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.

Work Family

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There’s no one I would rather clean up puke with. Or sani-wipe toys with. Or laugh with. Or sigh with. You’ve always got my back. I’ve got yours too. I just so happen to love working with you. You do your job so incredibly well. Your mom would be proud. Like cry her eyes out kind of proud. I hope you know that you’re one of the best.

We speak a hospital-working language of sorts. A language sometimes without words. A language laced with patience, perseverance, humor and strength. And human weakness too. We laugh because we have to. And we cry because we need to. We support each other because we understand each other and we love each other. Like family. Work family.

I feel like you put a lot of pressure on yourself. Pressure to be the best, to get all your IV starts on the first try, and to anticipate. You always wear your critical thinking skills hat. It’s invisible but we all know it’s there. I guess that’s why you’re so damn good at your job. You better not ever quit because you truly, deeply care and it shows. People need you. I think I saw you save someone’s life today. You bend over backwards and upside down for your patients. And for your work family too. You usually carry a heavy load of emotional work-related baggage, rolling it down the long hallways on your way out. It follows you home. It causes you to over-think, over-feel and fear and love harder. It nudges you to look at life differently. Better and also worse.

You’re constantly growing, changing and sacrificing. And sacrificing again. You adapt like no other. You always want to be better. You’re probably too hard on yourself. I feel honored to work with you. Like I got picked to play on the best team.

I know all of this as truth because we’ve worked a long side each other. Right next to each other. Across a hospital bed from each other. In the halls with each other. In the break room sharing stories. When I was blowing bubbles, I also saw the compassionate and fierce look of determination on your face. I heard the click of the needle retracting. The sound of success. You do really hard things all shift long like they’re no big deal. With ease, confidence and grace. You’re phenomenal, one of a kind, not many can do what you do. The way that you do. You’re extraordinary. Every damn time. I appreciate you. And so do all of the others who just couldn’t say the words.