me: Dad, can I have a root beer? Please? Pleaseeeeeeee????

Dad: Yeah, I guess so, since your mother isn't here. [Side note: Dad and I often do a lot of things when "Mom's not looking." Like let the bunny into the house to hop around.]

Me: Gee, thanks, Daddy!!! (skips off to dig through the cooler)

(Two frozen hands later, I triumphantly bring back a root beer)

Me: Okay, Daddy, I can't open it.

Dad: (involved in conversation with co-worker) Well, maybe we should get the bubbles out first before you drink it. I think if we stir it up a lot, that will help us.

Me: (innocently shakes the living hell out of the can and hands it to my beloved Daddy)

Dad: (opens up can, which explodes in a shower of root beer foam like never before witnessed on this planet) DAMMIT!!!!!!!!!!! What the hell did you do?!

(Co-worker has streaked away to escape the sudden rainstorm.)

Me: (tearfully) I shook it to get the bubbles out!

Dad: (trying very hard to maintain composure, covered in dripping brown sugar-water) It's okay, honey. I meant that we should stir it when it's already opened.

Me: Oh.

(Crowd disperses.)

My poor, sticky father. He has been very patient with me all these years.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Things I am thankful for

To celebrate 1,000 pageviews (holy hell, people!) I have decided to dedicate this entry to you all. I appreciate your reading my blather and mindless f*ckery, I really do. This might end up sounding like an Oscar's speech from 1987 (no time limit). However, I've narrowed my list down a bit. I am thankful for a hell of a lot more.

I am thankful for coffee, for which this blog post would not be possible. It is made better by white chocolate mocha creamer and Splenda. It is in one of my college mugs which reminds me of how far I've come.

I am thankful for Mom 'n' Dad 'n' Lil Sis 'n' DBF. They kept my head on straight(er). They're there for me when I am going 12 different directions and keep me somewhat normal. And, gods, I am so thankful that Dad's hip replacement went well yesterday.

I am thankful for my Bandit and Bubba. They've been through thick and thin with me for 12 years and 8 years, respectively.

I am thankful for Twitter and The Bloggess for inspiring me to blog. I am also thankful for the laughs I receive from reading those 140-character snarks.

I am thankful for my job. Being a nursing assistant is not easy, but I adore it, and am inspired every day by my patients and their families. I am also shown by nurses what, and what not, to do as a nurse. I'm thankful for the knowledge that you should probably always wear a protective gown when doing bowel care. And shoe covers.

I am thankful that I was chosen to be part of the nursing program. It's taken me a long time, but I love nursing so much and can't wait to practice professionally!

I am thankful for zit cream. When I wake up in the morning with a frickin' volcano in the center of my forehead, it's awesome to be able to dab a little bit of stuff on that and be able to tell myself that the volcano is now invisible.

I am thankful for my best friend, Shelly. She gets top-notch rating from me, and should technically be above the zit cream, but my copy-and-paste brain function hasn't kicked in yet.

I am thankful for quiet neighbors. (I am not thankful for the neighbors that leave the back gate open when two people were shot across the street last year because I love my life, thankyouverymuch.)

I am thankful for my 7-year old cotton sheets. They are SO comfy, and are calling me back right now. Must. Fight. Must. Resist.

I am thankful for my psychiatrist and therapist. Ooo... too much? Shocked? They're the ones who saved my life and helped me to get through the bullshit of agoraphobia. If it hadn't been for them, I don't know where I'd be. I know I wouldn't be here, sharing the intricacies of my sick life with you fine people. ;-)

I am thankful, lastly, for my friends, online and otherwise. You're all amazing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Hold the phone up to her ear."

If you were expecting a typical comedic evaluation of the idiocies of life, tonight is not the night. Instead, I would like to tone it down and tell you about the process of death. More specifically, I want to tell you about being on the outside looking in, and then being invited inside.

My day started out with 7 patients being full code status (which means that they have requested CPR, medication intervention, etc. if they go into cardiac arrest). My day ended with 5 of those being full code, and one more considering converting to DNR status (do not resuscitate).  The other two had been switched to DNR during the morning, which was not a surprise to me.

I have an odd “gift”, I guess you could say, of being able to understand when someone is going to die. Not simply “oh yeah, they’re going to pass”, but to have an innate emotional sense of this. These two people, it was a complete shock to me to see that they were full codes. However, I do understand that family has a lot to do with that. I do. I get that.

The family of one patient came in to visit during late afternoon. The gentleman asked me if I could provide him with a telephone number of our unit so another family member might call in later that evening. This gentleman was anxious about the phone call because he felt it wasn’t going to go anywhere, seeing as the patient was non-verbal and in a vegetative state. I handed him our unit card, and told him quietly, “Hold the phone up to her ear. You would be surprised to know what people can hear.”

He stared at me. “Really? Do you think she could really hear?” I told him, “Yes, sir, I really do believe she will be able to hear.” His face softened, and I could see about a zillion pounds being released from his shoulders.

As I was leaving for the night, I passed the family sitting in the hall. I stopped to gently remind them to let the nurse know that they were expecting a phone call (I already had, too), and to ask for help if they needed it. There was an explosion of emotion on the part of the family, and I knelt down to comfort them. A close family member asked me how I knew such things, during our conversation, and I told her that I was not only a volunteer with a hospice program, but that I wanted to become a hospice nurse. I would hold the phone up many times for people that were unable to speak or move, and could see the peace that it brought.

As I held hands with the family members and spoke softly with them, I could see that it just takes a touch, a few minutes of time, and actual caring and heart during such a rough moment in their lives.  Isn’t that amazing, what those of us in healthcare can offer those in need? A quiet “Thank you for listening” had me in tears all the way back to the car.

Hospitals can be cold, lonely, isolating places. Nurses and CNAs whisk around like their tails are on fire, giving meds, taking orders, checking ventilators, doing dressing changes… it is so easy to overlook the anguish that I can actually see seeping from underneath that striped curtain.

Death is everywhere. I challenge those of you in healthcare: Hold a hand. Offer a box of tissue. Touch an elbow. Make that eye contact. Show the patients and their families that you GET IT. Show them that YOU HAVE TIME for them.

That is going to be us one day.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bandit being ridiculously adorable.

You've already met Laser Eyes Bubba, who stalks human feet ruthlessly with the intent to kill. Okay, maybe just torture you until you cave and play with him, but regardless...

This is Bandit. I did not name her. If I had named her, she would have been named Echo, for the simple reason that she has entire conversations with people. She is a wonderful assistant when coming up with blog topics and keeping my head on straight.

Tonight, she is being helpful at keeping me from being overly snarky on Twitter.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Quirks and random facts

Today's blog was going to be a narrative about Jury Duty, however biological issues prevented my attendance this morning. Therefore, I thought I would further introduce myself to you by telling you about a few quirks and weirdnesses I have. I've already been psychologically evaluated, so don't worry, I've been told I'm somewhat normal. *Wink*

  • I seem to like to write in list format. Which always drove my teachers crazy, because they wanted outlines. I hate writing outlines. Usually I write my entire essay first, and then write the outline from that. They never know the difference.
  • I like cold, microwaved burritos dipped in applesauce and sour cream.
  • I clean my toilet every morning with shampoo that does nothing but make my hair scream in pain.
  • At any given time, I will have three bottles of lotion and four lip balms in my purse.
  • I have a Dayplanner, but only use the monthly calendar. I like to leave the daily pages clear because it gives the impression that I actually have free time.
  • I like eating leftovers cold. This really grosses out the DBF.
  • I have two birthmarks. Sometimes I forget about one, and try to scrub it off before remembering.
  • I set my alarm to ring before my job calls me in the morning. I'm afraid I won't hear the screaming loudness of the phone, even though you can probably hear it where you are.
  • I put my applesauce in a glass and drink it through a straw. (Evidently I do strange things with applesauce.)
  • I check websites in the exact same order every day.
  • I listen to hypnosis tracks to help me sleep. ( Check out )
  • I hate black coffee. Usually I have so much crap in my coffee that there is no caffeine left.
  • I kiss my cat. And she kisses me back.
I hope to be able to bring you Tales of the Courthouse sometime this week. Stay tuned. Where I live, you are guaranteed hilarious reading.