About Hui-wen (Alina) Sato

Words are fascinating. They can be careless, careful, powerful, hurtful, transformative, destructive, clarifying, confusing, unifying, divisive, honest, deceiving, empty, meaningful, terrible, beautiful. I am a Christian, a wife, a daughter, a mother, a friend, a citizen, a nurse. I hope the words I share in this space will do justice to the dignity that each of these roles deserves.

The Nocturnists: Sharing my Story as a Nurse and Mom in a Pandemic

The Nocturnists is a podcast that has done incredible work documenting the experiences of healthcare workers from many angles, and in current times capturing this phenomenal moment in history as we endure this COVID pandemic.

I had the opportunity to reflect on the early days of the pandemic as we all began to realize that this coronavirus was to be taken very, very seriously. What was it that made me realize it wasn’t like other coronaviruses I’ve seen in our ICU? My sharing in Stories from a Pandemic: Part II – Episode 7: Remembering a Pandemic starts at 5:57.

In the next Episode 8: A Call to Arms, I share about what it was like to be a pediatric ICU nurse, a new (and overwhelmed) homeschooling mother to two young elementary age children, and a wife of a health inspector before – and then just after – the vaccine finally becomes available. What was it like to go from hoping for the best with only external protection, to finally having some internal protection on board? My sharing in this episode starts at 18:19.

We are living in such crucial moments in history, and as intensely stressful as they have been, I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for the vaccine. I am grateful we have ways to share our stories.

On Updating my Professional Headshot

Photo Credit: Tracy Kumono

Having slowly grown in my platform and public opportunities with both writing and speaking professionally as a nurse over the past four years, one of the greatest learning curves has been with navigating this idea of a public image. Looking to see what other people in the public eye do can be both inspiring and, well, nauseating. There are a lot of voices that come at you about how you should present yourself, how you should play the game of developing a public persona and voice.

I started this journey with a desire to speak from my heart, and if I was fortunate enough to connect effectively, speak to hearts as well. My fear is that without realizing what’s happening, I’ll begin listening to the siren song that says developing a strong voice with the things I write and speak about is for the sake of cultivating my own image as someone “up there.”

This is not to say I never struggle with pride. I wish I didn’t. But I hope to make choices in every step that continually help me remember what the point of this all really is, including my choice of a professional headshot. I don’t judge people who do the arms-crossed pose; I think it can be effective and even friendly when done right, when matched with real character. But my personal comfort level shies away pretty intensely from the corporate look; it simply doesn’t suit me at this stage. I don’t think leadership that talks eloquently all the time without ever truly listening is real leadership. My hope is to always be to others, both in real life and in a headshot, someone who listens, watches, and cares for them more than I care for myself. Introverted as I am, I want to lean in, connect, be with people where their hearts are at.

Because at the end of the day, I follow the model of Christ. He was with all of us in the trenches, loved, served and taught us from that heart. I follow Him and hope to be more and more like Him and only Him. 

Finding God in the Wild Crash between Motherhood and PICU Nursing

I needed to walk the dog, and the kids were reluctant to join me. I had to sternly remind them that if they wanted this dog, then they needed to fully participate in taking care of him. I was annoyed.

The demands of and feelings about motherhood this past year have crashed wildly with the demands of and feelings about pediatric ICU nursing. I have at times despaired of the intensity of home life in a pandemic only to wildly swing the other direction and hold these mundane, annoying moments of motherhood in precious light when I crouch as a nurse next to a mother crumpled to the ground over losing her child, longing for just one more mundane moment with her beloved.

Doing what I do and seeing what I see at work gives me a certain perspective of what it means to say God is always good, and God is always with us. It holds space for really, really big messes in life, and big messes in my own heart. He’s not just good to me in my smiling, happy, healthy moments with my children. He’s good because He gives hope for the long perspective, one that recognizes we all suffer certain ways and we are all mortal, and yet He has not forsaken us. He has joined us in those messy realities. In one moment Jesus said Father take this cup from me, in the next He said Your will be done.

I am not always as thankful as I should be for the mundane moments with my kids but still He gives them to me. I’m trying to be more intentional about capturing these #proofofmom moments in photograph and story, so when I find myself one day looking back and yearning for them, I can remember all the expressions of His grace and then look ahead with hope for the Day there is no more suffering, sorrow, death or pain.

New Blog Post for AJN: How I Would Prepare My Daughter to Become a Nurse

My kids have been asking me surprisingly specific questions about my work as a nurse lately. I really enjoyed writing this blog post for American Journal of Nursing because God knows the two occupations that have consumed my days and thoughts this past year have been nursing and motherhood.

And at the end of the day, I realize this was a reflection for myself as well – what I have learned and continue to need to learn as both a nurse and simply as a human and as a Christian looking to live faithfully and well in a complicated world.

You can read the entire post here.

anchor for the years

Ten years into being a pediatric ICU nurse, I find I still grieve the saddest patient cases the same way I did from day one. It hits the day after with unpredictable tears, and I’m discombobulated as I try to reorient myself to my “normal” life and all its demands on me as mama, while still feeling haunted by the harsh reality of the story I bore witness to for 12+ hours just the day before and all its demands on me as nurse.

It’s like having this bittersweet privilege to pass through a blackout curtain where one side cannot see the other. Normal healthy families cannot imagine the agony of critically ill ones. Critically ill ones ache to remember what normal life felt like as it now feels too out of reach. I am the witness between the two sides that pull in opposite directions. On one side, I am playful, silly and tempted to be dismissive. On the other side, I am heavy, somber and sometimes over-responsible. Sometimes they collide inside me and that too is disorienting.

But in this particular moment in history, normal life is also not quite normal. Sands continue to shift, kids’ schedules continue to change, and I am looking for the anchor when I feel unmoored.

I am fighting today to remember that one of the best things I can do is carry the lessons from the darker, heavier side into the lighter spaces where I can see through the layers of all “normal” life’s demands and find what really matters for today. Loving God, loving my neighbor, my children…and being loved.

New blog post for AJN: The Bittersweet Reality of a Nurse’s Limits in Providing End-of-Life Care

My latest blog post for American Journal of Nursing is up.

Working in pediatrics means I didn’t see the kind of mass casualty COVID deaths that adult hospitals saw, but death and dying are still a regular experience in our unit.

While sobering, it’s important to think about death because it’s then important to think about life and the way we are with one another while we still have breath and opportunities. Caring for these patients at very different points in their end-of-life trajectory left an impact on me, and I hope I too was able to make some impact on them as well.

You can read the entire post here.

COVID Vaccine: Dose #1

We are living the most wild time in recent history with this COVID pandemic, so I find it important to document our experience as nurses. Here are my reflections on the day of, and day immediately following, receiving dose #1 of the COVID vaccine.

Saturday, December 19, 2020: I received the first dose of the COVID vaccine at my hospital at 0630 before my shift started at 0700. This was written later that morning.


Who could’ve imagined a year like this. We are still in dark, dark times. Just last night I broke down and cried out “I quit!!” re: all things about this madness. But I didn’t mean it. I’m just worn down like we’re all worn down – by a mean virus, awful politics, heartache and anxiety. I grieve that we have lost so many lives to date. It didn’t have to be this way and I grieve that deeply.

But still His mercies are new every morning. The sun rises, hope comes. So I got up in the darkness to get to my 6:30am vaccine appointment on time before my work shift. And this smile is one of deep gratitude for the scientists and workers and yes even the politicians who cut through the red tape and all the bickering to get this vaccine to us.

It didn’t hurt at all. 2.5 hrs in and I feel great, just the most negligible soreness in my arm, but I’m roaming the ICU as Resource Nurse with a grateful confidence that I finally have some protection on board, and more is coming with the second dose. I understand the fears, I do. But let me be your “guinea pig,” I don’t mind. I will be so happy to be a living and grateful example of the relief we can all begin to find from this awful virus. We can rise up in the darkness. We can. The sun rises, and hope comes.

Sunday, December 20, 2020 11:30AM

A day and some change after receiving the 1st dose of the vaccine:

– Arm soreness is mostly gone, some tenderness at the injection site remains. *I will say that after I got the shot yesterday morning, the arm soreness increased throughout the course of the day, to about a level 4/10 for me which is more than I’ve experienced with other vaccines, but I was still fully functional at work.

– Maybe (?) some mild body aches but I’ve been carrying a lot of stress in tense shoulders for weeks so it’s really indistinguishable from my usual.

– Otherwise normal.

I will not sugar coat any side effects I feel, particularly after the 2nd dose when I fully expect to feel worse for a couple days. People deserve a fully informed choice about this vaccine, but they also then need to face up to hard realities of the risks of opting out of it when it becomes available to them, which I will speak up about in future posts.

For now, it is time for hope, and I am glad to be the public’s guinea pig.

New Blog Post for AJN: Levels of Weariness Among Nurses

My latest blog post for American Journal of Nursing, “Levels of Weariness Among Nurses,” is up.

This is in deep empathy and support of all my fellow nurses everywhere. I see you. It’s been the hardest year of probably our entire career, and I grieve the felt loss of public support. Still, our work matters.

You can read the post here.

Room at this Quiet Table for the Weary

It’s been a noisy year. I’ve never had to think so hard about everything and still never feel like I could come to much conclusion or rest. The kids’ online schedules and endless chatter saturate me with mommy words. Don’t get me wrong, every shift at work reminds me to be thankful for life at home with healthy kids, but there’s also a reason why something deep in me sighs every time I hear “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I have been their primary person for the past nine months straight.

My microbiology, public health and nursing training make me think too hard about everything I touch, whose air I have breathed, who has breathed my air, and all the possible implications. I want to be gracious, and I also want to scream at people who deny the severity of COVID.

Social unrest and political tensions make me feel the importance of reading, listening, thinking with greater intention about hard realities in the world, but it also feels nothing I want to say or ask can be interpreted without some potential misunderstanding, so the conversations just swirl loudly in my head. If I try to turn it off for awhile, I feel like I’m choosing ignorance or entitlement. I’m not trying to be ignorant or deny the fact I’m privileged. It just feels near impossible to have any reasonable conversation that doesn’t just result in anger, and sometimes even the most justified in anger amongst us need a break from angry feelings.

I am inundated with emails at work about today’s updated practice in how we’re trying to keep our patients and ourselves safe. “PLEASE READ THIS IMPORTANT UPDATED INFORMATION!!” In two days, I won’t remember if this is today’s very important update, or yesterday’s, or last week’s. I’ve tried so hard to impress each very important bit in my memory but I’m out of room. I’m also scared of making a mistake by not keeping up with all the very important information.

I am trying very hard to keep up with friends. Who was it that had a family member in the hospital from COVID? There were a few now. What’s the status? Who could use a meal? I could use a meal. We are all overwhelmed by meal planning.

I have it pretty good at home with decently happy kids but I also keep thinking, I should find more ways to get them outside, figure out a way to make Thanksgiving and Christmas special, figure out creative ways for them to reconnect with their friends. I am constantly overwhelmed by their needs but also feel guilty I don’t just feel more grateful and content with what we do have.

I’ve realized sadly that I sometimes stop listening to people a couple sentences in. It’s not a conscious much less intentional thing. When it happens, I only realize after the fact that my brain just short-circuited again. It was still trying to process all the other ongoing internal conversations.

Faith feels complicated. Challenged and refined. If I say I trust Him, I also hear people argue back at me that I am disregarding them and not empathizing deeply enough with their present sufferings. I’m not trying to disregard anyone, and I’m suffering too. I’m just saying I still find real reasons to trust Him, and I’m working through my real questions as well. Please don’t @ me. There’s enough grace at the table for all of us, with our various degrees of suffering and our complicated questions. Jesus knows suffering.

I came to an overnight sola retreat for a bit of respite. I didn’t realize how quiet true quiet can actually be. I didn’t realize how profoundly unfamiliar it is, and how multi-layered the sources of noise are. I sat on a cushioned chair in front of an outdoor fountain hoping to start unpacking some of my burdens, only to realize I feel like a terribly tangled web of Christmas lights (or MRI tubing, for my nursing people who get that analogy) – you know, the kind that makes you just want to throw it all away and start anew. I realize quickly that I’m in knots. If I pull on one strand, it tugs on others, almost makes it worse. Untangling this will be agonizingly slow and tedious, and there are some knots you realize you’re just going to have to live with.

I don’t write this for pity, and I hope people won’t stop sharing with me their hard things after reading this. I want to connect, I want to listen, I don’t mean to tune out. I still want to help anyone I can. I suppose I’m writing this as part of my own untangling, and because I suspect there are others who feel this way as well, and I want you to know you’re not alone. There’s room at this quiet table for the weary.

Columbia University Narrative Medicine Volvox Presentation

Please join me, the editors of “The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief,” and two other contributors to the book, Lara Ronan and Rondalyn Varney Whitney, for a virtual panel discussion in the upcoming Columbia University Narrative Medicine Volvox Presentation on Wednesday, October 28th, 2020, from 7-9 pm EST / 5-7 pm PST.

I and the other contributors will be reading our pieces, and then we will have a discussion about the incredibly important and pertinent topic of professional grief in healthcare workers.

I can think of no other year when this conversation matters more.

You can find the link for registration and other info about the book here.