Work Withdrawal

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Damned if you don’t. Damned if you do, right? I just got sad tonight. I missed my work peeps. Ugh. My former work people, I suppose. I don’t want to come off as a complainer. I am grateful for the time I’ve had with my family, even extra family from out of town and friends too. We had some fun family time together at the lake for Father’s day, which was a first, since I’ve always worked on the actual Hallmark holiday. We’ve been swimming a lot and hitting the pillow hard at night with our tired heads. So, I know that I should not lament because it’s been an awesome summer so far.

But, still, I miss my friends. My work friends.

The ones who stood with me outside of rooms, in the hallways, next to the toy cabinets, and in the yellow charting zone area. My pseudo-office. I miss our conversations. I miss working. Even carrying my bag full of prizes, prep and distraction materials all around, throughout the red zone and yellow zone rooms. Even the green zone rooms, too. I miss blowing bubbles, holding hands, and teaching scared and anxious kids about what’s going to happen. I miss all of those powerful moments where I was confident or at least hopeful that I helped in a small way, either for the child or the parent. Or the nurses. Or the doctors. Call me crazy but I even miss hospital waitressing, grabbing warm blankets and dare I say it, those delicious lunchables for the patient or impatient yet hungry customers.

I thought I should just try and go to sleep tonight. Maybe dream the work withdrawal symptoms away, but I couldn’t. I had iced tea for lunch. That means my brain gets to keep on thinking and thinking and my heart gets to keep on wondering and feeling. A bit empty. I knew it would be hard, but I couldn’t predict how hard. (That’s what she said-Michael Scott) I don’t want to over-romanticize my career because there were definitely parts that I do not miss. And will not miss ever. But I always knew in my heart that I would miss the rare and beautiful and genuine people.

I reminded myself before I resigned that I may never find coworkers as great as some of the ones I worked with. I know I am only two weeks sober and I haven’t figured out my next career move, but I feel like I have a gaping heart hole. Which is ironic because I happen to know a crew that works really well in emergent situations. I should probably high tail it to the downtown pediatric ER. Please don’t do anything special for me like activate a trauma. I will not wear a gown. You can just meet me at the ambulance bay. I will bring cookies. If you grab me a Coke Zero. On ice.

Only I know it would be different. Because I don’t work there anymore. I don’t have a badge. Or keys.  I couldn’t naturally hop into a room to help out. Or interupt a conversation with my annoying morse code pager. It would be awkward. And painful, I think. I should probably just let my heart wound heal on it’s own. I could probably find an internet diagnosed cure for “work resignation withdrawal.” Treatment would probably encourage abstaining from the place I’m attempting to recover from.

I thought about grabbing a beer and retreating into my closet to read cards and blow some bubbles, but I don’t have any bubbles. How sad. I should have swiped a bubble tumbler on my way out. I definitely don’t want to have to make homemade bubbles. It would be like brewing my own beer. It sure kills the pitiful and sad moment when you’re measuring out glycerin. And where the heck would I even find a bubble wand this late at night in this house?

“Just don’t,” I told myself. So, I listened. For once.

I do think it would be okay to meet some of my former work friends for a beer. Or dinner. Or a playdate. I feel like I have certain stories that only my coworkers would truly appreciate or understand. For example, I have a lot of weird details surrounding the recent death of our guinea pig and his funeral that others may not fully grasp the beauty or humor or sadness or familiar combination of all three of these, like my work friends. Acckk. Former work friends. Anyways, spoiler alert. We had to put the guinea pig in the deep freezer overnight. Yeah, Yeah. It was the same place that I put your ice cream sandwiches a few weeks ago. Don’t worry, everything was wrapped up and sealed in a ziploc bag. The real deal, not a generic brand. Sterile-ish. The next day, my grieving inquisitive son wanted to pet his frozen guinea pig’s body before we buried him. So, I let him. It was a bit weird but he asked. It was his guinea pig afterall. And since he was frozen and dead….

I miss you guys. I’m sure you’ve got some great stories for me, too. Funny ones. Sad ones. Crazy ones. Work ones. Real life ones. Summer ones. It doesn’t really matter. I just miss your faces telling me the stories. Your stories. So, please, save some of your stories for me. The good ones. Or the bad ones. And I will do the same. Promise me we will all meet up soon. Don’t make me go against the internet doctor’s orders and go back to my former place of work. It’s just too soon.

Two ERs

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I woke up. Took a shower, and then I laid back down wrapped up in my towel. In fetal position. My guts hurt and I didn’t think I was ready to face the day. But I had to get up. I had to get my boys ready. I wanted to call in to work but I only had two shifts left. I took a moment then I got myself dressed. Because that’s what you do when you’re a mom. You have jobs, responsibilities and dependents. Even when you have a disease that lately keeps competing with your favorite interruptions in life, your kids.

So you get up. Get moving. Think positive. Keep the faith. You fight harder. You push back. You breathe deeply. You remind yourself how powerful your thinking is. And you tell yourself that you can do it. Then, you believe it. You pray and ask, or is it demand, for God’s help. You need his strength to jump start yours. Then, you take a moment to curse the disease. You may even irrationally tell it that you hate it and you don’t want it anymore. It’s not like you are childhood best friends or anything. You know it’s a bit absurd. As if you could just return it to the chronic illness store, at this point in your life. You’ve had it too long. No exchanges or returns. Sorry.

Some days, you’re painfully aware. Like the moments when you look down in the shower. This amazing life preserving sort of gift of your small intestine coming out of your body. It’s beautiful and visible and life changing. You recognize and appreciate the lessons that having the disease has taught you. The silly unimportant things it has freed you from, in order to help you focus in on the ones that matter. The gentle touch of strangers doing their job, taking care of you, getting you warm blankets. Because you drove to the ER alone. In the middle of the night. It’s what you needed to do and your husband needed to stay with the sleeping boys. Thankfully there are the kind hearted, the compassionate, the ones who don’t know you but they see you vulnerable, hurting and they tend to you like their own. They touch your shoulder, speak gently and tell you they love your name. The nurses.

Other days, you’re just so damn tired. More like utterly exhausted. From life. And you feel like the disease is the heavy weight champion and you’re curled up in the corner of the ring with your head in between your legs and your eyes are shut so tightly. Just. Go. Away. Leave me alone, will you? Please. You beg. And plead.

It’s the worst listener.

It’s really a great big juggling act balancing all the present thoughts, feelings, pain, anticipation and previous medical experiences. Then, there’s the future. What are your options? Will this be the thing that kills you? Should you ever go to that land of unknowns? Probably not. Just stay where you are. You stay positive and present with the many, many painful experiences you’ve had before. You let gratefulness fill you up and smother the little flames of pity, fear and shame. You know that you’re not as bad off as you have been before. You’re hopeful that like all the other times, you will make it through this valley filled with it’s fair share of obstacles. You will always, always learn something that’s bigger and better than the pain. And soon, you will look back once again to realize that it wasn’t ever your strength so much as it was the overwhelming and never ending strength, love, and support of those surrounding you, encouraging you and helping you. You will never ever forget the friend who picked you up on the curb. And drove your tired body home and acted like you gave her the greatest birthday gift in letting her help you. You will always remember her. You will remember that love wins. Every time.

You know that when you get to feeling better you will do everything possible to show others this kind of readily available, self sacrificing, beautiful and rare kind of love. Because you believe that it’s not fair, every person deserves to feel this kind of love. Not just you.

Accidental Litter

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I accidentally littered. It’s embarrassing. Humiliating. It’s not what I stand for. I hate littering. I will routinely, yet awkwardly, chase trash down that I’ve dropped. Or that one of my kids has dropped. Tiny Smartie or gum wrappers. Or other absurd pieces of trash. And for the record, I classify used gum as trash. It goes in the trash can. Not on the bottom of a shoe. Or in a curious or hungry kid’s mouth. Yep. That’s happened. One of the things that irritates me the most is when I see a car driving and trash starts flying out the window. What?!!! Un-freakin’-believable. Oh. Was that Taco Bell cup junking up your car? The audacity. Who do you think is going to pick that up? I want to pull up next to them and come up with something really clever and powerful to say. But I don’t want to get road raged. So I just make a really mean face as I nod my head back and forth with a “you oughta be ashamed of yourself” kind of disappointed face. And I vent in my car. “We don’t litter….” And so on. The nerve of some people.

When I’m on a walk or bike ride and I see trash all in the banks of the creek, I get pissed for the ducks. Or turtles or frogs. Or trees or grass or anything living. Like they want to swim around in your trash. I think I’m going to get one of those trash pick-up sticks and get to work around the Indian Creek.

But I have a confession.

Yesterday, I unintentionally joined the club. My van door opened up and two precious papers flew out. Like a prison break escape kind-of-flying out. Maybe they didn’t like the less than desirable living conditions of my van. Maybe they deserved a museum type of environment. A fancy frame, a wall, and some peace and quiet. Anyhow, the Kansas winds blew those water color paintings clear across the parking lot in less than two seconds. I was faced with a bit of a dilemma as I watched the painted rainbow pictures bounce across the pavement. Should I leave my child (in front of the preschool administration) and chase after the “accidental litter” or watch as those caffeinated winds carried the two pieces of artwork north of the river. Or maybe to the Nelson? Only a slight exaggeration. I’m sure someone has found them and put them where they rightfully belong: on a refrigerator. Hopefully, it’s a nice grandma of sorts type of person and not a creeper.

Since my house is totally under control, I’m going to head out to pick up some trash. I feel like I owe it to the environment. Maybe I will try and keep my van a bit cleaner too, so it will pose less of a risk of accidentally littering. See that. I blamed my poor van. I feel like such a jerk, but I’m gonna use all my feels to save the earth or at least the Indian trails.

Where do I get one of those trash pick-up sticks? I should probably wear an orange vest too. When we drove by a federal prison last week, my seven year son casually and confidentially said, “you’ve been there before, right?” Nope. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to federal prison, son. Let’s not go spreading that rumor to your first grade class, ok? However, if your classmates do see me picking up trash on the side of the road, you can tell them it’s an “Accidental Littering voluntary mother’s guilty conscious program” that I started. If there are any other parents who have unexpectedly lost trash due to the unfortunate combination of children opening car doors and the Midwest winds, feel free to join my non-profit organization. I’ll meet you at the creek. I’ve got garbage bags galore.  Bring a trash pick up stick. Or maybe just borrow one from the creek. It won’t mind since its for a good cause.

Praying for Orlando

 

I just can’t sleep. For what seems like a million sad and scary reasons. I laid down with my twin boys tonight. Their heads nestled up next to my shoulders. We talked about today and tomorrow, and then they fell asleep. I wanted to lay there with them and protect them. From Orlando. From the hurt of this world. The things that I just can’t begin to explain to their tiny ears. So, I cupped my giant hands around one of each of their ears as if I could shelter them from my thoughts. The thoughts that won’t stop because it all hits so very close to home. Too close. Fear doesn’t knock. It barges in. And it has the powerful ability to take over.

I can’t stop thinking about how many nights my friends and I went out dancing in college and the years after. To bars, to dance clubs, to music venues. In Nashville, in Panama City, in the Bahamas, in Lawrence, in Kansas City. I remember getting ready, driving downtown, listening to our favorite music. Laughing. I never once remember fearing for our lives. I never once thought, “we could die tonight.” Because that would have just been absurd or ridiculous.

But not anymore. Not after Orlando.

I can’t stop thinking about all of the innocent victims, their families, the bystanders, the police officers, the paramedics, the nurses, the physicians. What they have all witnessed that they will forever carry with them. The community. Everybody. I can’t stop thinking about all of their mothers. And that’s when I just don’t want to let go of my boys. Ever. Surely they should never venture into this unpredictable, scary world alone. Without me or their dad.

Because it’s one thing to be affected by an illness or disease, and to wait to be seen by a physican in the emergency department to try and figure out if you’re going to be okay. But it’s a totally heart breaking and suffocating other thing to know how many lives are being taken because of one wreckless human being violently stealing another’s beautiful life away. I can’t begin to wrap my head or my heart around how people can destroy other people. How can we not see another human being as someone’s child, someone’s mother, someone’s wife, someone’s best friend or someone’s brother?

My boys love catching lightning bugs in the summer. I have a hard time letting them keep lightning bugs locked up in their bug boxes overnight because it seems unfair. I think they should be flying in the night sky. That’s why they’re so beautiful. Because they are free. They brighten up the summer nightime sky.  So, to begin to understand how a man can go into a night club and trap and kill, injure and forever damage so many human lives is beyond my comprehension. I know I have to focus on the helpers. All of those sacrificing to help and bring hope with their two hands. All of them. Like the ones waiting in line for hours to donate blood. I know I have to reach out to the ones I love so dearly and let them know how much they matter to me and my family. I know that. I know that we have to love harder and push the fear away. We cannot be trapped. By hate or fear. Or violence. This I know.

I will keep praying for Orlando. And I will keep trying to teach, protect and love on my children in a way that honors the victims, especially the mothers who had to let go. The ones whose babies grew up and wanted to go hang out with some friends. To all of the ones who ache with a pain that I’ve witnessed and can imagine, but hate to. It steals the air from my lungs. It makes me want to throw up. And it makes tears fall too fast to try and wipe them away.

We’re grieving with you. I hope you will look up and see us in the darkness, occasionally lighting up the night sky.

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Mercy Warriors

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I will never forget the wounded spirits thrashing about, trapped in yellow gowns. I will never forget the countless children, teens and parents who have mastered the delicate art of crying slow and silent tears. The ones that fall, quickly hidden beneath a mask, in the midst of a painful procedure. The vanishing kind that people may never notice. I will never forget the amazing parents who ache with empathy and would desperately do anything to take it all away. All the hurt. All the pain. All the uncertainty. I will never forget the parents who wished they could go back in time and love differently.

I will never forget all of the beautiful and enormous, curled, and thick eyelashes surrounding the biggest eyes and tiniest bodies. Often clumped together from the tears. I will never forget all of my work routines, cleaning toys, filling the treasure box, meeting new families and the routine honor and privilege of holding a hand, blowing bubbles or soliciting a smile. I will never forget the giggles. Or all of the innocent commentaries as kids think outloud….

“Are you a doctor?”
“Are you a kid?”
“Are you dizzy too?”
“Do you like farting?”
“I will stay with you because we both like laughing”
“Can I call you Banana?”

I will never forget the hugs. The apologies. The wrongfully bruised bodies and the repeatedly banged-up hearts. I will never forget their inspirational, yet unfair resilience. Their hope. Their shouts. “I did it! I didn’t think I could do it, but I did it!” I won’t forget their cries.

I will never forget all of the innocent siblings. There. On the edges. On the floor. In the waiting room. Always. Still somehow so brave. Perhaps feeling invisible through it all. The ones whose skinned up knees and broken bodies will manage to rise above the overwhelming heaps of pain. The ones whose hearts will forever be altered by the accidents, the injuries, the new diagnosis or the devastating loss of a brother or sister or mother or father. Sibling orphaned.

I will never forget the babies. The sweetest, littlest ones. Their mommies and daddies. The grandparents. Beautiful new lives swaddled for the first and last time. The tears. And the excruciating pain of life stolen. I won’t forget the long walks down the halls wondering how you could ever get me to let go, for the last time.

I will never forget the teens who stole my heart as they sat day in and day out hooked up to the dialysis machine that cleaned their blood. The kids whose lives revolved around modified diets, modified social lives, medicine taking, blood draws, and waiting hours on transportation to pick their exhausted bodies up after treatment. I will never forget their constantly changing moods, or their resilience, their smiles, their laughter, and their birthday requests. I will never forget both the excitement and sadness involved in anticipating their transplants as they were granted a chance at a new life.

It’s all quite impossible to forget.

So I will remember. Always.

I will remember the compassionate. The ones constantly sacrificing their hearts, their thoughts, their energy and their lives. The immeasureable amounts of love scattered and woven in the midst of the darkest of places. Everybody running and doing impossibly hard things. The nurses who bent down on their knees and bled with their patients. Time and time again. The doctors who gracefully carried all the knowledge, the responsibility and the weight of another human being’s life on their tired, slouched shoulders. I will always remember the care assistants who stood, time and time again, holding strongly onto a sweet child’s body as they fought their own instincts to cry. I will remember the neverending patience, the overflowing compassion and the grace of the team working together in the most difficult times.

I will always remember that violence, poverty, homelessness, neglect, abuse, orphaned, and unavoidable hurt and pain exist here. Right here. In our city. On a daily basis. I will always look differently and act more sympathetically and compassionately because of my experiences inside these walls. I will judge less and look out more for the broken, the familiar eyes, the ones whose tiny bodies, hearts and minds have witnessed so much of the pain of this world.

I will always remember the beauty of this place. Especially the people that should win the happy emotion lottery everyday for what they endure. I will always remember how they unknowingly brought hope to so many in the midst of some of the worst times. I will always remember how this place has changed my eyes, my mind and my heart. I will always remember the dedication, the loyalty, the comraderie, and the family that will forever be with me. I will remember you. Always.

Because I could never forget you.

It’s impossible to say goodbye. I can’t do it. I keep telling myself that I will see you all again. So, I will say “thank you” instead for all that you’ve taught me and for the hundreds of ways you’ve loved, supported and encouraged me. I will think of you often and pray for you constantly. You do hard things. All the time. I’m so proud to know you. Your moms, dads, spouses, kids, and everybody who can’t witness the work you do would all be so proud of you, if they could see front and center what I’ve gotten to see for all of these years. You’re truly amazing. Real life heroines and heroes. You’re life changers. Please always remember the sacred power that you possess.

The Mercy Tree

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If I wanted to be funny, I would say that I just couldn’t take it anymore. That it nearly broke me when they eradicated the sugar-free cokes. And then the chocolate covered cinnamon bears disappeared. Next they replaced the entire grill and deep fat fryers with weird non-ovens. I’m no good at packing my lunch and bringing it to work unless I pretend that I’m that homeless man’s mother off of 71 hi-way and pack us both a lunch. So, I would like to blame my resignation on something trivial like the gradual disappearance of non-healthy comfort foods in the hospital cafeteria. A junk food extinction. I don’t “feel better” about it. But that would just be ridiculous. Because everybody knows if you work in the emergency department, you will typically be surrounded by carbs. And more carbs. Carbs of every kind. Pretty much every shift. Especially on Sundays.

The truth is that I’ve been saying goodbye to this place for months. I knew I had to prepare my heart far in advance. I’ve spent too many years here to only give myself a two weeks notice of goodbyes. I’ve walked around differently, a bit more slowly, soaking in the views from the many different hallways and places I’ve worked. I’ve tried to avoid thinking about the last times. The last time I would prepare and support a child or teen as they navigate through a lengthy and humiliating exam. The last time I may temporarily squeeze into the shoes of a mother or a sister or a friend. I’ve held on tightly, so tightly, to the beautiful moments when a mother hugged me after I did something small to help her child or her. I’ve jumped at the opportunity to console a tiny crying one or comfort a sibling or explain that an accident was not his fault. Most times, even when I’ve been hurting or tired, I’ve eagerly grabbed my Mary Poppins bag full of distraction materials to quickly go support a patient getting sutures or an IV.

I’ve absolutely cherished last conversations with coworkers who I love so dearly that it physically hurts to think I won’t see them on a regular basis. Maybe if I could memorize their voices, their laughs, and their faces, it will help me later when I’m missing them.

I’ve prepared myself because I need to walk out of here with my head held high. More proud than sad. I’ve prepared myself because I know it’s best for me and because that’s what I have always done with kids. Hundreds and hundreds of kids. Nearly twelve years worth of kids and families. I’ve blown at least a million bubbles. I’ve held hundreds of nervous, scared or confused hands. I’ve taken a million deep breaths. I’ve said thousands of prayers. I think I’ve heard “Let it Go” at least a trillion times. It’s really, really difficult, almost incomprehensible, to think that soon I won’t navigate these halls with the ease, familiarity and confidence that comes with years and years of experience. This place has been like my second home with all of my beautiful brothers and sisters, my work family.

So, I’m feeling a bit shaky, like a volunteer tree. You know those opportunistic little seedlings? The ones that fall from the strong well-established mature tree and plant themselves in a perfect or not so perfect place in a forest or yard and they begin to grow. That’s me. I have fallen or taken a leap or perhaps the winds of life have pushed me away from my big comfortable home base work tree. It’s all a little scary. And uncertain. Definitely unfamiliar. But change is always new. And hard. And usually a risk. So many new doors to embark upon or windows to slide through.

A month or so ago, a kind-hearted and smart gardening friend of mine came over and walked around my backyard with me and pointed out flowers, and perennials and weeds. She also pointed out my “volunteer trees.” The trees that had grown on their own accord…because well, I didn’t plant them. Some of them were so tiny and cute, little toy trees that could easily be uprooted by my children running or tromping on top of them. Other volunteer trees appeared strong like they had strategically placed themselves in a perfect growing spot. Like they may take some real effort to dig out. So maybe I should just leave them alone and let them keep growing. Plant a tree. Or just be open to one planting itself. And leave it alone.

Let it grow.

That’s what I’m hoping to do. Little volunteer tree me. Grow through the change. Battle the winds. The seasons. The unknowns. And just keep growing. Just keep growing. I will tell myself. I will always think of all of the encouragement and support and love I’ve been filled up with. And I think I will manage alright because I’ve learned from one of the strongest, most resilient and beautiful trees that exist. The Mercy Tree.

Homemade Banana Cake

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Sometimes I bake when I’m sad. Or overwhelmed. It beats vacuuming or unloading the dishwasher. I really can’t stand to watch bananas turn all speckled and brown. Fruit injustice. My rotten bananas commanded me to make homemade banana cake with cream cheese frosting, in memory of Grandma Fritz. She always made some pretty amazing banana bread. Midway through cake making, I realized I didn’t have enough flour so my husband borrowed some from a neighbor. Because I wasn’t giving up easy on this sympathy cake. After I baked it, it cooled only slightly. Then, I slapped the frosting on it in the least pretty way. My youngest taste-tested the frosting. Then, we all fancied up our banana (cup)cake by adding a candle or two because you just don’t get to make enough wishes in life or blow out the candles either. It made it special. Like a celebration.

In lieu of visiting my grandma, every week since she died I have done something meaningful in her memory, something that would make her smile. And me too.

Tonight, before making the cake, I sat on the bench, tired and hurting as I stared out the kitchen window hoping to see the yellow finch. Or maybe a hummingbird swinging by for some dessert. Or maybe I just wanted to hear my grandma’s voice telling me everything is going to be alright. Instead, my sweet son came up and sat next to me. He saw my tears and asked me why I was sad. Ahhh. It was complicated. For me and a seven year old. I told him that I missed Grandma Fritz. He sat for a moment next to me and then asked, “what was your favorite pie that she made again?” I paused and wondered. I held back tears as I talked about her blackberry cobbler and her strawberry rhubarb pie. How can a seven year old be so sensitive and intuitive and say something so healing? He helped me talk about her. I told a few stories. And then he helped me realize she wouldn’t want me to be sitting around staring out the window, waiting on birds and crying when life is happening all around me. So, that’s what prompted us to celebrate by eating banana cake with candles, that my boys blew out several times. We sat outside with the birds chatting and the trees swaying and the mosquitoes bugging too as the late night summer sun set. It was a hidden sunset but the purple, orange and pink clouds ran together beautifully like watercolors do. My grandma would have loved all the colors.

I don’t want my boys to fear someone crying. I want them to reach out to others. Tonight, I am not happy I was missing my grandma but my son’s response stopped my grieving heart in its tracks. I learned that it helps in the most powerful way when a tender sweet soul stops and sits with you. Sees you. Feels your hurt and then asks a simple yet beautiful question. Then waits and listens. My boy unknowingly nudged me to get up off of the bench and love on those in front of my face. Just like my grandma would do. Over some banana cake.