endurance

That Thing You Do

Self care for me typically looks like getting myself to physical therapy every week, a sterile dressing change for my port every Monday, and making sure I keep up with the never-ending turntable of doctor appointments, medicines, infusions, and feedings. I read something recently that was a bit of new information about what self care really means, and it sounded kind of nice.

Last week I took an hour to sit in a cute little studio and get my hair done. For the first time in like… I don’t know. I actually bought a Groupon for it months ago, and it took all that time and one panic-stricken cancellation to get the nerve to show up. My sparkly eyed 5 year old sat in one of the washing chairs near me and gave me a reassuring thumbs-up every time I glanced his way. I braved a little bit of small talk with my stylist, and ended up with a cell phone number scrawled on a bit of paper, which after living here nearly a year and not having any friends to call my own yet, was kind of a big deal. Well, not that we’ll be friends, but we had something crazy in common, and now I have a person who has traveled before me and has understanding and experience to share with me when I need it.

I was mildly shocked and thoroughly pleased with the transformation a little TLC gave my hair that day, and realizing I would probably never be able to replicate the skill with which she had styled my hair that morning, I snapped a picture when I got to the car, before the unruly wind made an abstract art project of it. I shot the photo out to a few of my closest people, and every single response I got started with “holy!” Some of them were more repeatable than others. It felt good to feel pretty and girly and pampered, and before bed that night I took the time to paint some Spring color on my bare nails. Less than two hours of my week spent just on me had given me a splash of confidence and a smile of satisfaction, and I decided I liked it.

By the time the weekend rolled around I was weary and sore from our usual busy days of appointments and routines, and I decided that self-care, as lovely as it felt, is something that has to be purposely allotted for, or it’s not going to be a usual occurrence. I decided I would push back all of the work for moving and organizing and cleaning that never seems to end, and I would intentionally make my Sunday a time to get some things done for myself that *I* wanted to do. I remembered the refreshment of getting to take care of myself several days earlier, and I knew it would be equally rejuvenating to spend some time doing projects that brought more enjoyment and satisfaction than packing boxes or wiping down the bathrooms. I intentionally didn’t walk into the rooms I knew would scream for my attention, and I informed my man that the only three things that would top my to-do list that day would be to finish a scrapbook someone had asked me to do um…years ago, to finally put together the long overdo baby book for our youngest baby who is now far from infancy, and to begin twisting together the giant chunky balls of sorbet-colored yarn that have been patiently waiting to be woven into a blanket. I put on a funny and lighthearted podcast, cleared my craft table, scattered about all my scrapbooking supplies, and set about spending the day being productive in a most satisfying way. I mean, there’s nothing like the feeling of finishing something you’ve been working on for years, right??

I figured a list of three things was pretty attainable, and with my current energy level I got through only the first thing. Six years ago I was asked to make this scrapbook (how embarrassing), and Sunday I finally had it finished and ready to mail before I collapsed into bed. This was after a downpour of frustrated tears. Three things. I only had three things on my list and I felt exasperated and defeated that I only /barely/ made it through one. My husband doesn’t know how to be negative about anything, and he was quick to praise what I had accomplished and encourage me to keep trying. He’s right, it was a start, and even though it was just one thing, I did it, and one check mark is more than I had last week.

Knowing the affirmation and the joy that these small things brought me this week, it’s my intention to continue purposely making time on a regular basis to do things that are just for me, even if they aren’t on the perpetual merry go round of important things that need to be done. Some day I hope that includes coloring, binge-watching, and reading for fun, but for now it’s a good step to be knocking out some things that I enjoy doing that aren’t on the daily grind list. In the next few months when I go through a small string of surgeries, there will be plenty of forced sitting around.

I’d love to hear what your self-care looks like! What do you indulge in? Is it scheduled or do you do it whenever you can squeeze it in? Does it help you balance all the other areas of your life, or do you feel guilty taking time just for yourself? I haven’t quite decided yet…but I have lots more to practice!

daily graces, endurance, family, hope, joy, suffering, trials

Bits and Pieces

Mitchell-199

I have this blank canvas to scribble my thoughts, but lately I have let them recycle, tumbling unsorted in the confines of my mind, timid of what people will think if I speak out loud.  Someone told me not long ago that I should try writing about something else.  I took it to mean people do not want to hear the confessions and wonderings of my soul; they are probably rolling their eyes and turning off their screens.

After talking with a close friend about what else to write about, I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to write about something “else,” and I don’t know how to.  The reason I write about what I do is that it flows quite easily when I need to release and process difficult things.  It’s therapeutic for me to free up some space in my thoughts by unleashing the tangle of words and emotion that sometimes becomes difficult to find space for.  Part of me also supposed, in the beginning of this place, that someone else would find hope and strength in the raw processing of the journey of my life.

I have been learning more lately that it is okay to let every experience, good or bad, shape who I am and how I view things.  Let’s be real; life is never going to be all rainbows and bubblegum, so if we are going to become something other than tainted and bitter, we are going to have to figure out how to filter through our ups and downs and pick out the important growth-inducing bits, and let the rest hit the shredder.  That’s what I’m trying to do here; sift through the daily barrage of twists and turns and cling to the slivers of truth that will deepen my character and make me a softer, wiser human for the other people on this expedition with me.

1d0c4-rainbow

Think back to the last hard, life-changing thing you went through.  It might have been the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a difficult diagnosis, a traumatic world-event… you know how you had that numb feeling for awhile afterwards?  Thankfully we all have this mechanism that only lets us take in what we are capable of at the time.  Our simple minds and hearts would simply explode if the full force of things hit us all at once.  So we take it in little by little, in easily digestible chunks that we can begin to process and break down.  That movement happens in the telling of the story.  Each time you share your story, your mind is able to handle a little bit more and apply a greater understanding than it could the last time, until eventually you can boldly tell your story, maybe still with some tears, but with a confident and understanding boldness that has replaced the initial shock and bewilderment.  That is my place here.  I will keep on sharing the plot twists of my life as I continue to find deeper meaning and healing in the new details I understand every time I brave it.  And if in doing that some of you are able to pull out the important truths, the pieces that make you bold and brave and inspired, then even the more reason to keep shouting it loud.  My story.  My unbelievable, true, heart-breaking, beautiful, hope-giving story.

Will you share yours too?

b1e09-10416599_10204285307072505_2956806890011125655_n

 

PLEASE LEAVE ME A COMMENT, IT LETS ME KNOW YOU’RE LISTENING!!!

endurance, fire fighter, Paramedic, Uncategorized

Not All That Glitters

Chances are many of you have already read this, but I’m going to re-post this here so that I may reference it in the near future with a pretty important post I have forthcoming.  This was originally an essay I wrote for one of my nursing pre-req classes for school. The assignment was pretty vague; it simply had to be about a learning experience. Many of my friends and family stood witness to the deep shades of gray circles that took up residence beneath my eyes as I battled life, death, and sleepless nights, all for the right to trade mine in for one that said Paramedic. My learning is never done, but here are some of the initial boot-shaking things I learned about that sparkle patch in my earliest days.

I will never forget the very first call I went on as an EMT Basic student. Only a portion of the way through the semester, that first ride-along was to give me a taste of what I was working toward, and put me to the test to see if I had what it took. There I was, sitting in the back of the ambulance, my pockets stuffed with all the equipment and cheat sheets I thought I would need in order to save lives that day. A quiet voice crackled across the radio, and my life would never be the same. Adrenaline surged through my veins as we flew, sirens screaming, toward the victims of a car accident that had called for help. It was in that moment, trying to reign in my fear and excitement, that I knew this was where I wanted to be. That first call turned out to be a simple scenario that would come to be routine for me in the months and years ahead. but it was the steps in between that changed me and shaped me into the Paramedic I am today.

Becoming a Paramedic seemed a noble feat, a position that was cut and dry; you call for help, I come save your life, we all go home at night. Those tinted glasses of naivety blinded me from some harsh realities and some amazing truths those first few months, but time and experience cleared the lenses, revealing the gray that washes between the black and white. Within a week of testing out of EMT Basic class and receiving my license to practice, I got my first major trauma call. It was the Fourth of July and I was hanging out at the fire station with a bunch of fellow members that were barbecuing and enjoying the holiday. When the tones went out, I was hustled out to one of the responding vehicles and wished enthusiastic “good lucks!” My own pulse thumped louder than the sirens as I went through every mental checklist I could think of, certain I was going to have this one covered.

I took in a sharp breath as we pulled on scene and I took in the horrific sight strewn across the road. First glance told us all this was a bad one, but two things changed me that afternoon.  The first was as I walked up behind the car that was being cut apart to free the mangled driver. On the shattered glass of the rear window was a faded Star of Life sticker, clinging to the broken shards. That was when reality whispered that it could happen to anyone, even those you know and love.

The second sight that sent my thoughts reeling was the driver of the other car, standing unscathed on the side of the road, frantically pulling empty beer bottles from his floorboard and smashing them on the side of the road, trying to cover up what he had done. Is this real life? Innocent people crushed by the weight of others’ deliberate poor decisions? Why is it the bad guy makes it out ok, and our young friend is left clinging to life? This was not the heroic glory I was expecting to feel.

As my career progressed, my eyes were opened to the other truths that had been so buried in the myths I believed as a child. My parents taught my siblings and I the value of 911. We learned the dire situations that would require you to dial that number, and held sacred the seriousness of that action. Bleary-eyed and hungry after marathon dashes from call to call though, I learned a surprising practice that was all too common in the real world. 911 was a convenience, not a privilege. People called for us for scraped knees, for cracked calluses, and for feeling anxious. They met us in their driveways with suitcases packed, standing next to the family car that seemed in perfect working order, even in the ER waiting room where they felt the wait was taking too long.   We raced through red lights, risking our lives and the others around us to arrive to find patients who had run out of medication and would like a ride to the emergency room; but don’t worry, your tax money will pay for it. This was shocking to me, but as much as we all hate it, there are enough loopholes in the system that this will continue to happen day after day. And we thought it was about saving lives…

In spite of the grueling demands on my body and mind, I continued to further my knowledge by moving on to pursue my EMT Intermediate license, and eventually my ultimate goal of becoming a Paramedic. Years of class and hundreds of hours of clinical time later, I reached the top. My patch sparkled with the golden threads that signified my new standing, and my mind was packed with the maximum ability to perform all the skills and give all the medications I possibly could. This is it I thought. Now I can really help people. That’s what we believe; we learn as children that when there’s an emergency, the firemen and policemen and paramedics come and fix everything for us. That is where the harshest reality brought me to my knees. I was educated and rehearsed to handle every situation. I could perform every life-saving skill in the book. What I had forgotten was that it’s not always up to me. The limp body of a two-year-old boy was hurriedly lifted onto my stretcher. As my ambulance went lurching and squealing off to the hospital, my hands took over as my mind calmed into the rhythmic muscle memory I had practiced so many times . I stabilized, supported, breathed, and provided everything I possibly could for this young life. My prayers surrounded each breath I pumped into his tiny lungs as he clung to life. I watched each miracle flutter of his heart struggling inside his sunken chest, and kept on begging for one more beat, one more beat.  Later I stood at his bedside next to his parents, tears blurring the features of the cheesy grin that gleamed back at me from a photo of him taped to the headboard above his breathing tube.  He held on for a week, and then he was gone. All the fancy treatments in the world couldn’t save him. I cried. I cried because he was innocent. I cried because the faces of his family were etched deep into my memory. I cried because I, the Paramedic, was supposed to have saved him, and at the pinnacle of my experience and knowledge, there was nothing I could have done.

My road to Paramedic was long and not as straight as I had imagined. It was disappointing on numerous occasions and heartbreaking on more days than I can count. I have learned that there are only few things that are black and white, and people aren’t who they pretend to be. I have learned that innately good people sometimes die, and people hellbent on being hellbent sometimes live. I have learned that no matter how capable I am, there are times when nothing I can do will help. Most importantly, I have learned that where I am willing to change, I will grow. Being weak will make me strong, being wrong will show me right, and being willing to change and learn will keep me from growing hard. There will be call after call that leaves me scowling, but in the midst of them, there will be times when I really do make a difference. And that, my dear friends, is what will keep me coming back for more.

PLEASE LEAVE ME A COMMENT, IT LETS ME KNOW YOU’RE LISTENING!

brain bleeds, care packages, cerebral palsy, child loss, Child Loss Grief, endurance, family, hope, losing a child, picu, VP shunt

PICU Pick-Me-Up

As anniversaries and birthdays tick by,  I will never stop believing that those beautiful, inspiring, powerful 4 and a half months were meant for so much more; that such a short life was meant to be a catalyst for something exceptional.

So here I stand in the heat of another heavy July searching for ways I can use my little girl’s story to encourage kindness and inspire hope.  Well guess what, this one is not just on me… I’m laying this all out there because each one of you reading this has the power to make a terrible day a little bit better, to bring a flicker of hope to a hurting heart, and to keep on shouting that kindness matters.

One of the most trying things you can go through as a parent is having a critically ill or injured child.  Your world stops, and all your focus goes into every detail of the fight for more time with your little one.  I remember it uncomfortably clearly, but because of that, I can see a need that’s easy to meet.

On the 5th anniversary of standing in a crowded PICU room, watching my whole future change, I took a solid breath, and pressed the familiar button in a quiet elevator to be whisked to the 3rd floor.  Stepping off was a shock to every part of me as the colors and smells and sights all came screaming back.  I was on a mission though, for my brave daughter who fought on the other side of those doors, I could help bring a breath of grace to another parent shouldering the weight of the world.

My kids had helped me gather things throughout the weeks that we set aside for this very occasion.  It was easy to remember being a parent pacing across scuffed tiles between a stiff vinyl chair and a bed that contained a piece of your very being.  A parent who when asked, couldn’t actually remember the last time they had eaten an actual meal, a parent that spoke toward the ground so as not to exhale too deeply the breath of stale coffee that had sustained the 72 hours of numb awakeness  preceeding the current sunrise.  I could clearly remember being the parent that in each hurried bathroom break had wadded up wet, scratchy brown paper towels drizzled with disinfectant smelling hand soap and had desperately scrubbed at salt stained cheeks and sweat soaked shirt seams in hopes of concealing the fact that they dare not leave their child’s room long enough to run home for a shower.  I shook my head at remembering the emotionless nurse that had told me they weren’t allowed to spare me a Tylenol for my pounding head, but that I was welcome to check myself into the ER downstairs and have some prescribed by a doctor.  I acutely recalled the desperation coupled with simply surviving without having time to think about your own needs.  Well here is where WE can make a difference.

The kids and I put together care packages meant for the parents of each of the children in the PICU.  Took time to think through all the things I remember needing or wishing for during our long hours there, and tried to put together a smattering of things that would actually be used and appreciated.  I’ll share with you some of the things I came up with, and I hope some of you will run with it from there.  You can do as much or as little as you want.  It could even be just one good care package; I know that you will be making a difference in someone’s life during one of their hardest days.

If you decide to go spread some “Ellie Love” on your local PICU, I would so love to hear about it! You can reach me in the comment section, or by my email displayed in the sidebar.  Remember that whole “ripples in the pond” analogy?  This is one of those opportunities!  Get out there and spread some kindness and encouragement, make those small but meaningful moments spread joy in a way that’s contagious; that shouts the victory of the short but mighty lives like Ellianna Grace.

 

I grabbed an “adult” coloring book for some mindless distraction.  Something to keep you occupied that doesn’t require much thought.  Crayons break, colored pencils need sharpening, so I tried to play it safe with markers.  BONUS was coming across little LED clip on book lights. No more straining your eyes trying to use the dull glow of your phone because you don’t want to wake your sleeping kiddo.

 

Tissue that is not made from recycled sandpaper.  Or whatever it is that the hospitals use.  I realize they probably get a discount, but after the 37th time of scrubbing at your teary eyes and runny nose with those things, people start asking you how you got rug burn.  And seriously, look at th sweet message on this package of Kleenex.  They get it.

 

It’s safe to say a good majority of the meals a PICU parent has consumed were rattled from a vending machine with various pocket change, chased by some carbonated mess of sludge which is going to give them the mother of all sugar crashes later.  Its hard to be portable AND nutritious when doing this, but do your best to think outside the box of cookies, pop tarts, and potato chips.  Peanut butter and a spoon perhaps?  We love these fig bars because you get a decent serving of fruit, and they tend to fill you up for a good stretch of time.  Also think what you can do other than soda… something they can’t get from the hallway vending nook.  Again, not going to be the healthiest choices out there, but it is a good change to have something refreshing to snack on. The Werther’s?  Well those are just all out comforting, and perfect for keeping your mouth moist and your jaw doing something besides clenching.

 

GOOD gum.  Many of these items I was able to get at my dollar store, but a few things I specifically hit up the grocery instead, because quality mattered.  Imagine your breath already reeks from days blending into nights blending into days of eating whatever you can wherever you can, and usually washing it down with a steady flow of whatever coffee is most readily available.  Well then you’re talking to doctors and techs and asking questions of the nurses, and let’s just not have to worry about whether or not they can smell that you haven’t brushed in 3 days.  Splurge for a gum with a powerful flavor that’s going to l a s t.  I love the 5 brand flavors.  Especially their mints are super strong and not only wake you up and freshen your breath, but you’re more likely to spit it out because you’re tired of chewing rather than the flavor having worn out.  Again with the eating and the coffee comes along these handy little disposable mini toothbrushes, pre-loaded with toothpaste.  Come on.  Those have to have been invented with the hospital parent in mind.  CHAPSTICK!  Basically my security blanket, I think most women and some men would agree it’s always good to have some within arms length.  Excedrin tension headache is what I picked, but any similar product that’s going to fight a headache or an ache or pain could be a daysaver for one of these parents.  As I mentioned before, the hospital is too legally bound to slip you a few Tylenol, and most parents are probably just going to suck it up and fight through the rest of the day trying not to think about their throbbing head or aching muscles from standing vigil for 11 hours.

 

 

Hygeine.  Well, let’s take a poll about how many parents are stepping away from a PICU bedside to indulge in a hot shower.  That’s going to be basically… none of them.  Having a few things available that allows a parent to take a quick bathroom break and come back feeling a little fresher is  a valuable investment.  I grabbed packs of disposable body cloths (basically thick, better smelling baby wipes that you can essentially take a sponge bath with), hair ties or clips… because any woman like me is never going to be able to find one when she actually needs it, and dry shampoo.  That’s one of those inventions I would like to shake someone’s hand about.  It can go for guys or for girls, and when you’re skipping out on your shower for a few days, it’s really refreshing to be able to get your hair looking and smelling cleaner without much effort.
A deck of cards…. realizing no one may be in the frame of mind to be concentrating on a game, but they can just as easily be a stress relief used to shuffle and shift through idle hands.  ALCOHOL FREE HAND SANITIZER.  We have all noticed that around pretty much every corner in the hospitals is a handy dandy machine quick to eject a foamy mess that will kill most every germ, as well as the texture of your hands.  For a parent that has been in the hospital for several days or longer, that stuff starts getting really harsh on your skin.  If you can find an organic, non-alcohol hand sanitizer, get that in your care package pronto.  Of course I pitched in the brand I stand behind, which is Young Living’s Thieves anti-bac.  It smells amazing but not overpowering, and leaves my hands feeling smooth and refreshed in contrast to the goop so readily available around the hospital.
I packed each care package into a gift bag with a hand written note, not sharing the details of my journey, but letting them know I have stood in their shoes and hope in some small way these packages can make a few things simpler while they are fighting a bigger fight.  So get out there, find a PICU or a NICU near you and reach out.  It may seem trivial, but standing on those broken grounds, it’s the little things that fix the big picture.
In honor of my Ellie Grace, I will never stop saying your name, sharing your story, and spreading the love that you so easily coaxed out of everyone who met you.
PLEASE LEAVE ME A COMMENT; IT LETS ME KNOW  YOU’RE LISTENING!
endurance, faith

Broken Hallelujah

The Lord has promised good to me.  He has promised, and yet sometimes I feel so… so disappointed.

My story, the story of grace and forgiveness and hope? It’s not the story I imagined.  I struggle to accept the wearisome battles I am facing.  I wrestle with the painful realities that have replaced some of my dreams.  Is that the point; reach the point of giving up? Perhaps only in my giving up, He will make something beautiful of my story.  I am weary. So weary.  Searing tears have brought me begging, “please take this, carry it for me because it’s too heavy right now.”

Will He gather the sharp fringes of my story, until I can bear this chapter?  My desperation to see the beauty woven with these threads runs deep. I want to believe there is loveliness beneath the turmoil.  I want to see that the salty burn of tears has watered to life something magnificent, and that the conclusion of my story will be something to cheer about.

I know He knows the story of every tear, and even in the deep raggedness of these chapters, I have not walked alone. I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain, and oh my weakened soul may you not forget the mountains you have stood on!  It is so easy for me to see the darkness swallow the light in the epicenter of my brokenness, but hasn’t He promised:

“A bruised reed<span class="crossreference" style="background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0); font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(A)”> he will not break,

   and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.”

Isaiah 42:3


That’s me; I am bruised, I am smoldering, and He is faithful.  He will vindicate my inmost hurts and soften the sharp points of my disappointments.  Hold on soul! Don’t let go of His promises; they are true even in the murk of these hard, hard days.  Sit back, and let God be the one who writes your story. When life is filled with things you don’t expect, respond with trust, worship, hope.  He wants your praise, even your broken hallelujahs.

Have you ever seen the back of a piece of cross-stitching?  It is messy! Messy and confusing and not pretty to look at.  But the front of the piece? It’s beautiful, every stitch placed perfectly.  Without that messy back story, that work of art wouldn’t exist.  I hope that will be true of my story; disheveled magnificence.


     

How do you find peace in the difficult pages of your life?

 
PLEASE LEAVE ME A COMMENT; IT LETS ME KNOW YOU’RE LISTENING