Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Cold Calls

Posted by Lucille on August 21, 2013 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)

**Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.**

Before now, I had always gone to the volunteer meeting prepared with questions or tough calls to go over, seeing it as my time to get the support and information I needed to be on the line. This time I felt like I had a good understanding of what was working well for me and what I needed to work on and instead I went prepared to be the source of that information/support for others. This meeting was also significant as we welcomed a batch of freshly-trained advocates into the fold. I am no longer the new one, and I felt that transition both in my role at the meeting and personally. Obviously I will continue to learn from every call I take, but I will do so as an experienced advocate, and this transition is worth taking a moment to reflect on my introductory months on the line.

(For reference, any time I talk about a call you may assume that names, if used, have been changed and that it is likely a composite of several calls.)

A few months ago, I thought that most of the calls I took would be from people who had just been assaulted and needed information about managing the immediate aftermath or navigating the legal or medical system. While we do get those calls, the vast majority are from callers with a history of assault, often with PTSD, who call when they are feeling triggered. Most of the time I never find out what happened to cause the trauma, and that's okay. They call whenever flashbacks/night terrors/dissociation/panic attacks are overwhelming their normal coping skills, and my goal is just to help them get to a calmer emotional place.

There are calls- a lot of calls- where I don't say the right thing, or say the wrong thing, or just can't find any way to connect in a way that is helpful to them. That feeling honestly sucks. Thankfully, that has been happening less frequently, or at least I am getting better at refocusing the call after a blunder. And sometimes, calls go really well, and I get to go to bed feeling like I actually made a difference for them.

"Hi, this is Lucille, how can I-"

"I need help. Please. I had this horrible dream and now I can't go back to sleep and I can't calm down and I just feel so scared. I know I'm safe where I am, but I keep remembering it and I can't calm down and I feel like I can't breathe..."

I know her mind is doing what her voice is doing, so I make my voice intentionally slow and calm as I answer. "I'm sorry you're having a hard time with that right now. That sounds really scary."

I hear her nod urgently on the other end of the line. "It is. I have the lights on and I know the door's locked but I just keep jumping at every little thing and I'm scared to go back to sleep..."

"That sounds really hard. If it's okay with you, could you describe where you are right now? What does the room look like?"

I am trying to ground her, to keep her attention in her body in the here and now, rather than wherever her nightmares were trying to take her. I have had this backfire badly in the past, if they are in the room where the assault occurred, and lets not forget the time I asked someone to put their feet on the ground and tell me what it felt like only to learn that their panic attack was about their recent double foot amputation. Yeah, it took a long time to live that one down. But this woman sighs gratefully.

"Okay," she says, her voice already calmer as she starts describing her bedroom, the carpet and the posters on the walls, the slippers under the bed, the robe that her best friend got her for Christmas. She focuses on the good memories associated with her surroundings without coaxing. I wonder if she has done this before. She gets up to make herself tea, and I ask her about her favorite kind and what she likes to put in it, just trying to keep her talking.

"I'm in the living room now," she tells me as she sits down, "The blinds are drawn and it feels kind of cozy. My book is out on the table. There's dirty clothes everywhere of course...I guess I'll need to do laundry tomorrow. Our cat Munchkin is curled up sleeping in a pile. Nate's school stuff is out and there is a whoopie cushion on the couch..."

"I'm sorry, did you say a whoopie cushion?"

"Yeah," she laughs, and I feel my body relax. As soon as they laugh, you're golden. "My son got it for his birthday. He thinks it's the most hilarious thing in the world."

We talk about her son for a few minutes, and after a while she thanks me and says that she is feeling better and would like to try to go back to sleep. I remind her that we are here 24 hours a day, any time she needs to call, and wish her the best. Back in the silence of my room, I log the call in my notebook and paint a fingerprint on the canvas for her, and feel good that I can actually say we will be here. As I get ready for bed, somewhere else another advocate- maybe someone I know, maybe not- is pulling out their binder and getting ready for a shift. A hundred other volunteers are in other homes across the city, ready to take over the line later in the week or month, and that's not even counting all the other volunteers for other hotlines. And we will be here. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Any time you need to call.

Projects: Hellos and Goodbyes

Posted by Lucille on August 1, 2013 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

After some consideration, I decided to resign from my position at Planned Parenthood. I originally took the health center volunteer position as a standby while I waited for news about the abortion emotional support position, but after nine months of getting the answer, "Well, it could be anytime," it was becoming clear that I could be filing indefinitely. Every kind of volunteer work matters, of course, but at this point I felt that my time would be better spent on other things. I gave my one month notice, made my thanks and goodbyes, and looked forward to seeing what other adventures came my way.

4th of July

Posted by Lucille on August 1, 2013 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

We spent 4th of July with some of the cutest cousins in the world, and the next morning continued our family tradition of picking up trash at the park and then making a pancake breakfast together.

In the spirit of the holiday, I'd like to take a moment to hold in awareness all of the battles against all of the different kinds of oppression that are being fought today, from the deeply personal to those on a global scale...And a second moment to celebrate the resilience, compassion, courage, and undying perseverance of humanity in all of the battles against oppression that we have already overcome. In a world filled with so much violence, the human capacity for healing, love, and sacrifice still leaves me truly in awe.

Sending you all my best wishes for a happy summer and hoping that you are finding time to celebrate old traditions, make new ones, smile with people you love, and do what you do to tap into that feeling of healing and renewal.

Biomedical Physics and Joss Whedon

Posted by Lucille on August 1, 2013 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I was really excited for the first class. I loved physics in high school, and what could be cooler than learning the physics behind medical procedures like radiotherapy and MRIs? It quickly became apparent that the joke was on me, however. While I haven't taken a physics class since high school, most of the other students were 4th-year physics majors who hadn't had a term without one. I was pretty rusty and way behind.

So I put my IB-veteran hat on, and I read. And read. And read. And did problems. LOTS of problems. And read some more. And at the end of the three-week condensed course, I was one of the top students in the class, stayed late to help other students when I could, and had a solid A.

When I had some free time, I headed to the gym to start on another summer goal. I'm at a healthy weight and haven't been sick in over a year (woohoo!), but I would love to get my fitness up. After about ten minutes on one of the elliptical running machines, I felt ready to go.

I sat down by the window to catch my breath and saw some kids practicing parkour on the fountain outside. They were barely older than my brother, but they were doing flips, running up cement walls, and leaping confidently over gaps that I wouldn't have dared cross even if they'd been half as far and half as high. I sighed and got back on the elliptical. Time to face my weaknesses and train until I have the same confidence in my body that I have in my mind.

I stopped by the gym every day after class, and I started to notice that most of the time I left not because I was exhausted but because I was bored. The ellipticals face the wall, and though I tried listening to music, my thoughts started racing in circles pretty quickly. A friend gave me an idea I hadn't thought of before and showed me how to download a tv episode onto my phone and prop it up on the machine so I could watch it while I ran. It seemed like a great way to motivate yourself to stay for a full workout.

But what show to watch? I googled Joss Whedon. "Firefly, check, Serenity, check, Buffy, check...Dollhouse?" I downloaded the full season because anything by Joss Whedon is sure to be fantastic, and I was not disappointed. If I make it a rule that I only watch this show while I run I'm never going to miss a workout again.

And how's the reaching out to people and actually making new friends at college thing going? ...Yeah, I'm still working on that. You can't be good at everything.

One Year Later

Posted by Lucille on July 31, 2013 at 12:55 PM Comments comments (0)

I really don't know if it feels like a day or a century, but it's been a truly wonderful year. We spent those sacred days between finals and the start of summer term relaxing, celebrating, and just enjoying time together. Then, per tradition, it was time for Travis to head home for the summer and me to unwrap a new set of textbooks. Physics, bring it on.

Gosh, He's Getting Big

Posted by Lucille on July 31, 2013 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (0)

He's 12 already?! My little brother is counting the days until he'll be taller than Mom and I, and still getting used to having plate-sized hands and feet. After dealing with some bullying at his last school, he jumped into middle school with remarkable resilience and enthusiasm, and is thriving. Dragons and fantasy are still his passion. He is working to master every medium he can get his hands on (including creative writing, could I be more proud?) and cannot wait to meet up with his new friends at art camp this summer. Here's to many more years with this amazing kid.

Zoo Bonanza

Posted by Lucille on July 31, 2013 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Travis and I were taking care of my little brother for the day and decided to go to the zoo with some homemade awesomeness: gorilla cams. We got some small mirrors, drilled a hole in the middle big enough for a camera phone lens, and then used duct tape and weather stripping to reinforce it and build a caddy for a phone on the back, like this:

The idea is that the animals (it works best with primates) will show interest in their reflections, and with a camera in the middle of the mirror, you can catch some awesome footage. My brother really liked the idea and we had a great time. You can watch our video here.

You can see the original gorilla cam video (from the guy who came up with the idea) and lots of amazing animal footage here. (Seriously. There's a baby orangutan. Go watch it.)

Hot Call

Posted by Lucille on July 2, 2013 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (0)

**Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.**

Most of the calls I take through SARC are 'cold calls', meaning that I get to speak with someone who has called the hotline number for anywhere from 10-30 minutes. There are also hot calls, where a hospital, shelter, or police station will call asking for an advocate to come meet someone, a much longer (up to eight hours), more personal, and hands-on form of advocacy. Most advocates only get a hot call once or twice a year. Imagine my surprise and excitement when the phone rang right at the start of my shift with a hot call waiting. Oh boy!

       To my surprise, it was to a restraining order hearing. Normally, this is something that a case manager would accompany a survivor to, but she was busy with another client, so the opportunity fell to me. I was nervous because I was not specifically trained for this and had no idea what the procedure would be like.

       I went over what I remembered from training on building rapport as I walked up the steps. The survivor had worked with SARC earlier in the process, and to my surprise, I was immediately welcomed with a warm hug, which filled me with warm fuzzies and reinforced my faith in the quality of the organization and the importance of the work we are doing. I confessed that I knew very little about what was going to happen, but that I was happy to be there for support and to learn alongside her, and together we went inside.

       All of the people who filed for restraining orders within the last few days were called into the courtroom together. The process itself is rather intimidating. The courtroom is straight out of the movies, and we all stood as a robed judge entered and gave us permission to sit down. We had been told that the women would be called up one by one to the podium, where they would be sworn in, and the judge would have the opportunity to ask questions about what had happened and why they were in fear of the other person. I shuddered at the idea of having to relive a traumatic event so publicly, marveled at her strength as she stood up before the group and met the judge's gaze, and shared in her relief as he looked over the papers before him and said, "I am so sorry this happened to you. I'll get this signed straight away."

       Buoyed by seeing human compassion in a system that is not designed for these kinds of crimes, we waited for the next step while the wheels of bureaucracy turned. I got home several hours later, exhausted but glowing. It seemed that in the difficult moments and suspenseful waits, my presence had actually made a real difference in this person's experience, that my company had made one of the hardest days of her life a little easier. I took out my paintbrush and covered my whole hand, and let it rest on the canvas for a moment, putting all of my hopes and wishes for her into that print. People ask me sometimes why I want to be an advocate. This is why.


Posted by Lucille on July 2, 2013 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

And so we entered the final countdown, complete with both victories and surrenders. I had fallen behind in biology and opened my textbook for a cramming session, only to see that the next few chapters were on reproductive health and immunology, and relished in closing the book with a confident "I got this." Molecular biology, on the other hand... I'd studied pretty hard for the first test and gotten a C-. I studied really, really hard for the next test, and gotten a B-. So for the final, I thought, screw it, I will study exactly as much as I have time for and accept whatever grade I get.

       Somehow, by some magic I will never understand, I got an A+ on the final, enough to raise my overall grade to a B. Clearly the lesson learned is that scores are determined by a higher power and studying has nothing to do with it. (If I change my mind once the finals week sleep deprivation has worn off, don't hold me to this.)

       And then when the grades posted, I had an A in molecular. I don't know what happened- there would have had to have been at least a 10% curve- but there it was. Though I had ruled it out as a possibility weeks ago, against all odds I finished the term with straight As. That's about the best start to summer I could have hoped for.

Fieldtrip: Rainier National Park

Posted by Lucille on July 2, 2013 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

This week our geology class took a trip to the nearest national park to learn about glaciers. What a beautiful day on the mountain.



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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.