Mothers and Miracles

I have not yet been personally blessed with the joys of motherhood, but what I have been given is the rare opportunity to be a first hand witness to some incredible mothering displayed in the most incredible of circumstances. I have witnessed first breathes and last. And in both, I have seen in full force the power that a mother embodies. 

I have witnessed the miracle of a mother’s love. The willful faith that comes from the ferocity to believe that anything is possible for the little life you created. I have seen it in my own mother, over the years. I see it in the mighty woman who raised my husband to be. I am seeing it in my friends, so many of whom are just beginning their journeys into motherhood.

But more than any of that, I have seen it in the mothers of my patients. 

So today, as we honor mothers, I am reminded of a special one who once taught me so much. I think of her often, and the gift she gave back to me, the gift of faith in miracles. 

Apparently I stopped believing in miracles. I’m not sure when it happened, or actually even why.

Growing up I never believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and due to a mishap involving my first lost tooth and a furnace vent, the Tooth Fairy and I didn’t coexist in my reality for long either. Yet I always, since before I can remember, believed in miracles.

Until this past week when I realized that I don’t believe any longer.

Maybe it came from years of seemingly unanswered prayer for miraculous healing from Crohns Disease.

Perhaps it’s from years of working around sick and often dying children, watching time and time again as a child slips away from the arms of a pleading, bargaining, begging mother.

Maybe it comes from an unwarranted sense of control paired with perceived understanding of the world around me. The world was mysterious when I was a child, so miracles were welcome wonders. Now, there doesn’t seem to be space for them in this world I so intelligently understand.

I have stopped hoping as the parents around me hope. I have stopped praying as they do on their knees, on their feet, surely even as they lay in bed before tossing and turning for brief moments of sleep as their world crumbles down around them.

What’s worse, I have grown irritated by the irrational, unrealistic, recklessly optimistic attitudes around me. Often muttering in the privacy of my own head “are we looking at the same child, are we seeing the same thing? How can you possibly have hope? How can you possibly imagine a positive outcome?”

I have become the Grinch who stole miracles, packing my bag full of the last ounces of joy and hope, certain that no positive will come. Wishing for it, hoping for it, clinging to it is a waste of time and energy. My heart is two sizes too small. I am worse than a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.

I recently cared for a patient near the end of his life. Medically speaking his situation was hopeless, which as a nurse, makes me feel hopeless, helpless, defeated, and failed. My usually sunny disposition melts away under my sarcasm and snark.

Because I no longer believe in miracles.

His mother came in to see him. I had prepared myself to support her, imagining she would crumble into a pile of tears, falling apart being the only possible manifestation of the hopeless emotions I was feeling amplified by her mother’s love.

Our God is faithful. She said, with a smile on her face, the sunshine of hope in her eyes.

Cancer is faithful I snipped back in my mind.

We still believe He can heal him. She continued, as if she had heard what I was thinking.

I believe that if I went home and the doctors went home, cancer would win lady, right here, right now. It is over, we lost this one.

For a brief moment my frustration turned to guilt for my lack of faith, then to jealousy for her overflowing devotion to a God I sometimes long to hear, likely due to my recent failure to ask for Him to speak.

I pulled myself back to the reality of where I stood with her. I provided updates, what we were doing for him, what his body was doing in return. In a laundry list of updates, perhaps two things were positive. She thanked me for the information, repeating back the minor positive notes I had given.

Again I began to feel my irritation welling up. Do you really not understand the gravity of this illness? I wanted to ask.

And then, yet again, as if she had heard me, she replied with this. Shrinking me back to size, putting me back in my place.

A positive attitude gives us power over our circumstances, rather than allowing our circumstances to have power over us.

I was stunned. Here I was, judging her positive attitude as a fault or a flaw. Completely disregarding the choice that it was. Similar to the choice she was making to believe God for a miracle. It wasn’t blind faith. It wasn’t negligent belief. It was strength, and devotion. The choice to believe in something more powerful than me, more healing than the doctors on our team.

When I came out of the room, tears welling in my eyes, I sat at my computer, and looked down at a small plate of candies she must have left for me on her way into the room. A hand written note was laid above them,

“Kate, your devotion is so appreciated.”

It is your devotion that I am appreciating today. And because of you, mother of my patient, I am beginning again to believe in miracles. Because in the depth of despair over losing your beloved son you took me into your arms and guided me back onto a track where love is real, positive thinking is a choice that saves us, and miracles do happen.

Like so many, today on Mother’s Day, I am thinking of those whose motherhood journey is rocky. Filled with bumps of illness and loss, needs, and loneliness.

Those whose faith is shaken.

Today, I will believe in miracles for you, because I see them everyday.

I see the mothers of my patients. 

Detours

I have lived in Manhattan for a little over two years. I have always had an above average sense of direction, a good ability to get myself where I need to be quickly and efficiently. I even like to think that in my first weeks here I mastered the New York Subway system. I rarely get lost or go the wrong direction.

Despite all of that, on my way out to meet a friend, I realized suddenly, and a little too late, that I had transferred onto the wrong train. It took me a minute to catch my bearings and wrap my mind around what had gone wrong. Had I simply missed my stop? Had I become too engulfed in my game of solitaire?

The doors closed in my face to the platform of the last stop in Manhattan as it all came together, my eyes lasering through the subway map illuminated in my hand.

I was now committed to a detour, one that would take me over the East river and more than a little way into Brooklyn. It would require an outdoor transfer to an elevated bridge, then under it, across a busy street, and up again to wait for the next Manhattan bound train. It would take two more transfers once I arrived back on my own island. All while my friend waited patiently but alone for my now much-delayed, detour-driven, arrival.

In some ways my whole life has been one big detour, and I would be willing to bet yours has too.

In the moment they bring frustration, disappointment, sometimes even terror. Detours require patience and perspective. Grace and acceptance.

Minutes later, I sat on the M train again, now heading in the opposite direction, face no longer buried in my phone. Outside the window, a clear fall night; the Empire State Building lit up to my right, Manhattan’s famous bridges and iconic skyline off to my left.

So often in the city the commute becomes about getting there.

In life, our daily commute becomes about getting there.

But in my detour, it was suddenly about being there. I took it all in. The beautiful lights, postcard worthy skyline, and the reality that my life is here. In this city that I spent my childhood dreaming about, my adolescence fearing, and now my present, falling in love with deeply.

As we lurched across the river, I forgot about my friend for a moment, allowing the unintentional detour to bring me peace, joy, and perspective. What moments before had been an irritating frustration suddenly felt like a perfect and much needed blessing. As I considered all of the joy I felt with this beautiful image of my city, I realized something more.

Every wonderful thing that has ever happened to me has been the result of a detour.

In the moment frustrating, disappointing, often even terrifying, requiring patience and perspective, grace and acceptance.

But every single detour, regardless of its pain and hardship, has brought me somewhere new, somewhere I would never have otherwise arrived. And it has showered me with the bright lights of a new city skyline, the promise of a more joyful future, and the comfort of a big scary place that suddenly feels like home.

From Frustration to Transformation; Using Our Voices for Good

Nursing has given me many things, but one of the best is the opportunity to work alongside and subsequently share life with some amazing humans. Natasha is no exception. We met in a PICU in Upstate New York where I was drawn to her immediately by her fierce advocacy, broad clinical knowledge, type-A patient care, and charming sense of humor.

Natasha is one of those people I turn to when I am frustrated by work and need a little perspective. Over the past few years we have had amazing discussion about nursing and its future. This past week was no different.

Following the incidents of Stethoscopegate and the public response of nurses sharing their pride and the details of what they do, her response to me was simple; Finally she said.

Write about it! I told her, and so she did.

Below please find my good friend Natasha’s reply to The View, but more importantly, her response to nurses. We proved this week that our passion is fierce and our voice is loud. Let’s keep using it.

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Honestly, I don’t even know who Joy Behar is, or Michelle Collins for that matter. If we’re being truthful, before last week I didn’t know there was a talent section of the Miss America contest.

I do know the best ventilation settings for a child who has almost drowned, and I do know exactly how quickly the amazing team I work with can get a child onto a life saving ECMO machine in an emergency.

These are the things that I know.

I also know that the sad and pathetic attempt at comedy these two women displayed has finally sparked that pissed off, won’t stand for it, “I’m not just a nurse” outrage that is long, oh so long, overdue.

I started out as a critical care nurse, without a single clue in the world as to what I was doing. Now, years later, I’ve completed a Masters in Nursing Administration, and learned from so many amazing mentors the potential that being a nurse holds.

Nursing has introduced me to some of the most knowledgeable, powerful, and passionate people I know.

But here we are, a united group that spends each and every day of our professional lives advocating for others, yet we fail continually to advocate for ourselves.

Over the past week we have heard from oncology and ICU nurses, from clinic nurses and school nurses, nurses who work in the hospital, and those who work in the home. The list is endless because the variety of nurses is endless.

What is the common feature in all of these messages?

It is that finally something has motivated people to stand up and speak out about this amazing, rewarding, but sometimes harder-than-hell profession.

Like most nurses I know, I’ve sat in my car and cried my eyes out more times than I care to count, then wiped my eyes, put on a smile and walked in the house.

I’ve come home and snapped at my boyfriend or family for something trivial after being degraded by a patient’s family all day.

I smile and nod politely when people ask about my job and I divulge that I’m a pediatric critical care nurse and they gasp, “I don’t know how you do it.”

Because you know, sometimes I don’t know either.

If I asked you to Google some of the machines the children I care for are attached to your stomach would turn. I can promise you walking to the morgue with a beautiful baby who has been taken too soon from this world does not equate to a good nights sleep.

Yet somehow, someway, we are all back the next day to fight just as hard for the next life in our hands.

The resilience, integrity, and passion forming the foundation of nursing around the world, is what makes this career so gratifying. To work side by side everyday with colleagues who give every inch of their heart and soul into the work they do, is such a privilege, but I still struggle to fathom why this amazing group doesn’t demand better.

Missed lunch breaks, full bladders, and holidays spent at work are amongst the usual martyr-like reflections that you hear when nurses are being praised. While some of these are unavoidable, some of them are unacceptable.

Dig deeper into this scenario and you find that it only grows grimmer. Nursing fatigue, the increasing incidence of workplace violence, growing patient ratios, and a decline in the value of nursing education in light of cost saving are just a few of the issues that should be on the forefront of our minds.

As an aspiring nursing leader, and a passionate nurse, I want to reach out to each and every one of you posting a proud photo and ask you to use that frustration to be a part of a transformation. To lead our healthcare system to a future where the nursing profession is not overlooked, overworked, and undervalued to the point that we continue to lose incredible individuals to other career paths.

So forget Joy Behar and her mindless colleagues, forget the battle of the “doctors’ stethoscope” and let us instead use this momentum and the passion that has ignited amongst nurses nationwide to make a real change, a meaningful change for the nurses of today, and the future generations to follow.

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Natasha Yeates RN, BSN, MSN is a Registered Nurse in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Do you have something you want to say about nurses? I am a long time believer that it is up to us to share our stories. Give it a try! Tell me what it is about nursing that makes you passionate, what do you wish was different? What do you wish people knew about your daily work?

Email responses to the address provided in the Contact Kateri section. I would love to start sharing some of them!

“Just Words” Some Thoughts from Suzanne Gordon

I had the opportunity to meet Suzanne two years ago. I was thrilled since I had been reading her books for years. We agreed to cross post each other’s thoughts on the events of the past week involving The View. Her first post can be found Here. Believe me, it is worth the read!

Yesterday she added the post below. Suzanne has a way of answering the questions you were silently thinking. As you read it, nurses, think of how you felt this week. Think of why Kelley Johnson’s words resonated with you. And think of other times that someone’s words made you feel just.

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I have been told that some nurses think the comments made on The View about nurses aren’t important.  They are just words.  Indeed, they are.  But let’s not forget that just like a nurse is not just a nurse, words are not just words.  Words are not a jumble of letters on a page.  Words are how we put into language what we think.  When Joy Behar used the words “a doctor’s stethoscope” the problem wasn’t the 18 letters that left her mouth.  The problem was the thought, the attitudes those words reflected.  Those thoughts were surely that physicians do the important work and nurses, well they just just….  These attitudes stand behind all the decisions that we make about patient care.  For example, many patients think doctors are the ones to go to when they have questions about their illness,and  that nurses have nothing to offer.  Policymakers think nurses are just extensions of the physician’s brain.  Think of the term “physician-extender.”  Where does that come from?  It comes from the same kind of thinking that makes people use words like the “doctor’s stethoscope.”

Words like “girl,” to describe nurses conjures up images — thoughts that turn into actions.  Do girls need to be well paid?  Do girls have fully developed brains? Are girls able to think on their own, for themselves?  Do they have their own knowledge?  Certainly not!  Just as girls need to be supervised and guided by parental wisdom, nurses are conceptualized as needing a big daddy — or now big mommy — to help them make it through the day.

Nurses should never doubt the power of their words and actions.  The commitment of nurses like those at #nursesunite to respond to these negative comments with their own words has resulted in the loss of two advertisers to The View.

So yes, the things that people say, or write are indeed just words.  But words make a difference.  Like nurses, they can be a matter of life and death.

– See more at: http://suzannecgordon.com/short-post-on-just-words/#sthash.GPOEEpWN.dpuf

Additionally, Suzanne is holding a Just a Nurse contest! You can find more information Here. Give it a shot, how do you put into words what it is that you do?  As Suzanne said “What precisely we pay nurses thousands of dollars a year to do is a mystery to most people like Behar and Collins.”

Let’s try to fix that. Telling our stories is a start, learning to share what it is that makes us nurses is a good first step.

An Open Letter to Joy Behar

As many of you have seen, Miss Colorado delivered a beautifully spoken monologue about nursing during last week’s Miss America pageant. Recently, on The View as the pageant was discussed, Miss Colorado’s scrubs were referred to as a costume, and Joy posed the question of why she was wearing a “doctor’s stethoscope.” Below is my now calmed down reply to all of it. Additionally, I would like to personally and publicly congratulate Kelley Johnson RN on her chosen talent, it is one that will reward you forever. 

Dear Joy Behar,

A beautiful woman in a beauty pageant put on baggy clothes and humbly walked across the stage to talk proudly about her career, and her passion for caring for other human beings, and the only thing you and your co hosts could muster in response were insults grounded in ignorance.

Rather than being offended or getting angry, I will instead, take a moment to teach.

I am a big believer that the first step in resolving ignorance is education. So allow me, for a moment, to educate you.

The stethoscope is a medical device used to auscultate (that means listen to) the inner workings of your patient. (read; heart, lungs, and bowel)

Doctors do this when they examine their patient.

So does the Respiratory Therapist.

The Physician Assistant.

The Nurse Practitioner.

And the Nurse.

The average patient in the hospital will be examined by their doctor every 24 hours. The Respiratory Therapist likely stops by at least every eight hours. And the nurse, she or he is probably in the room hourly, with that stethoscope on the chest and abdomen at least every four hours. In the ICU this occurs hourly, at minimum.

By unwritten laws of use-equals-ownership, it seems to me that maybe it should be called a nurse’s stethoscope.

But that isn’t necessary, because in the hospital we know how to share. We know that we each play a role in taking care of that patient, and as a result, we just call it a stethoscope.

I encourage you and your cohosts on the View to learn more about nurses and to teach your viewers the same. To begin, there are close to 3 million of us in America. By numbers, we make up the largest proportion of the health care team. Well over half of us are women, although this trend is quickly changing.

Remember how I said the doctor may only see a patient once in a 24 hour period? They are able to do that because they can trust the nurses to assess (there’s that stethoscope again) in their absence, and alert them of any issues that may arise. If you have questions when the doctor leaves the room, your nurse will answer. If you are afraid your father is disoriented when you leave each evening, don’t worry, the nurse and the nursing assistants will gladly keep him calm, comfortable, and safe.

Your hospitalized child is suddenly unable to breathe? Gasping, coughing? Don’t worry, the nurse will listen, the respiratory therapist will listen. The doctor, will run from near, or maybe very far; to assist and make a plan. But while they are on their way, you will be very glad someone else in the room knows how to use that stethoscope!

A woman in a beauty pageant put on baggy clothes and walked on stage to talk about her job, and all that a woman who is paid to sit at a table and gab could come up with was insults.

That wasn’t a sad moment for nurses. It was a sad moment for women, and I for one, am embarrassed, not angry. As a supposed advocate for women, I just ask that you learn and you choose your words more carefully before attempting to degrade and minimize the work of millions.

Because despite your lack of understanding and your silly remark, we will be ok.

Because like other formerly quiet groups in America, we nurses are finally finding our voice.

We are the people who not only listen to the heartbeat of people you love, but it is our work that personifies the heartbeat that America was built on, exemplifying the caring, compassion, and selflessness that we need more of in this country.

This is our voice, and there are 3 million of us that you will not be able to keep quiet.

Warm wishes,

Kateri

Kateri in the Kitchen

Hello faithful readers! I am sorry for my absence, as I have been inconsistent in my writing for over a year now. This isn’t goodbye to According to Kateri, I plan to still come here and write when I have something to say, something for you to read and hear.

But in the meantime, I have found a way to channel my love for writing with my complete love for cooking! So if you feel so inclined, please come visit me at Kateri in the Kitchen. I hope to see you there!

The Fall

I always hated sledding. That feeling, in the moment, when you can’t bring air into your lungs as you move quickly, downhill, through space. Everything is rushing so fast that, on your own, you feel as though you lack the strength to bring in a single breath.

It feels like falling.

That split second when you have no control, there is nothing to grab onto, to stabilize you. You are a helpless victim of gravity and speed.

I hate it.

I have written before about falling. About the fear we have of the fall. But I have always written about it afterwards, from the comfort of looking back and seeing that everything has fallen into place. When you look back and realize the fall wasn’t so bad, so far, so long.

But what about the moments of the fall? The dark moments when the tunnel never seems to end, when your reality, your comfort, your heart are ripped away.

Forever.

When although you know the fall won’t last forever, you also understand that the falling into place may not bring you back to the reality you never wanted to leave?

What then?

How do we survive the actual fall? And how do we comfort others through it? Without relying on burning clichés that hurt more than help.

How do you tell a mother her child is in a better place, when the best place, until this moment, has always been in her loving arms?

What about the elderly woman who is content to be through with new adventures, content with the way things now are? How do you put a positive spin on losing her independence? How can you say her life isn’t over, when part of it really is?

The reality is this, the fall is terrifying, it leaves us helpless, hopeless, afraid, and sometimes, even broken. We never know when it will end or how. All we really know is that it hurts. The falling hurts, and the landing can too.

So when people around you are falling, show up. Let them be afraid, disarmed, and angry. Let them complain, scream, and cry. Allow them to hate the fall, and curse the rearrangement their life has fallen into.

Stay present, with open arms and closed mouths.

The child may surely be in a better place, the next phase may truly be a new adventure. But for now, the new reality just hurts.

I hate sledding.

I hate falling.

But I am learning to stand by and watch, with open arms and silent prayers, as the people I love fall, their situations rearrange, and our lives move on slowly, to realities we never imagined.