a pair of christmas stockings

supplies

julian

mum

floss

grass

stitching

hibiscus

mum and her squares

fu

noah

curry plant

beautiful yellow

lucy

noah and the floss

ready for stitching upI must say, it’s much easier to sleep during the day (after night duty) when it’s a wintery one – cold, grey and drizzling is just perfect.  Even better when the whole family are out and our home remains silent and still.

On a beautiful sunny day, just 2 sleeps until Christmas with the family bustling (quietly!) about making presents, tidying boxes, preparing lovely food … not so easy.  By half past two, I just could not keep my eyes (tightly clad in Julian’s airplane sleeping mask) closed any longer.

Instead, out to the back garden we went.  Banana lounges spread out under the oak.  Cool drinks by our sides.  Doggies bumbling about with bones and sticks.  Mum with her crochet squares.  Noah with his laptop.  Julian with his wine.  Me with my cross stitch.

I first started these a few years back.  It was a Christmas when, inexplicably, I just couldn’t seem to remember where I’d stashed the Christmas necessities the year before.  “Lost in the diaspora!’ declared one Jewish friend when I admitted I couldn’t even lay my hands on the nativity set!

With a week to go I set to cross stitching.  I have no idea where I found the patterns.  I think I must have used some of Mum’s old embroidery floss because do you think I could match a single colour to the hundreds in my floss boxes?!

So today they just got done.  I made the best colour choices I could and lay back out there in the beautiful dappled sunlight, needle slipping in and out of the linen, until the wee patterns were finished.  Bliss.

Now – Julian and Noah are watching The Empire strikes back whilst Noah fixes up my floss boxes (Fu sent them flying across the grass!).  Mum’s tucked up in bed with a magazine.  And me?

I’m off to shift 2/3 of night duty for the week.  I’d be lying if I said I was excited or even pleased to be going.  But, as I remind myself, this is what I do.  And it needs to be done.  So I am :-) And if I listen to the Muppets singing Silent Night on route, by the time I arrive I shall be feeling positively loving towards all those poor folk who are having a bummer of an evening.

The stitching up will wait til tomorrow.

 

the hugeness of it all

sunrise

morning sea of mist

Whether I’m standing on the front verandah of our little cottage at Wombat Hill, or looking back at these photos, I am simultaneously thrilled that this is about to become our permanent home, amazed that we’ve managed to land us something so beautiful, and full of gratitude that we’re in a position to take advantage of all the loveliness that lays before us.

In just 3 weeks I will have finished my grad year.  In 4 weeks the removalists will have collected all of our belongings here in Melbourne and we will all be living on our little farm.  In 5 weeks the removalists will have delivered all of our belongings (and we’ll probably still be trying to squeeze it all into the shed) and we will be truly at home.

But oh my, this has been a huge year.  Huge.

the chairs

the bookcase

We spent the first half of the year in the throes of finding and buying this lovely property.  There were literally thousands of kilometres driven, many hours spent traipsing up and down hills, false starts involving ridiculous planning legislation, hours juggling finances, and weeks wondering whether we could ever pull this off – when they say buying a home is one of life’s great stressors, man they were right!

Of course, things have only hotted up since the contract was signed, sealed and delivered and for the last five months we’ve been living amidst the chaos of moving, with boxes stacked everywhere, mess that I could never usually tolerate, and no sense of routine or down time.  We are so done with it and just want to be there!

During this upheaval, Julian and I have nurtured and encouraged our child through the end of his formal schooling, all the while supporting and loving him through the first stages of his transition. Our steepest parenting experience yet.

Then, halfway through the year, my beloved Grandad died amidst horrible and ongoing extended family unpleasantness.  And at the end of his funeral (a dreadful affair) I literally had a young motorcyclist (who was racing a mate through a red light) hit by a 4WD and land on the road in front of me – his femur snapped in half and sticking out through his horrifically injured leg.  There I crouched, on the phone to the paramedics, terrified this young man’s femoral artery would begin to bleed, and crazily thinking, “oh my god! I’ve only got a dress on! (the postmaster’s granddaughter’s dress)  I’m going to have to pull it off and use it to staunch the blood flow and I’ll be standing here on Lutwyche Road in my knickers and bra!” – thankfully that didn’t happen, the ambulance arrived very quickly and the young man survived.

layers of green

across the fields

And then, of course, there is the whole “Grad Year” experience, where I’ve spent the vast majority of my time pushed totally out of my comfort zone (and the habits of a 17 year veteran of stay at home mummying), expected to behave with confidence, compassion and competence, whilst balancing on the lip of a very steep learning curve.

I’ve had a patient die whilst cradled against my body.  I’ve had several others come very close – let me tell you how long that adrenaline takes to leave your body!  I’ve had shifts where it is so confronting I’ve literally wanted to lay on the floor and wail “I can’t do this!!!!!” And others where I have had to say to the nurse in charge “This patient is just beyond my skills and experience.” And there have been many crazy, chaotic shifts in Emergency where I get by by practising my best Dory impression “Just keep swimming/smiling/nursing/writing/observing/comforting/caring … “

skull and grapes

refreshing

Then, yesterday morning, as I was preparing for a long shift in RITZ (that’s where the patients come after they’ve been triaged), I was very aware that my chest felt funny.  Not asthma funny (44 years experience with that one).  Not anxiety funny (something I thankfully seem to have had under control for the last few years).  A different funny – like every few moments there was a pigeon fluttering in my chest trying to get out, followed by a heavy-feeling thump.

Now I had noticed this, on and off, the day before when I was at work and thought I was just tired. But yesterday morning, it started the moment I got up and just kept happening.  So, at my mum’s demand, I got ready for work quickly and headed in early, thinking I would just mention it to one of the senior staff to see if they thought it needed looking at.

See, when you work in Emergency you see a lot of people who aren’t dreadfully sick – they’re a little bit off, worried, unsure of what to do, and need to know that it’s all okay and they’ll be fine.  I’m cool with that but I didn’t want to be one of those people.

However, when I arrived at work, it was chaos.  So I just popped my stethoscope around my neck and got working whilst that pigeon fluttered away.

Eventually my nursing educator arrived and innocently asked how I was.  I almost cried and whispered “Actually, I’ve got a really weird feeling in my chest.”

The next thing, I was triaged, in the white patient gown, on the trolley, cardiac monitor hooked up, with bloods being taken.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so awkward in my life as junior doctors waved and smiled to me from the desk, orderlies made kind jokes about me being today’s “mystery shopper”, and my nursing colleagues popped in and out of my cubicle to give me a hug, see how I was doing, and watch the monitor.

Turns out I was having premature atrial contractions – little “ectopics” that were randomly firing off every now and then. They were the flutter.  Then because they are pretty useless, the next proper contraction had more blood behind it which created the “thump”.  My colleagues watched the monitor and would say “Oh did you feel that one!  I saw it!”  “Yep,” I’d answer.  Surreal.

My bloods were perfect.  My blood pressure remained a rock solid 117/60 (thereabouts) for 3 hours.  The consultant checked me out, gave me the thumbs up, and deemed it best if I went home and rested for the rest of this day and the next.  I’m not at any risk of anything awful happening.  It may never happen again or it may be something I experience on and off  for the rest of my life.  Premature atrial contractions are the most common cardiac arrythmias and they don’t need treatment unless they become symptomatic (i.e. shortness of breath, dizzyness, or coming in a regular pattern)

These things just happen sometimes – more common in women then men, and common for women experiencing menopause.

Wow!  Isn’t menopause the gift that just keeps on giving.  I can add trapped pigeons fluttering to the floods of blood I have during my really frequent periods!

roses

the moon

So here I am at home.  Amidst the appalling mess.  I haven’t vacuumed for a fortnight so there’s Fu fluff everywhere (she’s having her summer moult).  Do you know, I haven’t even cleaned the shower floor for over a month.  I no longer have ANY domestic aspirations for this house.  I just want to get out.

Oh and it’s tipped to hit 42 degrees today.  Yay Climate Change! Nothing like a mess to make me feel ten times hotter.

There is still so much to pack.  There are Christmas presents to finish, buy and wrap.  Remember – there’s only 3 weeks and 2 days until those removalists arrive.  And I still have two blocks of night shift, one block of days, and a quality project to get through at work.  And Christmas to celebrate.

But I also have this beauty above to look forward to.  Is it any wonder my heart is all a flutter :-)

how to survive night shift :: the tale of a colourful shawl

from front of chair

There are many knitting projects stuffed into many baskets around Bootville.  All started with much enthusiasm.  All still loved.  And oh I am looking forward to finishing and wearing them.  But there are weeks when carefully knitting a sleeve on double pointeds with regular decreases is just too much like work.  Let alone unravelling an Icelandic yoke to reknit with less rounds.  Oy!  That one fills me with dread.

arm

So when I had my first block of night duty, I needed something warm, colourful and comforting with which to busy my hands and provide some sort of normal during the late afternoon hours that are all you have between a day of sleeping and another 11 hour overnight shift.  across top

I sure found just the project … The Sunday Shawl by Alia Bland. a.k.a. The Little Bee NZ.  A crocheted shawl in DK weight that literally leaps off the hook!  The pattern is perfectly written – so easy to follow even with the most night duty addled mind.  For many peaceful hours you just crochet back and forth and back and forth, creating a simple, ever growing triangle.

close up of edge

By the time you get to the colourful border, you are ready for a bit of adventure and there’s just the right amount – a variety of stitches, none of them too complicated.  And …. here’s the really good bit … because it’s crochet, if you make a little mistake somewhere and don’t wind up with quite the right number of stitches … you can bodge it a little and no one will ever notice ;-)  Ahhhh the easy going nature of crochet … knitting is never that kind to clumsy fingers/mind!

beautiful back

I had the dark purple Cleckheaton DK in my stash – bought it from Wondoflex’s bargain basement.  And the colours were all found stuffed into baskets around the house from different projects.  So good – I didn’t even need to leave the house. It made for lovely afternoons – just what I needed in order to confront looooooooong nights with double the patient load.

corner

Night duty is weird.  The whole hospital seems to be asleep – except the patients – they rarely sleep.  All activities apart from nursing are pared back to the barest of essentials.  The throngs of people – doctors, allied health, orderlies, visitors – they have all vanished.  The lights are mostly out.  The whole ground floor with its shops and cafes is closed.  Only a skeleton staff of ward nurses bob about in the lamplight.  Doing obs, giving meds, helping patients in pain or providing bathroom relief.

And then there’s the Hospital in the Night nurses – they are true Florence Nightingales – created as a support to the halved number of ward nurses, they are highly experienced professionals who roam the hospital with pagers – need an urgent IV site, they come; need a complicated dressing changed, they come; have more meds than you can possibly deliver in a short space of time, they come; have a four bed room turned into gastro isolation at 2 o’clock in the morning, they come and STAY until everything is under control.  Oh, by the end of my first night, I LOVED the Hospital in the Night nurses and the moment they appeared I knew everything would be good.

including side

Then there were my ward sisters – I was very fortunate to work with my preceptor for the whole block – she’s a gem – an excellent nurse and incredibly supportive.  And our team leader each night was wonderful – supportive, highly skilled, buckets of experience and friendly.  Yep – it definitely makes the night flow well when you are in it together.   In the back of my mind, no matter how out of my comfort zone I was, I knew I would get through it because those around me would never let me fall.

putting it on

from front
wearing it

So the ingredients for a successful block of night shift – awesome ward sisters who have taught me so much, super hero Hospital in the Night nurses who can always be counted on to ride in and pull off the otherwise impossible, and a colourful Sunday Shawl to fill in those spaces that are neither days or nights and bear little resemblance to normal life.

I have loved wearing the Sunday Shawl to work on early mornings and late nights, tucked around my shoulders, its vibrant colours literally making the sterile corridors of the hospital glow.  I am definitely the only nurse who arrives looking this colourful :-) I’ve even had people comment in the lifts.

But this week, I gave it a lovely wash, gently stretched it out to reveal all those lacy crochet bits, and dried it in the back garden during a rare day of sunshine.  Then I folded it up and posted it off to a wee farm.

I hope the love and all the super hero nursiness that is stitched into it brings the marvellous farmer a bit of extra cosiness and comfort during these chilly months.

When it warms your shoulders, know that this shawl came to life alongside the encouragement, vast experience and potent skills of a powerful group of women who dedicate themselves to the care of others *

And now … well I’m about to start another block of night duty tonight (oh my!) but first I may well need a trip to the wool store :-)

* I do work with wonderful male nurses too – but there were none on duty during my first block of night duty :-)

 

the thoughts of a very new nurse

I’m counting it as a blessing that I’m able to see the good in almost every shift combination I work at the hospital.

An early? Oh it’s so lovely to be home by 4.30pm and have a slow, peaceful late afternoon and evening extend before me.  A late?  I love a morning at home – get up with the family, make breakfast, take Abby to school, potter about with my patchwork and chores then meander on into to work for a 1pm start.

A late followed by an early?  Yes, I come home utterly exhausted after that morning shift that followed a late shift with just a few hours in between for sleeping, but it’s almost like getting 2 shifts over in 1 – bargain!

And even when there’s a long stretch of days before me – next week I will work 8 out of 9 days – 4 days on then 1 day off then 4 days on again – I remind myself, with such gratitude, of the lovely days off that will follow.  That’s right … I am such a Pollyanna :-)

jumper

Mind you, my Pollyanna skills have been put to the test this week with the rather dismal breaking down of our car.  Our car will be with the mechanic for the next week and when we pick it up, we will be almost $3,000 poorer.  Ugh!  That means rides to and from the hospital on the back of Julian’s motorbike, and when he isn’t around, looooong,stuffy, motion sick inducing tram rides.

But then, this afternoon, home from an early and sitting in our back garden with my knitting, a cup of tea, a brisk autumn wind and the late afternoon sun, then later inside preparing supper, I was thinking about the patients I cared for today and realised with a jolt that I needed to practice a bit of what I had preached only a few hours earlier.

In turn, this gave me the opportunity to reflect on my last 10 weeks or nursing, of all that I am adjusting to, the practical experience I am gaining as a nurse, and importantly, how I look at and listen to my patients each day, and how this shapes my relationship with them.

cup and wool

Throughout my degree, we were constantly reminded that each patient we care for is unique.  That our nursing and communication with them has to be guided by their individuality and their needs.  Whilst I always believed this as a student, it was not until I was standing in a room with four utterly different people before me that I appreciated this.

And I have to add, that in the first few weeks, the whole experience of nursing as a new grad was so indescribably overwhelming that I was probably more focussed on getting all the obs done, all the medications delivered, and actually making it to the end of the shift without having a nervous breakdown than to really notice who my patients were and how best to support them.

needles

This last couple of weeks – things are getting a bit smoother.  There are still moments of panic and things that I simply don’t get done and have to hand over at the end of my shift to the nurse taking over from me.  But today I was able to tick off each of the tasks on my planner AND find the time to appreciate who each of my patients were and try to meet more than just their physiological needs.

It’s a humbling experience, let me tell you.  So I thought I would share just a few of the things I try to practice each day.

Most of my patients are quite old and have several things going wrong for them.  Each person deals with this in a different way.

Some are cheerful and make funny little jokes which remind me of my grandad.  These patients have an inspiring outlook on life – philosophical about where they are, full of gratitude for what they’ve had, and cooperate with everything you ask them to do.  Without fail, each of these patients I’ve met, come from families that share so much love.  They speak of their partners and children with such love, appreciation and joy.  They want to be at home with them.  They look forward to what time they have left, no matter how short or compromised it may be.  I so look forward to seeing these patients each day.  And with every laugh and little story we share, I am reminded of the incredible power of love.  Of how rich love makes our lives and how much it nourishes us.  And so, when the shift ends and I am at home, I remember to focus on love ’cause that’s what will make everything else happen.

splash of gold

Other patients – especially when they’ve lost a lot of their independence – look up at me with angry, confused or distant eyes.  I totally get this.  Being very ill and coming towards the end of life can be horribly undignified.  And I’ve noticed that this is even more so when English is not that patient’s first language.  I can only imagine how isolating that must feel.

Accidents happen.  Bodies need washing.  And sometimes all these patients can do is lay there staring up at us, at our mercy, as we roll them from side to side so that we may change their pyjamas and sheets for the 3rd time in as many hours, push pillows under different parts of them in an effort to relieve the pressure their poor old bodies are under, and pull them up the bed so that they may breathe easier.   At these moments, I look into their faces and try to imagine who they were before their illness took over.  Who they were when they were younger and fitter.  What these eyes before me have seen and loved.

Illness does not define a person.  Nor do tired and broken bodies.  Inside what we see on the bed before us, is a person who has lived – had passions and ambitions, created a family, worked to support them, enjoyed holidays with their partners and children, laughed over family dinners, been enchanted by the arrival of grandchildren.  Keeping this at the front of my mind as I care for these patients, really helps me find every bit of compassion and love I have, no matter how awkward or unpleasant the task at hand may be.  I hope they feel this.

leaves

Other patients are much younger and yet are confronted by very serious illnesses and a future that is full of medical intervention and uncertainty.  These are the patients I truly have to listen to closely because it is their experience, not mine, and I need to make sure I am very sensitive to this.

Some of these patients have experienced a life so completely different to my own and can be a bit difficult to care for on a psychosocial level.  They might not take responsibility for their own wellbeing and no matter how hard we try, make very little progress.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes.  So I listen.  And listen.  And then listen some more.  I imagine them as they were when they were little and wonder what forces shaped them, what they struggled with.  Some might think this is naive – or even patronising – as adults make their own choices in life.  Yes, that’s true.  But as Abby would describe it, there’s always a back story somewhere.  Working to catch a glimpse of that backstory gives me patience and empathy.  That goes a long way towards creating a rapport and caring relationship with someone I have so little in common with.

potatoes

 

Other patients are terribly anxious and afraid of what might come next.  Again, it’s really important to gauge their approach to life and what’s important to them.   For some, they’ve rationalised all of what’s before them according to their belief system and simply need to be listened to with compassion and respect.  No point sharing Pema Chodron with someone for whom control and structure is essential.

But yesterday I cared for a patient who was so very anxious and it became obvious a bit of Pema could be comforting.  So we talked about understanding that some things are just beyond our control and thus, letting go of them can actually help us feel a little less uptight.  We talked about how we can choose how we respond to situations – we can be overwhelmed by them or look at them as another step on the journey.  We laughed at how this choice might feel a bit contrived at first but how with practice, it can become easier and feel more genuine.

And I shared a strategy that I find really does work for me … that the experience at hand – be it life changing surgery or a broken down car – might feel horrible and overwhelming.  It might make us feel anxious, our stomach tied up in knots, our breathing faster, and make it difficult to think of anything else.  But we don’t need to turn these feelings off.  They are what they are and are a perfectly reasonable response to the situation at hand.  Instead, I try to acknowledge these feelings – just sit with them – and then remind myself that they won’t hurt me and sooner or later, the experience at hand will be resolved and the feelings will go.

My patient really liked this idea and shared later that it had helped make their day a bit more bearable.  Given all that is standing before this patient, and all that they’ve been through, it was very humbling that something I shared had made a difference.

chicken

So you know, a broken down car is just what is happening at this moment.  It too will pass and life in Bootville will return to normal.  Shifts will be late and early, stressful and rewarding.  Weeks will be long.  But there will be lots of love.  There will lots of time with my family.  Dreams and plans will continue to grow.  Suppers will get cooked.  Jumpers will be knitted.

And just think of all the moments I have before me to grow in experience and knowledge.  All the fascinating and lovely people I will meet and care for.  All the opportunities I will have to give.  All the times I will stumble, fail and learn.

This nursing life is a rich one indeed.