The Path Here: Nursing Then and Now

 

If you had met me five years ago, you would have never guessed I was a nurse. I managed a computer network group back then and I rarely mentioned my nursing background to even my closest friends. I left nursing back in the late 1980’s and for a very long time I was embarrassed to call myself a nurse.

I had been a good nurse, one of the best. I learned and applied all the latest technologies to my patients, from IV feedings to balloon pumps to SOAP charting and nursing care plans. Yet most of my ICU patients were not “fixed” by their treatment. Most of them died after a very expensive hospital stay. And worse yet, the treatments I gave caused many of my patients to suffer. I witnessed the failings of modern Western medicine up close; I watched patients held in limbo on the edge of death, only half alive. I watched patients suffer as they were separated from their loved ones by the very technology that was supposed to help them.

My nursing education had given me no framework to make sense of the pain and suffering I saw around me. The hospital where I worked was one of the best in the region and the nursing care I gave was state of the art. And yet I felt anger and a deep sadness within as I tried to care for patients the way I had been taught. I eventually left nursing and found a nice safe career in the computer field where the only thing that crashed and died was a poorly written computer program. When I left, I thought I put nursing behind me. But here I am back again.

Returning to nursing after more than a decade away was like peering down into a wild, raging river, seeing the whitewater and fast current and jumping in anyway. My friends and family looked at me in wonder and asked why was I going back? Health care is a mess, doctors and nurses are under constant fire and the nursing profession seems to be having an identity crisis. Plus, I earned twice as much money as a corporate manager. So, why did I return?

While I was away from nursing, I continued to search for meaning in all I had seen and experienced as an ICU nurse. My avocation became alternative healing modalities; Chinese medicine, herbal remedies, massage, acupuncture, spiritual healing. I read all the time about health and healing and became an avid student of mind-body medicine. I read studies on the power of guided imagery in fighting cancer, and on the power of prayer in helping open heart patients to heal. I learned how the simple act of massage helps premature infants to grow faster and thrive. A new world of healing possibilities slowly opened up to me.

As an ICU nurse I had focused on the physiology of the human body. Now I delved into the emotional and spiritual components of illness. I tried many of the alternative healing methods I read about, loved some and hated others. I went through a divorce, remarriage and a cleansing emotional healing of my own. And over time I began to miss nursing. At my core I was still a healer, a nurse, no matter how many computer programs I wrote.

So I finally came back to nursing. But I am not remotely the same nurse I was when I left in frustration years ago. My idea of what nursing is about has changed dramatically. I can still remember myself as a nurse, fresh out of nursing school. I remember believing then that “good” nursing was about mastering technology, understanding medication effects and curing an ailing physical body. My focus was on the disease and how it affected the physical body. Back then I thought nursing was science pure and simple; just apply the right technology or give the right medication and the patient would be fixed. It sounds a lot like car repair in retrospect. No messy emotional connection required or desired.

It’s been a long winding road for me. The shift in my definition of nursing has been gradual over many years. I cannot pinpoint when my idea of nursing actually mutated. Like the slow building of a sunset, my view of myself as a nurse has shifted moment by moment, experience by experience until today I look around to find that I am a totally different nurse.

Today I see nursing as more art than science. Nursing is not about passing meds and taking vitals for me. It is not about whiz-bang medical technology. And it is not about curing or fixing the physical body. Now nursing is about discovering how the emotions and the spirit of a person interact with their physical body. It is about connecting with a person and helping them to heal body, mind and spirit. And it is always personal and sometimes messy and emotional work. This time nursing is about relating to people one on one. It is about creating a healing space where the mind can rest and the body can heal. It is something I do with a person rather than to them.

Do I still find value in IV meds and CT scans and laparotomies? Absolutely. I also find value in meditation and prayer and acupuncture and herbs and the simple act of touch. I have come to believe that there are many paths to healing. True health is a balance of many factors; there is no one treatment, no silver bullet cure. Each person is unique and must find the balance of treatments, both conventional and alternative, that fits for them.

I have found my own balance. I have found a way to nurse that is uniquely mine and it gives me great joy. If you meet me today and ask me what I do for a living, I will smile and tell you proudly that I am a nurse. It is good to be back.

© 2002 Nancy Lankston

☾☽

Note: I wrote this essay 10 years ago and it’s been buried in my files for years. But My nursing buddy and sister of the heart, Megan, asked me to pull it out and share it. So, here it is. Unfortunately, most of what I say about hospitals and healthcare in the U.S. is still true in 2012. Here’s to changing it in my lifetime.

Blowing in the Wind

Lyons, CO

Wow – it’s been almost 3 months since I spouted off here in my Blog.

That’s a LONG time for me to go underground. But I have a very good reason for going all “Turtle” and disappearing from view – I moved cross-country this fall. Moving from one state to another is tough even for a flexible, go with the flow type chick like me. (My husband is laughing hysterically right now about my “go with the flow” description of myself. But hey! This is my Blog and if I want to view myself as easy going, he should just learn to hush up… 🙂

So, more about moving. Any change is tough – most humans do NOT like things in their life to shift around or change much at all. But I have always prided myself on enjoying change. I used to do corporate change management work, for God’s sake! This move cross-country was a change that I pushed for and WANTED. And yet… this move was unsettling to say the least (pun intended).

It always takes me awhile to find ground and establish a new routine whenever I move, even just across town. But, silly me – I thought a much anticipated, much desired change would be easier. Hah! Maybe it’s because I’m an Earth sign (Taurus); I tend to root deeply into each place I live. Or maybe all those therapists are right when they claim that moving is one of the top three stressors in Life for everyone. Even good change is hard and stressful.

After our move, I felt unmoored, ungrounded, unsettled, off-balance. Like the least little breath of trouble might blow me right off my feet. It took me weeks to feel at home and truly relax in this new place. I knew what I needed – I needed to find gound. Hah! So it’s time to practice what I preach all day long to my clients, huh God?! I’m supposed to know how to do this, right?

What finally worked for me? What helped me find ground and settle in this new place? Meditating and consciously grounding my legs and hips helped me immensely And walking in the mountains was a God-send for me. The energy of the Rockies is very grounding (go figure!). And oddly enough, the simple act of unpacking our treasures helped a lot. Having boxes everywhere is very unsettling for me.

Yesterday I came across an essay named Finding Ground that I wrote a few years ago And I laughed to myself as I read it – if only I could have accessed all the wisdom I expressed in it during my “unsettled days” this fall.

My new home is good – I’m the one grinning from ear to ear every time I look outside and see the Rockies. It’s going to be years before this “flatlander” takes living in the mountains for granted.

Life is good here. Probably because I am finally completely HERE.
Much love and hugs from the mountains.

I encourage you to also read  “Finding Ground”, with the hope that it might help you
face the chaos of change in your life.


The Wisdom of Dr M

 

I want to share an article I originally published two years ago. This piece is dedicated to an amazing healer named Dr. Armando Moreano. Dr. M taught me what true healing is all about…

Years ago I worked for a very wise doctor. He was a petite little man with a hot Latino temper. I learned a whole slew of Spanish cuss words from Dr. M. He’s been dead for more than 15 years, but he’s still one of the most amazing healers I have ever known.

Dr. M grew up in Ecuador; a tiny country in South America that is certainly not known for being at the forefront of medicine. But he learned much about the true essence of healing from watching his physician father treat patients with access to only the most basic equipment and medicines. And even after years of U.S. medical training and experience, he managed to maintain an intuitive sense of how to help his patients heal; simple yet profound treatments were the rule. Nothing very complicated; not much in the way of whiz bang technology; just the basics delivered with love and compassion. His patients adored him – they sensed they were in good hands.

My boss knew all about his patients and their families; he would quiz them about their love lives, their jobs, their mothers – no question was off limits. I sometimes found his questions bizarre and intrusive. I was young and did not yet understand that he asked those questions because he sensed that his patients emotional and spiritual health directly affected their physical health.

I wish Dr. M were still here with us training this generation of doctors. How wonderful to have a doctor who remembers me and asks me about my love life and my family! All those nosey questions that used to embarrass me now seem crucial to quality health care. How can a doctor care for you adequately if she doesn’t know anything about you except a few facts listed in your chart? But that’s another subject entirely.

Dr. M was opinionated and not at all shy about expressing himself. He would go on and on about how preservatives in food were at the root of many health problems; he blamed everything from cancer and diabetes to arthritis and heart disease on artificial chemicals in our food. He liked to deliver his dire pronouncement about American food and health while standing in his office smoking a cigarette and drinking a diet Coke. This made his argument seem especially poignant.

My boss was a great example of the old adage that the most difficult patient for any healer to heal is himself. His father had died suddenly when Dr. M was still young. He never got to say good-bye to his dad and it obviously still grieved him deeply 20 years later. Add to that being caught in the middle of constant arguments between his wife and mother and Dr. M’s smoking made perfect sense. But back then I just thought he was weak for not being able to quit smoking. That was decades before terms such as emotional eating, stress related illness and PTSD became mainstream. Today the research on the link between emotional upset and illness grows every day. And as I try to give up my own chai habit, I realize first hand just how emotionally loaded our food and drug choices can be!

When Dr. M would jump on his bandwagon and lament the sorry state of American food, I would roll my eyes and try to change the subject. I was a know-it-all twenty something, fresh out of college; I really loved my candy and junk food; my boss just seemed like an eccentric old man to me. He actually reminded me of a college chemistry professor I had who would go on and on about the dangers of fluoride in tap water. Now I realize just how wise both of them were…Today, years later I am the one lamenting the sorry state of American food.

Our food has not improved in 20 years. If anything it has gotten worse. The grocery store has aisle after aisle of food, kept “fresh” with preservatives such as BHA, BHT and MSG. Europeans want nothing to do with our mi lk and cheese because we continue to feed our cows bovine growth hormones. How can we give growing school children milk laced with those hormones?!

The ingredients labels on many foods read like a chemistry experiment. It actually is a big chemistry experiment; put preservatives in our food to increase the shelf-life and assure us that all those chemicals are “fine”; they won’t do us any harm. Wait 20 years and see what happens. Sounds a bit like the instructions for instant soup; just add hot water and wait a bit. Only this time the results can be way more serious than soggy noodles!

This crotchety old nurse has gotten a bandwagon of her own and it is called Avoid Artificial Dyes and Preservatives. Twenty years after Dr. M tried to tell me and anyone else who would listen, I am now trying to tell you. My wise old doctor boss was absolutely right – what you eat can either nourish you or kill you; choose wisely. Do not assume that just because they sell it in a grocery store that it is good for you!

Those of you who have known me a while have heard all of this before. My husband calls it Nancy’s rant #1A. And yes, I actually do get red in the face and rant about this on occasion just like my wild Latino boss used to. Dr. M has passed his baton to me. : -)) I rant and I push my opinions about food. And I will continue to rant because your health is worth it.

What You Can Do:
1. READ LABELS; know what is in the food that you feed yourself and your family.
2. AVOID ARTIFICIAL PRESERVATIVES & DYES; Artificial chemicals are NOT food and they CAN hurt you. It may take 20-30 years, but these chemicals can make you sick and even kill you. And watch out for preservatives and dyes in lotions, makeup and hair-care products as well.
3. AVOID FOOD THAT HAS BEEN PROCESSED OR MANIPULATED TO MAKE IT LAST LONGER. Long shelf life does not mean high quality. In general, the more processed a food is, the less nutritious it is. For example, avoid oils that have been refined with chemicals and heat. Buy cold pressed oils instead.
4. BUY THE FRESHEST FOOD YOU CAN AFFORD. Cheap food can cost you your health. It is NOT worth it.

I hope you will take a cue from Dr. M; please protect your body from chemicals that can hurt you.

Here and Now

Here and now it is sunny outside

I chop carrots. Mince garlic.

Heat oil. Salivate.

Inhale the aroma.

 

Here and now I am sad inside

I grieve. Shed tears

Ponder death. 

See pain all around.

 

Here and now I sit with it all

Breathe pain. Breathe sorrow.

Breathe garlic and sun

Open to life.

Wet Mother

There’s a message in the water, they say
Yes! I cry
She says dive in, enjoy
Love your juice
The wet messy wonder
In the flow of life.

There’s emotion in the water, they say
Yes! I cry
All tears and fears
Rage and sorrow
The entire saga is there
Within your flow.

This Earth’s all about the water, they say
Yes! I cry
Whales sing their song
A love for mother ocean
Who birthed you
And flows within still.

You are more water than solid, they say
Yes! I cry
The better to flow
Within, ride ocean’s wave
Connect with mother
Warm wet mama.
Juicy blue.

Finding Ground

Foggy Foothills
     Yesterday the dogwood tree in my yard was covered with green leaves; this morning all but two low branches are deep maroon. Amazing how fast that shift happened. Autumn has been whispering its way towards Kansas City for weeks. The wild rainstorm yesterday seems to have signaled its official arrival. The air is cooler, crisper today. And I notice leaves turning yellow, orange and maroon everywhere I look. Changes in my personal life are like that; little hints of change and subtle shifts happen that I often miss or ignore. Then, wham, a storm blows through and in the aftermath I look around surprised to see profound changes in myself or those around me.

I took a walk down the creek path this morning. The day is gorgeous; sunny with a cool wind and high wispy clouds in a bright blue sky. Jacket weather is here. Quite a contrast with yesterday’s cold gray skies and hours of torrential downpour. The heavy rains left the creek high, very high. And the storm water has noticeably altered the creek in just one day. In one spot, long hairy orange tree roots dangle in mid-air over the far curve of the creek bank. Yesterday the roots were encased in dirt; today they dangle free and unsupported. I have had days like that – I wake up to discover that the very ground I have been rooted in and attached to is suddenly gone.

Most humans are not very good at handling change and I am no exception. With change comes fear; that feeling of the world shifting out from under me, of dangling in mid-air without support is very scary. Sometimes I get stuck in that state of fear and I start to worry that problems and instability are all I have to look forward to.

I say that I believe in a benevolent God; a God who takes care of the earth and all living creatures; a God who it omnipotent and all-knowing; a God from which all of life flows. And yet when my path gets rough or the world seems dark, I have trouble trusting that God truly does know what she is doing and all is well.

Any change or shift in my life can trigger the fear. The shift can be something as simple as a change in my schedule or diet, or as profound as divorcing my first husband. The size or importance of the shift does not necessarily determine how well I cope with the change. Any shift, big or small, can be difficult.
The trees on the creek bank seemed to handle change better than I normally do. Trees instinctually know to lean away from instability and sink new roots into whatever ground is left to support them. In contrast, I flounder for days, feeling angry and off balance, bemoaning whatever changed in my life. I grieve for the support I lost. I forget to breathe and lean into the support I still have.

Trees have a visceral trust in the Universe or Earth to support them and provide for them no matter what happens. I have trouble trusting in the good of the Universe that profoundly in the midst of change. I get caught up in grieving what I have lost instead of opening to what is now possible. I forget to pray or meditate and I lose my connection to ground.

Faith and trust in the good of God is my ground, the core bedrock that won’t shift out from under me no matter what. For me, faith and trust come from cultivating my internal KNOWING sense of God as good and benevolent rather than mean or indifferent. That loving essence of God is always with me, around me, within me. I sense it when I work with clients, when I pray, when I watch children play, when I hug someone. And yet I also forget it again and again. I lose my connection to God and I flounder.

Buddhism tells me that I suffer when I cling and grasp, when I try to keep things from changing. Nothing is permanent except Buddha or God. And Christianity tells me to build my faith on the rock of Christ. Judaism implores me to trust in the Lord. Peace of mind comes from letting go and trusting that God or Buddha is in charge. Letting go and trusting in God to handle the affairs of the world is the only answer.

I find that I must tend to my trust and faith like a tender young seedling in my garden. My faith needs to soak up the sun of other people’s loving, positive energy. And then I must water it with prayer and meditation; and trust that it already knows how to grow;

I must feed my faith by actively noticing the good in people, the love in the world. Water and feed, water and feed until my tiny bit of faith and trust in the good of God grows stronger, more resilient, more certain. Water and feed my seedling again and again until one day I discover that my seedling has grown bigger and stronger and is deeply rooted in all directions. Then every little shift no longer throws me into doubt and fear. I can be as calm as the trees on the bank of the creek. I can remember that all is well.