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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a description of the book from the editors:
What is Professional Grief?
Ignore. Suppress. Hide. Work in high-loss healthcare environments commonly demands turning away from one’s interior experiences in order to rapidly turn toward the next patient. In a culture that discourages vulnerability, how can a care provider effectively deal with the challenging emotions that naturally arise when faced with death, especially now in this critical time of pandemic? Thankfully, The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief makes a space to tend this occult grief, and not a moment too soon. In a broad array of artistic and accessible perspectives, healthcare workers from multiple disciplines bravely pull back the curtain on their experiences of loss. Despite delving into death, The Healer’s Burden eschews the twin traps of despair on the one hand and platitude on the other. Using principles of narrative medicine, the editors catalyze a much-needed conversation about professional grief by including thoughtful questions and writing prompts. This book is a must for educators and clinicians alike who wish to constructively engage with rather than avoid their experiences of patient death.
With a foreword by Rana Awdish, MD, author of LA Times best-selling memoir In Shock: “Reckoning with grief is no small task. But ignoring it is no longer necessary. ”
I can’t encourage you enough to buy this book, and share it with the healthcare professionals around you. It’s such an important time for us to bring this conversation to light in this extraordinary year that is 2020.
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.