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The Results Are In!

Thank you all so much for answering my survey I posted a few days ago. I was looking for insight from my wonderful blog readers on what types of stories I write here on “Fortyteen Candles” that you all find the most interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. Without a doubt, according to the results from my survey, the most interesting stories to you all are 1. Stories about living in suburbia and my neighbors (heh heh heh….) and 2. Stories about my experiences as a nurse.

Honestly, when I started this blog I KNEW it would be a great place for me to vent my frustrations about living in a cookie cutter town full of uninteresting people who like to form cliques and one up each other materialistically or child achievementally. Thank you all for confirming my belief that this is a very entertaining subject that is best suited to scathing sarcasm with a twist of sheer joy. My neighbors continue to drive me insane, and I’ll have more stories soon as our Halloween Trick or Treating interactions have awakened my muse and gotten her to work on some urgent therapeutic writing.

Something my survey pointed out that really surprised me was your interest in my work and experiences as a nurse. Nursing is something I went into in response to a strong desire I have to help and take care of other people. This is something that is just programmed into me and I don’t see it objectively. I never think what I do is anything above and beyond what humans should do for each other every day, or would do if they were in a situation to do so, therefore I never think it would be interesting or entertaining in any way for others to read about.

The interactions I have with my patients, families and co-workers are on an emotional, philosophical, moral and spiritual level at times. I don’t know how these translate into print, but my general impression since they evoke “feelings” is that they would be dull and non action-packed. Translation = “dull” writing-wise. However, the comments I’ve received on my stories about nursing, as well as on this survey, have really opened my eyes to the value of sharing these experiences with others. It is important for others to know that in this world of increasing depersonalization there are still people out there who care, and will always care, for others in need. I have taken these comments very seriously and it has given me a lot to think about as I organize my next big writing project.

So, since it is hard for me to only focus on one project at a time, I’ve started sorting in my mind two separate writing projects….one for suburbia and the neighbors who drive me insane, and one for my experiences as a nurse. I really appreciate the time you all took to give me your feedback. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!

 

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Killed by the Sandwich

I’m among a generation of other people caught up in the middle of caring for children and parents simultaneously. This generation has become known as “The Sandwich Generation.” Much like those pieces of turkey and cheese, I am being squashed by those two pieces of bread.

It seems like things were easier long ago, when families lived closer to each other in the same towns. Back in the day you would have the support of cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, which greatly helped relieve the stresses of people who were taking care of multiple loved ones. Long ago it seemed like neighbors cared more for each other, and communities and families supported each other and were willing to pitch in when times were rough.

My elderly mother’s recent stroke really highlighted the fact that I am all alone in her care. My siblings live in other cities and states. A phone call once a week from them to me or my mother doesn’t do much in the way of relieving the stresses my mother and I both encounter while trying to make sure she is safe, happy and living her golden years in the most fulfilling way possible. Living with the stress and fear that her health and well-being is all on my shoulders alone makes me terrified.

Finding the services and support to care for our elderly in a way that they can stay independent in their homes is an area that is severely lacking in our society. I recently learned that assisted living facilities begin at $2,500 a month. And they don’t take insurance, so this is needed in cash. Some places make you prove your finances ahead of time to show you can pay for two years worth of this cost before they will even consider admitting the elderly person. Medicare facilities, which would pay that cost for the elderly person, are few and far between. And I’m sure the waiting list is incredibly long.

It makes me outraged that the fate of every person will end this way….you work until you retire – if you can afford to do so. Then, you use up the rest of your money living as modestly as you can, and when there is nothing left then you go on Medicare – and hope you can get into a facility that is a decent enough place to live out the rest of your years. It is a sad state of affairs that our golden years ahead may not be so golden after all.

In addition to caring for my mom, I am also raising young kids. They are still at the age where they need me to be there for them for just about everything. And of course I give 150% of myself to them, because I love them and because I am their mother. They do not know how thinly stretched I am also trying to also take care of their grandmother, as well. My elderly mother knows I am her only family member in the area, and she knows I would do as much as I can for her also. But these two forces are pulling in opposite directions making me feel stretched to my limits in the middle.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle of trying to do it all for every family member.  It seems like there are a million silent Generation X’er’s in this same situation. So, where can the Sandwich Generation go for support? We are all quietly struggling to hold our families as close as possible for as long as possible. Considering how many of us there are out here, I’m really surprised this hasn’t received more coverage in the media.

It must be the nurse in me, but I really think there needs to be a way to unite the Sandwich Generation. If our communities and families can’t give us the support we need, perhaps we can give this support to each other. It is amazing how wonderful it can feel just knowing that someone else is out there to listen, support or offer advice or wisdom to you from their own experiences.

Life, Lessons, Changes and Renewal

I’ve been meaning to put up a new post here for the past few days. I worked a lot as a Registered Nurse at the hospital, though, and was so tired I kept putting it off for “another time.” Yesterday I got out of work early in the morning after a completely exhausting and bizarre night shift and I had a good idea of a post I’d like to write. I sat down at the computer and was so tired I couldn’t even log into my WordPress account. I had ideas of sentences and paragraphs in my head describing an amazing experience I’d had that shift as a nurse. This experience was a realization of where I am in my career, how I finally found my place in my field and a career-defining moment I had in the care of a patient that made me feel all the struggle was worthwhile.

My last shift this past weekend I was assigned a new patient. My patient assignment usually changes here and there, but when you work consecutive nights it is nice to have the same assignment for consistency, follow-up and streamlining of tasks to do. I had a new patient on my assignment and I was so tired, I really dreaded having to get to know a new patient and routine.

My patient was a new stroke.  A young guy by my standards, and who was someone who didn’t like to admit they needed help. He had a hard time accepting that he could no longer get out the words he wanted to say, he couldn’t move as easily as he had before, and was very frustrated. His brother stayed with him to help out during the healing process. I immediately noticed the vulnerability of this “tough guy.” His struggles to find the words were heart breaking for me, but nothing I didn’t expect from a stroke patient with expressive aphasia (someone who can never find the words they want to say, but can understand everything that is said to them). I spent my time saying things out loud that he might want, like a guessing game. “Are you in pain?” “Are you cold?” “Do you want a blanket?” “Are you thirsty?” and so on. His brother was also helpful in interpreting and they were both very appreciative for the help I was offering.

At around four in the morning, his brother wheeled him around the nurses station to get a change of scene. They wheeled up to where I was at the nurses station and he tried to say how he was feeling. He made hand gestures and his eyes filled with tears. I said “Are you scared?” And he said “yes.” He took my hand and said “thank you.” and his brother helped him explain how he was afraid of what was happening. I reassured him that he was doing so much better than the day before when he first came to the unit. That day he wasn’t even able to find any words and was very frustrated. When I said he had already improved, he kept saying “thank you” to me. I got him a box of tissues and he and his brother went back into their room. In the morning when I left, I met up with the brother at the elevator. He thanked me for my help with his brother and said “You’re a good woman.” I never know how to take compliments so I immediately told him “your brother is lucky to have a good brother like you around to help him out.” And I went home.

I then sat in front of the computer and didn’t know how to write this meaningful patient interaction down into a structured, essay format for my blog. It was overwhelming sitting at the keyboard to explain why making a difference and helping people is why I went into nursing in the first place. This experience with my new stroke patient, who I was not happy about having in the first place, turned into a very satisfying, rewarding and defining moment for me in my nursing career. How do I find the right words to explain how working as a nurse to help make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families is what it’s all about for me? I had no idea how to write all this down, so I instead I surrendered to my mind numbing exhaustion and went to sleep.

Three hours into my sleep I was awakened by a phone call from my mother saying it was hard for her to speak. Her speech was slurred and she didn’t know what was going on. I told her to unlock her front door and I was calling and ambulance and would come right over. I told her it sounded like she might have had a stroke. When I arrived at her apartment the ambulance was there and she was ready to be taken to the hospital I work at. She was tired but alert. Her speech was getting more difficult. The whole drive to the hospital I followed that ambulance she was in. I kept staring at it while also wondering what was going on. Was she getting sicker? Was she scared? I flashed back to the times in my childhood when my mother was the pillar of strength in our family. How she never got sick and always boasted “I’m as healthy as a horse.” Now I was in a position of wondering if she will be able to live alone anymore, will she need to go to a nursing home. I realized she was not invincible. She was human and frail and mortal.

At the hospital, the doctors sent her out for testing and monitoring and we ended up staying in the Emergency Department for hours. My sister and I took a break to look for coffee and in the elevator was my patient’s brother. When I told him I was there because my mom had a stroke he became immediately concerned and alarmed. Here he was now comforting me in my moment of vulnerability. “She’s a great nurse,” he told the person he was with as we all walked on towards our destinations.

As I made my way onto my unit there was my new stroke patient from the night before. His face lit up when he saw me, and when I explained why I was there he looked at me with empathy. And then he reached out for my hand. I had no idea how much that would mean to me. Usually as a nurse I am the one who is in control of the situation, but here my own patient was giving me the same comfort I had given to him less than twelve hours before. I’m not good with moments like that. I thanked him and left shortly thereafter with my sister and our coffee.

That moment will never be forgotten. I believe that people and patients come into our lives for a reason. Somehow there is a purpose, and it is up to us to find the meaning and significance. I have always said how I learn from my patients and get my strength from them. However, I’ve been a nurse for some time now. Recently I’ve been on a quest to find out where else my nursing career can go besides working at the bedside – which quite often is physically and emotionally exhausting. Yet, this one moment I had with my new stroke patient changed my doubts. It has renewed my spirit. I don’t think I could ever leave the bedside and working in direct patient care. For me, there is no more rewarding place to be.

Night and Day and Night

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Ever since I was a nursing student I knew the rhythm and mood of night shift was the one for me. I never liked waking up at the crack of dawn to hustle into the hospital and wait for the day’s chaos to unfold. Day shift was always too crowded, chaotic, noisy. Too many orders, busy work, and other time-consuming things that got in between me and the nursing care of my patients. I quickly realized how much I instead preferred coming into work at the end of the day. The visitors had all gone home, the patient’s procedures were completed and they were all tired out and ready for a good night’s rest. With the greatest of optimism I hoped it would lead to a peaceful shift of me watching and caring for the patients on my unit. This is a best case scenario.

Many people who do not work night shift, including my own mother, have the idea in their head that patients sleep all night. They imagine the nurses are there to tuck people into their beds, possibly read them a bedtime story, and sternly “Shush!” any potential noisemakers between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am. This was apparently true in the TV hospital shows of the 1960’s through 1980’s. From “Emergency!” to “General Hospital” you would see nurses in their starched white uniforms and caps, sitting at the nurses’ station, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and trading one-liners with visiting EMT’s and MD’s. They charted in a comfortably seated position for hours on end, getting up as needed to dramatically walk to a random spot in the hall and have a plot point conversation with another character. Or perhaps they would stroll to the cafeteria for a leisurely meal, unconcerned with the time and schedule of patient medications, treatments, procedures and so forth.

This is not the case in the real world. Realistically, nurses oftentimes can barely find the time to run to the bathroom in a 12 hour timeframe. Lunch in the cafeteria? Not happening.  Charting is done piecemeal in 30 second to three-minute spurts, usually while standing. If you’re lucky you might have one knee on a chair while you chart. Then off you go, because the call lights are endlessly ringing. There is less staff available on off shifts. Patients don’t sleep at night. Beds need changing. People have to go to the bathroom. People are in pain. People have insomnia. People get sick. The doctor needs to be called. Orders need to be acknowledged. Medications need to be located and dispensed. New patients are admitted to the unit at all hours. My mom doesn’t understand how this is true. I think she watched too many episodes of “Emergency!” or “General Hospital” in her day.

However, this is the general flow of night shift. You have great teamwork because there are fewer hands on deck. You get to know your patients better and there are fewer distractions in your work. There is only one problem I’ve never gotten used to on night shifts, and it doesn’t even happen on night shift. It happens the next day. This problem is finding a way to get your full night’s rest during the middle of the day.

Non-night shift working people (aka most of the world) don’t understand what is so hard about sleeping during the day. “Boy, I could sleep all day if I had the chance,” is what they’ll say. But sleeping in the day means you are trying to block out all light, noise and thoughts of what the rest of the world is up to while also falling into a deep sleep state. This is nearly impossible.

The rest of the world doesn’t understand why it can’t mow their lawn, bounce a basketball for 40 minutes straight, call your house, and ring your doorbell repeatedly. I’ve awakened to the smell of burning toast and was sure the house was on fire, so I tear out of bed and start evacuating my family. Perhaps my kids are squabbling. The garbage truck stops by. These are all necessary functions of the rest of the world and they cannot stop because I need to get sleep.

So, I try earplugs, an eye mask, closing the door, running a fan and/or air conditioner. Sometimes I get rest, most times I do not. I want to know what my kids are doing, I’d like to enjoy some time with my family. Because my body is in two different time zones at once, I am hungry in the middle of my “nighttime” sleep because it is actually lunch time in the real world time zone. So, I get up to make a sandwich and decide to check my e-mail. Then I notice the dishes need to get into the dishwasher. I have to make a phone call. And I’d like to visit with my kids for a while. This goes on and on until I have very little time to get my sleep before I need to “wake up” and start my night shift work. After reading this paragraph you can now better understand why I am not getting the sleep I should be getting right now, instead of typing this essay

A friend of mine at work always throws around encouraging statistics for night shift workers. “They don’t live their full life expectancy, research shows they die before their time.” I feel the truth in this statistic every time I have to go into work on just a few hours of light dozing. My night shift nutritional habits might also be heading me towards this statistic. Coffee, tea, and any other source of caffeinated beverage is the main group of the three night shift food groups. The other two night shift food groups are chocolate and salt. Following a healthy diet is nearly impossible because you don’t know if you are eating dinner or a middle of the night snack. When you get home you are unsure if you should eat breakfast or not because it isn’t healthy to eat a meal before bed. I still don’t have the right answers here. I usually go fully healthy on my days off, and hope it makes up somehow for my night shift food groups and sleep deprivation.

So the next time you try to ring someone’s door bell and they don’t answer, look for clues. Do you notice if their air conditioner is running and their curtains are pulled shut? Are they a nurse? If so don’t immediately try to call them on the phone to see why they haven’t answered. Also, don’t stand outside their front door dribbling your basketball while you’re getting your communication command post up and running. The exact same scenario on the flip side would be if the night shift worker came to your front door to visit at two in the morning, or called you on the phone to chat. Really, it’s true. Instead, just take a hint and send an email. Or better yet, just wait for them to reach out to you on a day they aren’t at work. It just might save your friendship. And a well-rested friend is a good friend to have. Thank you, and that is all.

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