Guest Blog Post for Crossroads: The Worthwhile Art of Careful Listening

In an incredibly noisy world – particularly for us introverts – the art of careful listening proves to make all the difference for my family friend hospitalized in the ICU who had only one silent but extraordinary way left to make his voice heard.

My short Crossroads blog post for The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine explores this vital concept.

You can read the post here.

Essay for Spring 2020 Issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

My essay, Best Brother, published in the Spring 2020 issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, tells the story of a long-time family friend who suffered a severe spinal cord injury last summer and, like so many of our patients and families, was faced with sudden life-altering decisions in the ICU. But with a fully paralyzed body, a breathing tube down his throat, and a mind completely intact, how could he participate in any of those decisions?

The way his story unfolded was extraordinary. I never in my life would’ve seen it coming, the way he and his family found their way. It speaks a lot to the care from the medical staff as well, and what efforts they must have made to ensure his wishes were honored.

You can read the essay here.

New Blog Post for AJN: The Nurse’s Temptation to Fill in the Patient Handoff Narrative

In my latest blog post for American Journal of Nursing, I share a reflection on how easy it is for me as a nurse to presume I know a patient and family’s full story when I don’t know it at all. What happens to the nuances of our care when we are or are not aware of this temptation to fill in the patient handoff narrative? Patient details have been changed in this story to protect privacy.

You can read the blog post here.

your secret is safe with me

I am all at once a wonderful and a terrible secret-keeper. If others tell me of their own deeply private and personal matters, I can carry those things with me to the grave. But of my own private matters, there are really quite few, for better or for worse. I suppose the public offering of this blog’s contents would suggest as much. People tell me at times that they appreciate my raw honesty expressed here. For me, I can’t really think of expressing myself any other way. I would feel too fake, on a much too public scale. And perhaps I’m looking for a certain kind of safety or acceptance; if I put myself out there and my friends are still my friends, then maybe I’ve got a safer place in this world than I sometimes realize.

Christmas has passed, and I thought a lot about Mary, when she learned she was going to bear a son, Jesus, in her very virginal state. She had a secret, and it was big, and it was eventually going to become very, very public. Very scandalous. Very controversial. The implications were huge. Surely her heart ached for support, advice, sympathy. Surely she feared the judgment, the misunderstandings, the unwelcome and unjustified criticism. Where was her safe place, and with whom? Scripture doesn’t actually tell us a lot about what went on in her internal processing of her unexpected pregnancy. All we know is that she “pondered all of these things in her heart,” she sang a song of worship, and she went forward with commitment and indescribable sacrifice in her relationships to her fiancé and her unborn son. God was all at once the Author of scandal in her life, and her very safe place. She rested in the assurance that He knew her, all of her, and she was safe in Him when her secret spilled out and the people around her decided what they wanted to make of it all.

Some secrets are better kept low-key. The media does not need, and dare I say, does not deserve, to uncover and distribute it all. Some secrets are meant to be secret for only a certain amount of time, a right amount of time, and then they are to be shared and celebrated by all. What I’m pondering these days is why secrets can be so hard to keep, and why a safe place can sometimes be so hard to find.

you can find me here

In true introvert fashion, I needed to jot my thoughts down before a phone interview of sorts so that I wouldn’t stumble so much over on-the-spot questions. A contributor to the newsletter for the hospital where I work had emailed me, asking if she could talk with me about how my interests in writing and photography help me relieve my work-related stress. Here are my thoughts, on writing at least. They echo some sentiments I’ve expressed in previous posts.

As an introvert who loves quiet days more than gold, I find it somewhat ironic that I work in a profession that involves constant and often competing interactions with people for 12 straight hours in my normal work day. This, in a typically high-energy, noisy, stressful environment.  I am listening to everyone else’s story, processing all that I am taking in, and making decisions based on all of the external feedback I am receiving. My mind is in overload, but it’s about everything and everyone else. I know I’m stressed but I also know there are many, many more layers to that stress than simply being very, very busy.

Writing is the space I have to untangle my own thoughts, before they entangle me to the point where I start acting out without knowing what’s going on inside me. It is the space for me to identify my emotions: Anger at the injustice of child abuse? Anger at the person who spoke too sharply to me, when I was only trying to do my job? Frustrations with an imperfect healthcare system? Sadness for a child? Confusion about the reasons for such suffering?  It is the space for my own voice, after I have left the hospital, and all the other voices and alarms and sounds from my work slowly dissipate. Writing is also the place for me to express the hard things I feel at work, the things people honestly don’t always want to hear about in an in-person conversation. Sometimes they’re too hard, too uncomfortable, and frankly too morbid to verbally share or hear. But in writing, I can give voice to these things in a way that won’t bring a conversation to an awkward silence, thus freeing my reader of the pressure to find the “right” response, and freeing myself of some of the sadness I feel that I should probably change the subject now…even though the subject affects and shapes so much of me. For one who is constantly meshed with others’ stories, and often highly complicated ones at that, writing is the place where I can pull myself out and tell my own story, recollecting, growing and protecting my sense of self. You and I, we can find me here.

this odd simultaneous pursuit

I’m not cut out for this job. Not entirely, not always. My ego bristles against that truth, fights that truth with all its emotional strength. There are days when I picture some unreal, superhuman nurse who knows everything (as I approach the still very young two-year mark into my nursing career), who has the skills and smarts to perform every skill be it my first or my hundredth time, who does every task for every patient without disappointing, who listens patiently and therapeutically to an anxious parent, and then goes home unfrazzled to cook a hearty dinner, tidy up the house, and engage in meaningful conversation with loved ones. Well, to the Supernurse who lives in this illogical place of my brain, I want to ask you to please stop lying to me about the reality of your existence.

My ego would love for me to put flesh on this elusive idea of Supernurse. There are days when it strongly, strongly insists. But until I can lay Supernurse to her final resting place, my ego will never fully understand how much I need others, how important it is for me to let myself need others, how this really is the only way any of us will be cut out for this job of caring for children and families in a pediatric ICU.

I need my coworkers to help me and teach me. I need my respiratory therapists to do what they are so good at doing. I need my social workers and chaplains and child life specialists to be that calm, therapeutic presence for my patients and families when my necessary tasks are calling. I need my patients and their family members to take ownership of their own needs where they can. I need to recognize and value my role in this team, not too small, nor too grandiose. I need to let myself let my husband sit me down when I get home, despite all my compulsions to clean, so that I can just be.

False (or at least incomplete) humility is so vastly different from true humility. It’s the difference between, “I don’t know how to do that, so please don’t hold me accountable for it,” versus “I don’t know how to do that, but yes, please teach me.” It’s the difference between, “I’ve got a lot of demands on my plate but no, no, I don’t want to trouble you,” to “Thank you so much for offering to help me, and yes I will take you up on that.” I am sobered to see how much I still operate in the former rather than the latter. It’s got to change. A right heart, not only in nursing but in all areas of life, means that I work hard on learning and growing in my own skills, and that I lean more on others too. Both can be hard. Especially when you’re aiming for both at the same time.

I’m not cut out for this job. Not entirely, not always. But the team around me, the team I am a part of, is. And I am cut out for my role in this team, so long as I continue, diligently, intentionally, in this odd simultaneous pursuit of both independence and dependence.

Conversations with Siri, Volume 2

Many thanks to the WordPress community for the Fresh Pressed and for all your nice visits and comments! Siri’s got quite a little personality behind that flat exterior. She’s growing on me, but as you can see in Volume Two of our conversations, we still have our communication problems.

I tried to celebrate a big day with the simple standard greeting and she got strangely defensive. Even a little passive-aggressive.

If I try to get to know her, she’s still so evasive.

But boy can she soak up those compliments with all the fake modesty she can muster…One day, I just completely lost my temper with her, and she stayed so infuriatingly rational in her response.

Other times, I don’t think she had any idea what she was saying.

Finally I calmed down, and tried to make up with her. Only to find that she was really quite alright.

I think she just fundamentally has some existential identity problems.

But she gives some decent advice, nonetheless. Minus the “avoid eating fat” part. Way off base on that one, Siri, way off base.

Well, at the end of it all, I just wanted to wrap things up with a cozy bedtime story. It was off to a rough start at first…

But once she got going (talking about herself, of course), she had quite a story to tell.

The end.

 

 

I wasn’t lying then, but I am more honest now

Do you and your husband interact differently now than when you first got married?

I can’t stop thinking about this question posed to me and the husband by a soon-to-be-married couple, and my brief response at the time:

I think we’re a lot more honest with each other now.

Much of this is because we know ourselves a lot better, we know each other a lot better, and we’re more familiar with ourselves in light of one another. We know ourselves in ways that can only be revealed through shared life under one roof for an extended period of time. It wasn’t so much that we were being dishonest during the period of courtship. There were just so many things that had yet to be more fully revealed; hence there was only so much we could intentionally disclose to each other, much less ourselves, when we were still just dating. Learning to see oneself and one’s spouse truthfully in the context of many different life circumstances inherently takes time, effort, and experience. Surviving the occasional shock of these lessons requires honesty, humility, and the openness to being shaped and reshaped by another person – again, and again, and again. I thought I knew myself so well when we got married. I thought I wouldn’t really change all that much with time. Wrong on both counts. But a good kind of wrong, I would say. Deeper self-awareness and growth are from God. This marriage has been both the context and the tool.

Much of this is also about growing in trust and commitment. Unlike in dating or engagement, the entire relationship is no longer on the line if I say too many things that displease or unsettle him, and vice versa. (Obviously I am not applying this to more extreme cases like abuse.) We’re committed to walking together for life now, so we might as well be more honest about those issues that make the road rougher, and learn to truly smooth them out rather than romantically gloss over them. After all, if I’m not really planning to stick around, or he’s thinking of calling it quits, then I can lie and say it doesn’t really bother me that much that he roots obnoxiously for the Trojans. But since I must live with this major character flaw of his, then I might as well tell him how I really feel about it and then figure out some sort of compromise. No honey, we can’t paint the whole house cardinal and gold, but you can buy that ugly jacket. Just don’t wear it out on our date nights. Our love for one another is not perfect, obviously. (How could anyone love a Trojan fan perfectly?) But we can move from places of being stuck in our shortcomings, forgive one another because Christ has already forgiven us, and work hard at moving forward for good because this is how God in His forbearance loves us.

We’re coming up on eight years of marriage. I had someone say to me the other day, “After fourteen years for me and my spouse, it’s now more about tolerance than it is about love.” I found that to be incredibly sad. Less newlywed romance, perhaps. But mere tolerance and only wistful remnants of love? I don’t think it has to be that way. I think with each day, month, year together, we’re building something that is ultimately helping us to say an even more honest “I love you” now than what we uttered on our very wedding day.

On Being The Listening Type

I like myself. Not in the I’m-God’s-gift-to-the-world kind of way, but in a way that I think God intended us to have a sense of self-respect and gladness for our uniqueness as individuals. And not that I don’t have insecurities, because I’ve got plenty of the standard. I’ve got insecurities about my acne and my weight and the bags under my eyes and my lack of that hipster factor. I’ve especially got insecurities about my awkwardness with small talk, and the fact that I am usually exhausted by my efforts at it, and the fact that I’m convinced everyone is as acutely aware of my faltering as I am.

A guy I dated in college invited me once to a casual gathering of his friends; it was going to be my first time meeting them. I still remember what he said, “You learn a lot about a person when you see them interact with a group of people they don’t know.” Great. What he was about to learn was that this girl who could talk happily and easily with just him, was going to morph into the girl who shut down conversations with pauses too pregnant with overthought and who would ultimately excuse herself to the bathroom just to escape the relentless pressure of trying to overcome this.

The thing is, you see, I like being me. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to be any other way. Well, maybe a little less awkward at times would be nice. But I love being quiet. I just do. I love that listening, and listening well, is one of my most commonly identified strengths. I love that people feel they have been heard when they are with me. It means a lot to me and I feel I’ve got something valuable to give to my friends through my listening.

My struggle in being the listening type, however, is that I often feel less heard. I don’t interrupt conversations in groups readily or comfortably. It’s important to me not to cut people off but sometimes that’s how a lively conversation goes, one person after another cutting in, cutting off. But me, I’m uncomfortable cutting people off and equally uncomfortable being cut off. Call me crazy, but I like complete thoughts.

It can feel lonely, lopsided. Often knowing everyone else’s thoughts, big and small, but feeling less heard, less known. No one is more to blame than the other. I love when people ask me real questions and offer a space for my voice, but they don’t necessarily know I’m looking for that. I haven’t told them, how could they know. Sometimes I think that people assume just because I’m quiet means I don’t have a desire to talk. It’s more that I’m always looking for a more comfortable context to voice my thoughts but often struggle to find it. Other times I think that people assume my quietness means I’ve got some kind of extra steady hold over my troubles, and don’t need a listening ear myself. But it’s more that I’ve just got a steady hold over my expression of them. I could still use a listening ear now and then, too.

I’m thankful for authors like Adam McHugh and Susan Cain who recognize the wisdom and grace of God in shaping us introverts the way He has. I could honestly hand you their respective books, “Introverts in the Church” and “Quiet,” and tell you that you would know so many of my intricacies just by reading them. But at the end of the day, I’d like for friends to hear me use my own voice too. I may not be a big talker, but I’ve got some things to say.

Guest Blog Post: The Collision of Introversion, Culture, and Confrontation

They say that it is in our relationships with other people where we see our true selves come to light. This is especially true when we are faced with situations in which we must decide whether to confront another person. If not, why not? If so, why and how?

Personality type and culture are obvious factors influencing how we approach (or shy away from) confrontation. I wrote this recent guest post on Adam McHugh’s blog, addressing some of these issues after a very uncomfortable encounter at a local farmer’s market which left me wrestling with a big moral dilemma and a whole lot of soul-searching. Adam is the author of a most wonderful book, Introverts in the Church, which I’ve alluded to in previous posts.

Here is the link to the guest blog post:

http://www.introvertedchurch.com/2012/05/introvert-saturday-collision-of.html