Just So Lousy… Death Is An Ugly Business

I’ve been looking back on the last year and a half, and it has become mind-boggling how many of my friends (or their close family members), family, former co-workers, and people who were part of my everyday life are now dead.  I don’t really even know where to start.

Most people know that my cousin died on March 2, 2014, so almost two weeks (tomorrow).  She had a  horrendous fight with neuroendocrine colon cancer, with every complication known to nurse-kind.  I was her ‘go to’ person (as she described me) for bouncing around ideas of what might be going on, and getting my take on what the symptoms she was having could mean.  Being eighty miles away didn’t help, but I did what I could, and my standard line was “you probably need to go to the ER” or “It would be a good idea to call your doctor now and let him/her know what’s going on.”  I was glad to be of some use- and it was also hard to know she was going through so much.

During the last twelve to eighteen months, I’ve looked up former coworkers to see if we could reconnect, and ended up finding their obituaries.   I’ve also been informed about friends’ family members- and in the case of two particular children, it was really so incredibly sad.  One died at age eleven from the same leukemia I had- less than a day after being diagnosed. Another child (8 years old) in that same extended family died from brain cancer, less than a year after she was diagnosed.  She had the best treatment there is (St. Jude’s), and she still lost the fight.  Even though their names are available on public ‘search’ links, I won’t post their names because they were minors- and I don’t have the family’s permission to name them.  I remember some kids who died when I was a kid (friend’s brother had a brain hemorrhage, kid at school had a brain tumor, skating coach’s six kids were murdered by her husband)… but as an adult, with the experience of  pediatric nursing-  hearing the screams of the parents when an infant or child died back in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit isn’t something I’ll ever forget.  It was the most guttural, primal PAINFUL sound I think I’ve ever heard.

I am going to name a few of  the people I’ve lost in the past few years, as I have nothing but good to say about them- and they too are easily found when looking their names up.  I hadn’t expected to find their obituaries, but ….

Madeline Spenrath, R.N. was one of my nursing supervisors in Kerrville, TX.  She was one of the best supervisors I ever had anywhere.  She maintained a bit of a strict ‘ship’…but she had a heart of gold.   I reconnected with  her after her breast cancer was found, and after she’d had to have her right hip removed from the socket (along with the whole leg), as the cancer had spread.  It continued to spread, and she eventually died at one of the nursing homes I used to work at (it helped to know she was getting good care).   Madeline was ‘good people’.   She was down to earth, very knowledgable, and could get an IV into a mosquito in motion.  She had amazing BBQs for the night shift crowd every year for a long time- those were great.  She had someone tend the pit, and everyone brought a dish to pass.  She was all about team work, and it was obvious she was an amazing team leader- and player. She wasn’t above getting her hands dirty.

I had started looking for the mom and godfather of a baby I took care of for most of the first 18 months of his life when his mom worked.  I worked 2-12 hour night shifts on the weekends, and his mom worked 3-11 shifts Monday through Friday, so it was perfect.  The first 3-4 months I had him 5 days a week (had the car seat so I could get errands done), then cut back to 3 days a week so I had some time off.  But he was my little angel bug.  He’s about 25 years old now- last time I saw him he was twelve !   Anyway, when I looked up Jae Arkeen and Dana Coy, I found their obituaries.  It stunned me when I later found out that Jae had relapsed into addiction, and had elevated levels of drugs in his system that he wouldn’t have touched when I knew him.  That broke my heart. He had been SO solid in recovery.  It reinforced that ANYONE can relapse and die with drugs and alcohol.  I really don’t think he’d mind me saying that, because he’d know it could possibly reach someone who is rocky in recovery, thinking they’re invincible with their 12-Step Program.  He was the kindest, most caring guy, and thought that his godson hung the moon. He was so funny, and great to work with.  He later worked in a very intense area of counseling, and I’m sure that, along with what seems like some serious instability in his addiction recovery, was very difficult.  I had contact with  someone who had been very close to him (that I didn’t know), via e-mail, and she let me know what happened.  While it was horribly sad, there was some partial comfort in knowing it was fast- at least at the end.  I’m sure there were some painful times emotionally for him to get to that place.  I worked with him on an adolescent psych unit… he was great with those kids before he moved into a much more specialized area that is polarizing, and very difficult. He was outstanding with those kids.

Dana Coy (RN in several psych units over the years) had a very brief obituary.  brief battle with cancer.  She had been divorced from her adopted-at- birth son’s dad for years, though the son kept in contact with him- so after losing two people who were so close, I’m sure it helped to have his dad there with a long history together.  Dana and I didn’t work shifts together… but we saw each other nearly every day when she dropped the baby off (starting at 9 days old since he was adopted, so not much time off for ‘maternity’ leave), and when she’d pick him up, or I’d take him to work to do a ‘hand off’ if I was working an 11-7 during the week.  I liked Dana.  She was very easy to interact with when I took care of her son… not high strung about things, and also appreciative of having an R.N. for a regular babysitter.   I loved the baby as if he were my own.  She knew that- and also knew that I knew my boundaries as ‘the babysitter’… I always asked her before doing anything with him.  Whether it was a trip to the store, or just going to the apartment complex swimming pool, I made sure she was OK with it.

Another shock was finding out that Tricia Heath, the administrator (and an RN) at a really nice nursing home I worked at in Round Rock, TX back in the early ’90s had died. She was so supportive when I was dealing  some personal things, and was just a kind, compassionate person, who wanted the residents in that facility to have the best possible life they could in an institution.   I really cared about her, and when she and her family moved to Memphis, TN for a job her husband was offered, it was so sad to see her go.  As often happens, people say they’ll keep in touch once they get settled, and then life happens, and they’re in the wind.  Back then, there were no internet search engines for finding people, and it was all basically just luck if phone numbers were in the 411 for a particular city.  Tricia was a great administrator- she kept the place in line for state requirements, but she also had a heart.  I had a lot of respect for her.

Madeline, Jae, Dana, Tricia, and Kathy were parts of my life for a long time. Madeline, Jae, Dana, and Tricia were people I saw every day I worked, depending on the schedule I was on. I wonder how all of their families are doing.  When Facebook and other internet ‘reconnection’ things were available, it was like we’d never been away from each other. I got to catch up with Madeline the most… Jae, only once with a postcard from somewhere, and Dana only briefly when her son was twelve, and I was in Austin for a week for my work; they came up to the hotel to see me one evening when there weren’t any seminars scheduled. But it was great to see her, and how much M had grown !      Tricia was harder to track down since she’d moved back to TX.   I could have paid to find out where she was, but there was information on that thing that was really too invasive for just trying to send a ‘hi, how are ya?” kind of note.  And then they were gone.

I stopped looking for people.  I sort of don’t want to know who else is gone. If more people pop up via Facebook, or whatever, that’s great.  But I think I’m done looking.   It hurts.

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If I Could…

...I would fix everything, and walk you back to your normal life.  I would take the pain and nausea and put it in a box,  and throw them  into a volcano, permanently removed.  I’d take the fear and confusion, and surround you with nothing but gentle hugs, a warm blanket, and a feeling of safety.  I’d take the frustration and slap it upside the head, and then help you find something to make it all right.  I’d look for something silly to show you how you can still smile, and how you really are still you in the middle of all of the chaos. (You really do have a great smile and laugh).   I’d take away that feeling like you’re dying, and remind you that this is all temporary, and that you are the best candidate to survive all of this.  Cancer doesn’t define you; it shows how strong you are.  And you really are.  But you are not cancer.  You are so much more.

If I could, I’d figure out some way for you to know what is and isn’t normal in an abnormal situation you’ve never been exposed to.  I’d give you all of the information you need to understand what is happening (that I know of), so you know that you have  a solid chance at beating this.  You’re strong, and you dwell in the positive when you’re you, in your normal life.  I wonder if some of the pain is the grief of the life you’ve had to set aside for a while.  I wonder if anybody has sat down and taken your hand and told you that it’s more than OK to feel that this level of vulnerability is terrifying, and affirm that  it’s not going to last forever.  And being terrified, and grieving isn’t going to change who you are. It will create another depth of character you didn’t know you had.  I wish you never had to deal with all of this- but you will come out stronger.

I’d look you square in the face, and tell you that the drowsy feeling with pain meds is normal, and often gets better as your body adjusts to both the pain relief and the medication in your system.  I’d let you know that you’re not going crazy. But I understand how it can feel that way (people who are truly going nuts don’t worry about it  🙂 ). Any bonafide goofy person I worked with  wasn’t concerned in the least.

If I could, I’d stand on my head if I thought it would make you well (and if you can get a visual of me on my head, well…. that should be worth a giggle. I’d probably pass out half way up, and then what?  A  ‘fluffy’ middle aged door stop).  But I’d do it if it meant you’d feel better ❤

You have an amazing support system with your friends/coworkers/family.  It awes me that one person has so many people around for support.   They will help you heal as I’m sure they already have.  Just one more minute of pain, just one more hour of uncertainty, just one more day of STILL being here and fighting this beast that has turned your world upside-down.  Take it in small increments. You’re stronger than a beast who was only brave enough to go in the back door !  You have a life that is waiting for you to get through this.  And that will happen. I wish I could make the journey easier, and speed up the process, but one thing about cancer- you want the treatment that gives you the best longterm odds.  Keep thinking about how mad the beast must be !  😀

You are already a survivor, did you know that?  Seriously, they consider anybody who gets diagnosed to be a survivor- unless you die of shock when you get the diagnosis and fall over stone-cold on the floor.  But you got through that  and stayed conscious !  So, you are surviving.  There’s some work to do on the ‘thriving’ end of things, but you can’t get there all at once.  Chemo is a direct assault on your entire body just to kill the beast.  And, from what I hear, it’s helping. 🙂   You. Are. Winning.

Feeling like you’re never going to get through this is pretty normal.  There is nothing like chemo that I can think of in 30 years of nursing that compares. ( nursing school -2 yrs , working as an RN -20 yrs , and the last 8+ as a patient on disability -I still keep my license to keep my own butt going).  I’ve had a lot of medical stuff, over decades.  And chemo is the hands-down winner for “WTH just happened to me?”.  😮   There are no clear ways to explain how it’s going to feel (and it’s different for everyone).  But,’ lousy’ would be a vast improvement much of the time.  And you can get through this.  Your body can handle this treatment.  You will feel better.

In the meantime, look out of the window (or find one that has a view), and just look at  the trees and birds, the clouds and sky, the people walking around, and the ones taking care of you.  Watch something goofy on TV (I lived on ‘Funniest Home Videos during the first 6 weeks of being in isolation for the leukemia- and I’m sure the nurses thought I was a bit ‘touched’ when howls of laughter would come out of my room).  Find things that make you happy in the moment.  No need to be elaborate- just what makes you happy right. This. Second.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.  Yesterday is gone (though those were some great GF almond cookies Carol made last Christmas Eve !!).

Take a deep breath- and remember you’re still here right now.  And you’ll have the last laugh in the end.  But until then, feel free to cry, grieve, be depressed, miss being at work (that was a really hard one when I ended up on disability- it’s not like retiring when you PLAN on not working, but it’s like it’s TAKEN from you by some rude disease), laugh at silly stuff, and  deal with whatever else is going on.  There are no wrong ways to do this- other than to just get through it.  And it’s all temporary.   Overwhelming, but temporary.

You can do this, dear cousin.  I’m in your corner %110.   And I know there are so many who are there in person and spirit that wish nothing but the best for you. You are loved.  ❤

Answering “Search Engine” Questions…

When I look at my site stats, I see the search engine topics that people are using to find information…. I’m using this post to answer some of those questions, in hopes of helping folks a bit ❤  I will edit at times to add more information as I see new topics.

Today, I saw a search for leg pain and leukemia M-3….  I do remember leg pain, with the chemo.  Several of the medications used had musculoskeletal pain as a side effect. ATRA and I think arsenic can cause pain.  I had more pain as the year of maintenance went on- I was on ATRA, methotrexate, and M6 mercaptopurine at the time.

I also saw a search for diabetes and chemo- my blood sugars went nuts when I was on chemo. They’re just now getting back to some sort of normal range.  It took several months and a trip to a Joslin affiliated endocrinologist for some insulin and metformin adjustments.

I just saw a search for ‘what could have gone wrong in the ER when someone dies from leukemia there’…. well, some leukemias are known for being really bad for causing ‘bleeds’ – sometimes in the brain (can be fatal very quickly), and sometimes in other parts of the body that can be really significant before they’re detected.  Also, leukemia is known for not protecting the body from infection- so someone could have a really bad infection and not be able to fight it- but if they didn’t know they had leukemia, they might not get help until the body couldn’t keep going (septic shock).  Leukemia can show up in ERs for the first time. Sometimes, the only time it shows up is during an autopsy.  😦

As far as people dying from APL in this day and age, yes. It happens. I know of 2 people in the last 6 weeks who died within 2 days of being diagnosed.  Because the blood clotting cells (platelets) are very low with APL when it is diagnosed, there is a huge risk for severe, and possibly fatal hemorrhages in the body or brain.  Those can be lethal very quickly.  APL also causes impaired ability for the body to fight infections. That can also cause death.  I was lucky to be diagnosed in time; some people are diagnosed at their autopsies.  But I was also very sick.  I got infections, and also tiny purple spots all over my legs and abdomen from low platelets. I got 13 platelet transfusions and 12 blood transfusions.   If APL isn’t treated it IS fatal. End of story.  If it is treated, but the disease is too advanced, or infections are too severe, death is a very real possibility. As an RN, I understood what was happening to me, but I was too worn out to really pay much attention…but I was SICK !!

If someone goes to the emergency room with advanced APL, it is VERY possible that the ER didn’t do anything wrong.  The disease was simply too advanced.  If someone goes to the ER because of severe headaches or decreasing level of consciousness (or coma), the brain bleed has already happened.  The ER is NOT the place for APL to be treated. They can identify lab work that indicates the probability of some type of leukemia, but it takes a bone marrow biopsy and specialized testing in specific labs (often not in the actual hospital since it is SO specific) to determine the type of leukemia. But the most an ER can do is identify the probable problem, and send the patient to the proper part of the hospital for complete diagnosis, and specific treatment.

Another search engine term I’ve seen more than once on my site stats involves defining what a ‘frequent flyer’ is in regards to an emergency room.  ERs consider someone to be a frequent flyer if they are in the ER a lot, and often if they are either looking for pain medications OR don’t have a primary doctor of their own. Frequent flyers are not regarded well by ER staff.  Most of the time (not always) the frequent flyers go to the ER for things that aren’t actual emergencies.  Many also visit several local ERs to either get meds or see a physician for something that is really not appropriate to have cared for in an ER.  They waste resources in many cases. They cost a lot of money (many also don’t have insurance).  SOMETIMES, the ER really doesn’t have a clue why someone is in their ER- they make judgements about the person that aren’t true.  But in most cases, frequent flyers are there because they made the decision to go to the ER and seek some sort of ‘care’.

For : ‘If I’ve had leukemia for over 3 years is it too late to fix this?”- it really depends on the type of leukemia- if you’ve had it for that long and hadn’t been diagnosed or treated, it sounds like a slower chronic form (if you have leukemia at all– there are other things that can have similar symptoms)- whether it’s myelocytic or lymphocytic requires specific testing.  It’s not over until it’s over !  See your doctor, and get it checked out 🙂

Whoever is entering ‘two nurses having sex’, ‘nurses sex’, ‘nurse sex’, or other inappropriate terms into the search engines- GET HELP.   It’s repulsive to have some pervert finding my posts.  If you wonder how two nurses have sex, they don’t have any special parts.  If you want some twisted porn site, then go to ‘porn’, and look there. GO AWAY.   Geez- you’re at it every. damn. day.   Get a magazine and go deal with yourself.

How to pronounce the Swedish cheese bondost spelled Bond Ost…. in English, it comes out like this :  Bónd Oost.  The ‘bond’ is more like booned. But not as long with the o’s.  If that makes sense- LOL.  😉

As far as recipes for Swedish sylta- there are some great Swedish recipes if you just enter exactly what you did…. how to make Swedish sylta.  I personally don’t like veal jello 🙂

For the person asking about the schnauzer waking up gasping and breathing heavily- and why dogs hold their heads up to breathe when they have heart failure :  The dogs’ hearts aren’t pumping oxygenated blood effectively, so they gasp to get more air… they hold their heads up because sometimes the heart becomes so enlarged (I saw my dog’s chest x-ray- it’s dramatic) it actually shifts the windpipe, and it’s ‘bent’.   Medications and prescription diets can help- one of my dogs made it 12 GOOD months. My dog who died 10 days ago made it about 9 months or so.

“Roof of my mouth is smoothed out”….. that happened to me when I got the induction chemo for APL (leukemia).  It went back to normal within a month or so after the last day of the induction chemo, and the consolidation and maintenance did not have that effect on my mouth.

A really important search engine term today:  ‘In ‘mission’ (remission) from APL leukemia for a year so won’t relapse’…. YES- you CAN relapse- that is why follow-up care is so important !  You didn’t go through all of that chemo for nothing !!  Keep following up with your oncologist !  You can relapse at any time, though my understanding is that after 5 years of CONTINUOUS remission, you are considered ‘permanent remission’ or cured.

To the bulimic who ‘pucked up blood clots’…. GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM.  Your esophagus could be tearing, which is fatal if not treated.  No joke. Get yourself seen by a doctor.  Suck it up, and get some help ❤  It’s scary, but you seriously could be getting ready to blow your esophagus (or stomach) and bleed to death.

OK…. here’s a favorite one (and it’s from today !!)  ‘witch side of the syringe is the cc side’ (sic)…  Here’s a tip. If you don’t know, put the syringe DOWN !!  If you’re in some sort of training to learn to use them, they will tell you.  If you have a legitimate reason for handling syringes, there is someone to ask- and it’s a valid question. But to ask that in a search engine search bar tells me something isn’t quite right, possibly !  🙂

To the person who entered “can you get disability for not being able to wipe your butt?” in the search engine, how about this- with that level of dumb ass you might just qualify.  Disability isn’t a joke. You, however, are.  Do you have any idea what being disabled actually means?  Do you have any human DNA? Or are you just so mentally disturbed that you don’t care?   If the lack of ability for personal hygiene is part of an actual disorder, then maybe…. just maybe you (or whoever) would qualify. Go ask someone who might know your situation, and quit looking up offensive topics.  OR play in traffic – the results of that may land you on disability.

Edit:  I guess I was annoyed that day 😮   Disability still isn’t a joke, and is a demeaning place to end up.  It’s not a career destination.  😦    I miss working every single day.  I miss feeling useful.  I miss having a sense of purpose.  I miss taking care of patients.  And, I even miss the idiots 😉

Freak Magnet

Sometimes I’ve wondered if I’ve got a sign on my forehead that screams “ALL FREAKS, C’mon over” !  I’m sure that everybody has experienced the same sorts of people in different ways…and some days I’m not so sure.  Maybe some of it has to do with being a nurse. People see nurses as helpful and nurturing, when we’re just as weird as everybody else- we just get paid to take care of the lost and vulnerable. And then there are the folks who would fit nicely  on the side of ‘Criminal Minds’ that either gets shot or lengthy prison sentences. The spooky people.  Not all are dangerous to others, but the danger to self thing eeks in there. Regardless, they don’t fit well into a ‘normal’ life.

Let me start with a director of nurses (DON) who had been one in a line of them at a very nice nursing home after the ‘good’ DON had gone on maternity leave. He happened to come along during a time when a new administrator was also getting used to all of us.  Initially, he seemed a bit intense, but not pathological.  One of my duties when I was working on the weekends as the RN Supervisor was to log in the discontinued medications that did little but take up room in the storage cabinets in locked medication rooms. I counted each pill on each card of pills (packaged at the pharmacy for nursing home med carts), bottle of loose pills, or made sure injectable medication vials had a reasonable amount left for what the sign-out sheet said it should have.  Narcotics (or ‘scheduled’ drugs) had to be accounted for separately and documented on specific forms.  It was mundane, but necessary. At one point, the DON asked me for the keys to the file cabinet  in his office where we kept the ‘logged’ drugs.  He was the boss, so I handed them over- no problem.

A few weeks went by, and the nurses on the floors said that nobody had picked up the growing piles of discontinued cards and bottles of medication for a while; they wanted them out of the way. I asked the DON if he wanted me to log the meds in that coming weekend ( I think this was either a Thursday or Friday). He looked at me and closed the door behind me in his office.  Gulp.  He then pulled out a .44 semi-automatic handgun out of the desk. That alone was a huge, HUGE problem. Texas was pretty gun-friendly, but in 1994, guns and old folks weren’t a good pairing.  He pointed the barrel at me as I sat down (which I decided to do before I keeled over), and asked me if I was going to tell anybody about our little talk.  Nope. My lips were sealed. Everything was very cool (as I’m imagining my body being found after the weekend, ripe and smelling up the place).  He handed me the keys and told me to go ahead and log in the meds that were piling up.  NO problem. Happy to do so.  Can’t wait to get started. Did he want coffee with that?

But that weekend, I noticed that every last narcotic form I’d filled out had been rewritten in his handwriting, with no way to figure out what had been removed from the lists I’d been keeping. I had a very specific way of tying the bags when I was done, and how I kept the narcotic sheets separate.  It was a federal law that this all be done according to the rules. I liked following the rules 🙂   I didn’t like having my work screwed with by a gun-weilding nutjob of a boss.

I  didn’t like even knowing about the gun. But I was also initially scared enough that he would shoot me, run off with piles of drugs, and nobody know why I was found belly up until they start looking at the paperwork. By then, he’d be on some uncharted island in the South Pacific, in some hut powered by a bamboo bicycle generator and drinking coconut drinks. The new administrator didn’t know any of us that well, and I wasn’t super tight with the assistant DON, but I had to tell someone. The ADON ‘G’ was outside smoking late that next Monday afternoon after nearly everyone had gone home. I told her about the gun.   She knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t come up with some sordid story about someone.  We agreed that we’d both go to the new administrator in the morning, before the gunslinger got to work.  We did, and told the newbie administrator. By that time, the DON had turned in his resignation, and it was decided he need not complete the two-week notice. He was free as a bird.  I have no idea what else was done about reporting him to the board of nurses (not sure if mandatory reporting was in place at that time), but I was told (after he left)  that before he left, he’d taken it upon himself to just stop some lady’s order for morphine- pills and injectable- and they were never seen again.  That created a HUGE mess with calling the doctor and getting the stuff reordered from the pharmacy for the poor little lady who still needed the stuff. The floor nurses were going nuts counting everything that wasn’t nailed down, and making sure their names were clear (they were).  I’ll never forget the business end of that .44 charcoal gray gun ‘looking’ at me.  “Two in the chamber, ten in the clip”…. whatever that means, it didn’t sound good.

Another time at this same facility, there was a sweet certified nurses assistant who was noticeably quiet, but she got her work done and wasn’t an attendance issue. Those sorts tended to fly under the radar. She was probably in her early 20s, and a member of the ‘fashion isn’t my thing’ club (I also belonged to that club- no judgement from me). We all worse scrubs while working, so looked pretty much the same (in different colors and prints, depending on the department), but when she came to get her paycheck, she dressed ‘depressed’. That was my first clue. I’d talked to her several times, and we had a decent rapport. I could tell there were things going on, but didn’t have any reason to pry. Her work was acceptable. I was part of the nursing management bunch, but did patient assessments and staff training/infection control- not the hiring/firing/counseling stuff.  Anyway, I kept an eye on her.

One afternoon, I got a call from the next door emergency room. They had the CNA there. Her friend wanted to talk to me.  Seems this CNA had slit her wrists. I wasn’t sure why I was being called, but the friend asked if I could talk to the staffing nurse (ADON) and let her know that ‘L’ wasn’t going to be there for her next shift; ‘L’ didn’t want to talk to anybody. I asked where she was going when she was done at the ER (as in what psych facility is going to evaluate her?). She was being discharged home.  With sharp things. By herself.  I didn’t like that at all. I knew ‘L’ lived alone. She never mentioned any family or support system.  OK, not good.   When they left there, I needed to see ‘L’ with my own eyes, so asked them to come over to work, and I’d talk to her.  She agreed via her friend.

In the meantime, I tracked down the social worker (from hell, normally) who was still there; I needed help with this one. And she got nice about it all, which I was thankful for. She got on the phone and started making calls re: acute psychiatric facilities who would do an impromptu assessment as soon as we got ‘L’ over to their facility.  I don’t remember who the DON was at that time, but I think she was gone for the day (it wasn’t gun-boy).  ‘L’ got over to the nursing home in a little while (wrists wrapped in gauze), and agreed to go with the social worker and me to the psych hospital, just to see ‘what her options were’.  I was hoping they’d keep her for a few days, so she’d be safe.  She was worried about losing her job if she checked in to a psych facility, but I told her that being checked out, and getting help was going to help her keep her job. Our administrator (before the one with gun-boy) was very compassionate.  ‘L’  agreed, and the psych facility did decide to admit her. She was in and out of there over the next few months (once after I sent the police looking for her as she had uncharacteristically not shown up for work), and ended up getting shock treatments.  She came back to work eventually, and while a bit subdued, she was doing better.  I learned more about her past, and she had reason to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.  Everybody has a history…

Another coworker (an LVN at an acute care hospital working on the neuro floor) had some ‘issues’.  At work, she was fine.  Not employee-of-the-month, but she did OK when she was there. We were both fairly ‘young’ nurses- as far as time out of school, and also just plain young, in our early 20s.  ‘A’ had all sorts of respiratory problems- mostly asthma. She had some attendance issues as a result, and the hospital had a ruthless attendance policy. She could be admitted in the hospital on oxygen, and it counted against her attendance record.  Anyway, a few months after I’d been raped and beaten in a very publicized case, ‘A’ calls me and says she had been attacked overnight by a former boyfriend, and needed help getting her dog to the vet. Fido had been cut by the boyfriend’s knife per her report.  I immediately agreed and went to pick them up.  Something seemed ‘off’.  Fido was frisky and happy to see me (his  usual goofy, non-traumatized behavior). There was a tiny cut  on his paw (more worthy of a bandaid than a trip to the vet), and ‘A’ had some odd looking cuts on her neck…the depth wasn’t something I’d expect from someone who had been seriously sliced by a rabid ex-boyfriend, and the way it went from deeper to more shallow from left to right looked kinda self-inflicted to me (she was right handed). But I didn’t want to believe that.

‘A’ told me she’d been whacked in the head, and felt horrible, but after going to the vet, how about we go get some lunch and maybe do some shopping.  😮 Everyone deals with stress differently…but another piece of the puzzle wasn’t fitting well. But, I agreed.  We spent most of the day together, and during that time she told me that the police had asked her for this guy’s photo- but she didn’t feel like getting it for them. WHAT? Not helping to apprehend this guy?  I had no ability to understand that ‘reasoning’ at all.  I’d been held in my apartment for 6 hours, finally escaped and called 911, and police ended up shooting the guy in my bedroom when I’d been attacked less than 7 months earlier. Why was she doing this?

I decided I needed to get home, and she suddenly begins to have symptoms of a concussion.  Puking, head pounding, vision a bit blurry…. so she now needs a ride to the ER for a CT scan and neuro evaluation.  The day was getting so very long (and more and more weird). She ended up being cleared for any sort of head injury, and told that basically she was fine.  I dropped her off at her apartment, drove like a bat out of hell to get home, and turned my answering machine off when I got there. She could dial 911 in a real emergency when she was going to cooperate with an investigation.  I was done.  I was no longer working at the same hospital by that time, so rarely saw her… I’ll never think that she was telling me the whole story- OR stop wondering if the police had ever actually been notified of the ‘attack’.  What made me even more mad was that the dog had been involved.

I got much more jaded when crises came up with some coworkers.  I had my own stuff to deal with, and had also become much better at sorting through when someone needed  help that was appropriate for a friend or coworker to handle.  I had times when coworkers helped me through some lousy times, and most of that was when they offered; I didn’t seek them out.  I was always very thankful for their time.  But,  I got careful about that as well, as crises junkies also like to be on the ‘helper’ end, not just the ‘helpee’.  One in particular had been a huge support system during some eating disorder stuff that was pretty serious, but when I got better, she wanted nothing to do with me. That hurt a lot.  There are a lot of people out there who are taking care of people who need keepers themselves.  Or who help to fulfill their own self worth needs.  There’s nothing wrong with finding satisfaction with helping people (professionally or on a friendship level), as long as the needs of  those being helped are the first consideration- not some twisted need for being needed.  Sometimes it’s a fine line.

I can think of others… these just stood out tonight.  Stay tuned for the continued saga of the  wacky side of nursing, and whacked nurses. :/

Moving to Texas

All during nursing school I knew I needed to move away from my home town once I graduated and had my RN license.   I needed a chance to get out on my own and find out my own personal likes and dislikes, and just learn who I really was beyond what was either overtly or covertly expected of me.  I needed my own life.  I decided to move to Austin, Texas since I had biological relatives there. I didn’t know them well, but had met them and been writing to them for over a year.  I really liked them, and was glad to have someone to help me figure out a new home 1200+ miles from where I’d grown up.  They were wonderful to me, and helped me in many ways as I adjusted to living in the Lone Star State.

My mom drove me to Austin from the Midwest.  The car was loaded , and I’d mailed 25+ boxes via the USPS.  I’d  partially moved by mail.  Mom and I had a weird relationship, but we had a great time during the three days it took to get to Austin. We weren’t driving to make exceptional time, and did some things just to goof off on the way down there.  We also discovered some of the wonderful foods of the South that I was clueless about.  Fried okra?  I’d never seen regular okra!  Biscuits?  I’d only ever had toast or rolls for a ‘bread’ at a meal.   We also stopped at a wildlife drive-through park in Missouri, and laughed our heads off as a llama insisted on pursing its lips through the partially rolled down car window.  We had some of the animal feed that was sold at the entrance, and that llama wasn’t letting us go by without getting a few bites. I’ve got photos of that goofy llama somewhere. I’ll edit them in if I find them 🙂

We puttered around in Dallas with a friend of mine who lived there with her husband.  She was about 30 seconds from delivering her first baby when we were there, but she gave us the tour of Dallas, and it was wonderful to see her.  I got photos of the baby a couple of weeks later.  Then we hit the final leg to Austin… I-35 South.  I was only  a few hours away from my new home.

It was night when we got to Austin and made it to my aunt and uncle’s house.  I’d been there on a spring vacation train trip a year and a half earlier, and was glad to see their familiar faces and home.  That first night was generally just getting there, talking for a brief time, and then going to bed.  I planned to get a job and apartment the next day, and I did.  The second night, I was in my own apartment (a furnished,modified efficiency unit on the bus route).  The manager lived on-site, and knew I was a 22 year old kid just out on my own.  She kept an eye out for me.

My first job was at a terrible nursing home (I worked at two amazing ones in Texas later on); I lasted 3 weeks there.  During that 3 weeks, I met more of my biological family (I’d been adopted at 10 days old, and had done a search when I was around 19 or 20 years old to find my biological mom, and did).  We had a great time seeing some of the sites around Austin and Fredricksburg.  I really liked the chance to meet and spend time with my ‘new’ cousins, and hit it off especially well with one of my cousins. She’s one of my best friends to this day.

I got a job at a local hospital and started out my hospital nursing career on a neurology/ neurosurgery floor on the night shift. I loved it.  I met some great people there, and while it was a lousy time in my life (I was raped), I learned a lot as a new nurse.  I’m still in contact with one of my co-workers from there.  I didn’t generally become  ‘friends’ with co-workers, but highly valued the ‘friendly co-worker’ relationships I developed through the years.  I didn’t see someone as a ‘friend’ if our only reason for knowing each other was being paid to be in the same place at the same time for the same reason. But some people stayed in my life.

I worked at some great places in Texas (Austin and Kerrville). Texas has had a legitimate nursing shortage for decades, especially in the smaller rural healthcare facilities (like being the only RN for 27 beds in a hospital, with 3-4 LVNs doing the direct care).  And the people were so much more friendly than where I’d grown up.  It was such a joy to meet new co-workers, and much of the time work was actually pleasant. It was hard work, but the vast majority of the people made it so much easier, even on the crazy shifts.  I’m still in contact with many Texas co-workers since I’ve been back in my hometown (moved back for family reasons), and they are really the only co-workers I’ve ever wanted to be in contact with. They are from the best years of my life, and I want that connection.  They remind me of memories I’ll always be thankful for.

Learning about barbeque was mandatory in Texas!  In the Midwest, during the time I lived there as a kid and before leaving home, BBQ was a soggy mess of stringy pork in sweet sauce that was really only good for putting on a bun. It came in a jar.  I hated it.  Grilling outdoors was called BBQ, but that’s grilling. Grilled steaks are really good, but it’s not BBQ, which is ‘low and slow’.  One bite of the real thing, and I was hooked.  There is nothing better than a Texas brisket or order of ribs. The smoking process is what does it. Sauce isn’t really a part of Texas BBQ; it’s available, but not what adds the flavor.  There is no BBQ without smoke. There needs to be a ‘smoke ring’ on the meat.  And no Texas BBQ pitmaster is worth his/her salt without a big smoke-darkened pit, where the magic happens.  I’ve got the phone number to Buzzie’s BBQ in Kerrville, TX to get my ‘fix’ one of these days; they will ship the real deal to me in Illinois !   My mouth waters at the thought.  No ‘bbq’ (small letters intentional) around here compares. Most of it is baked, and if smoke is used, it usually comes from a bottle of liquid smoke, or a quick trip through a smoker.  That’s just not right !  I’m now called a ‘rib snob’ because I’m so picky, and that’s fine 🙂

Spring in Texas, especially the Hill Country which is west and southwest of Austin, is amazing. The landscape explodes in color as the wildflowers start to bloom, starting with the state flower, the Bluebonnet.  The fields can look so blue it seems that perfect blue water just appeared where there had been grass.  Then come the red Indian Paintbrush,red and yellow Indian Blankets, pink primrose, and other flowers in a succession that tells the folks around there how far into spring they are.  Visiting Texas in the spring is amazing. Living there was even better.

Living in the Hill Country was a totally different experience than Austin.  I love Austin a lot, but the time-warp in the Hill Country was delightful.  Simple things are still appreciated, and there was a sense that I’d been accepted as one of their own.  When I first got to Kerrville in 1991, pay phones were still 10 cents for local calls!  That was unheard of!  There was (and still is, as far as I know) a daily Bible verse in the local paper, and nobody squawks about it.  “Howdy” was the way people greeted each other, and on the road, when someone came up from behind, it was common courtesy for the car ahead to move off to the right so the person behind could pass.  As they passed, both drivers nodded and waved.

There are so many more things that I love about Texas.  Since being disabled my dreams of moving back there are pretty well trashed.  I’m so thankful that I had 17 years there.  I got to know the reasons that  Texans love Texas. It’s not some empty pride- there’s a humility about the privilege of living there, but also a deeply rooted appreciation at the quality of life, friendliness of the people, incredible land, and wide open spaces.  The stars are big at night.  The sunrises are beautiful, especially during the spring and fall when the fog and mist make the sun a big red-orange ball.  People who haven’t lived there understandably don’t ‘get it’.  I’m not sure how they could.

Texas isn’t just a place, it’s an experience.  It’s where I spent the best years of my life, and met people I’m still in contact with, 10 years after leaving.  In Texas, I felt I was accepted, warts and all.

Texas is a place, but it’s also a state of mind.  My heart is still there. ❤