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. 

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.

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.

https://healersburden.com/upcoming-events/

Pre-Order Available: The Healer’s Burden

I am beyond thrilled to share that this book I had the privilege to contribute an essay to, The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief, is now available for pre-order. My essay is titled “Silent Intercession,” and I am so looking forward to slowly making my way through the rest of the pieces.

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.

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.

what I wish I could heal as your nurse

Would you give me permission to tell you

without overstepping my bounds, personal, professional

that this is not your fault.

You were only trying to take good care of your baby;

you didn’t know,

you didn’t know.

 

I see the protest in your eyes,

Someone has to be to blame, and that someone is me.

If I had known, if I hadn’t done this, if we hadn’t done that

our baby would still be alive.

 

How can I help loosen the grip that this mistake

threatens to hold over your life?

Would you give me permission to tell you

Can I tell you, you are still a good mama

Can I tell you, you are still a good papa

 

Can I tell you, your baby would forgive you too if he had the words;

of this I am sure.

 

Can I tell you, he knew you loved him to the very end.

Your tears baptize him

and your blessings flow

 

and flow

 

and flow.

 

Tribute to those behind my UCLA SON Distinguished Alumni Award

Back at the end of April, I was honored to receive the UCLA School of Nursing 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award for Excellence in Clinical Care, Nightingale Nurse at the SON’s 70th Anniversary Gala. Much of me is still in disbelief as I see and admire so many other nurses from whom I have so much to learn, but I am grateful for the ways that my contributions to this very special profession have been found valuable and worth recognizing – really not for my sake, but for the sake of shining a greater spotlight on the things I talk and write about: the oft hidden work that nurses do on a deeper heart level and the even more hidden burdens that we bear.

Behind every award is not only a lot of hard work, but also loved ones and mentors who stayed with me, encouraged me, and extended opportunities to me even when it meant they were taking a chance on me.

God is the giver of all good things, all gifts, all talents, all opportunities. He is the One who shows me through Jesus what it is to love, serve, and respect all persons. His grace alone has carried me when I have not been award-worthy, when I have felt weak and lacking in my ability to give to others. He has been my Foundation.

My husband is a quiet man, usually understated but incredibly generous in his support of what I do. He is not in healthcare, but his heart is wide open to the hard things I come home from work with. He has taken time off of work to watch the kids so that I could go on personal retreats when I felt in need of greater time and space to grieve, rest and recharge. He has stood by me and shown grace when I have had moments of crumbling under the weight of my responsibilities and pursuits. He has been the rock of stability for our family as my work in nursing has at times pulled me on wild roller coaster rides.

My parents have generously given of their time, energy, long commute and gas money to come watch the kids as early as 6:00am when I’ve had various speaking events. Theirs is the ultimate immigrant story. They’ve allowed me to go through all of my schooling debt-free. They will forever be one core reason why I’ve ever had any opportunity to do any of the things I have done.

I am fortunate enough to have incredibly supportive managers who go out of their way to support us, and coworkers whom I respect, admire, and learn from every day. I do not take it for granted that I work in a healthy workplace as a nurse, something I realize not every nurse can claim.

Last but most not at all least, the mentors in my life have shown me what it means to invest generously in those younger in the profession who may not be as experienced,  knowledgable or well-known, but who show potential to carry on the work of leadership in nursing.  Carol Pavlish has been my professor and is now a beloved mentor and friend. She has invited me so graciously to co-present with her at conferences and co-author a chapter on “Finding Meaning in the Work of Caring” in the newly published Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work. It was Carol who nominated me for this incredible award, and I continue to be so humbled by her belief in this work I do.

Katherine Brown-Saltzman is another mentor who has taken chances on me, particularly when she heard Anna Dermenchyan pitch my name as a possibility to be the closing speaker for the National Nursing Ethics Conference. Katherine and the rest of the planning committee took a risk, and it was a tremendous opportunity. Something in my heart came alive with fire as I closed that conference. Katherine’s wise encouragement to wait patiently for the ongoing unfolding of my story with this work has helped me keep perspective.

Finally, in conjunction with posting the photos from the Gala, the UCLA SON also published online their 2019 Spring Magazine. On pages 34-35, you can read my brief answers to this fun 4-question interview:

“What inspired you to become a nurse?”
“Share a favorite UCLA School of Nursing memory.”
“Advice you’d give future nurses/nursing students?”
“What’s your proudest professional accomplishment?”

No nurse can do this job alone. This holds true at the bedside, and it holds true when the work extends to writing, speaking and any other pursuits to build this profession. I received the award, but by no means did I do this work alone.