Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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Grateful

Posted by Lucille on November 27, 2013 at 2:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Things ramped up so quickly this term that I am reflecting on the first few weeks while preparing for finals. This term was full- of everything. It reminded me of Gambia, with utter despair and utter joy all mixed up together, and neither cancelling the other out.

There were more surgeries, medical mysteries, and cancer scares in the family than should ever occur in a two-month period. Travis has thrown up every day since the start of term, despite every medical test showing him to be in perfect health, and there has been a scramble to stay on top of all of the daily demands while making his wellbeing a priority. He dropped anatomy but has managed to do well in his engineering courses. I've tried to help with the hoop-jumping of providing documentation of illness for the school, keeping our apartment as homey and conducive to healing as possible, and occasionally putting together little games and scifi-themed scavenger hunts to keep morale high. Despite the circumstances, we have shared a lot of joy this season. For the first time since I left for college, instead of going home to visit my parents and then going back to 'the apartment' or 'the dorm', I visit my parents at their place and then come home.

Meanwhile, a myriad of medical scares in the family failed to produce bad news, and Dad had his second hip replacement done. Four hours after surgery, he wowed everyone by doing a lap around the nurse's station, and I teared up getting to watch him walk without a limp for the first time. My only regret was that so much happened so fast that I wasn't able to shower everyone with as much love and support as they deserved during their recoveries. I'm heading into Thanksgiving feeling very grateful for my health and the health of loved ones. Stay safe, y'all.

Wishing you warmth and wellness this winter,

     Lucille

Classes

Posted by Lucille on October 19, 2013 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

This term I am taking two basic requirements, evolution and marine biology, one elective (women's reproductive health), and at long last...anatomy and physiology. I'm kind of dreading it. And I'm really, really excited. The fact that "Have you taken anatomy yet?" is always the first question medical staff ask when I say I'm pre-health and the way they all share a knowing glance that is part 'jealous that I get to do it' and part 'relieved that they never have to again' has led me to believe that it will be amazing and really, really hard. Mostly I'm curious and looking forward to it.

Travis has a full load of engineering courses, but because he's never had a term that was only full-time, he's taking anatomy as an elective. (Nerds, I tell you.)

My lab section is late in the week, but I decided to peek ahead at the reading. After all, I know most of the bones in my body, how hard can it be? I flipped to the first page. Okay, that's a femur. Wait, why are there dozens of different features labeled? The next day in lecture, I asked around to see if anyone had gone to lab yet. "Is it as complicated as the reading makes it look?"

One girl looked up with a blank face, said, "I went home and cried," and then went back to readying her notes. Oh boy.

The day arrived. I found a seat and was handed a six page packet of bone vocabulary words to know by next week. Uh-oh. Then the TA stepped up, and with impressive energy and enthusiasm and endless tricks for keeping the many terms straight, started going through the list.

"Next, let's see. Fovea capitis! Anyone know what that is? Look, right here. It's the little divet that makes the head of a femur look like a death star!"

I think it's going to be a good term.

Countdown to the New Year

Posted by Lucille on October 19, 2013 at 2:35 AM Comments comments (0)

And we began the countdown to a new year, my third year of college, my last year of undergraduate classes, a unique year that is all at once middle, end, and beginning. Because school starts in a week.

Another year older, another gradual transition, another year more grown-up, whatever that means. Because this is how it happens.

We labeled new folders, cooked and froze meals for when we're overwhelmed, deep-cleaned the apartment, and set our new textbooks up on the shelf. Because we have to be prepared.

And when it was all done, we turned the couches upside down, made a fort, played hide and go seek, and reawakened that sense of childish joy. Because.


Hot Call in the Psych Ward

Posted by Lucille on October 6, 2013 at 10:10 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.**


I've had several hotcalls recently that I've combined into one handprint because they were as short as a cold call. Ideally, hot calls happen when we have been directly requested by a survivor, either because they are familiar with SARC or because someone (a nurse, police officer, or shelter staff usually) explained what we do and the survivor then asked to meet with an advocate.

I was a little nervous about getting a hot call to a psych ward, mostly because 'psych ward' is always talked about as a place to avoid at all costs in movies and because I didn't know anything about the mental state of the survivor I was going to meet. Once I managed to find the right door (harder than it sounds in a building where the elevator will only let you out onto certain floors and back in from even fewer) I was pleasantly surprised. The ward was calm, spacious, and light colored. The walls were curved or staggered, so that it didn't have that creepy institution feeling of long straight hallways, and there was a peaceful open area with chairs, games, and an abundance of self-help books.

The nurse that came out to meet me was serene and welcoming, and I was instantly impressed by the care they put into creating an emotionally safe environment for their patients. "I'm going to show you to the meeting room first," she explained, "If you put them into the room and then bring in a stranger through the only door, that can make some some of the kids feel trapped or scared. You can have a seat right here. I'll go get her- we like to make sure they see a familiar face before we introduce them to anyone new- and then I'll bring her over. I'm going to pull this seat out for her. They tend to feel safest when they're closest to the door but don't have their back to it."

  I can't even imagine how many things would change if emergency rooms or police put this much care into helping survivors feel safe and respected.

  The girl was brought in. She looked like a lot of kids I went to high school with, but with every shield she had raised and ready. She was in a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, her hair pulled over her face, and thick sunglasses that hid the rest.

  I introduced myself.

  "Hi," she said.

  I waited for her to say more- to launch into whatever made her want a SARC advocate- but she was silent, her arms crossed protectively.

  "So how are you liking it here?" Ugh. Really? That's the best conversation starter I could come up with?

  She shrugged. I didn't blame her. Feeling a sudden need to justify my awkwardness, I blurted, "I've never actually been in a psych ward before." Great. Now I've probably made her feel weird.

  "Really?" she said with interest. It was hard to tell with the sunglasses, but I think this was the first time she'd looked at me since she came in.

  "Really. No reason for that. We meet people anywhere, hospitals, police stations, shelters... I just haven't been here."

  She was quiet. The silence dragged on, and I felt a need to say something. "So...what kinds of things do you do here?" I kicked myself inwardly again. This is probably not something she wants to talk about.

  "Group, mostly. We learn healthy coping skills and how to regulate our emotions."

  "Oh. Cool." There is a long, long silence. Am I really this bad an advocate? I was requested by someone that wants to talk to me about something important, and I can't even keep a basic conversation going? It feels like a brute technique, but I decide to try to prompt her. "So, is there anything that happened before you came here that you want to talk about?"

  "No."

  The silence gets louder with every passing second. Okay, I am fresh out of ideas. I reach back into my memory for any useful line from training and say, "When you requested an advocate today, what were you hoping we could talk about?"

  "I didn't request you," she said, surprised into speech, "I...I told the nurse about something that happened to me. And then later she came back and told me to come talk to you. I never wanted to talk to you."

  "Oh." My turn to be surprised. It seems foolishly obvious now, and it explains her behavior perfectly, but I missed it because this is not something that ever came up in training. I am grateful to her for clueing me in to what was going on and upset at myself for being so unprepared.

  "Oh. Wow, okay. Thank you for telling me that. Most of the time, when I meet someone, they asked for an advocate from SARC to come. There must have been a...miscommunication. I'm so sorry if that made this weird for you at all."

  She shrugs. "It's cool."

  Somehow I know what to do now. Return the power of consent. "So here's the deal. If at any point you'd like me to leave, just say the word. I promise I won't get offended or anything. But if you want, I could tell you a bit about SARC and what we do."

  "Okay." To my surprise, she takes off her sunglasses. Point for advocacy! Maybe this meeting is salvageable after all.

  I tell her a bit about SARC and my role as an advocate. She smiles when I tell her that I am completely confidential. She seems interested in the case management program, so I bring out the necessary form. There's a bit of a web of information that plays into which case manager she could get- where the crime, if any, occurred, which police agency, if any, they are working with, where the survivor lives, where they are staying... I am trying to figure out which of these things takes priority in her case so I ask, "Are you from Multnomah County?"

  "No," she says, as though this should be fundamentally obvious.

  "Long way from home?" I ask.

  She makes eye contact for the first time, and says with a small smile, "You have no idea."

  We wrap up and I get ready to leave. "I'll get this form turned in to SARC as soon as I can, and a case manager should call you within a day."

  She catches my arm as I get up to go.

"Umm...I'm sorry that I didn't want to talk today. It's nothing against you."

  I smile, and she smiles back. "Believe me, I understand. That card that I left you? There's a number for the SARC hotline on the back. It's open 24 hours a day, and the advocates on it are completely confidential, just like me. So if you ever do decide you want to talk to someone, they'll be there if you want to give them a call."

  "Thank you."

  As I signed out at the front desk the girl followed a nurse past me to group and waved goodbye, clutching the SARC card to her chest.

  I called Travis as soon as I was outside.

  "Well? How did it go?"

  The most accurate answer I could give was something I never thought I'd say in my life.

"I want to go to the psych ward every day!"


Paying It Forward

Posted by Lucille on October 6, 2013 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (0)

While Travis was emptying out his parents' attic, he found several boxes of books from when he was my brother's age and gave them to my brother as a gift. Needless to say, my brother was thrilled. They wouldn't accept any form of repayment, so I crossed my fingers and hoped I would be able to pay the kindness forward some day.

A few weeks later I stopped by to visit my parents and found mom pulling some old boxes out of the garage. One of them was a Thomas the Tank Engine train set we had pieced together from thrift store bins over the years. Mom was wondering what to do with it when a neighbor whose family just moved here from abroad drove by with her two-year-old son, and I had an idea.

It took a moment to figure out that the box was too heavy to carry and to choose a few sample pieces to take up the street. By then, the mom was sitting with the toddler in her lap and talking to another neighbor. The boy saw me first, and then saw the Thomas the Tank Engine in my hand. He gave the most classic look of being overjoyed that I have ever seen. (The picture is one I found online, but it captures the emotion perfectly.)

To my surprise, when his mom turned around, she, too opened her mouth in disbelief. I explained that they were old toys we weren't using anymore and we thought her son might like them, while she got out and walked around the car. The dad came out to see what was going on just as my mom and brother came up the street with the box between them. The mom saw it, and to my utter surprise, looked up with teary eyes and embraced me.

She spoke rapidly to her husband in a language I don't know, and he mirrored her expression of humble joy and explained, "Trains are his favorite thing. He watches Thomas the Tank Engine every day. His birthday is next week, and we wanted to get him the Thomas train set, but we looked, and it was just too much..."

The mom started shaking her head then and saying that couldn't accept it, but my mom stepped in to insist that we'd pieced it together from thrift stores and that we had no use for it now anyway.

"You are angels," the mom kept repeating, "Absolute angels."

Mom put the box down so the little boy could see inside and I handed him the Thomas piece. He touched the wheels, and when they moved he shook with so much excitement that he fell down, still grinning from ear to ear and clutching it to his chest, calling "Mama! Mama!" so she could see his new toy.

Considering that I really didn't do anything except come home at the right time, and that giving the box to a neighbor isn't that different from donating it anyway, it was funny how we all walked home feeling like the most awesome people in the world.

Apartment: Good News All Around

Posted by Lucille on October 6, 2013 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (0)

As we were hitting the final countdown on finding a place to live next year, Travis and I started going back over our list of nearby apartment buildings with lowered standards. I reconsidered one of the places I had originally dismissed as being outside our budget, because it was so close to campus that I just felt silly not taking a look.

Somewhere out there I must have an apartment-hunting guardian angel. I happened to come in two days before they needed to turn in their lease-counts, and with all the promotions they were putting on to try to sign a few more leases before the deadline, the prices had gone from out of our range to a damn good deal. I went upstairs and the place was just to die for. I called Travis and at the end of the day, we had an apartment. It is nicer than we had dared to hope, closer to campus than we had dared to hope, and cheaper than where either of us were staying before. Oh, and it has a view of the river and Mt. Hood. Yes, seriously.

But the best, best, BEST part is that since the move, neither of us have been bitten by bedbugs. After a year of doing everything management and the exterminators suggested and treating the place with a half dozen different poisons without success, we have finally done it. It took getting rid of nearly everything I owned and starting over, but we have done it. No more quarantining everything that touches the bed, no more running my clothes through the dryer before I can go to class, no more bites. We are finally, finally free of that particular nightmare. I couldn't think of a better way to start off the new year.

Summer

Posted by Lucille on October 6, 2013 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Finally, the day came. Classes ended and in the campus-wide sigh of relief, trumpets blared and the real summer began. I joined Travis at his parents' place for a few weeks while he finished up the last of his construction work. I offered to help however I could, and his mom set me to work sorting Travis's baby photos, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I had to laugh wondering if the ensuing baby fever was intentional.

The sudden transition from being long-distance for several months to being around each other 24/7 prompted some reflection on the nature of human relationships. So far the best piece of wisdom I have come up with is, "People are complicated, love is complicated, and relationships are complicated." This has become one of my favorite lines to use in SARC, and so far it has been well received.

The vertigo settled into balance and we had a few amazing days of watching sci-fi with the family, roller skating, and playing with Lena before it was time to head back to Portland and begin the preparations for another year.

Chemistry

Posted by Lucille on October 6, 2013 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Chemistry is chemistry. It was dull. I did take interest in the differences in how the course was run here: late work is worth less but is accepted, and with an excused absence you can actually miss two labs without failing. My TA was from Western Africa and was amazing. I came into class late once and found her so I could sign in.

"Hi, I got here a few minutes late, sorry..."

She did the little dance I have seen a hundred times and said in the exact same sing-song voice I remember, "Oh ho! Lucio is late! She must be in so much trouble, yes. Lots of trouble!" She laughed and slapped my butt in a way that I knew meant I was welcome and among friends. "Go get started, Lucio, I think you will much like our lab today."

I had the brilliant stroke of luck of being partnered with the only other student who had taken the class before, so even though we took time to help other groups, we were always the first to leave. "You are done already?" the TA would say, "Always you two are leaving me. Too smart, and then I am lonely, see?"

I sing her name and say, "No, don't be lonely! Besides, you will be the one leaving us when you go home at the end of the summer."

"No, no, Lucio, I am taking you with me, you must come to Africa again!"

We laugh. "It's a plan. See you next week!"

"Don't forget to study!"

Lab is fun, and the lecture concepts come much more easily the second time around, but there is still enough to do that I spend most of my time on homework. I write a few new chapters for my book, continue looking for an apartment for next year, give up on getting around to the GRE, and try not to count the days until Travis gets back. I rock the final and have the satisfaction of knowing that this completes all of my lower division requirements. Woohoo! And though I am technically a junior, this will be my last year of undergraduate classes.

In Dad's words, "Didn't you just graduate high school?"

I Found Two Dead Bodies This Week

Posted by Lucille on August 22, 2013 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)

I was walking back to my car downtown when I saw a line of annoyed-looking people waiting by one of those public bathroom stalls in a park, as though it was locked from the inside. A uniformed man rode up and unlocked the door. As he opened it, I saw what looked like a young woman without pants curled up on the concrete.

I had passed them and unlocked my car before I realized that yes, I really did just see that. I closed the door and went back. The crowd had dispersed, and the man was putting his phone back in his pocket.

"Excuse me, sir, I'm a sexual assault advocate, is there anything I can..."

I had been walking toward the open door of the stall, but just as the woman came into view, he put out a hand to stop me and said in a quiet voice, "They don't want us to disturb anything."

Okay, I thought, stopping automatically. And then-

Oh. The enormity of the fact that we were not rushing inside, helping her up or maybe starting CPR, took a moment to sink in. She was dead. My mind zipped through memories of the hospital in Gambia, but for all the very close calls, I have never actually seen a dead body before. She is curled up as though in sleep, but her appearance is already slightly wrong, changed by death, and the scene is so tragically beautiful, human and not human, that I find myself turning away. Not because I'm scared or disgusted, but because the moment feels so incredibly intimate and private, and I was never meant to see.

The man looks out over the park and runs his fingers through his hair with a sigh. "Honestly, ma'am, the most helpful thing you could do would be to move your car. That way the team will be able to pull right up."

I look at my car as if I've never seen it before. "Right. Okay."

A few minutes later, I am merging onto the freeway. There is the usual honking and vying for a spot as everyone tries to get into the right lane before the bridge, as though this is a perfectly normal day, as if I don't know why there are sirens in the distance, as if there was not just a dead girl in a bathroom in the middle of downtown.

I try to cry and can't, and so instead I do something that I, as a spiritual-but-not-religious person, almost never do: I say a prayer for her. I have no idea who or what I'm praying to. It could be god, it could be a collective consciousness, it could be the elegance of the mathematics of the universe... but I say a prayer for her, and I hope that in some small way it makes a difference. In any case, it makes a difference for me.

The next day as I am leaving class I see a commotion ahead. An entire section of the campus park blocks has been cordoned off with crime tape and there are half a dozen black vans parked along the side. FBI officers are everywhere, placing numbers on the ground, taking pictures and making notes, and a group of them are huddled around something on the ground. They shift, and I see that they are examining a bloody corpse.

Really? Two dead bodies in two days? Are you kidding me?

A crowd of onlookers has gathered, all watching worriedly. "Do you know what's going on?" "What happened?" We whisper together as we watch the drama unfold, but no one seems to know.

Then someone comes up and taps me on the shoulder and points, and I see that off on the sidewalk, someone is filming a conversation between two FBI officers, with the park in the background. The man lowered the camera and waved his arm to get everyone's attention while I laughed in relief.

"CUT! That was beautiful, people. Really good job. Everybody take ten."

The dead body sat up and clapped his hands. "Excellent! Who has my coffee?"

PSA: Back It Up!

Posted by Lucille on August 21, 2013 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

A family member recently lost some of his files in a technical mishap, and sent me a friendly reminder to back up everything important. I normally only back up my computer every few months, but at his urging I made a full copy.

The next week, through two unrelated events, I lost all of my data on my computer AND my phone. Thanks to that back up, I was able to recover almost all of what I'd lost. Thank you, thank you, thank you for that well-timed reminder.

Back up your stuff!


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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.