Work Drive Home

imageI walked towards my car parked in the creepy (potentially Zombie hiding) end spot under the garage at work. I briefly watched a coworker try to hack away at his ice-covered truck. Uh. Oh. I quickly realized I couldn’t drive home tired, like I had just worked the entire day. And day before. Inside the thick walls and windowless rooms of the emergency department. Tonight, I would not get to casually listen to music and occasionally stare up at the moon following me home. On this messy winter night, my eyes would be fixed on the road before me. My hands clenching the wheel, my posture hunched over uncomfortably. The whole drive home. I wish I could just fly home. On nights like tonight.

Towards the end of my shift, co-working friends walked past me cleaning toys. A job I happen to take enormous pride in, despite the monotony and the annoyingness of the fumes and the gloves. And the tiny toys. And weird hairs, crumbs and gunk. Nosocomial infection? Not on my watch. Hopefully, one day my autopsy doesn’t reveal that yes, in fact, I died of inhaling too much of the powerful odor that kills most every germ known to human.

In between de-crumbing bins (leftover lunchables) and rearranging toys, I tend to get pretty annoyed with Ken. He’s lost his pants. Again. I’m perplexed. Why is he ALWAYS losing his pants? Where are they? Or why is someone constantly stealing Ken’s pants like they’re something special? Are they? I just can’t put his naked Barbie-loving self back in the clean toy bin. I should probably Sharpie some underwear on him. I feel more like I have a Bacheolor’s in Sani-wiping toys and a minor in alphabetizing movies on days like today. Despite my love for my job and especially the friends I see two days a week, I’m ready to go home.

I pull onto the ramp to enter the highway and notice the enormous Kansas City Fire Department truck reversing into the station. Backing that bad boy up. Now that takes practice. And skills. I could never do that. Reversing, at night, into the narrow open garage. Unfortunately, I think that truck will be out again shortly, before the engine even cools off.

I hate driving home on icy, snowy, rainy or foggy nights. After midnight. I joked with my coworkers earlier about needing to write my name on my body since I have temporarily lost my wallet. I don’t have it for my drive home. One of my friends occasionally tells me to zip up my purse, so they can identify me if I get into a wreck. Kind of a gruesome yet thoughtful gesture which is par for the emergency room nurse.

I’m creeping along on the highway. Not too slow. Not too fast. On nights like this I can hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “pump the brakes. You’ve got to pump the brakes…” And that freaks me out. I don’t want to have to pump the brakes. I want to just coast my way home, never making a sharp turn and avoiding laying my big right foot on that brake pedal.

Suddenly, I notice several cars lined up, pulled over on the shoulder up ahead. This is uncommon after midnight. It’s too early for Monday morning rush hour traffic. My stomach starts to do a little dance. Not a happy one. The nauseating, freaked out, spinning kind of dance. This is not good. There’s a snow plow truck or salt truck blocking the middle lane. And two cars smashed facing the wrong way and there’s people out on the highway. “Please, God.” I start praying. “Help them. Be okay. Be alive. Please.” I hear the sirens coming. I pray for the first responders. For their speediness and bravery and strength. I want to throw up. I don’t want to keep driving home. I start biting my nails. All off.

How quickly life, even just a routine drive home, can be slammed into perspective. I’m certain I will not be able to sleep for awhile tonight. But I will get to sleep in my own bed. I will get to wake up and see my kids’ sweet faces in the morning. And I truly feel overwhelmed for this gift. That I’ve received every late-night, early morning drive home from work. So often overlooked. And under appreciated. I’m grateful for my job. Even the sani-wiping and half-ass alphabetizing. And I’m grateful I made it back home. Safely.

It’s a lively and stubborn combination: the work adrenaline mixed with the drive-home adrenaline, topped off by the leftover caffeine circulating through me from the coffee I desperately needed hours ago. It will wear off eventually. It has to. Hopefully before the sun peeks into the windows and before three little boys excitedly wake me saying,

“Mama, what day is it? Do you go to work today?”

And I will snuggle them, in a tired yet grateful state,

“Nope. I don’t go to work today.”

In my sleep-deprived state, I will slowly yet excitedly say the words.

I’m consciously grateful to be alive and home, yet so exhausted. It’s a Saturday-kind-of-Monday.

Finding My Laugh

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I prayed a short prayer on my drive into work today.

“Please. Let nobody die today.”

I knew it wasn’t a good sign that I was already crying. On my way in. Sun shining, morning crying as opposed to dark sky, moon glowing crying. On my drive home. Ackk. I had already put my eye make-up on. It’s too early. I haven’t started my shift. I need to walk into work strong, ready, happy. Not fragile and sad.

I am supposed to arrive secretly clad in some form of protective armor hidden beneath my clothes. The kind of armor that is hard to get on. It’s tight, it grips my chest. I should feel it somehow and know it’s there even if nobody else does. Right up close to my heart. Always ready, or waiting. On guard, to help protect and defend me from the unpredictable and seemingly inescapable sadness that may seep in.

I keep driving. Hoping that maybe a happy song will come on my favorite radio station. Surely that will help. They usually seem to know when I’m in my car driving to or home from work.

Maybe if I could give a dollar and a Quiktrip gift card to the homeless man that stands and sings off of my exit on Hiway 71, that may be a good sign. A sign that it will be a day where there’s more smiling. And less dying.

Yesterday, I sat in a room playing with a child who laughed easily. Literally, on the ground, genuinely laughing at the silliest things. Like me popping bubbles with a plastic frying pan. He said, “I like laughing.” And I replied, “Me too.” He had no idea how tightly I would hold onto his innocent and spontaneous words.

Spoken freely, out loud.

Later, he didn’t want to go back with his parent because he wanted to hang out and walk around the halls with me. He told his mom, “I want to go back to that room with her. Because we both like laughing.” I wish I could have hung out with him and his sweet giggling self all day long.

But I couldn’t.

The day got hard. Really hard.

And I lost my laugh.

I kept reminding myself throughout my shift, in my head, “I like laughing.” Remember. If a little boy notices, it must be true. Because I do.

Hard. Belly hurting. Silly, big teeth, open-mouthed loud, almost obnoxious laughing. Near snorting, breath catching. That kind of laughing. It feels good. So good. It feels like the world still has a lot of happy left in it.

That boy reminded me that I’ve got to step outside from underneath the dark cloud of sadness some days. I’ve got to make a conscious effort. To find the light. I can’t let the small sliver of gloom consume me. Even though it’s impossibly hard sometimes.

I like laughing. I really love laughing. I told myself this. Over and over again. All day long.

But somehow I still managed to be in my car crying on the way home. Again. Sadness can be sneaky, yet strong and overpowering at times. Overwhelming. And tricky too. You can’t suppress it for too long or it will explode or change you. It will affect how you treat those who matter the most. It might make you forgetful or short-fused. Or unmotivated to get out of bed.

I laugh when something is funny. Even sometimes, when it may not be appropriate. Nervous coping mechanism. In church or meetings or all-too-serious of not-so-serious times. And I think I function best when I give myself the freedom to cry when something is sad. I have to find the right time and the right place. And just cry. Let. It. ALL. Out. It’s damn near impossible to hold back a dam of tears for long. I tell kids all the time, “it’s okay to cry.” I believe it. And it’s okay for adults to cry, too.

I didn’t need to cry today. And that made me so happy. So happy actually that I almost cried. The happy tear kind of crying. The grateful, humbled, overwhelmed smiling kind of short-lived crying. I got to leave work talking with a coworker about how I couldn’t remember where I parked. I got to notice gorgeous Christmas lights. I even noticed Pope Francis was trying to give me a high five from the catholic radio billboard. Or it may have been knuckles. I left work on time after talking and laughing with some of my favorite green zone girls. I feel honored, privileged and just giddy to leave work happy.

I love that place tonight. I really do. Somehow.

I drove up our driveway and saw our sweet little tree barely strong enough to hold its brightly colored lights. And I just could have cried. Again. But I didn’t need to. Not tonight. That tree looked so little, yet so beautiful and happy.

I will always remember that boy saying, “we both like laughing.” He reminds me of a tiny brightly lit tree that can barely hold the weight of the lights, yet somehow unknowingly offers perfectly timed hope and joy.

I like laughing. I really do.

The Monday Feels

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I walked into my closet. And sat down against the wall. I was officially overwhelmed. And I didn’t want to cry in front of my boys because I knew it might be hard to stop. I predicted it had the potential to be one of those downpours where it didn’t even matter if I had an umbrella. A lost cause. Between the wind and the crazy overwhelming tears coming from all directions, I knew I would be a mess. Drenched. I thought I should just try and be apathetic. Seemingly unphased on the surface but literally crumbling underneath. It’s a struggle. When everything seems to be happening at the same time. Mondays are just plain hard. On the body. All around.

I wake up and feel so exposed, unclothed and vulnerable because I don’t have to push down the feelings and pretend like the painful stuff doesn’t hurt. Not anymore. Outside of the walls of work, I am free to hurt. And be so sad. And pissed. And then damn sad again. My roles quickly change as I kick off my work shoes in the garage and enter the doors of my house. On Monday morning. At 2:00 am. In a few short hours, a healthy eager boy will need to get to school early. I want to talk with him and hug him longer before I drop him off and he walks up the stairs to his first grade classroom. There’s a sick boy that needs me at home. At the kitchen table, he handed me pictures he made for me while I was at work. I love his giving heart. I love that he draws pictures for me when I’m gone. He always wraps them up and tapes them together like a package. I love how excited and proud he is for me to open them.

I want to cry. Because I’m so happy to be home. I hate that I can’t be emotionally available yet. I feel so weak. And tired. Physically and emotionally. Thankfully, I have a husband whose compassion and patience for me overflows, especially on Mondays. Somehow it never runs out. He hugs me. It’s hard to hug him back because I don’t want to fall apart. Yet.

This work doesn’t make piles of laundry disappear. It doesn’t help the stacks of bills get magically paid. It doesn’t buy fancy vacations. It’s perks are few and include a discount that you don’t want to need to use. It’s a job that forces a continual reexamination of my faith in God and humanity. It strongly encourages the necessary prioritizing of what matters most and on some days, it triggers the unraveling of my heart. And as I pick up the string and slowly wind it back up, I feel overwhelmed. For good, really good, like gratitude-that-hurts kind of good. For my family. My home. My perspective. It overwhelms me for the uncomfortable too though. It makes it hard to fit in sometimes, hard to hold my tongue when someone says something so unimportant or worries about something that just doesn’t matter. When you’ve seen the wounded. The raw. The so completely and uncomprehensibly painful. And you wonder how will they ever pick up all the shattered pieces. When everything stops flying through the air. And you hope and pray that they have people that will stick around long enough to help them learn to fit all of the pieces back together. Somehow. The most important pieces. When I’m home, its difficult to just turn off my thinking and my feelings. I think if its ever too easy, or too comfortable then I will leave. Just quit. Some things should never be easy.

Today, instead of unraveling completely, I gave myself some time to process. Just to feel. On the ground in my closet. Then, I took a shower. A long one. Then, I made a promise to those I’ve worked with and myself that I will love abundantly, forgive constantly and appreciate the moments with those I missed all weekend. I will try my hardest. Because I’m here now. Today I owe the ones in front of me my focused yet imperfect, unconditional and overwhelming love. They get to have all of my Monday feels.

Full Moon

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There are thunderstorms. A lot of them happen right here in the midwest. We hear the sirens. Take cover. We anxiously or routinely wait it out. Feeling the thunder, winds and rain beat down.

There are winterstorms. We occasionally get a few of these in the midwest too. Crazy amounts of snow and ice dumped in a short amount of time. Everything quietly blanketed in bright white. Snow shoveling galore.

And then, there is a whole different kind of storm. It’s a kind that even the most accurate meterologist cannot predict. You can’t take cover. You have to work through it despite the damage it may cause.

These are the shitstorms.

They tend to happen most of the time at work. Especially if you work in the hospital setting. You can casually clock into work and have no clue what the next twelve hours will bring. You may have a feeling, but there are often no signs outside of the hospital to warn you of the impending doom. The heinous stressful atmosphere inside. Somedays, you would be willing to put your paycheck on the fact that it will be a full moon tonight. You walk outside at the end of your shift and look up. Case in point. Hello there, you big bright moon.

There’s no announcement. No watch. No warnings. No code. And no denying the full force of the shitstorm touching down inside of the walls of the place you don’t like today. Not at all. You actually decided you hate it. You hate it’s sole existence. It doesn’t matter how many brightly colored murals and amusing elevator animals decorate it’s many walls. It’s an easy place to hate on days like today. When you’re caught smack dab in the eye of a shitstorm. Stuck with some of the biggest hearted, most self-sacrificing people you know. And also some of the most vulnerable and dependent children and families. You wish you could protect them all. And if every work day was like today, you would just take cover and never come out. Ever. You would clock out for the last time. It really doesn’t make any kind of sense that you can love a place that you hate so much. And still come back. Over and over. Again. And again.

But you will come back tomorrow.

Today you’ve had many opportunities to master the art of compartmentalizing. Sadly, you’ve created several new compartments. You’re strangely equipped and fully capable of walking into one happy alive room then quickly switching gears as you close the door and walk the halls to slowly open the door to an eerily silent room. It’s what you have to do. Keep going. Don’t feel that feeling.

Especially that one feeling.

Chest throbbing emptiness smothered in disbelief and surreal sadness.

How could you not go home and immediately search for another job? Like tonight. Maybe stocking the shelves somewhere. Serving kids somewhere else. Some place where nobody cries. Some place where no one screams. Or bleeds. Or dies. A place where horrible accidents and non-accidents don’t happen. A place. Any place. Somewhere else.

You’re still close to happy-tear-crying grateful. Because you’re in good company. You’re constantly rescued by the familiarity and love for the people who you have briefly talked with today. Your coworkers. Held captive in the storm with you. You’ve gotten to make eye contact, subtle faces back and forth. Eyes that could say a million words. And express a hundred different emotions. In just one glance. It’s solidarity at it’s finest. Strength, love, comraderie and hope shoved down, yet not buried beneath the darkness. You will find it later. You have to. It’s still there. Always.

It can be hard to break past the debris, the damage, the misplaced, scattered, torn and the forever lost. The forever changed. The anger. The sadness. Disbelief. Disgust. Pain. The unexplainable.

You have the intermittent overthinking moments. Wresting with the overwhelming feeling of trying to lift the invisible gargantuan weight of another’s pain. And knowing that you can only do so much. Or so little. You can’t reveal that sometimes it’s too difficult to carry. Not here. Not yet. Switch gears again. Focus on stopping the heavy incessant thoughts of your own world outside of these walls.

There’s a constant struggle with hospital work. It’s internal. A good versus evil tug-of-war going on inside of your heart. And in your head. Throughout the days. And nights. A brain overfilled with thoughts. A heart bursting with emotions. Temporarily tied up. It’s bulging at the seams. When you drive home, you will began to untangle the knotted twine capturing the feelings that have not been felt yet. It often gets messier before you get the knots out. You know you should try to feel the feelings now. While you’re in control. Outside of the walls. While everyone sleeps.

You survived. Again. Most will not know tomorrow what you’ve endured these past two shifts. Because you will do what you’ve learned to do. Cope. Compartmentalize. Keep on keeping on. And hope for tomorrow. Then wake up to a new day with a post-shitstorm perspective. Grateful and readily available to engage in the life-filled moments with those you love the most. Because you’re resilient. You’re a survivor. And for today, the shitstorm is over.

Invisible Burdens

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I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell you this the other night. I couldn’t be responsible for your feelings. Not that night. I sat at the kitchen table in the dark. Paralysed. Consumed. Affected. Hurting. Decompressing after a horribly long and painful day at work. You wanted to help me. I knew I was hungry. And that I needed to eat something. I just didn’t know what. I felt like I was going to throw up. Or was my stomach in knots. I was just so sad. Eating seemed like such a trivial thing to do. I was short. I was rude. I was broken. And you stood there as long as you could. I’m sorry again.

I didn’t know what I needed from you. I didn’t want to expose you to the painful reality of life. Inside of those hospital walls. I wanted to protect you but I needed to tell you. I needed to say the words. I needed to cry. Hard. I needed to feel like you would hold me. I needed you to say that as much as I hurt, I helped in some small way today. I needed you to say that as hard as my job is sometimes, I have to keep on doing it. Because of how much it hurts. Because of how much I care. Because of how much I love people that I just met. I needed you to tell me that you love me. That you love my broken heart. I needed you to say, “I’m so sorry. So very sorry for what you saw. What you heard. What you had to do.” Even if you couldn’t begin to know how awful it was. Because I didn’t want you to know.

I’m sorry that you often witness me carrying the heavy, seemingly invisible burdens of a helping profession. The burdens that you know are not invisible. You witness my dark eyes stained with the mascara that has run all over the place. And also somehow lingered underneath my eyes. You witness me struggling, hurting, and questioning. I’m sorry that you get ignored or mistreated sometimes because I just can’t help one more person. And so you temporarily get the short end of the stick. Until I have cried. Until I have tried to make sense of it. Until I have come to peace with my small role.

Thank you for loving me through the hard stuff. Thank you for not wanting me to quit. Thank you for holding my shaking body. Thank you for waiting up for me. Even though it may have seemed pointless. Thank you for encouraging me. Even when I seemed distant. Thank you for the burdens that you gracefully carry as a result of the work that I do. I couldn’t do it without your support. Without you stepping up when I don’t know how to ask for help. I couldn’t do it without your strength. Thank you for helping me and always building me back up. So that I can help others. Others that you will never meet.

Heart Safe

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You carry a permanently locked safe in the depths of your heart. It’s filled with unspoken lessons that you’ve learned. The ones that normal people don’t want to hear about. You know that there’s a key but it might as well be hidden or lost. You can’t freely open this bulging safe. You fear all that will spill out. It’s filled with moments, hours, and lessons learned in the hardest ways. The unspoken kind. The most impressionable. The lessons you’ve learned through watching others suffer the unimaginable, disturbing, sad, cruel and pain filled.

Quick. Close the safe. Lock it up. You won’t dare speak of the babysitters. The Internet. Sleepovers. Neighbors. Fires. Swimming pools. Lakes. Dogs. Frozen ponds. School buses. Streets. Open windows. Seat belts. Lawnmowers. Guns. Teenagers. Mental illness. Headaches. Belts. Strange bumps. Drugs. Closets. Bathrooms. Alcohol. And on. And on. And. On.

You now look at life differently. You can’t help it. You have to. Not necessarily the dirt, candy or monkey bars, but the great and infinite unknowns. You’re a lot less worried about the wounds that kids can recover from. Not the stitches. Or the broken bones. You’re in overprotective mode, hyper aware to the wounds that may break a child’s spirit. Extinguish trust. The innocence stolen. The stranger smiling at the park. Or the man alone in Toys R Us, subtly following you and your kids around the store.

You’re unsure of when you will let your kids cross the street by themselves. Maybe never. Will they ever get to go to a sleepover? Perhaps no. They will always ride in the car seat that they’re supposed to be in. Wearing a helmet is non-negotiable. Life jackets are on. You know the ways they will be most protected. And you try your best to protect yourself too. You will wear your seat belt. Always. You try and control what you can control. Yet, you still feel weak, powerless and scared at times. You silently suffer from the vicarious trauma and grief that you’ve experienced. The unforeseen, imaginable pain. You’re strangely over aware that you can only control a tiny portion of the lives you so enormously love.

Because of this awareness, you passionately do what you have the power to do. You live without regrets. You play unabashedly with your kids. When they ask, “Mommy, will you be the dog monster?” A million times, yes, you answer, especially on a Monday. You laugh loud and often with them. You hold them harder, tighter. You hug them closer, longer. You still let them crawl up into your lap with their long skinny, nearly seven year old legs dangling towards the ground. You pray honestly, fiercely. You tell them that you love them all the time. You apologize and forgive readily.

And on some rough nights, you tiptoe into their rooms and press your sobbing face next to theirs as they sleep. You’re overwhelmingly comforted and thankful that you hear and feel them breathe deeply. You touch their warm skin. You stare at their long eyelashes in the moonlight. You savor in their sleeping beauty, their innocence. And as much as you love their pouncing, giggling wide-awake bodies, you hold tightly onto these moments. The hours when they’re safely dreaming in their beds. And yet, you always leave a place in your bed for a little snuggler that had a bad dream. And needs some extra cuddling. Because you may just need it too.

Sadly, you know all of the overused sayings to be true…our days are not guaranteed. We should live life to the fullest. Cherish every day. You understand too painfully well that we will not all live to be old and dependent again. You know about the unexpected and unpredictable, yet you’re overly conscious of the things that may be preventable. Or avoidable. Because of this, most days you wake up holding onto the hope that you will be the best protector and most unconditional lover. You’re ever grateful. You quietly soak up the mundane. Like the times that you get to hold your sweet children at both the beginning and the end of the day. The long uninterrupted hugs in the kitchen.

You naturally worry about the day that they will leave your nest. No longer living under your roof constantly available for you to check on, touch, smell, hold, and see their chests rise with each deep sleeping breath. You know deep in your heart that you will sleep better always knowing they’re safe. Protected. Alive. Unhurt.

You will always hold a safe locked in your heart. Even if you never open it, you will always remember. Always.

Work Spades

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I could tell you a million sad stories about a million hard things that happen to kids. And their families. Well, maybe not a million. But eleven years worth. I could tell you about horrible, awful things. Worse than you can imagine. Worse than you’ve seen on TV. It would alter your mood. And change the vibe of your get-together, if I’m honest. I know better. I won’t do that. I will listen to you talk of work stories. And I will let you insert hard things for me to hear like “you have such a fun job” or “I could never work in a children’s hospital” or “I don’t know how you do it.”

It really would not be fair to follow up your bad day at work story with one of mine. That’s because when it comes to sad stories, I’ve got a hand full of spades. Every single time. Pretty soon you just won’t want to play with me anymore. You won’t ask about work. It will be the elephant in the room, the one in the corner making herself a drink. Don’t worry, its okay. I get it. I do understand. It’s hard for me, too, walking into the hospital on some gorgeous happy sunny days. You never know what you’re walking into. You never know how hard your hands will be squeezed. Or how many times your heart will be flipped upside down. How many screams or cries you will hear. Or how hard it will be to hold back the tears building a sad castle inside. You never know how many times you will need to go to the bathroom. Or how many times you will just have to keep holding it. Or if you will eat anything other than a donut and cheez-its. It’s an unpredictable environment, to say the least.

But, it’s not all ace of spades sad trumping stories. Or none of us would do it. There are victorious, fist pumping small miracles happening. All around. I could also tell you of some of the most inspiring stories. The times where I’ve witnessed love in it’s purest, most raw and unconditional form. When I’ve held back both happy and sad tears as I left the room to go grab a warm blanket. Or a glass of water for a parent. I can attempt to describe to you the thrill of working on a team where each member excels in different roles but most have mutual respect and adoration for each other. And every member has the same goal: to help make things better in both gigantic life-saving ways and the seemingly small, dignity reviving ways. We all show up and hope to help kids and families overcome. We aspire to make the world inside a kid’s hospital better.

If I could see that you truly wanted to listen, I would highlight all the joys and all of the many pains. The frustrations. And the necessary humor. Definitely the life-changing moments. The many heroes and heroines. You would hear all about the kids who proudly shouted “I did it!” after completing something really scary and painful. And excruciatingly hard. I wouldn’t forget to tell you of the time where I witnessed a teenage brother sit on the bed and comfort his younger sister in the most inspiring, compassionate way. A way that reminded me of my big brother. Or the time where I stood beside a father who held on so tightly to his daughter’s head and hand, never letting go, as she screamed in pain and begged him to hold her. I think she was begging him to make it stop. To rescue her. But he couldn’t do that, so he did what he could. He held onto her through the hurt.

I would need to tell you of the innocent, gigantic-hearted children who say things like, “I want to stay at your house” or “do you want to go to Worlds of Fun with us?” And of the painful, heartbreaking realizations that tumble out of kids’ mouths like… “He was just a kid. And he died.” I would have to boast about the littlest interpreters who carry the weight of speaking English at the doctor and Spanish at home. Who speak for their mother or father, all the while trying to play and just be a kid. Just a few weeks ago, one sweet seven year old boy fumbled and told me, “I got lost in a word.” How perfect. I knew exactly what he meant.

I get lost in words too. Especially when I try to explain what working in a hospital is like. Most people have a hard time listening. So I stop talking. I recognize that maybe you just wanted to hear something less heavy. More happy. Lighthearted.

Unfortunately, I think I can usually trump any sad story you tell. That doesn’t mean I should. Or that I want to. I usually won’t. I try to hide what I hold in my hands. And in my heart. Unless I know that you carry a hand of spades too. I will not unravel in front of you. I will hold my cards tightly. To my chest. You will never know of the faces, the sounds, the room number. The smells. The horror. The memory triggers. I know I can’t tell you about this. If I told you about it, you may not understand. You would wonder how I can talk without sobbing. You would think I’m some sort of sick human being. You may think I just don’t feel anymore. Or that I’m insensitive, maybe calloused. Burnt out perhaps. You may say something like “I just don’t know how you do it…..how you don’t cry.” You forgot to ask me the question. You assumed that this work doesn’t affect me. Maybe not like you imagine it would affect you. You forgot to ask,

“Do you ever cry?”

Because, if you asked this, I would answer, “Yes.” Exhale. “Yes, I do cry.” Not in front of you though. Not right here. Not right now.

I cry as I turn my back to you, quick tears that never exit. I cry in the halls and bathrooms at work. Bent over using the cheapest toilet paper or paper towels to wipe them away. Or in my office. I cry at home in my kitchen into a dish towel or on the tread mill into my t-shirt. I cry in my bedroom into my pillow when my kids are sleeping or getting ready for school. Just because I can stand in this room or tell a story without crying doesn’t mean I don’t feel the utter sense of loss and pain and unfairness that you felt upon first imagining it. I’m only human. I’m actually a lot like you.

We all have different strengths. And different capacities. Limits. Gifts. Yet, we all have weaknesses. Vulnerabilities. Every single last one of us. There is a completely different language that takes years and years to recognize and learn. A language we will never fully understand. And the more time you spend around this unspoken language, the more deeply you feel. In happy or sad moments. It’s the language of hurt. The language of pain. The language of unexpected life-altering circumstances. It’s too difficult to try and understand in a moment. In a conversation. In a day. It’s much too complicated. It often feels foreign, uncomfortable. You just can’t fathom the all-encompassing, overwhelming and sometimes heart-stopping beautiful feelings that accompany holding these cards. So, I will nod. Put on my best poker face. And most likely I will never let you truly know what it feels like to work in a children’s hospital. It’s easier for me to just hold my cards closely, tightly, right up next to my beating heart.