How I Learned What “Thankful” Means

It was just a short three years ago that I experienced it for the first time, and I was one and a half months into my nursing career. Since I was still on orientation, I was lucky enough to have Thanksgiving off. I did however work that Wednesday prior. As I wrapped up my shift at the end of the day,  I noticed the sullen, quiet lull that took over the halls of the hospital. Everyone who could be discharged, was. Patients who were still in the hospital were there for one of three reasons: they were either receiving chemo that required them to be there, they were unstable, or they were actively dying. After my shift concluded I jumped in my car for the three hour drive from Michigan to Indiana.  During the car ride I began to understand what being thankful truly looked like.

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Continue reading “How I Learned What “Thankful” Means”

A Salute to Ebola Care Nurses

I’m presently watching the 60 Minutes special on Ebola, listening to nurses who took care of Thomas Duncan and hearing about their experiences caring for the first patient diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States. It’s hitting really close to home.

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As a nurse, I have had many friends ask me, “would you take care of the patient if they were in your hospital?” Currently I don’t work in a hospital and am an oncology nurse (always have been), which means that even in the hospital I would have never be faced with this decision. I will (in a hospital environment) work on a floor with immunocompromised patients. Here is the thing, though: I would without hesitation take care of that patient. I am a nurse; caring for patients – for people – is what I do. Continue reading “A Salute to Ebola Care Nurses”

Dear Breast Cancer Patient-Round 2

Dear Breast Cancer Patient,

Since I first wrote to you a lot has happened. New research is coming out every single day. Recently I received another e-mail about another genetic marker for breast cancer. But here is the thing. Since I first wrote to you, some of you have passed on for this earth. Some of you far too young. It wasn’t that long ago that I was first meeting one of you. You had been battling this awful disease for many years. You were fighting to have just a few more days with your young children. You were fighting until your very last breath. And when I said goodbye to you we both knew it would be the last time I saw you and you collapsed in my arms crying. I’ll never forget that day. I’ll never forget what you taught me about life, love, fight, and utter and complete strength.

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I’m so thankful for all the money that has been donated to help, but I still sit in awe as it often isn’t hard to figure out why a young woman is sitting in a chemo chair worried about her babies at home. Often it is breast cancer. Not always, but more times than not. 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in her life. That is 12%! (Source). And this is something I am not okay with. Not at all. Lung cancer is the first leading offender in cancers causing women to die followed by breast (Source).

I’m so incredibly thankful for those of you I have had the privilege to rejoice with as we dance around celebrating your last chemo. I’m so glad to know that thanks to the money that has been donate to research deaths caused by breast cancer have been decreasing since 2000 (source). But my heart continues to break every single time a women sits in that chemo chair and I talk with her about her cancer.

Breast cancer patient, seriously, you have made my life so much richer. Every. Single. One. Of. You. I’m blessed to get to work with you and I look forward to fighting for a cure with you.

Until then, thank you for the honor of getting to be one of your nurses.

With gratitude,

One of your nurses

Today I Closed a Door

It was my last day at the job I’ve been at for the last year and a half today. It was a tough decision to leave, but I am so incredibly at peace about the decision it is kind of scary. But I’m sitting here tonight reflecting on all this job brought me. It brought me so much that I have to be thankful for, my heart is overwhelmed. I leave knowing I am leaving incredible coworkers behind, but that I will get to continue to have them as friends. I leave reflecting on all the patients who’s care I have been a part of. Some are in remission, some are still fighting a courageous battle, and some have moved on from this world. I leave this job a much better person because of all the people I came in contact during it.

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Change is never easy. Even good change is still hard.

I will be getting over an hour back of my day between commuting and a shorter shift. I will be able to learn more about many cancers that I don’t yet know about and chemos that I’m not familiar with. Overall it is a step to continue to advance in my career. It is a GOOD step. But with every new door there is an old door closing. There are the things I am looking at saying “I will never do that again”. This is how I process. This is how I work through things and move on. This is how I close doors.

I have the absolute joy and privilege of being a chemo nurse. This job provided that open door to me. This job set the foundation for me to step into the world I now call my career. It isn’t an easy one. And on some days let me tell you that it just plain sucks. 100%. There are days that I as a person with very little of a temper am so incredibly pissed off at cancer. There are days that I step out my front door and sprint as long as I can because I don’t understand it. I don’t get how so many amazing people are taken so young by such an awful disease.

But amid the trials, pain, and grief I get the privilege of seeing the beauty. Of seeing the love. And I am so beyond excited to step into the next step of my career. This new job will allow me to be happier, healthier, and more whole myself. And as a nurse that is one of the biggest gifts I can give my patients.

So even though the decision to switch jobs was hard. Even though in the middle of this transition I’m freaking out the majority of the time. I know it’s right.  So I’m taking this step for my health. For my sanity. Thankful for my experience, but ready to continue the job I love in a healthier environment. And reminding myself that even some of the best changes I will make in my life are still going to be hard. Change. It is one of the most beautiful and yet difficult aspects of life.

Dying Well Means Living Well

I remember sitting there in a midweek service at my church as the speaker said “you young adults listen up… you don’t even think about death but you need to be aware it is real, it is very real.” I sat there as a young adult and wanted to yell.. heeey! not all of us.

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I haven’t ever died and I haven’t personally stared death in the face myself. But I have walked with a lot of patients in their final days. I have been the one to listen and hear no heart beat. I have managed medications as someone is in their last hours… even minutes to make them comfortable. I have cleaned up bodies and placed them in body bags. I have wheeled them on that cold metal cart down to the morgue. I have mourned more than anyone at the age of 28 would want to for patients and their families when lives were in our definition “cut short”. Oh and “The Fault in Our Stars”… yeah I sobbed like a baby but loved every minute of it.

Why are we as a culture so terrified of death? Why do we avoid talking about it? What about it is so terrifying to us? These are questions I’ve been mulling over and over. I personally am of the Christian faith so I have a confidence in a hope… but even some people I talk to who are of the same faith are utterly terrified of death.

Death is final.

In the last many months I’ve made it a point to research and truly figure out what dying well means. From the message at my church, to TED talks, speaking with others, and even some patients. After this thought process here is what I’ve come to conclude…

It is about LIVING WELL. And here are some things I’ve concluded about living well….

1. Make amends. Wherever you need to … make them. Leave nothing hanging.  You’ll have a lot more peace and those that are left behind will have peace as well. Even if its 50 years old, call that person up. You’ll feel a lot better. And this is not just for the people who know death is upon them. This is for EVERYONE.

2. Make a bucket list, but don’t just make it DO IT. Enlist one or two people to help you accomplish it.

3. Figure out what you believe and why about life after death. Don’t just leave it for tomorrow, because you aren’t promised tomorrow.

4. Don’t live like you have tomorrow. Live like you have only today. That means doing the things that really need done, but also leaving what doesn’t. It means spending time with your loved ones and not just working to excel at work. Truly LIVE each day.

5. Have it written down somewhere what you want if you become unable to speak for yourself. Do you want your organs donated? Do you want to be a full code? Do you want extreme measures taken? Have the tough decisions made for your loved ones. Trust me, this is a lot easier for them in times of trouble.

6. If you do know your life is coming to an end sooner than you had hoped, write letters, make videos… leave things to help those who are grieving your absence.  Let them know its okay to move on. Even if you don’t know this, start writing journals to those who matter most to you. Write them with plans to give them to them at a set time, but also know that that journal will be there if your life ends sooner than you expect it to.

7. Explore who you are. REALLY dig deep. Do some of those silly personality quizzes. Figure out your passions and what makes you tick. Learn to love the person you were created to be… because there is only one of you. There will only ever be one of you. Be the best you that there is.

8. Love deeply. Love hurts. It’s hard. But at the end of the day love as deep as you can so that at the end you know that you gave it your all.

9. REST. Don’t be afraid to take some breathers. To refresh yourself. Our bodies were made to require rest. Rest will help you to truly live.

10. Cut out the things that don’t matter. Focus on what really matters.

Friends, death is a hard topic. Not a fun conversation, but it is inevitable for every single one of us. Let us stop running away from it, but instead make the most of our run towards it, because that is in fact the direction we are all headed. Let us all make a point to not just live, but to live well. Live everyday with passion, purpose, integrity, and truth.  Truly LIVE each day. Each moment.

Superheroes with Tiny Capes and Bald heads

For a year I was employed as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) at a Children’s Hospital in a major US city. My position on the Resource team required me to float between units wherever there was need. Each night that I worked, I would call our hotline, and receive my evening assignment. My favorite floor to work on was 17…the Hematology/Oncology floor.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my job in each unit, but from my experience, there was something incredibly special about floor 17. As a new CNA, I learned about chemo safe gloves to use while handling patient’s bodily fluids. I learned about the routines the families had adapted; the prognosis’ for their children, and the treatments they were pursuing. My heart swelled as I felt honored to be allowed into their lives in this unwanted season.

One particular instance that sticks out in my mind is of a little girl, around four years old, whose room was decked out in pink. I had heard that she only let her mom put the bp cuff on her, and fully intended upon allowing that routine to continue; however, on this occasion, she noticed a pink ribbon I had in my hair. We bonded over an affinity for the color pink, and not only did I get her blood pressure, but she allowed me to measure her temperature as well! That little girl fought a fight each day with the CNA’s and Nurses that she could win…who would put her bp cuff on. I would have let her win that round; her mom was trained and had assumed that role many times. In the face of a battle that she was “losing”, she needed those little wins to keep up the will to fight. Such a brave little superhero.

After my first evening on the Hem/Onc floor, I was struck by how different the patients families were from the other floors I had floated between. In the face of death, sometimes delayed, there was more joy and good will amongst the rooms. The families bonded with one another in ways that were not apparent on the other units. Personally, I felt respected more and was invited into their lives more personally (thank you families for allowing me to walk alongside you!). Additionally, I observed that most of the staff on that floor rarely called off (I was rarely floated there).

To those bald or fuzzy headed little superheroes, who daily fought and are still fighting the side effects of rounds of radiation, chemo, and other treatments, who endured the PICC line placements with stoic little faces that had learned to not pull them out, I salute you. Daily you enter a battle that you didn’t choose. I am in awe of you. Keep up the good fight, brave little superheroes.

Want to support those brave little superheroes, their families, doctors, and researchers? Check this and this out!

 

Tough Conversations; Through the eyes of an oncology nurse

I’m an oncology nurse. I knew when I signed up for the job that it was a tough one and that tough conversations was part of it. But some weeks the tough conversations are never ending. And sometimes the tough conversations rip my heart to shreds. And sometimes I want to hop in my car and drive for miles. Or put on my running shoes and run until it makes sense. But here is the thing; it won’t make sense. Cancer doesn’t make sense.

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Some weeks cancer pisses me off more than other weeks and this week was one of those. On Friday I opened my e-mail and had two e-mails of bad news from patient’s loved ones. I’ve said it often, but I think we need a punching bag in our office. A place for both employees and patients to take out some anger. And let me tell you, this Friday morning I needed it. 

Why? I sat there and asked… why? But here is the thing, I’m the nurse. I’m the supporter. And I had to get myself together and call these loved ones. I knew the status of one of these patients from the e-mail, but called to get the plan of care. The news kept being worse, but this patient’s loved one was so gracious. They were in shock and upset, but they graciously took the news and were taking the bull by the horns and ready to fight. And at the end of the conversation you want to know what this patient’s loved one said to me? Thank you. In the middle of their battle when all I can be is the communicator and the emotional support; when I have nothing else left that I can do at that moment and they are facing a huge new unexpected battle she stops and thanks ME. 

After this phone call I went back to speak with the PA. I told her I wasn’t ready to make the next phone call. After the news of the first two patients I was spent. I went to make the phone call anyways, because it needed to be done. My heart broke. It isn’t the first time and won’t be the last time that a patient’s loved one asks me to tell them what is really going on. What they really need to prepare for. But every time I have these conversations it hurts the same. 

I had this conversation twice that day with two different loved ones. And here is the thing that struck me yet again… both of them stopped and thanked me. After the phone calls were concluded and the rest of my day was wrapped up I got in my car and I sat stunned. It was a tough week and a really tough day, but yet again I was reminded why I do my job. Because even when I have very little I can do for patients and their families and even when I have to be the truth bearer, they teach me so many things.

The tough conversations will continue to come throughout my career. The days of needing a punching bag will continue. The days of wanting to run as fast and hard as I can until something makes sense will still occur. But this is what I was created to do at this time in my life. And those “thank yous” make it worth it. 

So to my patients and their loved ones. Thank you. Thank you for all you teach me through the tough conversations. Thank you for your thank yous. 

As we step into pediatric cancer awareness month let us all learn more about the tough conversations so many families are going through. And let us learn how we can help them as they walk through these tough battles. 

Dear Cancer Patient-Thank You

Dear Cancer Patient,

Thank you. Thank you for teaching me about living. Truly living. Thank you for teaching me what it means to look forward even when a storm is chasing you from behind.

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Thank you for showing me what it means to “fight like hell” as the ABC Family show “Chasing Life” says. Thank you for showing me what sweet surrender means.  Just thank you.

The reason I do what I do is because of each of you.  Because your thank yous, your hugs, because of your fight and your stories, because of who you challenge me to become. You challenge me to be a better person and a better nurse.

I choose to do my job. I choose to fight with you. I choose to be quiet with you. I choose my job every day because of you.

So I’ll walk beside you and let’s continue to do this. Let’s fight like mad until we can do a sweet victory dance. Let’s fight like made until its time to surrender. Let’s fight.

Thank you for making my job worth it.

Sincerely,

One of your cancer nurses

I am a nurse

I started this blog post last week and then it got deleted :-(… to say I was upset is an understatement, because I really like what I had. So here it goes… round 2 of I am a nurse.

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I am lucky; I get to work Monday-Friday 9-5. I get up every morning and have the privilege of picking from a rainbow of scrubs.  I wear certain ones depending on the patients I know I’ll be dealing with. My already gross ones get worn on days I know I’ll have disgusting dressing changes. I have issues picking out normal outfits more than twice a week and I have a complete melt down packing for vacations because that is far too many outfits that don’t include scrubs. Though I have a normal schedule unlike many of my nursing friends, I still go to work and am in a clinical setting all day long.

 

I am a nurse.

 

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a patient who I sent home that day wondering if they are still alive. I wake up wondering if I completed all the orders properly. I wake up with a panic with a knowing feeling that a patient of mine has probably taken their final breath and I grieve for the family members of this patient who I have gotten to know so well. I wake up in panics because I care deeper than words can truly relay.

 

I am a nurse.

 

I get yelled at by patients and their families. They are upset and irritated with what is going on and I get it, I am the easiest target. But sometimes I get done with a day and I wonder how I can go on. How I can walk back in again. I digest and process and continue to remind myself that it isn’t personal. Please remember that we nurses are humans too. Often we are only the messenger or only following the rules. Please, please don’t use us as your punching bag. Vent, cry, get upset, but remember we have feelings too.

 

I am a nurse.

 

I find medical things fascinating. The grosser the dressing change the more excited I get. I constantly want to put gloves on before I touch things or other people. I easily stick 2 inch needles in people’s butts or 1 inch needles in ports that are in people’s chest. I have a weird fascination with sticking huge tubes down people’s noses called NG tubes because of the relief that follows. I enjoy giving chemo to patients, not because of the side effects to follow but because I’ve seen it work.

 

I am a nurse.

 

I get asked to do all sorts of crazy things simply because the letters RN are behind my name. If something can’t be figured out it is the nurse’s job to figure it out, whether or not it is actually their job. I try to as graciously as possible warm up food, retrieve multiple popsicles, crackers, and other food for patients. I love to serve people, and assist them in being as comfortable as best possible.

 

I am a nurse.

 

I get boiling mad when someone gets in the way of my patient getting the best and most proper care. I fight for my patients and their families. I won’t stop until I know that my patient’s wishes are heard.

 

I am a nurse.

 

I cry with patients. I laugh with them. I share photos of my loved ones and fun adventures and they share photos with me. I get to know their families and loved ones. I get to walk life along side some of the bravest, fiercest fighters, most beautiful, caring, and wonderful people you will ever meet in one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. I am blessed because of my patients and their families.

 

I am a nurse. I am human. I am a nurse.

It Never Gets Easier; You Just Get Stronger

I was spending some time pinning this afternoon and came across this pin….

Pinterest Pin

Underneath the pin it says “oncology nurse”.  I 100% agree with this. On Friday afternoon I sat with my coworker who has been an oncology nurse for around 15 years as she had a meltdown asking me how she is going to continue to do this. Every nurse has these, no matter what field… but I feel like it is especially hard in a field like oncology. We see people’s lives getting cut short and changed drastically every day. We mourn the loss of people who’s lives and families we have poured into month after month.

Just a few weeks ago I sat at my desk as one of the dietitians I work with and I stared at each other. In the span of a month we had lost two patients in their 30s. Two young moms. Two amazing people. And we stared at each other and asked “how do we even begin to process this? how?”

It isn’t easy to understand why cancer happens to so many amazing people.  It isn’t easy to watch people suffer. But I know this. I know that at this point in my life I was created to do this. I know that I can walk out of my job each day knowing that I have touched lives. I know that as hard as those moments of grief are, they are worth it.

They are worth it because I have been gifted with the opportunity to walk through this time of life with these people. To be let in. To be trusted. To rejoice over small victories with them. My job is a gift, my career path is a gift, and even when it seems impossible to grieve anymore… when I dread going to work because I feel so emotionally spent and the crazy days seem never ending.  I think back to the moments when those sweet patients of mine who have moved on from this life looked at me and thanked me. They hugged me and allowed me to cry with them.  They hugged me and allowed me to rejoice with them. Those moments of walking down the hall where they put their arm around me and thank me for being their nurse.

I’m not doing this because it is easy. I’m doing it because my patients make it worth it and they help to make me stronger by their strength every day.

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