So here’s to a beginning. I have been wanting to write for a while but haven’t been able to pull together the words as to all that I have been feeling and learning. It has been on my heart to share some of my experiences that have truly shaped me to be the person I am. It has pressed on me to share about some of my darkest times and how I was carried through. This blog is dedicated to the Lord, the very one who carries my world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Lesson from My Bullies

I awkwardly picked up a patient’s blue chart, ensuring the EKGs and other loose papers wouldn’t fall to the ground as I made my way to the edge of the nurses’ station. I needed to not make a scene or mess up. I needed them to believe that I belonged there. Just as much as any other nurse. I inwardly sighed, thinking how was it that I felt I could go on to become a physician when I found the job of a nurse to be so initially intimidating?
“No!” I told myself. That was enough. I could do this. Those types of thoughts had to go. Because that was not how I was going to play the game.
Even still, there was so much to take in. So many new faces. Doctors, PAs, APRNs, nurses, patient care associates, physical therapists, social workers, respiratory therapists, nursing supervisors and so on. So many names to learn and people to get to know. More, it wasn’t just getting to know the various staff members. It was now dauntingly crucial to know specifically which doctor worked in which specialty, so that when a patient’s renal failure was suddenly worsening as noted on urgent labs, I would know which nephrologist to call. Or when a patient’s oxygen saturation status suddenly declined, I would know which pulmonologist to call. Or when a patient was becoming combative, biting and spitting at staff members (which I came to learn was not uncommon on my particular unit), I would know which psychiatrist to call.
How would I ever learn all of their names in such a short amount of time?
My saving grace during those first few weeks was my orientation period. While I had several months of nursing under my belt from my prior job, I was not treated as a seasoned nurse. And while I would have liked the recognition of having had prior experience, I found myself secretly grateful for the chance to start over as a novice. Because truthfully, it all felt so foreign.
It was as if I hadn’t changed specialties but had instead changed my entire career.
Gone were the toy trucks and wagons in the hospital hallways. And no more were the paintings of flowers and balloons spattered across the walls of the pediatric ward. The cheerful colors had been replaced with more solemn tones of beige and the occasional faded blue. And with the change in colors came a sense of gravity I had not yet encountered. An overall sense, deeper than the décor, that this unit encompassed a vast array of people, each with their own stories of brokenness that I knew nothing about, some having shouldered their secret pain alone for years.
I made my way to the break room, putting away my purse in preparation for my shift. As I passed the nurses’ station I was struck by the sight of a frail older man lying in bed in the middle of the hallway, which I immediately found odd. His bed was adjacent to the nurses’ station, and I was quick to note his cachectic arms were secured in blue restraints. I knew this only happened when a patient needed extra supervision for severe behavioral disruptions. As I walked by him he looked up at me, and I found myself retract inwardly, hoping he wouldn’t harm me in some way.
I immediately despised myself for feeling that way.
How was it possible that I could want to help others (and I knew I did), but then almost instantaneously react in judgment and not love, assuming he would hurt me?
It was a dreadfully eye opening juxtaposition of my ideals versus my current (and lacking) state of emotional maturity.
This new job of mine was going to be a different kind of hard.
Because it was going to unveil some things.
Some ugly things.
Not so much about others and humanity.
But about me.
I had much to learn.
I inhaled deep and made my way to front desk, immediately overwhelmed by the large volume of call bells that seemed to be simultaneously going off. It was change of shift, and I knew I needed to get report from the night nurses before I could start my day. I hated to make patients wait. I found the more I made them wait, the harder it was for me to bridge any sort of relationship with them. Even still, I stood with my computer on wheels, paper in hand, waiting patiently for reports to be given. All the while watching the secretary frantically page nurses and patient care associates to this room and that.
As I waited, I glanced at the white board, listing the patients by room number, diagnosis and attending physician. I sighed, noting we were full, again. I hoped my patient load wouldn’t be too much. A busy day on this particular unit was anywhere from four to six patients. But I quickly came to learn the number of patients one was responsible for often had little bearing on the flow of the day. It was the particular patients that a nurse had, how involved and /or sick they were that dictated how busy one would be. More, one had to be flexible throughout the shift, as there were always discharges, admissions and transfers to complete. So, one could easily go from four patients to six patients in a matter of minutes.
It had been a few weeks, and my orientation period was coming to a close. I had managed to find a way to organize my day despite the chaos that ensued all around me. I wasn’t used to having to think and chart in a loud environment with patients shouting, visitors and staff alike bustling by and codes being called. I was so thankful for those few nurses, two in particular, who encouraged me early on, showing me the ropes and telling me I was doing great. Telling me I was picking things up quickly. I didn’t know it then, but they would go on to become like second moms to me. And our friendships would extend far beyond the walls of the hospital.
But they weren’t all encouraging. Some were cold. And others were stressed themselves to the point that they just simply weren’t able to teach. But I found I learned even still, and in no time at all
I caught my stride.
There was, however, an unexpected toughness to the unit. Something about it that I couldn’t put my finger on. An uneasiness followed me through my shifts in those early days, as I began to pick up on subtleties that I had perhaps initially missed during my training period. While a handful of nurses had been welcoming and fun to work with, I found others to be difficult, showing little interest in getting to know me at all, making it all too clear that they ‘weren’t here to make friends’.
This was particularly evident at change of shift where I was to give and receive report from nurses of varying shifts. I often provided a thorough report including patient histories and past medical problems pertinent to the patient’s stay. However, some nurses were sure to give me wild looks of disapproval, wanting only the bare bones of information to get them through their shift which I often found frustrating and quite honestly unfair to the patients in need of good care.
More, some of the patient care associates proved to be challenging to work with as well. I felt their glares as I sat down one afternoon in the breakroom with a cup of coffee and a salad I had just grabbed from the cafeteria. My legs and feet were weary from having been on them for the past four hours, and I was thankful for a moment to rest. I knew exhaustion had been steadily creeping in, but I did my best to refute it by consuming one too many cups of coffee. I figured heart palpitations were an okay tradeoff so long as I could complete all necessary tasks. And while caffeine didn’t completely energize me, I did find it helped mask things for a while longer.
And I just needed to make it through my shift.
As I sipped my coffee, removing the lid and briefly inhaling the soft scent of French vanilla, I was struck by the manner in which conversations were directed away from me around the wooden breakroom table. It felt intentional, despite my efforts to engage. I exhaled, realizing I had entered somewhat of a hazing period among some of the staff.
Moments earlier I had overheard several of the patient care associates discussing a summer picture I had posted to my personal Facebook page months prior. My stomach turned in hearing their comments, feeling betrayed by these women I barely knew. Even so, it came as little surprise, recalling being faced with bullying since the very beginning in nursing school.
I knew a field predominantly run by women would be subject to the pitfalls of competition and bullying.
I knew I wasn’t the first and most certainly wouldn’t be the last to be faced with such frustrations.
I did however, find it ironic that the ones making it most difficult for me, a few of the patient care associates, were also the ones who were supposed to take orders from me and the other nurses. Even so, I felt no need to establish any sort of balance of power, despite what my nursing professors would have said. I only wanted to show them I was not the stereotypical self-absorbed and superficial tall blonde that they perhaps believed me to be.
Oh, if they could see where I had been!
But I knew they couldn’t. And quite honestly, I wasn’t sure even that would have made a difference.
I knew I couldn’t see where they had been either. I was sure they had been through some things. Some things I knew nothing about.
And given the difficult patient profile of the unit, perhaps these tough ones were needed.
More, perhaps being tough was something they had previously needed to survive.
They seemed to speak the language of the patients far easier than I.
Which humbled me, while also causing me to realize perhaps it was time for me to toughen up too.
Even still, I was determined to win them over.
And in time,
there were a few, I did.

Through My Grey

Over the next few days I scoured the internet for nursing positions. I was eager to learn of all possible job opportunities, imagining all sorts of exciting positions. Would I work in oncology? Maybe the operating room. What about the emergency room?
But my fantasies were short lived and met with the abrupt reality of a limited job market, discovered in only a few disappointing clicks of my mouse. More, the postings that were listed were for full-time work, some for night shift only. It seemed the only floors hiring were medical-surgical units, the one area of medicine I didn’t particularly care for.
I wasn’t particularly fond of tracheostomy care and suctioning secretions, and wound dressing changes were not a favorite task. Even still, I knew I needed a fresh start more than I needed a perfect fit.
I needed to prove to myself that I could do this.
That one woman’s perception of me wasn’t going to dictate the success or failure of my entire career.
More, I couldn’t deny the fire that still burned within me. Ignited all those years ago. With a passion for others. To help in some way.
Any way.
Two weeks later I made my way across the campus of a different hospital. The building sat tall, and people were rushing all around it. As I neared the entrance I quickly glanced down, noting my snow covered black heels. I bent over briefly to wipe off the white crystals and was instantly struck by the sight of a glorious purple crocus poking its way through the wintry terrain. I was immediately captivated by its beauty, contrasting the grey all around.
It was the first sign of spring. And a gentle reminder of the promise of new life.
And perhaps, a new start.
Moments later I entered the busy corridor, struck by the large number and variety of people going this way and that. I nervously made my way toward the elevators, adjusting my blazer just so, praying my interview would go well. Praying there wouldn’t be too many prodding questions.
Why did you leave your last job?
What didn’t you like about your prior place of employment?
These weren’t questions I was ready to answer. Not on any real level. I knew talk of prior discrimination and chronic illness would not bode well, particularly on a first encounter. Nonetheless, I knew I had to come up with a satisfactory response. One that was truthful but perhaps a bit vague. I swallowed hard, silently assuring myself it would be okay.
As I made my way to the unit I was struck by how unimpressive it appeared. The walls were worn, and the floors were outdated. More, there were paper charts and a host of nurses of varying ages. I quickly entered the office of the floor manager, surprised to learn he was in fact male. I hadn’t expected that, given his gender-neutral name in a predominantly female profession.
Perhaps it was a good sign, I told myself.
Perhaps different was good. Different would mean not like my old job.
And I needed for things to be different.
Within only a few moments of talking I was put at ease. He shared at length about the unit and the type of staff on the unit. There was only brief mention of my prior employment, to which I replied I was “simply looking for a change”. I was relieved to note my reply was satisfactory.
As he continued on, our discussion began to feel less like that of an interview and more like that of a sales pitch or even an orientation to a job I had already acquired. Relieved, I in inquired about the types of diagnoses I would encounter on the unit.
It was a general medicine floor.
Or so I had been told.
He paused for a moment and went on to share that while it was a medicine floor, there was a particular focus. I leaned in, curiously wondering what the focus would be.
I hoped it was something exciting.
He went on to say it was infectious disease.
More specifically, the floor was known as the “HIV unit” of the hospital.
While they did take the overflow general medicine patients, it was generally known for infectious disease which in addition to HIV/AIDS included things such as tuberculosis, PCP pneumonia (pneumonia commonly seen in AIDS patients) and clostridium difficile. There were also a good number of psychiatric patients and the occasional patient from prison.
I was stunned, not expecting to hear those words. I tried my best to steady my face. I needed to not have a reaction to this information.
I swallowed hard, wondering if this was something I wanted. Wondering if this was something I could handle.
Was I willing to put my health on the line for this?
Moments later I left the interview. He told me to take a few days to think things over, as this was not the typical hospital unit. As I made my way onto the elevator, I recalled my time in Kenya and working in the HIV/AIDS prevention clinic. Exposure to infectious disease was not a new thing for me. I recalled being mocked by those I knew, some my own family members, for taking such risks. I heard those same voices again in my head as I pondered this new opportunity.
But the more I thought about things, the more I realized there was something about the unit that intrigued me. Something about taking care of the people that others wanted nothing to do with was attractive to me.
Maybe it was because I knew what it felt like to be alone. Really alone.
Or maybe it was because I found I could most identify with those whose lives have been wrecked by the sweeping chaos of debilitating disease.
Two days later I called the hospital to speak with the floor manager. My heart nervously beat in my chest as I attempted to quickly gather my thoughts.
There was one final piece that needed to come together in order for me to accept the position.
And it was a big one.
I needed to tell him about my lupus. More, I needed to tell him I would not be able to work a full-time forty-hour schedule, despite the original job posting for such. I did not elaborate regarding my lupus, nor did I share of my prior job experience. I went on to say I would need to work part-time and would be unable to work night shifts, and if that were a requirement then I would need to pass on the opportunity.
I knew I was asking a lot. I knew I was essentially asking him to create a position for me.
I knew it was gutsy to have even gone to the interview in the first place knowing full well I couldn’t work forty hour weeks.
I nervously paced the hallway of my parents’ home, marching back and forth over the outdated blue carpet as I awaited his reply. While I knew it was only for a few seconds, the silence on the other end of the phone haunted me. I involuntarily began walking faster over the matted rug. I had always hated that rug, with its loud red and gold outdated pattern.
I quietly exhaled, pretending the manager’s response wasn’t about to dictate my future. I silently assured myself that I would make it somehow with or without this particular job. And while deep down I knew that to be true, there was a part of me having recently endured such deep rejection at my prior job that just really needed for this to work. And needed for this to be okay.
A few moments passed, and to my surprise the manager was happy to accommodate my requests, assuring part-time would be fine and that I wouldn’t have to work a single night shift.
How was that possible?
I knew there was only one explanation.
He was making all things new again.
Orchestrating behind the scenes.
Setting out the path for my future which would lead me down roads I could have never imagined.
A wave of thankful relief swept over me as I hung up the phone.
I knew I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
But something told me it would be big. And probably a little scary.
A purple crocus had begun poking its way through my grey.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Passive Aggressive Nursing

Three days later I entered the office of my new manager. She was a powerful woman with a strong presence and a firm voice. I sat with her in her small and overcrowded office with loud blue walls and too many books. I clenched my hands nervously together in my chair, bracing myself for the uncomfortable conversation that was about to ensue. Up to this point, I had done my best to be what I felt was ‘strong’, in hiding my lupus at all cost, even to the point of experiencing additional pain. I wasn’t looking for any handouts, and I certainly didn’t require any extra attention or pity. Nonetheless, I knew I could no longer hide.
My body, having a mind all its own, had decided for me.
And I had little option but to concede.
I inhaled deep and began sharing with her about my lupus, letting her know the changing of shifts from nights to days had been hard on me, and I was not responding well to the change. I was hopeful that she would be accommodating, particularly as I had learned another nurse had recently been taken off nights as she was trying to become pregnant.
Surely, this was a more concrete concern.
Surely, she would understand.
I studied her face from across the desk, searching for understanding, searching for any glimpse of sympathy. But all I saw staring back at me was a blank emotionless face. I paused, as she asked me to explain my lupus more fully. “What are your symptoms?”, she inquired. I shared with her about my joint pain and debilitating fatigue, but she didn’t appear satisfied. I watched as she crossed her arms together and went on to ask, “So what medications are you on?”. I wondered if she was even allowed to ask me that? Nonetheless and perhaps too easily, I complied.
I tried my best to describe the severity of my disease, but something in me told me I was not getting through to her. I couldn’t help but feel I was not penetrating the wall that she seemed to have put up. Concerned, I went on to include words such as “chemotherapy” and “kidney involvement”. Finally, I offered to bring her a doctor’s note to explain my health history along with pertinent labs to which she was agreeable.
I watched as she folded her hands together on her desk, finally conceding to a change in schedule, pending I provide her with the appropriate documentation. But something about our exchange felt off. Something about our exchange felt wrong. While I was thankful to be starting day shift only, I couldn’t shake the awkwardness I felt in leaving her office that day.
I dismissed my fleeting thoughts. Perhaps I was being oversensitive. Perhaps I was reading into things, as was my general tendency.
A few weeks passed, and I had happily started working day shift only. I was thankful to be sleeping at night again, knowing it was better for my overall health to be on a set schedule. I prayed my body would follow suit with the change.
But the shifts were busy.
Busier than I would have liked.
And in the world of hospital nursing, the day shift is known for being considerably more busy and chaotic than that of nights. This was in large part due to the sheer volume of people coming and going on the floor. There were visitors coming and doctors with parades of residents and interns performing their rounds. There were social workers and physical therapists. There were speech therapists and recreational therapists. And there were surgeons and specialists of all kinds coming to check in on their patients, all typically wanting some form of update.
The shifts seemed to be somewhat of a whirlwind, flowing quickly by. But my drives home were often pain filled, as my body was faithful to remind me of my unrelenting disease.
Even still, I told myself this was it. I had made a change, and I needed to make this work.
More, I cringed at the very thought of another awkward meeting with my manager. I needed to not see her for a while. I had to get the sense of the rejection I felt out of my head.
But my pain. My pain hounded me at every turn, interrupting my shifts, and following me down the halls. It screamed at me as I drew up meds and strangled my fingers as I attempted to complete my paperwork in time. A fatigue and general sense of feeling unwell had come over me, and I couldn’t help but wonder if working full time in this capacity was just too much for me.
It killed me to even let myself think those words, let alone have to say them to anyone. And no less, to my manager. Even still, I knew what I had to do.
Five days later, I stepped into that same office a second time, only this time there was another younger nurse sitting there as well. She had been in charge of helping me through my orientation period which I had since completed. I found it odd that she was to sit in on our meeting. I wasn’t comfortable sharing with her about my health information, particularly as she had been less than welcoming since I began working on the floor.
There were a number of younger nurses on the unit, which I initially assumed would make the unit a fun place to work. But I quickly came to learn there was a culture among nurses, one that all too often included a hierarchy and many cliques. More, while subtle and often passive aggressive, there was also a good deal of competition and bullying that took place. I encountered my share of nurses and even patient care associates who tried to intimidate me in this way or that during my time on the unit. I had an older nurse tell me I was “too confident and knew too much”. I wasn’t sure what that even meant. I wasn’t about to apologize for not being insecure. And honestly, while a rude comment here or there was frustrating,
I had bigger things to worry about.
As I entered the office, I grabbed a seat next to my fellow nurse, flashing a quick smile in her direction as I sat down. She looked toward the manager, as if to take her cues only from her. I exhaled, bracing myself for what was to come, already feeling a little ganged up on. Nonetheless, I began to share with them the difficulty that I had been having in working full time. I thanked my manager for having already been gracious enough to put me on the day shift. I then shared that unfortunately my symptoms had not quieted down as we had hoped. I was becoming sicker and would likely need to drop down to a part time schedule of thirty-two hours per week or whatever she had available.
The room went silent. They just sat there, staring intently at me. My manager then went on to inquire as she had in our first meeting, “So, what are your symptoms?”. I obliged and filled them in. She then leaned in toward me, lowering her voice and queried, “Are you sure you are not making this up so that you can have a particular schedule?”.
I was stunned.
It was as if everything froze in that one terrible moment.
I sat there, not knowing how to respond. My heart was suddenly beating faster in my chest, and I heard myself back petal with my words. I inhaled deep, calmly assuring them that I was indeed not looking for a “particular schedule”. I reiterated that I was in fact sick and offered to bring in more blood work if needed to prove so.
I knew she didn’t believe me. I saw it written all over her face.
For the first time in my life, I was being discriminated against because of my illness.
What I didn’t know then was that it wouldn’t be the last.
Defeated, I left the unit that day with my head hung low in frustrated sadness. Was this really happening? My manager told me she needed to look at the schedule and would get back to me. I didn’t know what that meant, but I did know in that moment I began to despise my own profession. This was supposed to be the ‘helping profession’, known for being some of the most caring people in the world.
Was I being unreasonable?
I couldn’t be the first person with a chronic illness to require schedule adjustments.
It just didn’t make sense.
And none of it sat well with me.
Later than night I sat on the kitchen floor in my parent’s house as I had so many times before. I told them of our meeting and the reaction I received. I glanced at the worn linoleum floor as I sat, noting it was cool to touch. I knew I was sad, but as I told them of our conversation, something in me broke. She had no idea what I had endured these past few years. What all three of us had endured.
It had been the fight for my life.
I saw the pain I felt reflected in my mom’s eyes. “She just can’t do this!”, my mom erupted. I knew they were upset for me. I saw it written all over their faces. I heard it in the mention of pursuing legal action, but that wasn’t a course I was willing to take.
I didn’t want revenge.
I just wanted some compassion.
And I knew I wasn’t going to get it from my manager.
I knew I had to make a change. The problem was that she was influential throughout the hospital. I feared her disdain for me would follow me to other units should I make a transfer. And I couldn’t risk that.
No, I needed to start over. Some place new. Perhaps even in a different field. My mind began to wander, considering all the possibilities.
As much as she had hurt me, I knew I needed to forgive her. Even though it still hurt, and I most certainly didn’t want to.
There was no denying. 

It was time to move on.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Winter lingered, and I felt the coolness of the air enter my nostrils as I walked, giving my nose a familiar pink hue. I inhaled the clean morning air, noting the snow crusted grass in the distance. I quickly checked my appearance in the window of the approaching building. Things were changing again. Only this time, they were welcomed changes. Changes I had worked towards for quite some time.
I nervously adjusted my turquoise scrub top under my jacket as I entered the building. I wanted to look just right.
Today was the day I would begin my career as a registered nurse.
I was so excited, having completed clinicals in a variety of settings. General medicine. Obstetrics and gynecology. Surgery. Oncology. Geriatrics. There was however, one particular area that peeked my interest above the rest.
I loved kids. I had been babysitting since I was eleven years old. And as soon as I began my clinical rotation on the unit, I fell in love. It was an infant toddler unit, meaning birth through five years old. There were kids with tubes in their noses and IVs in their arms. There were children requiring surgeries for a variety of conditions including pyloric stenosis and Hirschsprung’s disease. There were colon resections and hernia repairs. There were babies born addicted to the drugs their mothers consumed who were in need of careful weaning. Their piercing cries were unlike that of any other child.
There were respiratory viruses and asthma attacks where parents and staff alike fought tirelessly to raise oxygen levels in tiny constricted lungs. There were allergic reactions and fevers of unknown origin. There were pinworms and bodies covered in scabies. And there were cases of sexual abuse and neglect, often occurring in children under the age of two. These sweet ones, unable to speak for themselves, were particularly vulnerable to abuse of all kinds.
And it was all I could do not to become attached to each one as I learned how to bathe, dress and feed them during my clinical rotation. Something in me wanted to help. I knew these kids were strong. But I also knew I wanted to, in some small way, be a part of their story.
My instructor had taken a liking to me during my rotation on the unit, and upon graduation I was accepted as a staff nurse. It was a hard adjustment on many levels. Starting my career was certainly intimidating, as I now had people counting on me. Tiny people counting on me. And parents with wide eyes, looking to me to do the right thing. And worse, say the right thing. More, I didn’t know how my body was going to respond. As hard as I had worked to get through school, I had yet to complete a twelve-hour shift, and I knew these would be the bread and butter of my new-found career. I figured I was a hard worker, and I was determined. My body would surely follow suit.
It had to.
I grabbed my list of patients on that first day and nervously punched the code for the med room. I told myself I had done this many times before. I watched anxiously as another nurse drew up her meds, knowing I was next in line. The thing about pediatrics is that you had to be somewhat good at math. There were many calculations, as the majority of the medications to be administered were weight based. And an error in calculation could be fatal.
I swallowed hard, trying not to overthink things, reminding myself I had earned the right to be here. Earned the right to care for these little ones. Just as much as any other nurse. It was a strange dichotomy in those first few weeks, wondering, as I brought an absurd amount of juice boxes to patients and their families, if I had set the bar all too low, while simultaneously hoping and praying that I wouldn’t inadvertently kill someone later while administering medications.
As the weeks passed, my initial fears were assuaged, and any remaining apprehension was quickly replaced by a new-found confidence and sense of routine. I was eager to learn new skills, knowing there would be much on the job training. It seemed with each newly dropped nasal tube and each newly placed dressing, I was in some small way, proud of myself.
And proud how far I had come.
I hadn’t give up yet.
And while this wasn’t the dream I had set out to do from the start,
I was still here.
Those first weeks passed quickly. My shifts, like those of many new nurses, were not ideal. I was placed on a rotating schedule that included working one week of days followed by one week of nights. Weekends and holidays were also included. It was hard on my body. Harder than I wanted to admit. My joints had begun to ache again, and the fatigue was written all over my face. I wasn’t responding well to the change in shift work, and I could feel it.
But what choice did I have?
I told myself I would get used to it. Used to the schedule of it all. I just had to give it a little time.
But the shifts were busy. It was spring time now, and the units were booming with patients. I had been told many nurses become quite ill within the first year of working on the unit, having been exposed to a variety of illnesses. One had to “build up an immunity”.
But what would that look like for someone like me?
Was I going to get very sick?
I swallowed hard as I parked my car that evening. I hated taking the shuttle into work, but it was getting darker, and I knew I had little choice. It felt like an event just getting to the hospital building, often leaving me fatigued before my shift had even begun. As I neared the unit, I quickly pulled my hair up in a ponytail, telling myself I would drink some coffee and that things would be okay. Promising my body that I would feel better. And that it wouldn’t always be this hard.
But for now, I knew I needed to focus. There were children, most of whom were far sicker than I, who needed to be cared for. There were vital signs to be checked and intravenous bags of food and fluids to be hung. There were assessments to be made and oxygen levels to be monitored. There were dressings to be changed and tubes to be placed. More, there were medications to be given and all too much paperwork to complete.
Later that night I sat in the doctor’s lounge under fluorescent lighting with two other nurses dressed in flowery pink and blue scrubs. We sat around a large rectangular wooden table, each with a chart or two open, attempting to complete notes on our patients for the night. I found charting to come fairly easy and without much effort. And as such, I often found myself curiously listening to the doctors from across the room as they discussed cases. Who were they talking about and what diagnoses were being made? I found myself drawn to them, secretly wishing I were a part of their team.
I had hoped as I began my career in nursing that I would be able to more fully let go of my dreams for becoming a doctor. But as time passed, I found a growing part of me ached bitterly, as I recalled the horrid thin envelopes that had been delivered in the mail all those months ago.
“No, it could have been different.” I told myself.
I could have gone out of the United States for medical school. But that was a risk I just wasn’t willing to take. Not with my health history. Even still, as much as I loved being a nurse, there was something in me that, as much as I tried to deny it, wanted more.
A few moments passed, and I watched as my pen rolled off the table. I quickly bent over to pick it up, noting a sharp pain in my right knee. I reflexively braced my leg as I sat up, noting it was swollen to the touch. I exhaled, recalling the exhaustion I had dismissed not a few hours early. My frivolous doctor thoughts were suddenly dispelled, as reality was setting in.
I was sick again.
And getting sicker.
Despite my best efforts, lupus was not going away.
And to my fear and dread, I needed to talk about it.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Life After Death

A few months passed. It was winter now. With each passing week, I found myself coming back to that same place. And with each visit I found the barricade I had put up to guard my shattered heart slowly begin to weaken. I had felt safe knowing that others didn’t’ know my past or know my story in any capacity regarding my illness or otherwise. But I came to realize that such secrets weren’t necessary or even helpful. Because the real freedom is in the telling. The telling of our beautiful and ugly truths.
And so, with time friendships were strengthened; and I began to remember. I remembered the girl I was all those years ago. And the heart that I once had. I didn’t know I could get her back, having endured so much loss. I didn’t know I could find her again, having been broken what felt like one too many times. I knew I had been repeatedly used. And a little voice inside told me I was damaged goods. And that the girl I once knew, she was gone for good.
But in time I came to know a different truth.
And it is one that has stayed with me til this very day.
There can be life after death.
Ephesians 2:4, 5 says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions.”
I wasn’t at all proud of the girl I had become. But I also couldn’t deny what I felt. God had taken my heart that had been so wrecked and had given it new life. I assumed no one could ever want me. Not truly, if they learned of my past.
I didn’t even want me.
But he began to show me his love for me, giving me a second chance. Not just for love, but for life. He was giving me real joy despite circumstances.
A few months passed. I quickly tightened the scarf around my neck and hurried into the sanctuary to find my friends. The church was holding a women’s conference that evening, and I was running five minutes behind. I hoped they would save me a seat. As I entered, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
I hoped it wasn’t going to be a gathering to ‘celebrate the days of our lives’ as females. Or worse, ‘hoorah women’. I hoped it wasn’t going to be cheesy. I was all for becoming a strong woman. In fact, I believed God had given me quite a bit of strength. But I found over the years the theme girl power tended to ring somewhat cheesy under the umbrella of faith, at times lacking in authenticity.
And I needed real.
Little did I know what the night would hold.
I spotted four of my girlfriends from across the room and began to shuffle down a row of chairs in their direction. I had become close with these girls over the past months. While each different, I found comfort in learning they cared about me. We didn’t have the same backgrounds, and we hadn’t gone through the same things. But even so, they had become my people.
A few moments passed, and the night was started. We were asked to stand and all began to sing. We sang two songs and were then seated. The guest speaker was then introduced. She was an older woman with a strong voice and a commanding presence.
I immediately liked her.
While typically leery of guest speakers, particularly those with great confidence, something about her spoke to me. She began to speak, telling us several stories. She was quick to get a laugh but also quick to reveal personal stories of her own life. I had always admired women who could self-assuredly speak to a crowd or command a room. I found I was always more comfortable in smaller groups or behind the scenes.
As the night drew to a close she asked the crowd to stand to their feet. As we stood, she began to pray. And as she prayed, she began to point to various women in the audience, motioning them to come forward.
I knew she didn’t know these women.
I knew perhaps God had given her something to say to them.
My heart began to race, experiencing both curiosity and dread in the same terrifying moment.
I truly did not want to go forward. But more than that, I found something in me did. Something in me needed to hear from God. More than my desire to avoid the lime light. And I found myself in that instant, begging God to see me. To speak to me. To let me know he saw me. And that I wasn’t always going to be alone.
I had been attending church for a while now, and while I loved my girlfriends deeply, I was one of only a few who were single. My close friends had either become engaged or in relationships since I’d first met them. And while I was happy for them, I couldn’t help but wonder when it was going to be my turn.
Had my past somehow stained my future in some unrepairable way? Was I now destined to a life of singlehood?
The more time that passed, the greater I began to secretly ache on the inside.
Did God see me?
I glanced up, dismissing my spinning thoughts, only to note the speaker’s eyes lock with mine. And I watched with shock as I saw her waving her arm for me to come forward. Me? She motioned again. There was no getting out of this. And so, I inhaled deep and began to make my way to the front.
I watched as she prayed for the other women, one by one, that had come forward. With each prayer, she had something special and also specific to say. I felt my knees quiver in anxious anticipation.
Had God heard my prayer not five minutes ago?
While naïve to many things, this was not one of them. I had been in many church services. And had heard and seen many things over the years. Some of which hadn’t sat so well with me. There were some churches I simply wouldn’t go to because of what felt like attention seeking or outlandish behavior.
But this was different somehow.
As I stood there, I felt an unexplainable peace. Without her even saying a word to me, I felt loved. I knew in that moment, something amazing had happened. I had pleaded with God to show me he saw me.
And he did.
As she made her way to me, I had no idea what to expect. I felt myself get nervous as she placed her hand on my shoulder. As she began to pray, she told me I was a woman with many gifts. She repeated it over and over. She went on to say that I was blessed in the natural and the supernatural. She ended her prayer by stating, “God has somebody for you. In the right time. And in the right way”.
Chills ran down my spine. I was stunned.
I knew there was no way for her to know that I was single.
I knew there was no way for her to know I so desperately needed to hear those very words.
I knew, in that moment, God hadn’t just heard me.
He had answered me too.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Coming Back Together

A few weeks passed, and the harsh summer sun had begun to fade. Its rays felt weaker on my arms as I drove. A cool dew rested on the grass; and a soft breeze blew through the trees, hinting at the changing of seasons. I was thankful to have grabbed a cardigan, inhaling the cool morning air. I drove down a familiar road as I took a sip of my coffee which did well to abate the growing number of goose bumps on my legs. I had driven down this road many times. It was a busy road.

But on this particular day, I couldn’t help but notice a large sign.
It was a sign for a church.
I wasn’t particularly interested in attending church. My prior experiences had left me jaded and with many questions. I could still hear the voices of those I once knew in my head, telling me I was to be healed. Despite all odds, claiming it would all go away. I knew my illness was visible then, and I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a target. While well-meaning, their words felt unfair.
While I believed in a God who heals, I was also painfully aware that he, at times, chooses not to. More, he hadn’t revealed any promises of healing to my heart for my particular situation. So why did they feel they could make such sweeping statements? I knew five minutes after our conversation they would go casually on with their day, forgetting all about our exchange.
But their words stayed with me.
Longer than I would have liked.
And I found myself needing to let them go. More than once.
Because if I held onto them, I knew they would shipwreck me.
Shipwreck everything I believed about God. Everything I thought I knew.
And I already had enough questions.
The truth was, I needed to come to terms with what was happening to me.
Not go into denial that it was all going to go away.
But things were different now. I knew I no longer appeared sick. I kept driving, seconds later dismissing my wandering thoughts.
A week later I drove past the same sign. Again, I found myself inwardly pausing. But I wasn’t sure why. Why did I feel a pull toward this particular place? And why now? I hadn’t stepped foot in a church in a several years, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to reopen that door.
Ten days passed, and one sunny afternoon I found myself remembering that same sign. I had just gotten back from a three mile run. I grabbed a towel, wiping the beads of sweat from my forehead and leaned over, placing my hands on my feet in an effort to stretch out my hamstrings. I slowly stood up, letting out a deep breath. As I let my heart rate settle, that same sign advertising a Thursday evening service popped into my mind. I paused, knowing it would be taking place later that evening. I had liked the sound of a week night service. It didn’t sound quite so serious. Not like the traditional Sunday morning service. I wasn’t ready or even interested in that. I knew there would be fewer people present on a week night, making a visit hopefully less intimidating. Even still, the thought of going to church in any capacity put a knot in my stomach.
Over the next few hours I couldn’t shake the uneasiness I felt, but I knew I needed to go and at least try it out. I made my way to my car. As I neared the building in my car, my heart began to pound harder in my chest. I told myself to relax, knowing I had grown up in the church. But this felt different. This felt more significant in some way I couldn’t understand.
I half-heartedly pulled into the parking lot, unsure if I was going to get out and go in or turn the car around and never look back. I forced myself to park the car and swallowed hard, attempting to summon what courage I had as I made my way towards the building.
I entered the building nervously, not knowing what to expect. I smiled quickly at an older man greeting people and rushed in to find a seat. I needed to sit down.  
As I entered the sanctuary I decidedly sat in the very last row next to the door. I told myself I would see how things went. I wasn’t making any promises. Or signing on any dotted lines. I told myself I could undo this whole night if I needed to. And go right back to the way things were.
My way.
But there was a longing in me. A longing I could no longer deny. A longing for things to be different from the way they had been. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I wasn’t particularly proud of that. I had lost so much of myself, having given so much of myself away. And for what?
I felt more broken than ever.
And I was still alone.
After all that I had given up to find love.
A few awkward moments passed and a young girl about my age came up to me and introduced herself. She seemed sweet and perfectly normal. It instantly put me at ease. Five more minutes passed, and we all stood up as the band began to play. The sanctuary had filled in, and there were far more people than I ever expected to show.
As they began to sing I felt my body stiffen. I didn’t know if I was ready for all of this. The music was loud, almost jarring to my senses. Still, a small part of me couldn’t help but want to join in, but my feet felt like cement bricks glued to the carpeted floor. So I stood there, motionless, taking it all in. And somehow, while still cautiously guarding my heart and my expectations, I was refreshed.
The following week I returned for a second service. I saw the same girl I had met the previous week. Only this time she came and sat with me. And with her followed two more girls. Her kindness touched me, knowing how females don’t typically seek out new females to welcome to a particular social circle. No, in my experience, those in a friend circle feel little to no need to add to their circle, oftentimes even working to prevent new additions.
But this was not the case here, and the only way I could describe it to my heart was that it was God. He was meeting me. And he was giving me new friends.
I was getting a new start.
And with that new start, pieces of my heart were beginning to come back together.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Darkest: Part 2

I began to despise my own body. I knew were it not for my lupus, I wouldn’t even be in this mess. I had plenty of friends go on to live their lives the way they saw fit, dating various guys, without any regard for faith. Why hadn’t they encountered such trouble? Why was it harder for me? I knew there was no going back.
Some time passed, and I went for another checkup. I decided to change doctors. I just couldn’t face the other doctor again. As I had feared, things progressed. My cells had begun to change. My doctor, however, could not have been more kind. Over our time together, I told her of various dating experiences. She seemed to want the best for me. Like some sort of personal cheerleader who was in on my biggest secret. Still cheering me on. Taking me for who I was, not for what I had done or what diagnosis I carried. My girlfriends had not been so kind. I knew there was snickering and chatter behind closed doors. I knew judgments had been made. I also knew there wasn’t much I could do about it. But not from my doctor. She even went on to tell me of a lawyer friend she wanted to set me up with. Extremely flattered, I knew I had found a true friend in her.
Knowing how guarded doctors typically are with their patients, I treasured her openness with me. It was as if God had sent her to me. Showing me grace. Showing me full acceptance. When I least deserved it. When I couldn’t even manage to accept myself.  
My time with her, however, was short lived as pathology reports continued to reveal progression and cellular changes. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going on to develop cervical cancer as we had feared.
It didn’t look good.
She referred me on. It was time to see a gynecology/oncology surgeon.
A week later I stepped into a different waiting room. This was unlike any other waiting room I had entered. As I made my way to the front desk, I noted six women, mostly older, scattered throughout the room. Most of whom had no hair. Two covered their heads with decorative wear. One had a walker. Another made her way to the nurse, giving her a big hug. Two of the other women talked to one another, knowingly. There were bonds here. There was history here. And I could feel it.
I wondered if I was going to be like these women. Was I going to endure what they had? Was I going to lose my hair? Needing a distraction, I walked across the room to grab a cup of coffee. I caught a smile from a middle aged woman sitting next to a man, likely her husband. I sat down in my chair, bewildered. How had I gotten here? How had one poor decision landed me in such a place? I knew I had turned from my faith. But this. I had not suspected this.
Doing things my way seemed to be ruining everything.
I took a sip of my coffee and exhaled. I knew that I was going to have to live with the consequences of my decision, however that played out. I also knew I was about to find out exactly what that was going to look like.   
It was time to meet the surgeon.
I was brought back to a very large exam room with too many instruments laid out on a long counter, running the length of the room. My heart began to race, noting these were big instruments that I had not previously encountered. Likely painful ones. I heard myself let out a tiny whimper, clinging to the sides of the exam table, hoping they weren’t for me.  
A moment later, the surgeon entered with an assistant and a big smile. I immediately liked her. It surprised me how much I liked her as we talked about family and medicine. She sat on her stool, short hair bobbing and legs crossed, reviewing my records. Concerned, she let me know that my lupus was going to be a problem. I wasn’t going to be able to rid this on my own. The fact that I was on prednisone further complicated things, making any kind of healing difficult. She told me we were going to be good friends, and that I was going to be seeing her a lot. I wasn’t particularly happy to hear this. She went on to say I did not have cancer, but that things were still concerning. My reports revealed a type of cellular change called “neoplasia”, and if not addressed would certainly go on to become cancer. I wondered what it all meant. She went on to say I was going to need surgery. Laser surgery. And it was going to be painful.  
I swallowed hard, knowing I had little option but to concede. I had dealt with pain before. Life with lupus had taught me well how to handle discomfort of all kinds. I hoped I could handle this. I hoped it wouldn’t all be too much. Surgery sounded scary to me. The idea of anesthesia put my stomach in a knot. Was I going to be okay?
As I walked out of her office, while in part relieved at receiving what I felt to be good care, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been playing it all wrong. Doing things my way was not the fun I thought it would be. It was not the carefree, lighthearted existence I imagined.
How was I going to get out of this?
Two weeks later, I opened my eyes in the post anesthesia care unit, or PACU. My mom was standing over my bed, smiling warmly at me. It took me a minute to recognize where I was, as the effects of the anesthesia were still wearing off. It felt good to have her on my side. More, I had made it through surgery. I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping the pain wouldn’t be too severe over the next few weeks. I knew I still had a good amount of pain medication in my system. Moments later my relief was replaced with feelings of nausea. A nurse came and administered some intravenous ondansetron. I exhaled, hoping I wouldn’t have to stay too long. As a patient, I didn’t do well with hospitals.
I just wanted to go home.
An hour passed and my mom made her way downstairs to grab some lunch. I was waking up now, and my thoughts were clearer.
I didn’t know it then, but while she was gone, something unexpected was about to occur.
I moved my legs around in my bed, growing uncomfortable for having been in the same position for too long. I glanced towards the nurses’ station and noted a man in blue scrubs. He began walking in my direction. I felt myself get nervous, noting he was attractive.
Was he coming over to me?
No, I was being silly.
He wasn’t my doctor.
Seconds later, he made his way over to my bedside.
He didn’t say more than a few words.
He smiled and said hello. He went on to tell me I was going to be alright.
He told me this wasn’t the end for me.
He told me he was engaged.
And that his fiancé had herpes.
He smiled and said there were guys like him out there.
And just as quickly as he came, he was gone.
I was stunned.
Did that really just happen?
More, how did he know I needed to hear just that?
Who was he?
Tears rolled down my cheeks. And for the first time in a long time, I said a prayer. A prayer of thanksgiving. His words had been so healing to me. So simple. And yet so healing.
It was as if God had sent him to me, letting me know I was not alone. I hadn’t been alone the whole time. The whole time he had been there with me, accepting me. In all my mess.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”.
Hope had been infused.
He loved me at my darkest.
Even when I didn’t love me.
He was still chasing after me.

My Darkest: Part 1

I made my way to my doctor’s office one hot July day. It was always hard finding parking in the city. I circled the same block several times, desperate to find a spot. My appointment was beginning in five minutes. I clenched my teeth, wondering if I would make it. Frustrated, I punched the gas, only to quickly hit the brakes as someone pulled out in front of me. I threw my hands up in the air, growing more annoyed. I hated city driving. It frustrated me having to stop every few blocks. Though I didn’t mind being able to get away with a bit more. Speeding. Coming to a complete stop. These were not on the radar of most officers. They had more pressing things to worry about. And most of us on the road knew it.
I continued driving, exasperated as I was now six blocks away. I considered just going home only to finally spot a place to park. I winced, pulling in the lot, noting a sign that read “ten-dollar parking”. That was certainly more than I was prepared to pay. But I had run out of options. I reluctantly grabbed a ticket, rolled my eyes and made my way down the street, determined to make it in time. I never liked to be late.
The air was heavy that day, and the sun beat down on me as I approached the large brick building. It was hard to take a deep breath in the scorching heat. I saw three kids playing in a rundown park across the street. I wondered how they tolerated it. It was as if the temperature didn’t affect their little bodies, shouting and running to and fro. I wiped the beads of sweat off my forehead and upper lip as I made my way up the steps of the building. I then quickly put my hand under my hair to pat off the moisture from the back of my neck, wishing I hadn’t taken so much time that morning to do my now frizzing hair. As I entered the office I was immediately struck by waves of cool air, my reward for having made it after all. I quickly gave my name to a large woman behind a glass window and sat down in the waiting room filled with children’s toys and brochures on STDs and infertility. I glanced around, noting a pregnant girl sitting across from me quietly reading a magazine. A child, no older than two was playing with a toy car, seated on his mother’s lap three seats to my left. I wondered where all the single girls were. I had at times wondered if I was in fact the only one left. As I looked around, my stomach began to turn, knowing my office visit was not going to be like the others. I was not a mom.
Not even close.
I glanced at the children’s table to my right. I didn’t particularly like the sinking feeling I got, as if I somehow didn’t belong at my own doctor’s office.
Moments later my name was called by young girl with a bright smile and a long brown ponytail. I followed her past the exam rooms to my doctor’s office. She cheerfully told me I could have a seat on one of the brown cushioned chairs and that an exam was not needed today. I knew this was a follow up appointment. I knew I would be receiving results of my recent gynecological exam. But what was there to talk about?
Five minutes later my doctor entered with cracked smile, welcoming me. I had only met her one other time prior. Still, I could sense something was wrong. My heart began to race in seeing her take a deep breath. She sat down gracefully, tucking her curly hair behind her ears. She leaned in towards me, hands folded together on her desk. I braced myself, not knowing what was coming. She began to tell me I had contracted a virus. A virus called the human papilloma virus, or HPV. My eyes widened and my body froze. She went on to say “it was very common and that about eighty percent of the population had been exposed at one time or another”. My mind began to race as I further stiffened into my chair.
She was still speaking but I no longer heard her words. 
This was not happening.
Not to me.
No, she had to be wrong.
Panic stricken, it was all I could do not to shake. She went on to say that I would require regular checkups to ensure the virus did not progress. Most people were able to successfully clear the virus on their own. However, given my faulty immune system, I would not be one of them. Those that were not able to clear the virus were at risk for progression on to cervical cancer.  
I had sex once. And now I might have cancer.
How could this be happening? Humiliation and shame swept over me as I sunk deeper into my chair. I pictured myself running out of her office with great speed and never coming back. But my legs felt heavy against the chair. Didn’t she know that I had only been with one guy? One. That I had waited my whole life to find love?
What was I supposed to do now?
It felt like some kind of bad dream.
Didn’t she know this wasn’t me? No, I was the girl that had always played by the rules.
She went on to lecture me about safe sex practices, and I found myself getting annoyed.
Wasn’t it a bit late for that?
More, why wasn’t she telling me that I would be okay? That my life hadn’t just completely ended in that moment. That I wasn’t to be permanently deemed a leper in society as I now feared. But she didn’t say any of that. She just said her doctor words, and I was on my way.
I left her office, head spinning.
The full weight of her words didn’t truly hit me until I reached my car. As I opened the door, I realized I didn’t remember walking back to it. My mind was elsewhere, filled with racing thoughts of fear and guilt. Flushed in a panic, and now overheated, I wondered what my parents would think. I swallowed hard, as I felt I could sense their disapproval from twenty miles away. Would they now be ashamed of me?
For the first time in my life, I was ashamed of me.
Still, I knew I had to gather what little courage remained and tell my date about my recent discovery. I had to get it off my chest. I felt like I was going to implode. A small part of me was relieved in being truthful. I knew others may have kept quiet.
As I dreaded, he stopped calling.
He didn’t return any texts.
In an instant, he was gone.
And my worst nightmare had become my reality.
Devastated and alone again, I knew I now carried a secret. It was a secret I never wanted to carry. A secret I would try to hide, even from myself. But it was unrelenting. It hung over my head, tormenting me. Telling me I wasn’t good enough. It caused me to feel deformed in some unrepairable way. It whispered to me when I was alone, telling me I was unlovable.
And in all my heartache and shame,
I listened.