Guest post: Lumber the Gentle Hearted One

While Nurse Apple is taking a brief pause, we’re featuring a post from a special guest author: Lumber, the Gentle Hearted One. We hope you enjoy.

Hi, my name is Lumber. I’m 8 months old, I weigh 55 lbs, and if I stand up straight and tall on my back legs, I can just about look my mama in the eyes.
Today was a super fun day.
My papa was working at the store where they sell paint and garden supplies, and my mama had to go to her work for just a little while to learn about EPIC computer upgrades for Home Health Hospice. (Whatever in the world that means- I stayed home by myself and listened to classic rock and napped. One of my mama’s friends asked which classic rock band is my favorite… Three Dog Night, of course!)
Then my mama came home to get me and take me to the river to exercise me. She was hosting a gathering at our house tonight, and wanted me to be calm and relaxed on my best behavior when people came over to meet me.
This was such a great idea! My mama knows how much I love the big park.
I wasn’t in much of a swimming mood today though… today seemed like a good day for digging.
I’ve been in the house a lot recently; it felt really good to run and run and dig for treasure.
These photos were taken about an hour before my mama was supposed to have her people friends over… I had such a nice surprise because my papa showed up at the park to meet us so I could stay and play for a while longer.
By the time I finally got home I looked really good, and smelled super awesome.
My mama even had some cheese and crackers out on the kitchen counter just for me when I got home. She knows I love the fancy goat cheese with sun dried tomato and basil!
The gluten-free crackers weren’t my favorite, but I ate some just to be polite since some people had some on little plates on their laps that I figured were meant for me… I didn’t want to be rude.
Some people sure are surprised when I show them my trick where I can jump up tall and kiss them right on their faces! I like to surprise people with my love like that; people need more love. And tongue. Everyone needs more tongue.

— at Sellwood Riverfront Park.

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Hospice Nurse Diaries; o3.03.2o19

I recently attended a Grief & Loss Writing Workshop, which provided me the space and time to start writing again after months of emotional constipation. 
The following is the result of a writing prompt, with a twelve minute allotted writing period. Only slightly edited and cleaned up, mostly raw, the way the words emerged. 

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Unread Sympathy Cards

It has been 9 months already since my father died ~ almost a year with very little space to hold him quietly in my own private thoughts.

My writing practice died when he died; the rush of the merry-go-round I couldn’t get off didn’t allow for it.

I became a Hospice Nurse 3 months before he died. No time to grieve, no time to sit with my loss. Straight back to the work of nursing other patients, other families.

Always reminding myself to not let my story interfere with their stories.

Giving others the space that was not given to me.

He’s in a better place now,” were the words on the first and only bereavement card I opened and read.
Fury. I felt fury reading those words.
9 months later, the rest of the cards and notes lay unread, wrapped in a plain blue ribbon at the bottom of my sock drawer.

My husband, and my 18 year old son ~ Bob’s only grandchild ~ read the cards as they arrived to our home. They were not just for me, after all. But I could not subject myself to reading another.

December 15th, was Bob’s birthday. I had thought that perhaps I might read them then. But no. I wasn’t ready.

May 1st will be the anniversary of the day he died. Maybe that will be the day.

Tiptoeing back into writing.

A few weeks ago, a day in Salem at the Oregon State Capitol reminded me that my writing is not just a middle-aged woman’s means of personal self-care and catharsis, but is actually an important tool for my public Nurse Advocacy work. But that type of writing, the type that’s done for lobbying and providing citizen testimony for state legislators, requires a great deal of restraint, professionalism, organized thought. I’m not quite there yet.

Today, I attended a workshop ~ The Labyrinth Path: Writing and Walking With Grief & Loss, presented by Anne Richardson, M.A., a Portland based chaplain, certified spiritual director, labyrinth facilitator, and poet. This half-day workshop did something for me that hours of therapy, meditation, and other attempts at Grief Work have not been able to do for me over the 9 months since my father died. Via a small, intimate, group setting with poetry and writing prompts, the ink in my stagnant, sad little pen started flowing again today. Solidly, in a way that felt well-paced, and comfortable, and exciting.
(To learn more about Anne, her workshops, retreats, and spiritual direction offerings, visit her website: Nurture Your Journey)

I will be sharing a bit of my writing from today’s workshop here in Nurse Apple’s Adventures in coming days. Pretty raw, and mostly unedited. Like my life, and much of my End Of Life work, that’s the reality.
It comes in quick, unexpected, waves; I approach it with real reactions. I encourage and try to allow others the space to do the same. The older I get, the more I work with death & dying, the coarser the mesh on my filters get. More stuff gets through. I think in the long run, it’s the healthier way.

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The last piece I wrote this afternoon ended up being a poem. Of sorts.

Emergency Kit

                
A thawing. 
A gentle melting of the inflexible, 
a slow turning towards a warmer season
     that was promised to come. 
My Grief has been like a winter,
in many ways. 
     The short days: just when I turn to see the morning light,
      realize, 
that if I manage 
       to rouse myself: 
I can participate. 
I can move a bit forward, feel myself start to 
     warm & thaw with those movements.
But then too soon ~ the sun is already dipping. 
     I’ve lost my momentum, and that bit
     of tangible hope & energy I felt
has already escaped me. 
     Wet at a campfire; only a few matches left
and a crappy Circle K lighter that 
     doesn’t really work. 
But what does one honestly expect for 89¢?

Then I remember: I’m the girl 
     who always carries the Well-Stocked Emergency Kit. 
Go back. Look again. 
You’ll find some more matches. 

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit In A Dream

Bob King Diaries; O8.o4.2o18

Yesterday was Bob’s grandson’s 18th Birthday.
The kiddo was up in Port Townsend, Washington, at an acoustic music summit with his papa.
The mama, was home in Portland, doing the Hospice Nurse thing.
One of the mama’s oldest, dearest, friends died yesterday. A lovely woman, who had driven from Portland down to Bend, in the summer of 2000, to visit the then pregnant mama.
The mama, hearing earlier in the day, from her friend’s spouse about the death, tried desperately to get off of work for the afternoon and evening.
She wanted to sit quietly by herself; to honor the passing of her friend. To visit her memories of Bob, who died a few months back.
But there were staffing issues, and a high volume of Hospice patient need. She not only couldn’t take the day for her own private needs and grieving, she ended up having to work a little overtime.
It’s what happens, it is the business of Death & Dying professionals.
The mama went to bed late, unable to connect with any of her living people. There were no tears, just exhaustion and numbness.
And then Bob King came to her in a dream in the night.
He went with her to a Quaker Meeting (which never, ever, would have really happened). And during that Silent Meeting for Worship, Bob rose and spoke. (This also, never, ever, would have possibly happened.)
In the dream, Bob rose from his seat, and told the group of gathered people about his love for his daughter. About his appreciation for her.
It was brief, and quiet, and sincere.
She woke late in the morning, and only remembered the dream after she had been up for a while.
In that dream, Bob had been the steady, quiet, sincere, loving presence he had always been for his daughter. Comforting and real.

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Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye

My father died when I was less than 3 months into my new position as a Home Health Hospice Nurse. Barely off orientation. Much as I cherish my new job – a job I specifically went to nursing school to train for back in 2003 – a job I spent over a decade of preparing for via my many roles as an Oncology Nurse – a job that suddenly I felt trapped in, when I needed time to heal from my own loss.

While as a Quaker, I sincerely view the profession of nursing as a role of service, I also work for my, and my family’s, health insurance benefits.
I am a pre-existing condition. A walking, talking, pre-existing condition.
Born with a deformed kidney, I was extremely ill for the first 2 years of my life. Some kind and talented doctors at UCSF removed the offending organ, and I became a poster child for Healthy Living with a Solitary Kidney.
At the age of 37, just after I graduated from nursing school, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is a shit-ton of fun. Shits, giggles, scar tissue all over my small intestine.

But anyway. I always cringe when people say that Hospice Nurses are saints. Or angels. I am neither. Not by a long shot. I love the work; I feel tremendous gratitude for my job. That said, I also do it for paycheck. Let’s be real.

I need my fücking health insurance.

So, Bob King dies when I am so new to the Hospice organization towards which I spent 15 years of volunteering, studying, and working, to join, that I have no PTO. I was generously granted 3 paid days of Bereavement Leave (for which I am grateful), but then the greatest irony of my life unfolds: The Hospice Nurse can’t take a leave of absence to mourn her own father’s death.

Working my Hospice shifts while grieving has been tricky. How does one feel absolutely nothing, and then almost simultaneously, absolutely everything, as my son used to say when he was young, at the whole same time?!

When a person wants to work for Hospice, or even volunteer for Hospice, they are asked to wait at least 6 months, preferably a year, before they enter into the field.

If Bob had died in February, rather than May, I would likely not have been hired for my current position. They would have kindly and respectfully suggested I take some time to mourn & heal first.

Things have developed precariously since May 1st, the day my father died. There was a lapse in communication with my employer, and I was even scheduled to work the afternoon of my father’s interment at Willamette National Cemetery. Whoops! Fücking Whoops!
(We got it straightened out.)

However, as my manager and I have discussed, it is quite possible that there are no coincidences. Some of the home visits I have made in recent weeks, have been incredibly healing; I have felt that I was indeed In The Right Place At The Right Time.

Last night, I was asked to visit a home in a small town about an hour outside of Portland. A 90+ year old had just died, and I was there to support the bereaved spouse, and the patient’s daughter. Way too close to home, I thought initially.

The purpose of my visit was to support the family in any way needed: preparation of the deceased’s body for the journey to the crematorium, disposal of unused medications, anything and everything that the family might possibly need or want. Mostly, just presence. Holding Space with them, for them. Just being human, and understanding, and present in that sacred place and time.

The spouse told me that they had been married for 72 years. “Almost 73.”
I asked how they had met one another. The reply, “We were neighbors. We grew up together.” They had slept side by side together for over 72 years, always holding hands throughout the nights.

This was not the first time I had dreaded reporting for work. Often times, I’ll think of my father, and how I would either visit or call him on my way to work. My gut will clench, then drop, as I forget that he is gone, for just the briefest moment, and then…

But this was also not the first time that I drove away from a home at the end of the visit, feeling mystified by it all. In The Right Place At The Right Time. I’m doing exactly what I am meant to be doing, difficult as it may feel at times.

Sometimes, a certain song will come on the car radio when I’m driving alone; I feel my father’s presence, and my heart opens wide. Last night as I was driving away from this family’s home, a Natalie Cole version of Cole Porter’s 1944 song, Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, came on the radio. I’m not sure whose spirit was visiting me in my car at that moment, but someone’s sure was.

Everytime we say goodbye, I die a little
Everytime we say goodbye, I wonder why a little
Why the Gods above me, who must be in the know
Think so little of me, they allow you to go
When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it
There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to
Minor
Everytime we say goodbye

When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it
There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to
Minor
Everytime we say goodbye
(Lyrics and music by Cole Porter, published by Chappell & Company.)

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(Photo cred: my personal stash. Bob King: October 1962)

 

 

Bob King Diaries; o4.27.2o18 @ 00:27

Bob presents as a charming mix: equal parts Pleasantly Confused Gentleman, and Wiseacre
Neurologist:   Mr. King, are you right, or left, handed?
Bob:    (pause)… Yes.

This takes place during  an assessment following a most uncharacteristic afternoon and evening for Bob. With the only forewarning being a mild complaint of “the sniffles” for a few days, Bob curled up on his bed after lunch, and remained there for several hours. Slowly becoming febrile, then skipping his supper, he became pretty ill in a short period of time, catching everyone (himself included, I suppose) quite off guard.
In fact ~ we realized later that he had become incontinent of urine (a first), and vomited on himself without ever letting anyone know.

IMG_8618Bob’s fever, weakness, immobility, and confusion, ended up buying him a fancy ride to visit The Sisters of Providence.

Settling in for a night of observation.
Spending the night, as Bob does not do well in unfamiliar surroundings.
The only solid info confirmed: +Human Metapneumovirus (a close viral cousin of Avian pneumovirus).
For extra fun, some elevated troponin labs are detected, and a few other things pointing to Congestive Heart Failure.
Bob has asked hospital staff to call him “Robert,” which is totally his prerogative, yet baffling. He has always preferred “Bob,” no matter the setting.

Meanwhile, there was a Potluck dinner back at Chez Blapplegate… heard it was excellent food, delightful company, and apparently HH performed a Sneaky Preview of his upcoming piano recital piece. Something involving Billy Joel.
Was sorry to have missed it, but sometimes the Kristin & Bob King Show needs to take precedence.
(Random side note: I later learn that there had been some Penis P
asta, flown in fresh from Italy. Really? This I miss?)

I was finally able to get some po intake for myself, after the hospital cafeteria re-opened for the Midnight – 03:30 supper crowd. And I must say, it was surprising how quickly the old NOC Shift Nurse in me was revived. I was back in my old element. I still had it in me.

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#fortheloveofbob

 

Bob King Diaries; o3.31.2o18

Apparently, Bob snuck into the shower at an odd hour yesterday. He slipped and fell.
He was completely out of it when I went to see him later.
He appeared to be confused when I told him it was time to walk down the hallway in the Adult Foster Home where he lives to get his supper.
I had to take his hand and lead the way.
I don’t even know what a person does with that. My dad. Sitting on the edge of his bed, not understanding my words.