On Dying


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I was in the presence today of a dying person. No, not like you and me–I mean actively dying. We are all dying of course, but this is part of my hospice volunteering, my first day meeting with my new patient.

It’s not at all like being a paramedic because we aren’t given much: only a name. No diagnosis, no real history, no nothing. Of course, I’m not your average volunteer, so I can deduce some things. But, I’m not there to fix really. Only to sit. And maybe to provide some small comfort, maybe some smiles and to help a caregiver get some respite.

In this case I am reminded how much we can tell by someone’s eyes. They may not be able to speak much anymore, but their eyes speak volumes. And maybe they aren’t able-bodied any longer, but it is easy to remember that this same person was someone else, someone before they were dying.

They were like you and me: laughing loudly, arguing, dancing, quilting, walking around, loving, working and most of all–living.

It makes me wonder why people spend time while they are alive wasting it on unhappy things. On things that upset them. On things that they can never reclaim. On people who will never care enough. Why I did.

I need to spend more time living while I’m dying. Because we never know when it will be our turn that the dying will become active. Or maybe the living will simply stop.

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Giants


Giants in my life. And only some of the few who share my private space, seem to get my moods and don’t weigh me down with unnecessary baggage of their own.

They have been my compadres for longer than many I’ve known. They are getting older, but have always seemed wiser than most I meet– at least when it comes to napping.

In retrospect, hiding under the bed when most people were around was probably what I should have done also; they know the ones that are safe. And the truth is, they get a bad rap about being stuck up or snobby. A person can hardly sit down without one demanding affection.

No, it’s love, not just the catnip or canned food. Because why are they throwing themselves under hands or rubbing against parts of the body, especially when I’m trying to do something important. Love. It’s definitely love.

And with the endless purr, a thank you for the partnership. It’s not always easy with the clawed couches and smelly litter, but, in the end there is love back.

Not only that, but also napping buddies.

Caring


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I watched a movie over the weekend that made me wonder about how much empathetic people suffer.  Do people that care deeply for others or actually physically care for them have a great  toll on their psyche?

We all know that, while it’s very rewarding to help others, I was quite shocked to hear that a very renowned caregiver suffered sadness during her lifetime. It has given me pause as I have carried this same kind of sadness.

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Maybe the trouble, illness and sadness in others piles up in empathetic people and acts like cholesterol lining our arteries, slowly suffocating us until our joy level cannot flow freely anymore.

I don’t know. I’m only theorizing. It can be an isolating feeling, which is almost the opposite of what one would think. One would think if you care and are helping people, then you would be connected. But for me, usually I am not, and this person wasn’t either, even though she affected the lives of millions of people.

Anyway, maybe I come closer to an answer. I would never choose to be different or not care, even if I could, but some days it does feel like a lonely place.

There’s more research to do.

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For My Work Newsletter


So this is the article I am submitting in response to my decision to being asked to reconsider my resignation at my job:

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My April Fool’s Day

When I moved here in September, it was for a few reasons. The main reason was to be close to my Mother, but it was also to be away from the brutal New England weather and to retire from a stressful career where my co-workers often did not care about one another.

It’s been a blessing living near my Mom and the weather is sublime.

Applying for jobs was exhausting, and when Bethesda called I was very excited. I actually had applied for a different position than the one I am currently in, but with my experience, they felt I would be better suited for this one.

They were forthcoming about the stress of the job, which made me a bit nervous at the time because of my hopes for coming here mentioned above, but assured me about teamwork among colleagues.

It’s been three months, and yes indeed, it’s stress on steroids! I’ve seen how the stress reveals parts of people that probably, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t bubble to the surface.  Some of these parts have directly affected me and, I won’t lie, this has been difficult.

For years I’ve been told ‘you are too sensitive’ or ‘have a thicker skin’ and often it made me feel there was something wrong with me. But as I grew older, I realized that I embrace this part of me and know that this is what makes me a kind, compassionate and loving person. I don’t want to keep people out with a thick skin and I prefer being sensitive to the world around me.

So I had to make a decision about the stress once again in my life and if I wanted to (not could) deal with it. And after much soul searching I decided to resign on Friday, April 1. Even though it killed me because there are so many wonderful people and I actually really like the job and am not ever a quitter. But I had also promised myself not to live a stressful life anymore.

Amazingly though, something happened. I was asked to reconsider. And many people, including some that had been stressed out directly at me, came to me and were very kind.

This made me think about some things.

  • We all have our troubles, so trying to be conscious that another person may be suffering personally may help us to be more patient
  • We all are tired and over worked, but acting as a team will help us all in the long run
  • A smile and a kind word goes a long way
  • Someone we think may not care, really might in the end but just may not know how to show it in the moment
  • Be the first one to extend a helping hand, or even consider being social with someone
  • Try to talk directly to the person first if you hear something you don’t like—remember: don’t assume
  • Let’s accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in regards to people, how we say things and our attitudes

I guess this all sounds hokey and maybe I’m being unrealistic. But my feeling is that if we reach high than maybe we may obtain at least just short of our goals. And this is better than not reaching at all.

The decision then about reconsidering? After so many great people asked me to, and because I am hopeful and positive person…

The answer was absolutely!

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I’m not sure how my co-workers will take it. They are a mixed and motley bunch. Some may be sympathetic and find it inspiring and others may find the words insipid. None the less, I am choosing to put them forth, just like I put myself forth every day in my blog to my blogging community. Many here hail me, some have walked away. Hey, it’s a free country and freedom of speech is regarded highly and we must be brave when we put ourselves out there to a new audience.

So shall I do when this gets published in our Surgical Services Newsletter. And then let the commenting commence….

 

Too Small


Inspired by the movie “The Woman In Gold,” I have begun to read the book titled “The Lady In Gold,” by Anne-Marie O’Connor. It is about a famous painting by the Viennese artist Klimt which was stolen during the Nazi invasion of Vienna by Hitler, along with many other Jewish treasures and artwork.

The book goes into much detail about the horrors of that time and it has hung heavy on my heart. And I realize, though, it seems not much different from today.

When I woke up this morning, after having dreams about German invasions of a hospital (because of my new job offer at a hospital I suppose), I turned on the radio and heard about the San Bernardino shooting.

My early walk had already been filled with thoughts of what a violent species we were, and questions about why this was so. And here it was yet again! More death, more unnecessary bloodshed.

NPR was profiling the current types of people who do these sorts of things: the outcasts, the unhappy childhood, the ones that feel separate or not a part or who have been rejected. This was even Hitler! It’s shocking. But what makes that one person turn on their fellow human and decide to harm them–sometimes en masse?

Sometimes this person is so extreme in their behavior they are able to recruit others–even change a nation to be brutal! Slavery of any kind is also a kindred kind of violence unleashed upon others and is filled with superiority and hatred.

In looking through history, what little I know of it, it seems that many indigenous people did not act in these types of ways. There may have been some tribal fighting, but the random ethnic cleansing due to insecure and hateful personalities of individuals seems to be missing.

I often wonder if we are mutating to possess some gene that carries this violence within us. I pray we do not. There are days I fear turning on the radio and simply feel numb when I hear about more dead.

How do we stop this march? How do we make these people feel more a part? Can you start to sense when someone might do a heinous thing and help them see it is not the answer? Are we all simply lost?

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Maybe work places need to provide more time for employees to meet, gather and really talk. And make sure everyone’s mental health is stable. We need to really start caring about one another: our co-workers, neighbors, family members–even people you just meet in the street.

Because if we all are going to live in this volatile world together, then we are each responsible for the action of another. The earth is getting too small to believe otherwise!

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It’s Not About Blood


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So this about sums up what I have been feeling lately. Seems I can’t really rely on my ‘family’ lately for anything except aggravation. It’s been a growing issue for me and a deepening sadness that the gap between me and two of my three daughters widens. And even my youngest is often too busy or wrapped up in her own world to really take time or notice that my world is fairly devoid of close social contacts most the time. I surely do have some very wonderful and dear friends, but most of them are also busy with their own lives and families. Weekends are spent mostly alone with the pups these days. It’s quite alright, but when I realize that two of my three kids live very close, it just makes me wonder.

People tell me frequently that they are young and will come around. But I do look around me and see other families sharing a closeness with children their ages. Some of them also come from ‘broken’ homes too. And in some of those families the ties seem even greater! I’ve spent many years grappling with it and wondering if it was something I did, but as in the last post, I’ve let that all go. Now I am just focusing on being happy within.

So this sign I have hanging in my porch just made me laugh. I even think one of my kids gave it to me actually. Yes, my friends really are the ones I turn to when the going gets rough. Or I need someone to talk to or to drive me somewhere. My Mom lives far away and we seem to have this disconnect also. No brothers or sisters, no aunts or uncles…just me.

I keep playing this pipe dream in my head: that my adoptive family will appear. Then I will suddenly have the family I never did. They will envelope me with the love and caring I always hoped I would get from creating my own family. I suppose that’s what all adoptees hope for. I know this is fantasy, but I cling to hope that somewhere, some day I will find this connection to others that seems to be lacking. That sense of belonging that we all want and need. And I won’t feel as alone as I do at certain points in my day.

Changing Things One Person At A Time….


I guess I’ve always cared as long as I can remember…or at least was told I did.  As a little kid I could never watch the show Lassie because I found it too disturbing, or even read the book Bambi. That’s probably why I’ve been a vegetarian for 35 or so years. My Mother tells me a story of when I was very young and we still lived in New York City. One day I was playing on our balcony and I spotted a nest of baby pigeons. Rats with feathers my Mom called them. But to me, they were baby birds. Their Mom was gone and I was horrified! They needed to be saved and I would not be consoled until they were somewhere safe. I begged my Mother to do something and wouldn’t let up until she called some avian shelter and they got them (or something). I found this out years later! She also informed me that the next time she found a nest filled with baby pigeons, she just tossed them out before I saw them! Thanks Mom.

But this was indicative of my nature from an early age. Just as was the time I was three years old and she came home from work and leaned down to give me a hug. I inadvertently bumped her in the eye and scratched her cornea. She had to wear a patch over her eye for quite some time so it could heal. My Aunt saw me fretting one day over this fact and told me not to worry, that my Mom would be OK. I looked up at her and in my three-year old voice said, “But I want to worry.” This was a famous family story told to me for years.

I continued to be a worrier long into adulthood and still care about needy animals and adults alike. This nature of mine has brought me to adopt a cat with no tail, a 9-year-old emaciated blue tick hound, an abused neighbor cat–and, the list goes on. And even brought me to foster kids and eventually adopt our daughter.

Sometimes this empathy that I have, though, is hard to carry. And the need to help is overwhelming. If often leaves me with a feeling of inadequacy: that I’m not doing enough. As I drove to work this morning listening to NPR, I heard the story of the Syrian refugees and their plight. How children are dying of the cold in camps as no items are allowed to come to them. Children! I cried, at 6 am, driving in my car. This happens almost every day now. I feel constantly helpless.

And in my work as a paramedic I thought I would help more I suppose. Save lives all the time, but this is not nearly the case. We hardly ever save lives. In fact we rarely do. What we do is much more routine than that usually, or most days amounts to paperwork or sitting around. The label of hero almost embarrasses me.

There were times in my life that I thought I would do something great. Make huge differences, news making differences. But with passing days, those moments seem to float by. And I wonder: do I make a difference? Does my caring and this person I’ve been my whole life mean anything in the grand scheme of the world?

Today I got an answer. I’ve worked in my fire department for five years. My Fire Chief was once my EMT partner on the ambulance and then got promoted. He has a different nature than me and wasn’t particularly thrilled with me getting the job at first. I wasn’t a fire fighter and I was a woman. He tolerated me at best and was annoyed with me most days. I was very different from him. But over the years, after sharing a front seat with him in the rig, being on emotional calls with him, talking about our lives together, and just getting older–we’ve both grown.

We joke a lot and he teases me greatly. So when he came to me today and said: I just met your birth parents today, I looked at him suspiciously and figured he had some smart remark to make. But he said, “No, seriously, I mean it–this couple could be your parents, because they were the nicest people I ever met.” And you know, he meant it! I nearly dropped. And I realized that after five years, he got it. He finally understood who I was and appreciated it and that I had changed him. And we went on to have this very amazing conversation. It was a pivotal moment.

Yesterday another co-worker, and someone in paramedic school, came to me for advice because she wants to emulate my style of paramedicine. It’s about caring. Caring about my patients. That’s what my Chief finally gets: that I really care. He said today to one of our Officers, “There is one person on this department that is here because she truly cares.” And he meant me.

So, no, I probably won’t make the news because I’m Mother Teresa or anyone like that, but if I can touch lives, even for 20 minutes at a time in the back of my ambulance, then I guess I’ve done something. I may not technically be saving their life, but maybe I can make it a little easier for those minutes. And I know for some of my patients, they feel no-one cares. But when they step on my truck, they can rest assured that someone truly does. In the grand scheme of things…I hope this counts.