We’ve already had an end of a decade in the current century and I don’t remember it being much of a thing, but now we have another new decade starting in a couple of days and it has me thinking.
What do I appreciate more now than I did 10 years ago?
Well, coffee, for one. Ever since I learned that dark roast coffee beans have less caffeine (thank you Costa Rican coffee tour) I have left my caffeine worries behind along with dreadful decaffeinated coffee. I also appreciate coffee shops. Being partially retired, I have time to while away the hours every so often at our friendly and comfortable neighborhood coffee shop, where maybe not everybody but at least a few people know my name (mostly because they write it on my cup).
And yoga. Practicing and teaching yoga has brought me comfort, more flexible joints, a stronger core, better balance and the ability to look inward and find peace in trying times. I also appreciate the opportunity to be creative that yoga gives me each week as I plan the content of my classes.
I certainly appreciate walking. I’m pretty sure I took walking for granted before, but in this decade I have not. A left hip tear (it healed after many months) and a falling apart right knee (replaced earlier this year) made me very aware of how complicated and disheartening it is to walk with pain and how appreciated and freeing pain-free walking can be.
Grandchildren. Oh, I so appreciate grandchildren. It’s no secret that I adore our son, and I like other children quite a bit. Gaining grandchildren (one of each) during the past 10 years has enhanced my life immeasurably. As babies, they brought me back to my early days of motherhood, with all the positive and loving memories that entails. Now, as they reach each age and master new accomplishments, I enjoy everything along with them. Coloring? They think I’m Monet. Soccer, baseball, video games? I don’t play that well, but I’m a very good audience. Frozen (1 and 2), the Little Mermaid, what Barbie has been up to since I last spent time with her? It’s all there for me now.
I appreciate compassion. Navigating bumps in the road during the past decade has helped me appreciate receiving and giving compassion as never before. I like to think I’ve become less judgmental, and more forgiving, in the past ten years. I hope so.
Technology is something I appreciate more now than in the past decade, maybe because I use it more all the time. Registering to vote online couldn’t be easier. An enormous number of books are readily available via library websites. Recipes for absolutely everything I want to cook are instantly found and if I don’t feel like cooking I can search restaurant menus or order delivery online. And, I appreciate the technology that gives me a map to practically any place on earth right on my phone, no re-folding necessary.
Last, but not least, texting. Texting wasn’t available in much of the previous decade, but I have really embraced an appreciation of it now. I have friends who don’t text, and that’s ok, but honestly, my friends who text make sharing information and planning around our busy schedules much more efficient. Sorry, friends who don’t text. I still love you, but could you maybe step it up in the next decade?
It was 1970, we were 21 and 22, married less than a year, and driving south with most of our possessions crammed into a black Plymouth station wagon.
My husband, a Navy Seaman, had received orders to report to Glynco Naval Air Station near Brunswick, Georgia.
When we got the news, the first thing we sheltered mid-westerners did was look up Georgia in a US Atlas, discovering that it had a coast on the Atlantic ocean.
With just a couple of weeks to prepare, I resigned from my job at Victory Memorial Hospital, we moved out of our tiny, furnished apartment in Waukegan, Illinois, and were off, excited to be on this adventure together, marveling at just about everything.
Tennessee and the great Smoky Mountains, with small houses tucked away on hills and in hollows. Kentucky, fresh and green and friendly. We reached Georgia and drove through poor rural areas, surrounded by miles of beautiful Georgia pines, heading southeast all the way.
We arrived in Brunswick and kept driving, anxious to get to the barrier island on the coast that we knew was somewhere nearby.
We found our way via a drawbridge to a concrete causeway that wound through the marsh and, six miles later, led us to a smaller drawbridge and then it was there. A jewel, an island.
Walking to the boardwalk, experiencing the ocean for the first time, our senses were overwhelmed.
Dunes and clumps of waving sea grass. A long, wide, white sand beach. Immense space, the sky huge and blue. Sunlight on sparkling water. Long-legged birds playing with crashing waves and palm trees rustling in constant wind.
It was almost unbearably beautiful, and I think that’s when it must have happened, when this place made its way into my heart, never to leave.
Although, I didn’t know it then.
I didn’t know that we would walk that beach for endless hours, talking, planning, growing up, growing as a couple.
That we would drive the causeway late one night as a family of two and return a few days later as a family of three.
That we’d stroll our baby through streets lined with live oaks and Spanish moss to the beach where ocean waves would lull him to sleep.
That in the daily rhythm of our lives we would feel the pull of tides, and love the beauty and fierceness of the ever-changing ocean.
I didn’t yet know that for the rest of my life, this would be the place I would yearn for, the place I would return to again and again, at times in reality and at times in my imagination.
All I did know, that day, was that my wish was to live on this island. And maybe because it was a simpler time, I got my wish.
We found a real estate office and stopped in. Told them we needed to rent a furnished house for not a lot of money. They said they had one that would soon be available, gave us an address and told us to drive over and give it a look.
We asked if we needed keys and they laughed and said doors weren’t locked on the island. We tiptoed into the house (the occupants were out), looked around, went back to the office and signed a rental agreement.
And, as simple as that, we were living on the island, on Jekyll, our home.
saturday morning in the or
Emergencies happen 24/7, and in the OR of the community hospital where I worked, we covered emergencies on off hours like evenings and weekends with an on call system. We had to be immediately available when needed, and when I was on call on weekends, that often meant from 6 a.m., Saturday, until 6 a.m., Monday.
My weekend on call plan was to first meet my own basic needs. Thus, I would get up early, brush my teeth, drink a cup of coffee and read the morning newspaper before the phone had a chance to ring.
I had nearly reached those goals on a particular Saturday morning, just finishing an article by a favorite columnist, when I received a call and rushed to the OR for a patient who had suffered a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, a critical emergency.
The aorta is the large, main artery that carries blood from the heart to the entire body. When an area of the aorta ruptures, every moment counts. Depending on the area of rupture, some patients can bleed out fast, and don’t make it to the OR.
Adrenaline high, the surgical technician, surgical assistant and I rapidly opened packs of sterile supplies and instruments, while the anesthesiologist and her assistant readied machines and medications. When the patient was transported to the OR, in my role as the circulating nurse, my focus switched from setting up the room to taking care of him.
Amid the chaos of any grave emergency, I tried as much as possible to be the person who stopped for a moment to support and reassure the patient, staying at their side until they were under anesthesia.
Wheeling him into the room, I introduced myself and began a brief assessment process, determining his name, doctor, level of consciousness and understanding of what was happening. As I identified the patient, I was stunned to realize that he was the favorite columnist, the author of the newspaper article I was reading when my phone rang that morning.
Coincidence, yes, of course, but connection too. I cared about all of my patients, but this connection, to this face, this person, caused me to bond a little more tightly to this one.
Although unlucky to have had a ruptured aortic aneurysm that day, he was lucky in the end.
So happy to tell you that that his aorta was successfully repaired during surgery, that he survived, and that when he did pass away, years later, his death seemed to be part of a much more peaceful event.
Computers (part 2)
A nurse educator in the late 1980’s, I had the opportunity to become part of a new standard in patient documentation.
Everything nurses do and observe in regard to patients - condition, pain level, vital sign readings, interventions like medications and treatments - must be documented.
Our hospital was the first in the Milwaukee area to develop electronic documentation that would be accomplished on touch screens at the patient’s bedside. Rather than a generic product, information technology (IT) chose software and, together with nursing, built screens with information personalized to our hospital protocols.
My colleagues and I developed education for nurses, nursing assistants and unit secretaries based on the information they would be accessing and entering. Training classes were presented day and night in the computer lab to accommodate the needs of every staff member.
The new technology represented a huge change. Excitement was running high, along with anxiety.
That anxiety came along to the classroom with the staff, of course, because, really, who enjoys being pushed out of their comfort zone into the free fall blackness of the unknown abyss? At least, that's how some staff members seemed to feel at first.
While many were positive and happy to learn, others came to class angry and threatening to resign if they had to incorporate this change into their daily work. Some did actually resign, only to move to hospitals that eventually used similar systems.
Others felt care would be fragmented if they had to talk to patients and document patient responses at the same time.
Nursing assistants began to realize they were going to log on to a computer, read screens and type words. Some could not read well, and most had never used a typewriter, much less a touchscreen keyboard.
Some feared they couldn’t learn the new technology and would lose their jobs.
I remember a nurse in class one night who had difficulty using the tip of her finger to make selections on the touch screen. She instead stabbed at the screen with the tip of a nail file, and, in her anger and fear, punctured the thin, delicate screen.
As educators, we conveyed technical information, but also tried to injected humor, compassion and lots of reassurance into the classes.
IT was surprised when we asked for computer solitaire to be installed on the training computers, but solitaire was invaluable in teaching mouse skills. A computer scavenger hunt helped staff find information on various screens. We engaged in role play to encourage nurses to find ways to talk to patients and make eye contact while accessing the documentation screens smoothly and without distress or interruption.
The refrain I heard most at the start of a class was “I’ve never touched a computer in my life” a statement I enjoyed pointing out was no longer true by the end of class.
When training was complete and the system went “live”, we supported staff on the units around the clock, helping to solve problems and ease the transition, and, mostly, all went well.
I found that I loved every moment of teaching those classes and supporting staff on the units, even in the middle of the night, even when anger and fear bubbled over. I loved conveying information in a way that allowed staff members to gain confidence, let go of fear and move forward with new and better processes.
What we did then seems primitive and naive now, but that’s ok. We were, after all, pioneers, and we did our best with what was available. And, except for that punctured screen, we all survived.
Computers (part 1)
My first computer wasn’t actually mine, but was the first computer I ever saw in person. While touring a surgical unit at Milwaukee County General Hospital in the late 1960’s, our instructor opened a door that was labeled “Computer Room” and we peered in.
The refrigerated room was aptly named, since it was almost completely filled by a computer. Blue, green and red lights blinked from every surface. It looked like something NASA could use to launch a spaceship. Cool. Nothing to do with me, though.
I slowly began to be aware of computers being used in business and industry, and in the mid-1980’s, personal computers (Macintosh, Commodore 64), along with video games (Atari!), began to show up in homes. Even our home had an Amiga computer. It had no color, no graphics and no practical use that I could imagine. So, nothing to do with me.
In 1989 I accepted a position at a large community hospital as a nurse educator in orientation and staff development for the department of surgical services. As part of my job, I began developing lesson plans, lectures, multi-part presentations and posters.
Our department of 12 educators had little secretarial support and one beat-up electric typewriter that was in constant demand. It was heavy and hard to move and I usually typed standing at a counter in the room where it was stored, white-out nearby for the errors I inevitably made. It was tedious.
One day, in a quiet area of the hospital, passing a room labeled “Computer Room”, I stopped and peered in. A woman was working at a desktop computer, her eyes on a screen, no white-out in sight. This was Pam, a kind and generous person I’ll never forget, who offered to help me learn something called word processing in a program called Word Perfect. I sat down in front of a computer near her desk and began to work.
I would type, get stuck, and then Pam would help me get unstuck. This was repeated over days, then weeks. I had limited time to get to the computer room, but Pam was there, ready to help, when I did. I eventually, and gloriously, used that computer for all of my typing needs.
After conquering word processing, something even bigger was around the corner and down the hall.
Our Surgical Services director asked me to contact our professional organization with a question about surgical protocol. My usual process was to make a phone call regarding my question and eventually get a response from the organization in the form of a journal article, on paper, by mail, a week or two later.
On that day (how I wish I could remember the date), I instead marched to the hospital library, to the only computer I knew of in the building that had something called internet access. With the librarian’s help, I logged on and found the organization’s primitive website. I searched, I printed.
An hour after her request, I handed the pertinent article to our director. She was startled, then horrified. She questioned me. This came from the internet? Yes. Can we trust this information? Yes, I assured her.
And that’s how life changes. In an hour or a moment. On an anonymous day. Via something called the internet. Or the information highway. Or the web. I didn’t understand it all, but I did understand that I really liked it, and that it would have a lot to do with me.