Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Plan B

Do you remember your dream?

You know, the one you had where you went down the aisle, stepped out into the sunshine and began the book of your life?

If that book had a name, what would it be?

When posed that question by a friend yesterday, I barely hesitated. Twenty years ago, I would have named mine "Living the Dream".

  If I were to name my book now, twenty years later, I would call it:        "Living Plan B". 

Plan A was The Dream.  Living the Dream.  The house, some kids, the part-time-just-a-couple-days-a-week job that would keep me on my toes, get me out of the house and keep me in the work force just enough.  The learning to cook and meals on the table when he came home at night to a spotless house, a cocktail and sparkling conversation.  It was all I knew, passed down from generations and watched on TV as my little kid brain was forming big adult plans. June Cleaver, Alice Kramden and Nana; my role models for wifedom.  I could do this, I thought.  I can do anything.  Life is beautiful.

Enter Plan B.

Plan B is where the hours in a day fly by like an F-14 while I scramble to clean up, struggle to maintain a budget, work like a dog just to keep the "starter home" we still occupy two decades later, cook when I feel guilty, and make a valiant attempt at being a decent wife to the man I stepped out into the sunshine with.  The two kids, while desperately wanted and fiercely loved, added lines to my face and pounds to my ass that never appeared in the 1991 version of The Dream.  Also found on the cutting room floor were the parts where I pick a thankless, mentally exhausting career, the economy tanks, I care for a 95 year old with dementia and I spend my days off spinning my wheels in a haze of coffee and sleep deprivation.   Plan B is where I wonder, sometimes hourly, when the hell we are ever going to catch up, let alone get ahead.

Damn you, Plan B.

The honest, kick you in the balls side of me says:  Yep, Princess, not how you planned it, is it?    

Can't handle the curve?  Can't suck it up?  Boo hoo for you. You made your bed, now take a nap in it.   

The Princess side of me doesn't often rear it's whiny little entitled head. But today as the rain falls and I read about people who walked away from their homes getting $3000 checks to "help them start over" I get really, really pissed.   I flame about busting my ass to pay the mortgage, juggling bills like a circus freak to get out of debt, going to work each night to care for the "disabled" 30 year old opening a purse I could never afford to hand me their 'caid card, demanding I get them a prescription for motrin because "it's only a dollar on my insurance."  I field five or ten phone calls a day from Nana, who has spiraled downhill and is now like having a stubborn toddler to care for.  I remind myself that I still have fifty pounds to lose and I should be taking better care of myself.  I tell myself that I can't afford a stroke.  I consider medical marijuana.  I consider non-medical marijuana.  I hug my dog.  I cry a little.

 Then I start writing the Sequel to Plan B, because Whiny Princess is not my idea of a good Leading Lady.

I ponder the people who live on the street, in cars, and under the freeway overpasses. I remember the friends I had that never got the chance to have a Plan B.  I think about single moms who work three jobs and spend every minute fearing that someone is going to hurt their children while they're out trying desperately to support them.  I think of the friends I have who battle with angry children and have gotten crushed by spouses that left them alone and broken.  I feel embarrassed that I even consider that I might have a rough life.

I refill my empathy tank by playing loud music, dancing in my kitchen, and pouring a glass of whatever moves us to share with the man that is also starring in Plan B.  I celebrate years of happy memories.  I look at the things in my home that I worked hard for, things that make me happy.  I sneak to the door and listen through it while my daughter has her vocal lesson, thanking God I can afford her the opportunity to let her beautiful, perfect voice grow and shine.   I hug my dog.  I cry a little.  I look at the one wedding picture I liked in it's frame on the table, and I step out into the sunshine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ode to The Donald. A story for ER nurses.

I revisted some old drafts tonight, and stumbled across this one.  It's way past Nurse's Week, but I guarantee somewhere in the Metro Detroit area, my subject is well into his second or third pint of the day.  Here's to you, Donald.

In my constant attempt to lighten people up on Facebook, I posted a request to send me a smile, a memory or a joyful thought.  What I received was exactly that.  My friends reminded me of some of the funniest moments I witnessed as a nurse, as well as some thoughts that allowed me to reflect on seventeen years in a profession that is NOT for the faint of heart.

With National Nurse's Week approaching, I want to share with you the glue that holds us together; mentally, physically, and emotionally; as we practice the World's Second Oldest Profession.

I have written in the past about Stump Thumper, Groping Dead Man, and a few other memorable clients, but I have never shared with you my all time favorite patient: The Donald.  The Donald  is a professional, much like The Donald that you already have etched in your mind.  He has bad hair, a booming voice, his own sense of style and often holds audiences rapt as he works a room.  My Donald, however is not a wealthy financier. My Donald's home is the street and his prized possessions include empty Mohawk liquor bottles, a collection of hospital slippers, and numerous cast offs from my husband's "I can't wear these anymore" pile.  On any given day, The Donald identifies himself as a Doctor, The President, or Jack Nicholson's Brother.  He has braved the elements for many years now, and as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, being homeless here is no picnic.  He lives daily at an alcohol level that most of us would die from, the kind that college boys lie to their frat brothers about.  The Donald - forever etched in my heart.

It could be the busiest night in the universe at Hospital Z - a nuts to butts night as I used to call it.  People lined up from hell to breakfast in hallways, triage bays, and waiting rooms. As the Triage Coordinator Nurse I was responsible for all of them.  The ambulances were told "traumas, pediatrics and criticals only" but they pretended they never got that dispatch and would whoosh through the ambulance bay with a smug smile, knowing we had no choice but to take their patient, space or no space. Family members would approach me as I held my head in my hands, frantically trying to see if one of my colleagues could take "just one more" and stay within range of keeping their nursing license.  "Oh nurse," they would say,"My father (mother, brother, lesbian lover, baby daddy...) has been here two (three, four, eighty) hours... just when are you going to do something about that?"  Then they would try to stare me down as  I struggled not to make a fist and punch them in the throat.  It always seemed that just when I was at breaking point - ready to throw down my pen, yank off my badge and walk out the door, I would hear him - or more accurately, smell him as he blew through the ambulance bay on his stretcher-throne.  Waving to his public and insisting "I used to be a doctor here." EMS deposits his three garbage bags of crap and  uncerimoniously dumps him onto a gurney.  "He's all yours, Kimi." they would say with a smile.  No report necessary.  It was probably less than a day or two since he had been there last.  I knew more about The Donald's whereabouts than I did my own kids.  This is what happens to homeless alcoholics, people.  They are like a pinball getting bounced from ER to ER to alley to city limit. Never, ever, winning.  No one wants them in their backyard.

The Donald was, in a way, the perfect patient.  Stench aside, he was grateful, happy to be somewhere warm and more than willing to entertain the audience of waiting triage patients.  He was easily pacified by my response of "maybe someday" when he asked when he would get a bed.  He didn't threaten to tell his neighbor "the CEO of the hospital" about the shoddy care he felt was receiving as the true emergencies trumped him.  (Don't even bother with that one, people.  The more name dropping you do, the less we care.)  I loved The Donald because he was happy to just be.  He reminded me of a hyper little preschooler, asking a million questions and parroting everyone around him.  Sometimes, to keep him occupied, we would give him a cell phone, dial up former nurses and let Donald leave messages on their voicemail.  "Hello, Ellie?  It's me Don!  Hello?  Ellie?  Where did she go?" as we laughed hysterically in the background. Just a little voice from nightmare jobs past.

I cannot tell you the number of times I sifted through The Donald's belongings wearing a Hazmat suit, finding citations for public intoxication, napkins from Starbucks, Watchtower magazines, (apparently the Jehovahs will even hit up a cardboard box house) and discharge instructions from the six area hospitals he rotated through.  The discharge instructions would always make me laugh:  YOU ARE BEING TREATED TODAY FOR ALCOHOL INTOXICATION.  YOU MUST STOP DRINKING IMMEDIATELY!!!

As if.

After the securing of Donald's "valuables", I would bribe a couple friends to help me strip him.  On one memorable occasion, layer number nine came off to reveal a slinky purple nightie against his otherwise naked skin.  "Please!" cried Donald, "Don't take the nightie, it's my favorite."   "Donald," I asked, "Where did you get this beautiful nightie?"  Looking at me with a beaming toothless smile, he replied "The Dumpster at Lover's Lane."  And as you may have guessed, I let Donald go back to area C in his purple nightie, fresh slippers over his blackened frostbit toes and Elmer Fudd hunting cap on his head.  It was a beautiful thing.

One night, The Donald came in at 2am on a night that was eerily quiet.  It was a couple days before Christmas, and apparently the public was saving their "emergencies" for later, when they were done with their festivities.  It was well below freezing, and Donald was lacking in clothes.  Someone had robbed him and he had been turned away at the Salvation Army because, well, they don't take drunks. He was a mess.

Maybe it was because it was the holidays, maybe we were bored, but I like to think it's because we ER nurses are like The Grinch - possessing a big heart that is hidden under protective scar tissue.  Whatever the reason, we decided that The Donald was going to have a spa day.  We sprang into action, grabbing toiletries, towels, and basins.  We put Donald in the Decontamination Shower, soaped him up, had him brush his six teeth and wash his dirty hair.  We gave him lotion from our stash and in a short time, had him smelling like Midnight Pomegranate, Sensual Amber or some other restricted hospital fragrance.  Shirley took one for the team and gave him a pedicure while I found some trauma shears and gave him a haircut, "the first he had gotten in years", he said.  Donald smiled and cried and closed his eyes while we fussed over him like a bride, telling him how handsome he looked and that he should shape up and find himself a sugar mama.  When we were done we covered him up with warm blankets and put him in the Psychiatric Seclusion room so he could sleep in peace until he was somewhere close to sober, until we kicked him back to the street again.

But that wasn't all.

While we had been playing Steel Magnolias, other staff had been passing the hat and hitting up the doctors for a shopping spree.  Taking advantage of a 24 hour Meijer, Lizz purchased boots, hunting socks, long underwear, gloves and a new hat for The Donald.  We fished a coat out of the clothing closet (a.k.a. the Bum Bin), and set to work making a Christmas for The Donald.  We wrapped our gifts in Christmas paper and made a card.  The night progressed, and before day shift came in, we woke The Donald and told him that Santa had came.

I will someday be decrepit and demented in my own little world, but I hope I never forget the reaction that Donald had.  The joy on his face when he realized that there were presents  and they were for him!  was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced as a nurse.  He unwrapped his gifts carefully with shaking hands, ooohing and ahhhhing as he put everything on.  We gave him his discharge papers, crossing out "YOU ARE INTOXICATED" and replacing it with "MERRY CHRISTMAS DONALD!"  We loaded him up with Christmas cookies and we sent him on his way, feeling quite full of ourselves and our grand gestures.

I would like to tell you that The Donald went into rehab, became sober and is now an investment banker.

But I won't.

Because the ER isn't Disney World, no matter what administration is trying to sell us.  The ER is real, mean, ungrateful and really ugly at times.  You probably aren't going to get a "WOW" experience when you hit our doors, and for that you can thank your fellow man; who stretches us thin with non-emergencies and abuse of the system. We have been beaten down quite well, thank you very much.  But still we try.  And we never stop laughing.  Especially when The Donald came back two days later, without his new boots and socks.  His response when we asked him where they went? "I traded the boots for some good vodka and boy those socks, they wipe your butt right clean after a good dump".

God bless The Donald, and God Bless ER nurses everywhere.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tri-ing Again - Part Two (as in, read Part One First)

The best part of a triathlon, in my limited experience, is the part where you stand still, and just take it all in.

Every size and shape, the bright colors, the palpable excitement; it's intoxicating.  It doesn't matter if you are there to win it or there to just finish it, at this moment in time you are all the same - you are triathlon participants.

I stood there with my bike, looking over the lake, the cemetery, the flags, the buoys and the transition area.  I took a deep breath and I spent a moment just loving life. The times that I thought I would never be an athlete again got pushed out of my head, and I replaced it with thoughts of being strong, persevering and conquering.  Bill always tells me "Be Here Now".  For a change, I was.

Moe and I unloaded our things in the transition area and headed toward the lake to warm up.  Since the water temp was at 82 degrees, wet suits were declared unnecessary and people wearing them were warned that they would be tolerated but not eligible for awards.  Personally, I would die of heat stroke in a wet suit in 82 degree water but I guess that is just me.

The next best part of a triathlon?  The part where you spot "Your People". Seeing Bill and Casey walking down the hill toward me was calming and exciting at the same time.  The last time I did a triathlon, in 2000, Casey was (unbeknownst to me) growing in my belly.  Now here she was, dancing down the hill wearing the shirt Travis wore that day 12 years ago that said "My Mom Tri's".  Double entendre totally intended.

          She had highjacked my race shirt and created this masterpiece:

   With my crappy Danskin issued latex swim cap and my beautiful shirt, I was ready to roll.

We lined up for the swim, Moe and I in the front with all intentions of heading to the right and staying out of "the Pack".  I am comfortable in one thing - my swimming ability.  I know how to swim in open water and have thousands of hours logged in the pool for the last 35 years.  This was my happy place. I wanted this part. They counted it down, and we were off.  I am the one by the right buoy.

After clearing that buoy people start to find their spot.  I stayed right to make way for stronger swimmers to pass, and as I did, I caught a hefty kick in the ribs from the person in front of me. I sucked in a huge mouthful of water and had I not been panicking about breathing, I would have laughed at the irony that the news report would read "Although a lifelong swimmer, she drowned 3 minutes into the tirathlon".

I had serious regrouping to do, which I attempted by swimming breaststroke until I could take a normal breath again.  My ribs were sore but were taking a back seat to the ragged breaths I was taking.  It took me a quarter mile to recover in time to find that my damn cheap swim cap was coming off.  I had chosen not to wear goggles, not wanting another thing to contend with, and I would stick with that choice in the future, but I will definitely go the two cap route next time around. That way if I lose the race cap, oh well, there is another underneath.  That's about the only significant race advice you're going to get from me, so file it.

I rounded the buoy and headed back, ending up 12th in my age group and visibly pissed off when I hit land.  My happy place had not been at all happy, but I dropped that thought and headed for transition, only to feel a slap on my butt as Moe caught up and said "tag, you're it".  I knew it was the last time I would see her for a couple hours, and I was so proud of how well she swam.  She listened to every bit of advice I offered and put it to use, and then she proceeded to shine.  Like any good swim coach, I was busting with pride.

I had decided a long time ago to take this race and make it my own.  I wanted to take extra time in transition to make sure my feet were dry, my socks were on right and I had everything I needed.  Extra transition time goes against everything a true triathlete does, but it was important to me to not have to stop to adjust things.  And I needed to breathe.

I ran my bike to the start and hopped on.  My past experience proved that you do not take a mountain bike to a triathlon so I had done some homework and visited the local bike shop to get fitted for a decent seat and hybrid tires.  Wow, what a difference that made.  I actually beat my bike time from 12 years ago, even though I was passed by 50+  people who either called out "on your left" or "Go Mom Go", reading the back of my Casey designed shirt.  Of course I preferred the latter.

And because it's me - I am going to go on a little tirade here.  In the bike leg, if there is an ENTIRE road open and I am ALREADY on the right of it, is it really necessary to scream "ON YOUR LEFT" as you pass me?  I suspect not, and I suspect this is some sort of ego boosting, if-you-were-a-guy-you-would-have-a-boner sort of inflation you need to make yourself feel good.  But me?  I think you kind of suck. And I think you truly suck if you were the girls that never, not once, bothered to acknowledge the hundreds of people in bright green t shirts that came out on a Sunday morning to voluntarily cheer for YOU.  I really don't think you lose precious seconds by flashing a smile, and believe me, you missed the whole point if you blew past these amazing fans without a thought.  By the second bike loop, the older couple in their lawn chairs outside  their house pegged me as there's "the girl who always smiles".  I loved those people, and I appreciate everyone who volunteers for these type of things. You rock.

The bike leg included the inevitable hills, and here was where I wished I could have an actual triathlon bike.  Here is where I chatted myself up BIG TIME about how strong I was, how I was going to beat this hill and fly down, alternating with giggling because the "ON YOUR LEFT" screamers were now reduced to breathlessly panting it as they struggled by.

At the bottom of the hill you turned right, and there was a parking lot to your left.  It caught my eye because my favorite coffee shop; Biggby Coffee was there.  As I was going past I saw a girl in red, jumping up and down and yelling "Go Kim, Go!".  On closer inspection I saw that it was Susie, a nurse I worked with who lived in Howell and got up early on her Sunday morning to cheer.  For me.  She came to cheer for me.  How awesome is that?  Awesome enough for me to say it again - if you are ever considering volunteering or cheering someone on who is involved in any sort of big race, you should do it.  You have NO idea how motivating it is to see a familiar face and how it kicks you into the gear you didn't think you had left.  Susie Papson, I will never forget what you did for me.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I finished the bike, thankful for the brick workouts Will had suggested. Previously my Old Lady Hip had been on fire after the bike, but the brick workouts taught me to work with it and move slower while stretching it out. Amazingly, Old Lady Hip was not giving me too much trouble.  Whether adrenaline or intervention of the Gods, I thank her for taking the day off.  I grabbed Moe's Made in Detroit hat (I used  wedding rules for the tri - something borrowed, something blue etc.) and prepared to face my nemesis, The Run.

There are people who catch the virus of running.  It creeps up on them, as viruses do, and before they know it they are attacked and have the magical running virus.  They embrace their new sport, sing it from the rooftops, post their times, and spread their new virus to everyone they know.

Everyone except me, who apparently has been well vaccinated. I am immune to the running virus.  But I press on, hoping that one day my tolerance will be low and I will catch it, thus becoming one of the Greyhound/Gazelle/Jamaican Sprinter runners I visualize as I slog through my miles.  The same ones I am watching now, coming to the finish line as I start the last leg of my tri.

Time to move, time for tunes.  Digging around in the front of my bra I turned on my speaker and hit play.  I am not stupid, I know this will never fly at future races and will never do it again, but today my music was a security blanket that I desperately needed.  I fell into step, fell into breath and headed toward the cemetery with Amy Lee's strong beautiful voice drifting up from my boobs.

I had three goals when I started the race that day. Number one was to finish.  Number two was to smile the whole time and enjoy every moment.  Number three was the most important to me.  It was: never, ever to walk during the run. For me, it would not have seemed like I truly accomplished the tri if I walked the run. I respect that you have to do what you have to do, but this was my promise to myself, the part that made it real and the challenge I put up for the athlete that still resides in my heart.

As I anticipated, Moe lapped me on my first pass through the cemetery.  She warned me of a big hill that was at the end of the first loop and as she went by said "YOU. DO. NOT. WALK. THAT. HILL. Big long powerful strides up the hill.  You Can DO THIS".  And away she went, like a real gazelle.  Long legs flying and looking like the runner she has been since I met her in high school.  How totally appropriate that this was when the "FALK" headstone came into view. It needed to be done. So with the Beastie Boys playing from my boobs and the thought of the big hill ahead, I acknowledged the late Mr. Falk at the top of my lungs.  And I felt pretty damn good about it. Sometimes you just need a good falk to make yourself feel better.

Running, running, running over dirt, wood chips, gravel.  I kept running.  I ran up the big hill and down the big hill and smiled for the man who was wildly cheering for me as I entered the second and final loop. I read tombstones and ran for young people who didn't get the chance to run enough in their life.  I ran for the people in pictures who smiled at me from their marble headstones.  I just ran, and it felt really, really good.

As I approached the road leading to the big hill, I was alone.  A lot of people had passed me, and I wasn't really sad, just reflective about where I had been, and where I was now.  I knew in my heart I could finish this, even if it was going to be alone, and well after the people I came here with.  I looked up and saw a figure running the wrong way down the path, I wondered who would run the wrong way with everyone there to direct you.  And I stopped wondering when I saw that it was Moe.

She had finished.  She had taken off her medal and her timing chip and she had come back to run.  With me.  She came to help me get over that hill, a reality and a metaphor at the same time. She came to be my friend.

Up the hill I went for the last time that day.  Up the hill as she reminded me all the things that hill represented. To the top of the hill as she reminded me that my husband and daughter were waiting for me.  Down the hill as I cried for the first time that day.  Down the path as we headed for the finish line together.

I am crying as I type this.  There are so many things in life that are uncertain, unhappy, emotionally and mentally draining.  But when you know you have people in your corner that will never give up on you; how can you stop trying?  As I ran toward the finish I promised myself to never stop trying.

Our daughters came into view.  Casey and Natalie, three months apart in age, polar opposites in looks, quite alike in whimsy.  Jumping and screaming and waving a sign that as I got closer read "Go Mom Go!" with the appropriate 11 year old girl hearts, music notes and smiley faces plastered all over it.  People on the hill at the finish clapping, cheering, pointing me to the end.  The end, it was right in front of me.  I just had to run a little more.  I was tired, and like every single time I got tired that day, something happened to keep me going.  That something was this:

      The Danskin People let our daughters and my friend help me bring it on home.

So I did.

I got my medal, looked for my husband and let the tears come.  Just for a little bit, because those tears weren't sad ones. I let Bill's words into my head and stored them for future moments when I would need them to lift me up.  I posed for the pictures and found my stuff and declined the invitation to go out to breakfast because at that point, I just wanted to go home and eat bacon there.  Bill made me the best omelette I have ever had after a shower where I discovered the reason I did not run like a gazelle.  A fat leech, stuck to my ankle, full of the amazing running ability that he had spent all morning sucking out of me.

That's the story I'm going with, anyway.

This is the end of my triathlon post.  But it's also another chapter of my journey to being a healthier, happier Kim.  And it very well may be the beginning of the book that's titled "You Too Can Get Your Shit Together at 47".  I am off to start training again.  I have a 10K to run on Thanksgiving, because everyone needs to own a Turkey Bitch. Wish me luck.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tri-ing Again, Part One.

Last year at this time I had blown off the second triathlon I had signed up for.

I was angry, dejected and bitter. How dare this surgery not have made me lose everything I wanted?  How dare it be more successful for literally everyone around me that had it?  How dare it be a year later and I am STILL fighting?


It's now two years since my gastric sleeve surgery. I am still fighting. And if you are considering weight loss surgery, you need to know that it WILL NOT do all the work for you.  It will not repair your head or the scabs on your heart.  You will continue to be your own worst enemy unless you embrace that fact.

However, two years later I realize that there is a difference between bitching about it and fighting for it.  I remembered, painfully, that this had to be what I was going to make of it.  Just me.  This is me, evolving very slowly.

Often, I need a major face slap to knock my goals in line and take stock of the important things.  I am fortunate to have some very strong women in my life that aren't afraid to do that for me. (I suspect they rock-paper-scissors with each other for the privilege).  So when Moe sent me an email in the spring inviting me to participate in Danskin's Sprint Triathlon, I put some real thought into it.  Her invitation included options - be the swimmer in a relay team, do the half sprint, do the whole tri, check out the website and decide.  No pressure. This is the gentle version of the face slap, just so you know.

I clicked over to the site and pondered the choices, halting to a stop when I saw the "Athena" category, which I have pasted here for you:

 You WANT to be scored against women who are above 150 lbs (pursuant to USAT Rules for Athena)
You compete on an individual basis within your “age group” BUT you will be scored against all other participants (regardless of age) who checked off ATHENA when entering
You will receive an Official Race time within the Athena category
You will be eligible for Awards (top three) within the Athena category

What.  The. Hell.

150 pounds.  Is fat.  If you are a Danskin Triathlete.  If you are me, it is your god damned goal weight.  It is a size 8.  It is I can buy the thong and walk through the neighborhood in it.  It is my nirvana.  

Then and there, I clicked "Sprint Triathlon Age Group Category", dropped $100 bucks and a large amount of attitude along with it.  Then I called Moe and said, "I am signed up, I am not swimming for anyone, I am not in the half sprint, I am not in the fatties race, I am in the sprint and I am going to OWN THIS BITCH.

Big slap.  BIG SLAP!  Did you hear it?  Because I felt it.

And so it began.  I bought the brightest funnest running shoes I could find.  I found sites like this:  Plus Runner - and read every entry . I stole the good goggles from my daughter.  I built a playlist.  I got new tires on the bike I rode 12 years ago, and thought about it, and got an awesome seat too.  And then, I trained.

I trained as "That Girl".  The girl you see running slowly down the street in her baggy, un-runnerish clothing. The girl in the lane that you didn't think she should be in at lap swim.  (Competitive swimmers get fat - but they don't forget how to swim).  The girl who rode the bike endlessly around the mile track at the park because she wasn't ready for hills.  The girl that you are glad you're not while you are driving by, but you hope she succeeds because at least, she is trying. 

In between trying, I tried to fit life, work, and all the crap that comes with it.  I was not always successful.  I sometimes chose sleep over a run.  I often chose alcohol the night before a training session, because drinks with my husband or friends are things I treasure and won't give up.  I read and cheered as my friend's daughter Alida did a play by play of her own friend competing in (and conquering) his first Ironman.  I was inspired. I decided that while I will never be an Ironman, I could definitely be a Sprint Triathlete again.

The week before the tri was emotionally taxing.  Since this post is not about that, I refer you to my prior one.  The Friday before the race involved me coming off 4 days of work, 3 missed days of training and like a miracle - a morning run that gave me a glimpse of that elusive epiphany that makes people sign up for marathons.  I don't love running.  I never will.  But damn, it works.  Since starting to run I began losing weight again, my pants are looser and I feel my abdominal muscles.   How did I celebrate this?  By staying up with my husband, drinking Johnny Walker Black out of his Bladerunner rocks glass and talking until 3am.  Sometimes the wrong decisions are the right ones in disguise.

Four of us were racing together.  Moe and her two friends Candace and Amy. We picked up our race packets Saturday and reviewed the course.  We swam in the lake so we could get the muck and seaweed factor straight in our head.  We walked the run, which led through a cemetery next to the lake.  I noted that there was a stone that said "Falk" and decided when I was in the pain I  anticipated I would be in at that point, I could yell "FALK" and blame it on reading tombstones if someone had a problem with it.  A half mile down I found another stone that said "Fockstoff" and filed that one, too.  I drove home and hydrated all day, because that is what  iWill - Ironman Rock Star  told me to do when he patiently answered my emails loaded with training questions.  I hydrated a little more, to cover last night's JW Black debacle.  I packed my bag.  And just to calm my fears - I made a decision to stuff a little speaker with my iPod duct taped to it down my bra for the run.  Sometimes you just need to break the rules a little and all the time -  I just plain run better when there is music. The penalty for this infraction? Not being eligible for placement awards.  Yeah, now you see why I wasn't that concerned. 

I spent the night at Moe's, where I dreamed about whales swimming under me while I raced.  She woke me up at 4:30 with coffee (I just love that about her) and said "Let's do this".  I ate my English muffin and canadian bacon and stopped at 2 cups of coffee (sorry, Will this is why you do the Ironman and I do not) and began the hydrating routine again. We took off - more awake than I have ever been at 5:30am.   

I had stuffed all the anger I had built up over the last few days into the back of my head. Slowly, I tried to reprocess it and make it work to my advantage.   I smiled as I read the words Travis sent, sad that he would miss this but happy he had a job to go to.  I thought strong thoughts.  I thought about the people who loved me, who were texting me early on their Sunday morning to wish me luck and I breathed all that love in.   I was as ready as I was going to get.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Velveteen Rabbit

I study myself in the mirror a lot lately.  I haven't written about my weight loss journey in a while, although it is moving along at the slow but steady clip I expected it to. I promise pictures and an update; soon.

I just don't want to write about that tonight, though.  That's another post.

Tonight I want to write about growing up.  Growing old. The other journey I am taking, like it or not.

Last night I took care of a beautiful 87 year old lady.  I triaged her from the stretcher, where the EMS crew had carefully moved her; treating her with the respect and dignity she deserved.  I am passionate about our elderly patients.  They are the ones that have paid into this ridiculous system their entire lives.  Too often they are treated like castaways, and people are too busy to take the time to care about them.  But I do.  My friend Michael says that the elderly are "little pieces of history", which I think is brilliant.  I have a love for old people that keeps me at my job when I would much rather walk out the door and never look back.

As part of my triage, I asked my beautiful patient how tall she was, pen poised to write the standard five foot six or so.  When she replied "I am six feet tall", I paused and looked at her long legs hanging over the end of the stretcher and then looked her up and down.  "I'm 145 pounds" she said, making me cringe at my goal weight number that I often feel I will never see again.  

I stopped writing, put my pen in my pocket and said to her; "Miss P, you are a beautiful woman, have you always been six feet tall, or were you taller in your youth?"  "Oh Baby," she said, "I was a dancer, I was six foot two inches, but age has robbed me of my full height.
Now I am getting shorter every year, and I just hate it."

Age, the great equalizer.  Someone walking by this woman, regarding her as an old lady on a stretcher, would see just that.  But someone that had the pleasure of a conversation received a gift - the vision of a young, graceful dancer with her head held high, legs extended, arms regally moving like water through a stream.  I know this because I could see it in her eyes.  They sparkled.  They danced.  And I fell in love with yet another elderly patient; a little piece of history.  The thing that keeps me in the door of nursing.

My body is changing.  From the surgery, and from the great equalizer of age.  I could be a pessimist and focus on the sags, the etch a sketch screen of stretch marks, the lines on my face, the hair that I cannot bring myself to let go gray.  But I am a more forgiving person now.  I see stretch marks that brought me babies and lessons and skin that survived the period of my life that taught me to keep fighting.  The lines in my face? They came from smiling, definitely from laughing, and from the contentment of the things I love. The ever present coin slot between my eyebrows that presents when I am concentrating, sagging in defeat, darkened by anger or moved to tears by the sound of my daughter's singing.  My scars are art - the composition of everything I am.  And I can live with that.

One of my favorite books is The Velveteen Rabbit.  I believe that from reading it at a young age, I gained an understanding of what beauty really is.  I want to share with you my favorite paragraph, because I believe it epitomizes the path to growing old and the reason you should find some peace in your lines and sags.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Someday when I am old, I hope someone looks into my eyes and can see them dancing.   

Friday, February 17, 2012

My Right Brain

I was not a noteworthy student when I was younger.  The trilogy of sassy mouth, undiagnosed ADHD and Catholic school yielded a lot of "needs to improve" report cards.  Math and Science were unbearable, English no fun because the nuns did not appreciate the candor in my stories.  "Why can't you just follow directions?" my Dad would beg me.  "Because it's boring and  it doesn't make me laugh." was my response.  "If you just try, you would get this." Dad would say as the numbers did the conga on the paper in front of me, trapped helplessly between my drawings of evil nuns and mermaids happily swimming in an ocean free of algebra.

Traditional school.  It's not for everyone.

When the screws were applied and tightened as I entered my nursing school prerequisites, I stepped up.  Repeating essentially every math and science class I did poorly in during high school was something I can remember like it was yesterday.  Tears splotching my algebra homework as Bill sat across from me at our kitchen table with the patience of a saint; trying to help me understand as the numbers did the conga between drawings of the dream garden I wanted to make someday and baby name ideas for the little person growing inside my belly.  Even in college, I couldn't stop my pencil from straying to the margins and sketching my dreams.

The fact that I graduated in the top 10 of my nursing class told me that I did have it in me to succeed in school.  The idea of more math, science, and God help me; management classes told me that I would be perfectly content without a Masters or even a Bachelors in Nursing.   There's a reason they hire Diploma nurses, and it's because we hit the ground running and  kick ass on the floor, always.  I will never be ashamed of not having 13 acronyms after my name, and am often skeptical of the nurses that do.  In a crisis, give me a fellow RN that knows her stuff, not someone that can spew theory while a patient dies in front of them.

Which brings me here.

To the blank screen begging to be filled with my beloved words and ideas and freestyle grammar.  My love of writing is quickly becoming a necessity as I struggle to find meaning in nursing circa Obamacare, 2012.  I want, no, I crave a place that lets me unload and empty all the thoughts that act like conga numbers in my head.  This is my margin.  My sketch pad.  My happy place.

My friend Moe did not sparkle on the academic front in high school either.  She took the road less traveled and went to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.  My dream college.  Together we share a love of creativity, art and all the things the Right Brain handles.  Melissa is far, far more advanced than I in the art world, having built her own photography business with a loyal following for the last 13 years.

Melissa has a successful career, but last year, she had an epiphany.  She did some searching and stripped her soul down to the core and decided that Professional photography was not all she wanted to accomplish in life. As a result she took a sabbatical from her business and is now experimenting in all things art to find a new passion.  To say I am envious is an understatement, but I have learned that you can be envious and still love someone at the same time, so I rejoice with her over every "a-ha moment" and laugh with her over every failure.  She is sketching in her margins, too.  I have no doubt that she will end up in a better place.

I love to make jewelry, and a few years back I made a lot of it.  That is, until people pissed me off and I stopped.  Making and re-making something 5 times over because someone couldn't articulate what they wanted frustrated the hell out of me, and even worse, making a custom order of something I loathed gave me a pounding headache.  People thinking I would repair things they broke for free (even if I hadn't made it) sent me over the edge completely, and I packed all my stuff away. Last  summer my industrious husband took my box of sterling findings and beads to the "cash for silver" place and netted over a grand, while I fretted that my jewelry days would never come back.  I missed my right brain activities.

My garden, taking and editing pictures, redecorating my home, and Pinterest inspired projects comfort me while I struggle to find my place in the grown up world.   My birthday trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts inspired me to keep searching until I find the things that satisfy the creative bones in my body.  My friend's gift of the Voodoo doll above that has "magical powers to inspire creativity" made me smile and promise myself not to give up on my dream of being a published writer.  And last night, as I made a resin pendant in a jewelry workshop with Melissa, I realized that there is a great big world of untapped art that I need to experience.  In the workshop, they encouraged you to make a small charm called a Patera using a word from a transfer sheet.  I mentally disposed of "love" "dream" "wish" and, with a nod to the nuns who wanted me to "just conform", chose this:

I then laughed to myself as I thought of the million things I wanted to  put in one of these pendants as I sat there faced with the limited paper and transfers offered to us.  I realized at the moment that I am not done with jewelry after all.

Nursing is an art, I truly believe that.  Once I struggled through the equations and Kreb's cycle and acid-base balances of a blood gas,  I shelved them and concentrated on the part that involves caring, inspiring, teaching and love.  This is an art I will never fully leave, but one that I need to back away from for a bit to make room for the things that will make me whole.

I love my right brain.  I rely on Bill for the left brain stuff, so I am essentially all set.  Now I just need to find my path, one little step at a time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Lexicon of Lottery - A gift for Disgruntled Nurses

I began to write a post a couple nights ago that I was just loving. Halfway through, I ran it by Bill, my go-to person on all things I just love because he has the gift of gently acknowledging my shortcomings.  My beloved post was given the thumbs down for publication.

And I was pissed.

God forbid, I wrote about work. Even without giving specifics, naming names or suggesting diagnosis, I was advised  warned I shouldn't post it for fear of "losing your damn job".

Ya'll will have to sit on pins and needles until I hit the lotto and can write all I want about the mayhem and foolishness I've seen in my career.  Do you ever do that? Daydream about hitting the lotto and what you would do when it happened?  Ask any nurse what their plans include, and I bet the number one answer would be: quit my job.  I know that's mine.  But we are funny, we nurses.  After we took a vacation, drank to excess and found a home where we could live like hermits we would still find a way to take care of people.  Because that's just how we are.  We truly love people, it's just that we're wired to take only so much before our brains explode.  After which Environmental "Services", being union, would remind everyone that cleaning up nurse grey matter is not in their contract.  Because that's how they are.

I would still take care of people, rest assured.  And if I ever do hit the lotto I would take care of people I choose in the following ways:

The Kim's So Tired Hotel for Exhausted Night Shift Nurses

Overworked? Underpaid? Haven't experienced REM sleep since 1992?  Then step into a world of magical bliss, where you're greeted with adult beverages served by muscular, shirtless male models who tell you how pretty you are.  Step into a steaming hot tub with Barry White crooning over the bumping Bose sound system.  Relax while the Xanax mist envelopes you, encouraging your weary brain not to give a rat's ass about your employer's latest shenanigans.  Wrap up in a soft fluffy robe then take to your bed dressed in 800 thread count sheets and down comforters.  Be sure to eat the chocolate dipped Ativan on your pillow before you fall into 12 hours of dreamless heavenly slumber in your sound proof sleeping chamber.  When you awaken, you'll feast on the finest chocolate croissants and all you can eat bacon in the garden room, where no one is allowed to speak until three cups of coffee have been consumed.  A foot massage is mandatory before you step off into another day of spirit breaking abuse.  

To qualify for your free stay, you must be a non-administrative patient caregiver who has been called a bitch, slut or whore at least six times in the last week.  Being bitten, punched or spit on by drunk/stoned/off their meds "clients" allows you an automatic upgrade to the Penthouse, where medical marijuana is at your disposal and a candlelight massage is offered every hour on the hour.

The Jerry Springer Green Room

Dealing with a family of hysterical red necks?  Have three or more visitors in pajama pants and braless camisoles?  Tattoo to tooth ratio of 3:1 or better?  Nurse Kim has you covered!  Throw the whole crowd into the Jerry Springer Green room; a soundproof, padded arena equipped with a steel cage and burly WWE wannabes to control that hot mess.  Pretend cameras are mounted on the ceilings to give occupants the sensation of being on reality television that they crave. Full sugar sodas and Little Debbie products are provided for your ill behaved, unvaccinated children's snacking needs. We'll even wash their nicotine  infused coats for free before they go back to the home where "we only smoke outside". 

Ready for discharge? Our purple windowless van transports everyone back to the double wide.  Free Nascar or Nickleback tank tops to the first 20 visitors every Friday.

 The Jerry Springer Green Room's mission is to free medical staff from the throes of family drama so you can safely remove wallet chains, eagle necklaces and "Badass Beer" encrusted belt buckles in the tranquil environment you deserve.

The Nana Brown Home for the Aged

Welcome Seniors to the Nana Brown Memorial Home for the Aged.  Our staff has been hand picked by a professional lackey granddaughter. Here you will find geriatric loving, English speaking nurses with functioning brain cells who truly enjoy caring for you and your repetitive requests.
In our happy, spacious building you will find a swimming pool for water aerobics (ornate flowery swim caps provided and encouraged), shuffle board, Canasta tables, rental dogs for you to cuddle, rental grandchildren to give hard candy to, and a beauty salon for those all important Thursday wash and sets.  Daily bathing is provided and dentures are clearly labeled at night to prevent those awkward exchange mishaps. Pedicures available to male residents who sign a contract stating they will never get one in a public venue again.  Font on all reading material is set at 32 and continuous loops of the Price Is Right and Murder, She Wrote are shown in our ampitheatre. 

Our 9pm snack of ice cream with Ambien sprinkles is mandatory and your Craftmatic Adjustable Bed will be cranked up or down upon your arrival.  Daily lectures include:  Prevent the Beetus by Wilfred Brimley and You Too Can Live Like a Princess After 90 by the world famous Nana Brown. 

To qualify for admission, the approval board must meet your family and you must be willing to excommunicate them if we find them unsavory.  No bitter old ladies or dirty old men need apply.

Kim's Respite Center for Freaked Out Moms

Thought you could do it all?  Realize you can't?  Need a stroller free trip to Target?  Looking for more than a desperate three minute grope session with The Man before that kid needs something again?

The Mommy Respite Center is at the ready to help you get your groove back.  Toss that screaming child into the arms of loving, hearing impaired women who were gypped out of grandchildren of their own.  Shop Target in peace while our pseudo grandmas rock and spoil your baby in a serene setting free of Baby Einstein videos and overstimulation.  Our staff of retired NICU nurses are screened and experienced in the latest soothing techniques and will not judge you for being unable to breastfeed.  Two, six and twelve hour stays available with priority appointments for women who sucked it up and didn't schedule "me time" in the first year of life.  You'll come back for that baby rested, rejuvenated and beaming in post coital bliss.  Try us today! 

Yup.  Those things right there.  The above are all things near and dear to my heart and how I wish I could make them happen.  That would be my dream job - professional philanthropist.  And I wouldn't fire myself for writing about it, either. 

I feel better just thinking about it.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Answering a challenge.

My never-met-in-person friend Alida, is a writer.  I adore her words, her delivery, her reality.  She does not know this, but she is the person that inspired me to take my own words to task and push the "enter" button when Blogger asked "Create this Blog?"  Words set me free, and to her, I am grateful.

Alida's writing has ebbed and flowed as she faced the reality of her 30's last year.  It was a rough year, a year of lessons. One of those years that you have to work hard to make sense of.  One of those years that I have experienced as well, and felt my eyes well up with tears as I learned that someone else barreled through loss and love and life.

If I could tell Alida one thing, it would be to ride the wave.  I loved being young, but for selfish reasons.  I was carefree, thin, passionate and in love. My 30's and 40's have thrown me curves  that would leave a major leaguer swinging out of his shoes.  But still I ride my waves.  Because life is a lesson, and we all know what happens when you blow off the lessons, right?  I am still passionate and in love, not so much thin and definitely not as carefree, but I attribute that to the curve balls balls that life  throws as you grow up. The ones that are making me a patient, stronger hitter as I travel through my days.  

In her blog, which you will find here: Pantsless In Seattle   Alida poses the question: What are some of the things life has taught you?

I love a challenge.  I love words.  I love the people who got me here.  Alida taught me the word "loveful." What are some of the things life has taught me?  These are my loveful answers:

  • Don't look back.  You're not going that way.
  • Real friends are more important than many friends.
  • Sometimes simply showing up is winning.
  • Don't worry about being perfect.  You never will be.  That's the beauty of you.
  • Never confuse education with intelligence.  Thank you, nursing for teaching me this on about a million levels.  
  • Your gut will tell you what you really want an answer to.  See above.
  • Be kind.  You know not what people are battling.  Your smile may be a beacon in their dark and your words may be the hand that helps them up.   
  • Laugh.  A day that you don't laugh is a wasted day. Take this one from a girl that laughs at the most inappropriate times - ever.
  • Learning to ignore things is one of the paths to inner peace.
  • About paths: Your path is yours.  Another person's path is theirs.  Neither of you is wrong.  When your paths meet, you'll see why.
  • Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
  • Books are not an option.  Reading is bliss. 
  • Sleep solves a lot of problems.
  • You will never regret saying I love you.  Really, you won't.
  • Comfortable underwear is a necessity of life.  (Thanks, Nana).
  • Your career is not set in stone.  Change what makes you chained.
  • Humility is the greatest trait a person can offer the world.
  • A glass of wine under the stars is how marriages survive.
  • Music is freedom, joy, passion, tears.  Music is free love. Get lost in it.
  • Saying no is the most liberating thing in the world.  And it gets easier each time you put yourself first.
  • Dogs are the truest souls on Earth.
  • Water and everything you can do in it is free therapy.
  • The smallest effort will make a difference.
  • You can never hug your children enough.   

Thank you Alida, for breaking through my writer's block and reminding me what's important.  

Much love to you as you ride your waves.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Anywhere but here.

Heads up, ya'll.  I have the stomach flu.  And if you had asked me 10 hours ago, I would have surely told you I was dying.  Right now my people are avoiding me like the plagued victim that I am, leaving me no choice but to take to the keyboard and pop out the random thoughts that went through my head as I rode the nausea and vomiting train today.  And yes, I will Clorox Wipe the keyboard when I am done.

My flu hit me at work.  How bad does it suck to be starting an IV and feel the gurgle in your stomach that says "it's not a good idea to continue this endeavor",  immediately followed by your brain's warning: "Do NOT try to fart this one away, it will be disastrous"?" I heed my brain's warning, but I stick with the IV start.  I gurgle again. And I look at my friend Michael working on the other side of the patient and say "I'm  going to the bathroom.  NOW."  And I'm off.  I run to the bathroom and throw open the door to find...the floor guy.  Damn floor guy,  waxing floors at work on our shift.  He is always inconveniencing me in some small way but this time he has completely outdone himself.  I blast down the hall, panicking now, my destination the teeny bathroom outside xray.  I make it. Barely. I no longer care that there are people on the other side of this door, I am doubled over. I pray that this is a one shot deal, knowing full well that it is actually the dawn of a really ugly last three hours at work.  I cringe at the thought of a hospital bathroom being my solace.  "Anywhere but here," I say.  "Please God?" (Not that I am counting on God's cooperation in this matter, but I can't exactly pray to Wilfred Brimley, who I believe kind of looks like God.)  I wobble back to the unit, where Michael notes my pale face and shaky hands.  This?  This is not good.

I keep pushing through work.  I try to triage a girl that presents for "vomiting for 3 hours," but I find myself wishing I could vomit all over her and say "I would give a million dollars not to be throwing up here right now, yet you show up after 3 hours of puking?  Ass."  I am hateful, and it presents itself in the form of more vomiting in the teeny tiny bathroom with the very dirty floor.

I prep for the drive home:  big pink bucket, towel, nerves of steel.  Inevitably, I hit every single red light on my three mile drive. I cry a little; pitiful, fluish girl that I am.  I pull into driveway, with a fleeting thought that my house looks very similar to welcoming Buddhist Temple.  (It could not be farther from one.)  I hit the door shedding coat, scrubs, ID badge and bra as I head for the mecca of my bed.  Toss on a nightshirt.  Curl into fetal position. Groan. Moan. Stomach cramps. Bathroom. Rest on cool (clean) tile floor. Crawl to bed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  

In between repeats, I ponder.  When your stomach hurts, you think about anything else to distract you from how much your stomach hurts.  I think about the maker of Zofran and how they should be elevated to Stomach Flu Sainthood.  I think about people who have cancer and deal with nausea every single day.  I pray for them, because I cannot imagine the hell they go through.  I think about, of all things, my Mother.  I know, I don't write about her too often and I have my reasons, but sometimes when you are sick you think about your Mom and wish it could be like it was when you were little.  My Mother didn't care how sick you were; you got up, sat in the chair and watched as she cracked the window, let in the fresh air and changed your sheets.  And when you got into bed again, (in the fresh pajamas she made you put on after she brushed your hair off your face) you suddenly felt like everything just might be OK, after all.  I never forget that when I am sick, and I wished, for a minute, that someone would do that for me as I laid there alone.

I sleep the fitful sleep of the flu, grateful for the increasing amount of time between episodes.  I dodge a phone call from Nana, because I do not have the strength to yell into the phone so she can hear me. I review my day and try to understand why people would want to be anywhere but in their own home when they have the flu.  That one, I leave alone because I will never understand the logic of people who show up in the ER if they have thrown up less than 2 days, let alone 2 hours.  Eventually, My Knight in Shining Armour arrives home from work with the only request I ever have when I throw up.  Coke Slurpee, never diet, with a little bit of Cherry Fanta Slurpee on top.  Slushy heaven in a little green cup.  With a blue straw.  Always. I don't get better if it's not a blue straw.  That's part one of recovery.  Part two is Vernors, good old Michigan Made Vernors, and if you don't have it in your parts, I bet your flu/hangover/morning sickness lasts twice as long because Vernors, well Vernors is nectar of the Gods.  No other ginger ale measures up.  All this hullabaloo from a girl who doesn't drink pop any other time in her life.  Isn't that funny?  I have no explanation other than it just works.

That first sip of Slurpee after a day of everything going the wrong way in my esophagus makes me think that there might be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of food I have vomited all day long.  Holding my breath, hoping, praying it  When it does, I send the creator of Slurpees to the Sainthood Review Board as well.  It could be the snowiest, messiest, grayest day on Earth, but when I get my Slurpee, the sunbeams bust through my world like that baby at the end of Teletubbies.  I just might survive, after all.  I might live to care for the rest of my people when they get my gastro.

A new day arrives, I take those first shaky steps to the fridge to get my Vernors.  I make toast.  I take my favorite sherpa blanket to the couch and start the count down of days until I can tolerate coffee.  I survive.

The Flu.  Gastro.  Pukefest.  Call it whatever you want, but keep the remedy consistent.  Slurpees, Vernors, clean sheets, a dash of hope and a lot of self love.