Monday, March 26, 2012

Wanna know what I wish someone had told me just before 10:44 AM on July 20, 2004?  "Savor these moments.  The years will go by faster than you could ever imagine."  Can't say I would have believed it at the time, but let me tell you, here we are, almost 8 years later, and I believe that with every ounce of my being.

My sweet Ethan Michael graced us with his presence 5 weeks early, weighing a whopping 5 pounds, 12 ounces.  He was SO tiny.  Ethan was very much a planned baby.  For one, I wanted to be a mother my entire life.  No, really.  Two, Jay and I were destined to be together (all together now:  "Awww!") and by the time we finally got married at the ripe YOUNG age of 21, we had already been together for about 6 years.  The decision that it was finally time to try to conceive was within months of our wedding.

The excitement of seeing those two beautiful lines on the pregnancy test could never be relived.  I was so excited, my hands were trembling.  Seeing him on the ultrasound was just as incredible.  Proof, that my body was sustaining a tiny little life.  A tiny life that I helped create, and that would only be mine for many months.  Movements that only I would feel.  Hiccups that would remind me that he was there. 

When he was born, I felt like superwoman.  Not only did my body carry this baby, but my body delivered him, and he was so perfect and healthy. 

No one tells you these things.  And if someone DOES tell you these things, you don't actually GET it until you experience it.  And the experience was amazing.

Not only does no one tell you how amazing it is, no one will tell you what a challenge you are facing.  Can you picture that?  "Hey!  You are expecting.  Congratulations and, uh, good luck, cause those babies will change your life in more ways than one...hope you can handle it!"  Yeah, that wouldn't fly real well. 

When we brought Ethan home, all of a sudden, it hit me.  This baby was MINE.  No one was going to come pick him up, because I wasn't babysitting!  Who IS this little boy?  Why is he crying?  DOESN'T HE KNOW I LIKE TO SLEEP?  And GOD please tell me why he cries EVERY SINGLE NIGHT from 5 PM-10 PM??!  He was a stranger to me.  I didn't know WHAT the heck to do with him.

The guilt.  OH, the guilt.  I wanted this baby so bad, and now I felt so overwhelmed by his mere presence.  He changed my life, and I wasn't sure I really wanted my life to change.  Whatever happened to showering when I wanted to shower?  Or grocery shopping without having a ginormous car seat taking up all of the room where the groceries went?  What. the. heck.

All of a sudden, I felt terribly incompetent.  The thought that women have babies all the time and do just fine was something I couldn't even fathom.  The thought that not only did women have babies all the time, but that they would have MORE than one!  Crazy women!  CRAZY! 

It was all just so overwhelming!

Now here I am, my sweet 5 pound boy will turn 8 this summer.  I look at him and I don't see an ounce of "little boy" anymore.  Now I see "kid".  Sure, in my heart he's a little boy.  Heck, in my heart he's a baby, but he has definitely changed so much, just within these past few months.

There was a time he lived on chocolate milk and air.  Now he can polish off a full can of spaghetti-o's and THEN ask, "What's for dinner?"  When I go to kiss him goodbye at school, I don't get those precious little lips, I get a cheek or a forehead, and if I am .0002 seconds too slow, I don't even get that.  He reads chapter books and can maintain a conversation.  He asks questions that I can't answer (or don't want to answer....)  I go to scoop him into my arms, and I realize:  he's not a 20 pound toddler anymore.  I have no idea how much he weighs, but trust me, there is no "scooping" going on.

If I could say one thing.  Just ONE thing, to a mother as she enters those first moments of motherhood, it would be to savor it.  Savor it ALL.  Sleepless nights, "witching hour" evenings, spit up, diapers, runny noses.  All of it.  Because I promise.  It goes by way too fast.  And I promise.  You will look back and yearn for those moments.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One night, just a day or so after September 20, 2010, I stopped by my sister's house to let her dog out.  As the dog was outside taking care of business, I glanced at my sister's table.  Her work bag was there.  The bag she grabbed on the morning of September 20 before heading off to work, not having a single clue as to what the day was going to hold.  I looked in her bag.  Excedrin.  Makes sense.  She works with 13-14 year olds... I bet all the teachers had some Excedrin!   An apple she never ate.  There was also a spoon.  She must have taken a yogurt.  You could tell she had used the spoon and wiped it off.  I started at it with intensity, reminding myself that "she was here, she was okay".  After digging through her work bag some more, I found a notebook where she jotted down lesson plan ideas.  Her writing.  Always so pretty.  I turned the page.  She doodled in the margins my name and my kids names.  At this point, I became frantic.  The tears came hard and fast.  I was crying with my whole body as I started rummaging through EVERYTHING on her table.  EVERYTHING that meant she was once okay.  Her receipt from the wedding we were in just the day before.   I held it against me and just sobbed until I could no longer stand.  My sister.  I need my sister. PLEASE GOD DON'T TAKE HER FROM ME.

I know it has been a year and a half.  I know her outcome was good.  But it doesn't stop the memories that come out of nowhere.  Those memories are forever ingrained in my mind.

Please remember.  Remember every single day.  Life is precious.  There are no guarantees.  Follow your heart and your mind...but mostly your heart.  Smile a lot and love even more.  You CANNOT face tragedy without the support of family and friends.  Take my word on this.  When things happen, and people step up to help, remember that.  Thank God for them.  And, heaven forbid, their world crumble like ours did, give back the favors they gave you, without thinking twice.  Say "I love you."  Turn "bad" into "good", because I promise, there is good in almost ANY situation.  Wear your heart on your sleeve.  Don't be scared to cry.  Give hugs.  Even if you don't feel comfortable hugging, the power of touch is greater than you will ever know.  Take chances, even if you are scared.  Everyone needs friends, but find that one special friend that will always be there for you, thick and thin.  The one that sees you at your absolute worst and loves you all the same.

When Leslie was in the hospital, clinging to life, I remember I called her "my sister" more than I did "Leslie."  There was more power in "my sister" for me at that time.  It was like I was telling all the people who encountered her... "To you, she is Leslie Bishop.  Your patient."  But to me?  She is my sister.  My only sister.  "She is more than a name.  Please remember that with every decision you make with her care."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I am pretty hard on myself at my new (can I still call it new, 4 months into it?) job.  Learning all of the different procedures and how to set up for them, along with all the different (but so similar) cancers our patients are battling  has been way harder than I ever anticipated.  I find that I sometimes become so task oriented, I put blinders on to everything else.

Just a little bit ago, I had a flashback to my sisters incident.  She encountered A LOT of medical professionals.  When she was in the ICU, I was constantly critiquing and analyzing the people who cared for her.  Want to know the one person I remember the most?  It wasn't the nurse who had been working in the ICU for 20 years and was extremely comfortably and knowledgeable in her role.  It wasn't the cardiologist who ended up being the one to put the defibrillator in my sister.  It was the nurse who was fresh out of nursing school.  The only person that instead of saying, "Can you step out for about an hour?  I am going to do my assessment and then we are going to reposition her."  Instead she said to me, "How about we wash your sister's hair will help, right?"  She is the one who NEVER made me leave.  As I gently braided my sister's hair, she was on the other side, wiping her face with a warm cloth.  We talked a lot.  She listened.  She turned a blind eye to all of the things people were bringing us (snacks, magazines, etc.) because technically, they weren't allowed.  I will never forget her and how she made me feel. 

Remembering those moments helps me to lighten up on myself.  I will never know all the in's and out's of gynecologic cancers and treatments.  While I would love to understand all of it, it's not entirely possible.  I need to remember there is so much more than just knowing how to enter a CT scan into the ordering program and setting up a tray for a colposcopy.  It's more than listening, it's actually HEARING.   It's more than just having's seeing them as people.  Mother's, daughter's, sister's.  It's about making them feel as if they are the only patient at that exact moment, when in reality, the clinic is swarming with people.  It's about sitting down when they talk.  It's about being genuine.  Letting them know you care about them.

Thank you, Leslie, for helping me be a better nurse.  You are my inspiration and you keep me going when things are difficult.

Monday, March 19, 2012

As I walked into clinic last week, I waved hello to the physician who was busy preparing for his day full of patients.  He stopped me and said, "What's wrong?"  I smiled and replied nothing.  He's no fool, though, and told me to have a seat.  So I did.  He repeated his question.  "What's wrong?"  So I told him.  "How do you deal with the sadness?  Where is the happy?"

His advice:  This is a clinic that specializes in oncology.  Hearing the word "cancer" makes ANYONE cringe, let alone the person who has to claim ownership of it.  If you dwell on the word, it will overcome you.  Both as a patient and has a health care provider.  Therefore, we don't focus on that part.  We focus on the  treatment.  We work diligently at making sure that the treatment we give is the absolute best treatment for each patient, and in the meantime, making sure we exhaust all options as far as managing their symptoms.  Sometimes the outcome isn't what we want.  But if you look back and know you gave it your all and made their lives the absolute best you can, then you have to see it as a positive.

I struggle with this, but I love the advice.  I also asked him, "As a doctor, do you get sad?"  His answer was immediately "YES."  Sounds weird to say, but I liked hearing this.  It's pretty common for me to see a physician and not recognize that they are more than just doctors.  They are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, the list goes on.  They wouldn't do what they did if they didn't have the heart for it.

Here is an example of perspective.  I posted on my facebook page about fundraising for the American Heart Walk, and asked if anyone would like me to send them my fundraising letter that I am using this year that tells my sisters story.  My sister responded to that saying that she wanted a copy, because she wanted to know if the ending of her story was tragic or happy.

Now I could say tragic.  After all, her life was turned inside out and upside down after September 20.  She no longer teaches or drives a car.  Her short term memory is not up to par.  She struggles now with depression and a lack of motivation.  That's tragic, no?  Taking a life that seems so ideal, and stripping it all away over some unknown, unexplained medical crisis.

Or you could say her "ending" is amazing.  Inspiring.  Miraculous.  Because, well, it is!  My sister survived odds that were VERY against her.  She not only survived, but she survived with deficits that don't hinder her all that much.  Sure, she can't work.  Right now.  Will she work again someday?  I believe with my whole heart that she will.  She can't drive.  But she will.  I know this.  She can't remember.  Heck, neither can I.  Post-it notes are my BFF.

So let me throw out my plug:  The American Heart Walk is in about a month and a half.  My sister would NOT have a beautiful ending had she not received the prompt and CORRECT treatment of people who weren't even medical professionals.  These were teachers who saved her life.  Had they not initiated CPR as quickly as they did, we would NOT have her today.  Please, please, please help me raise money.  I opted out of receiving any prizes for raising money, and chose to have whatever prize I may earn instead go towards the heart walk.  I have ZERO incentive to raise money, other than the fact that I want others to get the same chances my sister did.  Every penny counts.  And if you do donate a penny, you can know that you are helping those who currently have heart disease, or those, like my sister, who had no heart disease, but still fell victim to it.

(Stay tuned:  I'm also becoming an advocate for Ovarian Cancer, but I won't bug anyone about that for a few more months)

Monday, March 12, 2012

As I walked into an exam room to meet a new patient and provide surgical teaching, the first words out of her mouth were, "I know you!"  I stared blankly, trying to figure out how.  Turns out, she knows my sister, and knows me by association.  Small world!  It was a very nice visit to talk to someone who had wonderful things to say about Leslie.

Besides that moment, which occurred in the very beginning of my shift, the rest of the day went downhill pretty quick.

I don't usually complain about my job, because I love what I do.  I am contracted to work 40 hours a week.  But the fact of the matter is... being a nurse doesn't have hours.  In-patient nursing can... there is a nurse on shift around the clock.  What about the clinic setting?  Overtime is frowned upon for obvious reasons (thank youuuu, economy!) but how do you tell a patient who is in the midst of cancer treatment, "I'm sorry Miss So-and-So, I realize you are in immense pain and unable to hold any food down, but it's 4:30 so I have to leave." 

Our patients don't think about our families at home, or other things that might be clouding our minds.  And they shouldn't have to.  In the moment, it is all about them.  That is one of my main focuses when I am make my patients feel as though there is nothing else going on in the world other than making them better.  I am having such a hard time with this.  I don't know where to draw the line.  I find that I use up so much emotion at work, that I am completely drained when I get home, 

I'm not sure what to do.  My first step is I am going to stick to my hours as best as I can.  Obviously if someone at work needs me, I will be there, but I am working to organize my day so that by 4:30, I can go.  Secondly, on Tuesdays I am at an off site clinic.  It ends around noon.  If the Main clinic allows, I will go home rather than go back to Detroit.  That way I can soak up some one-on-one time with my girl, and pick Ethan up from school.

Finding balance is so hard!  I never imagined it would be this hard.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Totally different situations, but also similar.

First let me share a story.  I follow a lot of blogs.  One blog in particular, the blogger is going through a very big challenge.  She blogs about it often.  Someone told her she will never be able to move forward if she constantly focuses on this challenge.  I completely disagree.  Obviously, as I still blog about my sister and we are about 18 months out.

Another story.  A patient of mine lost her mother to cancer.  Her mother's death was painful and way too soon.  She was in her early 60's but diagnosed at 50.  This happened in December 2010.  Same year as my sister.  Since then, this woman is constantly on high alert.  Every symptom she experiences, her mind immediately screams "CANCER".  She's scared, she's on edge, and she does not know what to do.

Last week I helped in an exam on someone who had a suspicious mass.  Thing is, she was young, so we were praying it was a benign mass.  Today we learned it is not.  I went into that awful, small room that doctors take you into to deliver news.  I did that also with my sister.  I watched a mom, dad, and sister cry as they heard the news.  Yup, we did that, too.  I listened to their questions that had no answers.  I listened to them ask "What now?" and "What do you think is going to happen, Doctor?" to which the doctor couldn't answer.  Takes me right back to September 2010.  Same freaking thing.

I guess my point is... everyone grieves differently.  You can't tell someone they are doing it "wrong".  You can't tell someone it is time to move on.  I am sure I don't speak just for myself when I say that I don't anticipate ever getting "over" my sister's incident and the changes it brought.  It changed ME.  I talk about her all the time.  I blog about her just to get some feelings out of my head.  I am on high alert.  I learned that no one is immune to tragedy, so I now realize that it could strike again at any time.  When Allison was sick, my mind wasn't thinking flu, my mind was thinking the worst.  I don't know if that will change, but I can say that at this point it is going strong.  I have learned that when you go through something difficult, you immediately think, "Why me?  Why us?  Why her?" and you become obsessed with those thoughts.  Eventually, though, you are able to step back and see that bad things happen all the time, to a lot of people.

Bottom line:  I'm not "over" it, and that is okay.  But I do know that if I constantly live in the past, I miss out on the wonderful things that ARE happening.  It is so easy to close yourself off from the world as a mechanism of protection.  By moving forward, you aren't forgetting or dismissing what happened or what is happening.  You are simply realizing that every minute counts.  Every second counts.  Bad things happen.  They HAVE happened and they WILL happen.  To you, to me, to anyone.   You will NEVER see the rainbow if you remain focused on the rain.   

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Woke up this morning to my cell phone blinking red indicating I had a message.  The message was from my sister saying "Are you up?  I need to ask you something."  Unfortunately, I was not up, so I didn't see it until morning.

Then I log into facebook and see her status say, "Now what?"  Sounds vague.  Maybe even accidentaly, like she meant to post it on someone else's post.

But I knew.  I knew she was sad.  I knew today was one of her bad days.  I called her.  She answered.  I asked her how she was, and she said fine.  I then rephrased my question and said, "What is bothering you?  You seem sad."  There was a long pause.  I knew this indicated she was crying, but trying not to.  She finally said, "Just everything."  I tried to get more information out of her, but then ended up inviting both her and my mom over to visit.

Leslie sat quietly on my couch.  I didn't want to make her cry, and I knew pretty much any question I asked was going to trigger the tears, but because I love her, I had to know.  "Why are you sad?  Is it about your job?"

(Just an FYI - she got another letter asking what her plan was related to her teaching position.  Does she have a return date or would it be another year?)

For some reason, these letters hit her HARD.  They bother her greatly.  She knows what she has to do, but she doesn't want to do it, because it's like throwing in the towel. 

I know for me, being a nurse is my passion.  I love it and have zero regrets.  This is how teaching is for Leslie.  Every school she worked at before, she was a VERY influential person who brought so much to the job.  Kids loved her. She just had a way about her.  You'd think she was Mama Duggar the way she would gently discipline.  Little did many know, she not only HAD any children, she didn't WANT any children!  When she finally landed her job at Brownstown Middle School, she was over the moon excited.  She spent hours that turned into days preparing.  She was so organized and always made sure she was ready to go before her students arrived.

WHY, then, did she only get 2 weeks of teaching before it was ripped out of her hands?

This letter is the door that right now is open, but deep down, we all know it needs to be closed.  She's not ready to close it.  She will NEVER be ready to close it.

I wish there was something I could do.  She knows I love her, and I know that is a comfort, but sometimes love isn't enough.  Her passion is still just as strong as it was when she got this job, but the reality of returning fades with each day, and she is clinging with all that she's got that it doesn't fade.

I want my sister happy.  I want all of her dreams to come true.  I want each day to give her hope.  I just don't really know how to do it.  Maybe a visit to BMS?  Or would that be too hard?  Is that even an option?  I mean, school is in session...we can't just show up and expect people to stop what they are doing to visit with her.

She is really, really down.  She doesn't want to be alone.  If anyone out there has time and love for my sister, please reach out to her. 

Another mother and I were talking the other day.  She is about my age, and also has 2 children.  We were talking about how things were when we were children versus how things are now for our children.  Now granted, I do believe that the amount of violence was always there, we just have more media sources to make us aware of it nowadays, but I definitely believe that times are VERY different.

When I was young (under the age of 10) I would be outside all day with my childhood best friend all day.  There were no cell phones then, and we never stayed in one place long, so keeping track of us was not quite so easy.  Sure, I had boundaries, but other than that, I was riding my bike all over the place (until the streetlights came on, of course).

I also remember (again, under the age of 10) setting up a lemonade stand at a gas station that is on a busy road.  No one found it strange to see two young girls sitting there with our pitcher of lemonade (in fact, we made some decent money!  At least enough to buy some candy necklaces...I remember that part, too!) 

The economy was different then.  Gas was under a dollar per gallon.  People weren't so quick to anger and place blame.  The saying "it takes a village to raise a child" rang completely true.  My childhood holds some very, very good memories.

Fast forward to today.  Kids as young as 10 not only have cell phones, they have iPhones.  Everyone has a facebook, practically, and we all know when you are behind the safety of a computer screen, it is VERY easy to gain courage, so bullying has changed completely.  The economy has taken a hit.  People are out of jobs, low on money, and the cost of living is higher than ever.  People are stressed and angry.  Watching the news, the amount of violence is terrifying.  There is no filter.  When a murder occurs, the media has no problems capturing the grieving family mourn a tragic loss, nor do investigational shows hesitate to show images of brutalized bodies.  You can only shelter your child so much.  You want to put them in a bubble and shield them from harm, hate, and ugliness, and I do believe many parents try to do this.  But the reality is...this is reality.  This is our world right now, and to be quite honest, as a parent of young children, it is very, very scary.

Let's change the subject a bit.

Before I became a parent, I was the best parent in the WORLD.  No, really.  I believed this.  I knew EXACTLY how I was going to be.  I had not only my own set of expectations, but I also relied on society's expectations, and was going to incorporate them as much as I could. 

I have two children, a 7 year old boy, and a 2 year old girl.  We are a little lenient with the sheltering aspect. For example, Ethan LOVES investigational shows, and we let him watch them.

My 7 year old has been through some difficult times, such as the death of Jay's Grandpa and the illness of my sister.  He has seen Jay and I struggle through some hard times, he has endured the addition of a sibling at the age of 4 and I'll be honest, if he had had his way then, he would have probably preferred remaining an only child.  My 7 year old also has a blankie.  Yup.  He's had it since birth.  It usually is just something he uses at home at bedtime, but occasionally he will take it with him outside of the house.  For instance, some mornings, on the way to school, if he is tired he will bring it along for the ride.  He has also shed tears over his blankie when it started to unravel.  There is NOTHING that can take it's place.  He loves that thing.  I see no end in sight to him outgrowing it.

My 2 year old (2 1/2, to be more exact) also has a blankie.  She is WAY more reliant on hers than Ethan ever was.  She also still has her pacifier.  If you had asked me at her birth how long I would allow it, I probably would have said 6 months, "before she got too attached."  At 6 months, she WAS too attached, so we decided we would wean her off at 1 year.  Her first birthday came.  Her first birthday went.  The pacifier was still there.  Okay, so 18 months will be the cut off. about her 2nd birthday?  I can now say at 30 months, she is still going strong.  Society CERTAINLY frowns on this, and trust me, people do NOT hold back on letting me know she is "too old" for it.  Or even "she'd look prettier without it."

To tie together my two stories, why on earth would I take away something that comforts my children?  This world, to me, is a scary place.  I don't convey those feelings to them, and I try to educate them as much as I can, but my assistance with their coping skills can only go so far.  When Allison is scared or hurt, the FIRST thing she wants is her blankie and her binky.  When Ethan is tired and ready to cuddle down for the night, he always makes sure his blankie is with him.  He also never forgets it when we go out of town.

Part of the issue with society is everyone is looking to judge.  Place blame on someone else so that way it's not on them.  I never thought I'd have an almost 3 year old with a pacifier or an almost 8 year old with a blankie, but you know what?  I do.  And that is perfectly okay with me.