Monday, December 25, 2006

Do You Hear What I Hear? Probably not...

I have a theory that some people who have a severe and chronic psychiatric illness or addiction cease to mature emotionally at the onset of the illness. It's true that people with severe psychiatric illnesses tend to be very concrete in their thinking, unable to grasp even the simple metaphors we use in proverbs; often have trouble making decisions using good judgement; often tend to have magical thinking; and often revert to childhood behaviors when they are frightened or stressed. While some of these behaviors may be true for all of us at times, for people who are severely emotionally ill, these can be a way of life.

That's one reason why I like to work Christmas Eve night on the psych ward. Those who have trouble sleeping all the rest of the year will often go to bed willingly, as though this is their last chance to be good before Christmas. Not only that, but it's rare to get admissions then.

This year, though, when I arrived at the unit, I was afraid it was going to be much different than I expected.

On entering the unit, I was accosted by a diminutive white haired lady, who walked right up to me, pointed her finger at me and (in a broad twang) said accusingly, "I know who YOU are!"

"Oh?" I said.

"You're the one who's been ropin' cattle with Big Hoss down at the ranch. That's who YOU are!"

She glared at me for a moment, then turned and stalked down the hall to her room.

The next patient to talk to me, a distinguished looking man, glared at me and then proclaimed (in the best booming TV preacher voice I've ever heard), "I SEE it! I see SIN written all over you! SIN! In BIG RED LETTERS!" And then HE turned around and stomped down the hall to his room.

And it was STILL the quietest night I've had on the adult unit in months. We didn't have to give a single medication, no one got out of bed, and the only incident was the woman who faked a seizure (trust me that a person who is jiggling her legs under the blanket and calmly telling you she's having a seizure, is NOT having a seizure). Even she wouldn't have been awake, though if it wasn't for the order to wake her up and give her a snack.

I think the "preacher", though, must have had some inside information, because it was painfully obvious that once again, Santa had not shown up to shower me with expensive presents (Gavin made out like a bandit, though). At least I got to eat the cookies and drink the milk. Take that, Santa!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

HUHO -- Traps for Fruit Flies & Fleas, No Poison Necessary!

Lauren at Faux Real has started a carnival of Help Us Help Ourselves, for those of us who have struggled through life and found some nontraditional and cheap solutions for our problems.

As a pet owner and banana lover, I've had the occasion to rid the house of fruit flies and fleas at various times, and have managed to do so without poisons or exterminators. Sure, it takes a little longer, but these solutions are practically free and even better, they work.

First the fruit flies:

Materials needed:
Clear glass jar or drinking glass that you don't mind throwing away
Sheet of paper
Lots of clear tape
A few banana or apple slices, the riper the better

Curl the paper into a cone with a tiny hole at the bottom and tape the side, leaving the hole open.

Put the fruit slices into the bottom of the glass (I am currently out of bananas so my picture doesn't show any fruit in there).

Put it point down into your clear glass receptacle but don't allow the paper to touch the bottom or the fruit.

Use lots of tape to fix in place and completely shut off any way out of the receptacle except for that tiny hole (if you don't have the wider tape, plastic wrap can be used in a pinch).

Set it out on your counter. The fruit flies will be attracted to the fruit, they'll fly in through the tiny hole and then try to get out through the clear glass sides.

When you don't see any fruit flies outside the glass, put the glass in your trash outside. If you want to keep the glass, you can open it up -- but make sure you do it outside.

Now the fleas:

Materials you will need:

Small sturdy lamp or nightlight with a bulb of at least 20w (use the nightlight if you think your pets will knock over a lamp)
Large bowl or Rubbermaid type container

Fill the bowl with soapy water. Turn on the light and position it over the bowl (if you are using a nightlight, then position the bowl under the nightlight). Put one of these in every room in which you have fleas.

The fleas will be attracted to the warmth of the light. They will jump to it and then fall into the bowl. The soapy water keeps the surface tension high enough to prevent them jumping or swimming out.

This takes a week or so but works very well with very little mess. Just be sure to put out plenty of clean water so your pets won't be tempted to drink the soapy stuff.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

50th Birthday Blues

Now, most people would think that title means that being 50 is hard, and that I don't like getting older.

On the contrary, as a dear friend used to say, "Every day above ground is a good one!" I was excited about this birthday, a watermark day, a half a century achieved, happy with myself and my life. I've been practicing for 50 since I was 45 (you know, you tell people you're 50, and by the time you get there, it's old hat. In another couple of years, I'll be practicing for 60).

On my 40th birthday, when I woke up I wished for something different. I was not happy. I did get my something different; I got a divorce (look in the archives if you're curious; I have a better divorce story than anyone else I know), I enrolled in nursing school while working full time (and graduated, and passed the NCLEX in 30 minutes), I had full responsibility for two preteen kids, dated a lot, and finally moved back to Oklahoma. It was a roller coaster ride of a decade.

I am still happy. But I am also very sad.

When I got my divorce, my ex-in-laws told me that I would forever remain an honorary member of the family, and even if I wanted to leave, it was NOT allowed. Instead of in-laws, I have out-laws, and one of them, Deborah, even loaned me the money to divorce her brother.

So yes, I love them, and my life remains entwined with them to some degree, but I am most fond of Deborah; she even considers herself my daughter's second mother.

Deborah's husband Robert went to the doctor the Wednesday before Thanksgiving with headaches.

The doc was smart enough to order an MRI, which revealed a brain mass, and surgery was scheduled for the Friday after Thanksgiving.

It was a malignant tumor, and they took it out.

After the surgery, he was on my sister's ICU unit and when I asked her, she fixed it so Deborah could stay with him instead of only staying for visiting hours. Such a small thing, but the only thing I could do.

By Sunday, he was in a coma and on life support. By Thursday, he had died; 36 years old, leaving behind a wife who adored him and two small children. He was the funniest and most open minded of all my out-laws and I will miss him.

My 50th birthday was Wednesday. Yes indeed, every day above ground IS a good one. Every day is a gift and a treasure. I only wish Robert could have many more of them.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Share the Wealth

Last week, one of the MDs I work with said, "I wish I had your zest for life."

It's a gift, this joy, and I think I was given that to balance the sorrow that an extremely tender heart often gives me.

Things that seem small to others -- birds chirping, blue skies, a friendly face -- make my heart sing; while that's a trite way to put it, that's exactly how it feels.

At the same time, other things which people seem to manage to avoid thinking about -- a squashed squirrel, a sad face, an obituary of a stranger -- these leave an ache. When I can help, I don't hurt; but when I can't help, it hurts.

My children are the same way; when they were younger, even though we all knew the animal on the side of the road was dead, we'd all reassure each other with, "It's resting. Just resting. Fast asleep." It was our conspiracy of kindness for each other, helping us protect our emotions...and in helping each other, the original hurt we couldn't help was soothed for us.

Sometimes I think I should have helped my children learn to be emotionally tougher, except that I'm not sure how I would have done that...or that I would have been happy with that result in the long run. I have to admit that it gives me great delight to see my son rescue drowning earthworms, or to hear about my daughter coaxing a scared lost dog from the highway into her car and then finding it a home.

Learning to understand my sadness was my key to finding joy.

So Doc, I hope you can find your zest for life; I've talked with you enough to know you have the sadness down. Perhaps you need your own conspiracy of kindness, and find your delights in the world around you. They're here -- open your eyes and look.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rate Your Pain

Pain is the 5th vital sign (after BP, pulse, respirations, and temp), according to what I was told in nursing school. Pain is an indicator of things gone wrong, and it's also ethically wrong to leave a patient in pain if it can be avoided.

At one of my jobs (head and neck), pain is taken very seriously, and strong drugs are prescribed on a fairly regular basis, because a lot of what we treat is cancer, which is very painful. At my other job, however, pain is often ignored, because some (not all) psych patients desperately want the high that pain meds can give.

Last night, we happened to have a patient with compartment syndrome. Of the four of us working, none of us knew what this was, so we looked it up. Compartment syndrome is a condition in which an area of the leg will be injured (possibly by having circulation cut off), and this results in chronic, long-term pain which is much worse than the condition seems to warrant...yet the psychiatrist had only prescribed Tylenol, and nothing stronger.

So we started talking about pain, and pain ratings. Normally, we ask patients to rate pain on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being "none" and 10 being the "worst imaginable".

Most cancer patients rarely rate their pain as high as 10. Most psych patients rarely rate their pain as less than 10, perhaps because they are afraid they will not be taken seriously...or perhaps because they are desperate for the brief relief from reality that enough morphine or demerol will give them. And most psych nurses have no patience with med-seeking behaviors.

One of the long-time psych nurses said, "When they rate their pain as a 10, I always want to say, 'if someone stuck a dagger in your heart, would that hurt worse? Yes? Then it's not a 10, IS IT?'" While none of us would ever say this, even to a patient who appeared to be drug seeking, it struck us as very funny. Of course, at 4:30am, with my 3 coworkers each nearing the end of a double shift, everything is funny.

When I came home, Gavin happened to be awake, savoring the last of his weekend and already dreading Monday.

Gavin, groaning: "Oh, Mom, it's school tomorrow. Monday is like Tuesday, only it's evil. It's awful. Mondays HURT."

So, I asked him to rate his pain on a scale of 0-10, and when he rated it as 10, I asked, "If someone stuck a dagger in your heart, would that hurt worse?"

Gavin: "If someone stuck a dagger in my heart, I wouldn't have to go to school! I could join the circus and be the 'Dagger in the Heart Boy' and everyone would pay to see me! And no school again, ever!"

Why is it that my conversations with Gavin always seem to veer off into weirdness? (I have to admit, though, I take a lot of joy in it...)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Crime and Punishment

My children are spoiled rotten. And it's all their own fault.

Early on, both kids realized the futility of screaming, having fits, arguing, or any of those other negative ways to achieve desires.

I can hold out against those things forever; they only make me more firm in whatever decision I have made.

What I can't resist, though, are Puppy Eyes.

I think Alex was 6 or 7 before she discovered this -- in some mysterious way, her eyes would grow twice as big and slightly glassy (as though tear filled), her lips turn ever so slightly down, eyebrows slightly raised, head tilted to the side, chin tilted down, and her brow furrowed...and she'd gaze up at me as though her last hope had just disappeared.

It was a look that would break the hardest heart. It turned me to mush in an instant, and after that, "No" became "Maybe" and finally, "Yes".

After that, any discipline I was able to muster swiftly dissipated with each glimpse of Puppy Eyes.

And then Gavin learned the secret too, and I was lost.

Luckily, they have never abused their power. They've learned to use Puppy Eyes for Good instead of Evil.

It's funny, though, to have a 6 foot tall, scraggly-bearded, 17-year-old boy on the cusp of manhood make Puppy Eyes at me. How can he be taller than me and STILL manage to be gazing up at me while we're both standing?

It's all part of the Puppy Eyes magic. And it means I'm bringing home pizza after work.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I joined Netflix a couple of months ago, and Gavin and I have been indulging ourselves once a week or so with the classic, old, or strange movies that we could never find at Blockbuster. Gavin's a fan of the noir genre (partly because of the ultra cool hats), and I've always liked old films, so we have a good time with it.

We saw a movie I've wanted to see for a long time -- Freaks -- and it was even darker than I thought it would be. If you've never seen this movie, it's about a circus in which there are two distinct groups: the "normal" people and the "sideshow" people and the interactions between the two groups. There are no special effects; the sideshow folks play themselves.

Since this is a pre-PC movie, I feared it would be belittling or sensational (especially since it also involves an attempted murder), but it wasn't. The physical differences are portrayed in a matter-of-fact way, and by the end of the movie, it's plain that the "freaks" are those so-called "normal" people who have emotional and ethical handicaps.

I've noticed, over the past few years, my increasing invisibility as I age. Stranger's eyes slide over and past me without stopping; most don't talk unless I talk first. In fact, the people who most usually interact with me spontaneously are other women my age.

I am not quite sure I can put down in words the elusive thoughts that connect my feelings of invisibility to the movie. The connections are there, tied up in societal definitions of beauty and our current narrow definition of it. I know so few women who are truly happy with their bodies, truly comfortable within their own skin..."I have to lose a few pounds"..."look at this fat roll"..."my nose is too big"..."I can't stand this cellulite".

I look at my friends, though, and they are gorgeous. *We* are gorgeous. We've earned every one of our years, sometimes at high cost, and we've persevered. We're the survivors of our generation and we have much to share with the world around us.

When I look at women's magazines, the "beauty tips" are all about "this year's face" or "this year's look". Do we really all have to look the same to be attractive? Because that's the thing about older women: we look lived in. Who and what we are is written on our faces and our bodies. There's no "this year's look" for us; we have each found our own way to look, and our own style, and sometimes I wonder if that's why society doesn't want to deal with us. Like the "freaks" in the movie, we're individuals. As young adults, we could try on different personas, different ways to look, and we could blend in with the crowd if we wished. As we get older, though, our individuality becomes too great to hide behind similar makeup and similar fashions. Our life experiences have marked us. We don't all fit in the same tidy package...and most of us don't want to anymore.

Or maybe it's just me, and I'm doomed to become the crazy cat lady down the block.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Define "Boring"

Gavin: Mom, would you buy me a copy of Dante's Inferno?

Me: Sure. Do you need it for school?

Gavin: No, but my psychology class is really boring...and if I hide it inside my textbook, then Mrs. Harris won't realize I'm actually reading something else.
Besides, I've always wanted to read it.


Gavin has the most surprising choices of reading material (the last thing he asked me to buy was the Tao Te Ching)...and yes, I bought it. If he wants to read The Inferno instead of listening to the high school psychology teacher expound on telekinesis (yes, that was one of their units), then I'm all for that.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Curiosity Didn't Kill the Nurse -- but it was close...

I had to have a "procedure" yesterday, nothing difficult, just a same day surgery to make life a little easier and maybe get the whole menopause thing to kick into a higher gear. I didn't even tell my daughter until the night before because it just wasn't that important.

Although I've felt better, I don't feel all that bad today...although I would have taken today off work if I didn't have a cart full of charts and a deadline in which to review them.

I wouldn't even have blogged about it, if it weren't for the mystery.

Who sent me flowers? 10 red and white roses, to be specific. Delivered to my desk in my department this afternoon and signed only, "Thinking of You".

They're not from Roger. I called the florist, and they can only tell me that someone from out of town sent them. My daughter didn't send them (although she says if she'd thought of it, she would have). Mom would have signed the card "Love, Mom". My brother would have signed it "ooga-booga" or "The Greatest Steve the World Has Ever Known". Robyn would have sent me something she made (she makes incredibly cool stuff). Gavin lives here (and has no money and wouldn't know how to go about ordering flowers). My sister lives here. My nieces don't have a clue where I work. A vendor or pharma company would surely have put something different on the card. My exhusband won't even send me his half of Gavin's dental bills, much less flowers. It's unlikely that any of my other friends from out of town know that I work in this who the heck sent them?

Curiosity makes me crazy. All my life, I've understood just how the proverbial cat felt.

Even so, someone's apparently random act of kindness sure made my day (and has the whole department talking -- and it's fun to be the object of office envy for a day). So, Mysterious Person, thank you!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Extreme Volunteering

I spent most of the day Saturday working with a pet rescue group, getting ready for OKC's Giant Charity Garage Sale.

Instead of working directly with pets (which I've found to be dangerous -- more on that later), I get to work with people's castoff stuff...unloading, pricing, packing and another couple of weeks, we'll move all of it out to the fairgrounds and then spend some very long days wheeling and dealing and amassing money by nickels and dimes for homeless animals.

This is a great thing to do in the springtime, in warm sunshine and balmy breezes, with a crew of similarly minded folks (pet rescue people tend to be a lot of fun). We work out of a storage unit facility, so there's no heating and no air conditioning, and little protection from the elements when the doors are open.

This Saturday it was 38 degrees and pouring rain. Most of the crew didn't show up (probably wimped out like my friend Bev), so those of us who did worked, not any dogs I know. My dogs tend to spend a lot of time lazing on pillows, even acknowledging my return home with a couple of tail thumps and perhaps an ear perk if they're feeling particularly lively. I suppose I could say that we worked like nurses...

Surprisingly, though, the bad weather brought out the donors in record numbers. Maybe it just seemed like record numbers because there were so few of us to get the work done, or maybe because the rain made for lots of extra work because the Oklahoma winds drove it sideways and right into our faces; we had to work so far back in the storage unit that it was hard to move around.

One couple dropped off 10 to 12 big, heavy boxes of stuff. When we opened them, they all turned out to be trash -- empty plastic bottles, burned out electrical equipment, broken pots. I can't figure out why they did this, unless they wanted a tax receipt without actually donating anything.

Most people, though, brought stuff that should be fairly easy to sell -- furniture, working small electrics, toys, craft stuff, clothes, shoes, dishes, pots, decorative and holiday stuff, even an English saddle...which someone marked $20 until I made them remark it. That riding stuff is expensive.

If you've gotten this far, you are probably wondering why I find it dangerous to work with the shelter animals.

Every time I do, I take one home. I just can't stand the thought of homeless dogs and cats. And since I'm down to two dogs and a lizard, I feel somewhat guilty that I haven't taken in another pet...all it would take would be pleading brown eyes looking into mine, or a hairy body leaning on my leg.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Nurse vs. Leprechaun

St. Patrick's Day is inextricably linked for me with my friend Bev. She has classical Irish good looks -- fair skin, red hair, and green eyes -- and is very proud of her Irish heritage. For the past 7 years, we've been talking about taking a trip to Ireland once Gavin graduates from high school.

I hope we pull it off. We're looking at B&Bs, couchsurfing (which I have actually tried and enjoyed -- thanks to Adele of Albuquerque), and a bicycle or walking tour; we hope to stay for 2-4 weeks. Bev's quite a homebody (she has perfected the art of "if you can't find happiness in your own backyard, you can't find it anywhere") but she assures me that we will make this happen. We're within a year or two of talking this trip, and I'm starting to get the trip planning itch.

She and I used to work together long ago, doing schizophrenia studies. On one St. Patrick's Day, we were visiting our patients in the hospital, and this conversation ensued with a psychotic but gregarious young man. Bev was wearing an apple green blouse that day, which really set off her eyes and hair.

Patient to Bev: "Are you a doctor?"
Bev (head down, writing a note in a chart): "No."
Patient: "Well then, are you a leprechaun?"

Both Bev and I are very good at accepting whatever we hear without a blink, but I can't begin to tell you how hard we laughed at this. Luckily, the patient seemed to think it was hilarious too.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

His eyes are closed, long lashes black against the roses of his cheek. Golden stubble covers his chin where his beard has started to grow in. His chest moves up and down. The vein at the side of his neck pulses rhythmically. He looks peaceful; and it seems as though he is sleeping soundly, but might wake at any time.

Except that he won't; the scans all indicate that there is nothing left of Jeron's intellect. I hope his spirit stuck around long enough to see how much his family and friends love him.

They will turn the machines off tonight. He'd elected to give the gift of himself to someone in need, so perhaps he will spare another family the grief he has given his own.

Goodbye, Jeron. Someday I hope to see what you look like with your wings on.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

No good news -- Jeron still has no gag reflex, no pain reflex, little pupil reflex, and is breathing with the aid of a vent. More tests tonight, and my daughter and her husband are here.

In the past few days, I've begun to question my own kids' emotional stability. Well, that's not entirely true -- Alex is very free with her emotions, thoughts, and feelings, so it's never very difficult to know what her mood is and what she wants or needs...and she doesn't just give up if she doesn't get what she needs, either. She will get it one way or another. She is a very caring person, though, so she never tramples others to get her needs met.

Gavin, on the other hand, rarely ever shares his inner landscape (although he, too, is an obviously caring individual). If Alex is a force of nature, Gavin is the immovable object. A struggle of wills between these two is like witnessing worlds collide.

Since I figured he wouldn't tell me he was depressed even if I asked, I told him he was never allowed to commit suicide, hoping to determine his thoughts on the subject by his reaction to the question.

I shouldn't have worried.

Raised eyebrow, extremely surprised look: "Mom, why would I ever do that? Oh, wait...what if...[furrowed brow]what if...[suddenly speaking faster, words gushing out] what if I were captured by evil Commie Overlords and I alone knew the key chemical combination to make a biotoxin that would kill millions, and they were torturing me, and I was afraid I'd break down and give it to them...could I kill myself then?"

I gave him the Mom Look instead of an answer. But if it came to that, then yes, Gavin, you may kill yourself to save the Entire Free World. But even then, I'll still be mad at you.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Brothers -- Davin and Jeron.

Monday, March 06, 2006

It's been a long time, and I needed the break; the holidays were tough, but I managed, and now it's spring and things are blooming, love surrounds me, and life goes on.

Except sometimes it doesn't, or it doesn't in the way you wish it would.

There's a guy who works here at the university. He's a janitor, a little older than me, short, overweight, adores his wife (who has some major health problems), always has something kind to say, remembers everyone's name, has a smile and a greeting for all, and never, ever complains. You look at him, and your thought is: Happy. He's content. He's glad to be alive. Yet another man in his position might resent the job, avoid the people, complain about his wife, and keep his eyes on the ground. Instead, he makes everyone's day a little brighter. You just know that he carries joy with him, all day long, and by giving bits of joy away, he gets even more back.

I like to call this the "Little Mary Sunshine" method of life motivation. It's not for everyone. There aren't that many of us out there, and most of them are far sunshinier than me, but that's OK, because it isn't a competition. It's a way of life. Life is good, even if it hasn't been quite what I expected, and even if it took way too many years to realize that and find the joy in every day. My off-the-straight-and-narrow-road adventures have made me the person I am today, and I'm not sure I'd trade that for an easier ride.

Last night, though, a 26-year-old man, the brother of my son-in-law, decided to try and cut his own life short. He's in ICU and no one can say if he's going to pull through or not; there is no way to know.

He's young, tall and handsome, never had to worry about his health. There are so many "if only"s from his family members, so many "why"s, "I wish"s or "I should have"s. I have them too, even though I was only peripherally involved with his life. We want to be able to blame ourselves, even though that won't make things better and will only make us feel worse.

It was a struggle for me to learn to live and thrive with the crap life has given me, but somehow I managed. Why isn't it easier to share that hard-won knowledge?

I wish I could have helped. While I know there wasn't anything for me to do, I still feel as though I have somehow let everyone down; and if I feel this way, how must his mom feel? His brother? His dad? Yet, in the end, there was really nothing any of them could have done either.

I'd give him all the years I had left if it would bring him back and allow him to understand that life is good. Even if all you can do is sit and feel the sun on your face.

If anyone out there is reading this and contemplating suicide -- please, PLEASE tell someone, and keep telling people until someone understands that you are serious. Give life a chance. Give your friends and family the chance to help you; asking for help is not weak, and it is not too much trouble, and you are not a burden.

For anyone else who reads this, I hope you take the time today to sit in the sun (or some other place that makes you happy) and enjoy that sense of being that is so freely given to all of us. Take joy in your life; I hope Jeron will someday, somehow find a sense of joy in his own.