Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on January 2, 2013 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Remember when I heard, while in Africa, that pelvic exams were sometimes done on women under anesthesia without their knowledge by medical students? I expressed my anger and horror in a post, only to be told by family the next day that they thought that was an urban myth. I deleted the post, and wrote an apology for writing something like that before personally checking the facts.

       I finally got around to researching it. That's actually true. OHSU didn't change their policy until 2003, and in many teaching hospitals, signing that you know students will be involved in your care still counts as informed consent. For more information, see the sources below.

       It's a big, scary world out there.

OHSU Obstetrics & Gynecology Clerkship Guidebook

SOGC Clinical Practice Guidelines

Our Bodies, Ourselves Blog: Conversations We Shouldn't Still Be Having

CBS News: Pelvic Exams Without Permission

That Would Explain It

Posted by Lucille on January 2, 2013 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (0)

While walking through the basement of the science lab building, I passed a group of guys one of which was wearing a horse mask. He asked me to make out with him. 

I said neigh.

       It took passing a pirate and a singing big bird before I realized it was Halloween. When asked what my costume was, I said I was the ghost of Organic Chemistry exams past. My honors colleagues all scooted their chairs away from me, muttering, "Scary."

That's Not Funny, Life.

Posted by Lucille on January 2, 2013 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (0)

After completing the online trainings, I got an email saying that, for undisclosed reasons which I'm presuming are related to liability, Planned Parenthood is restructuring all of its patient-contact volunteer roles, and are temporarily suspending training new volunteers for those positions. Not to worry, they could still find a way for me to volunteer while I waited for the training to start up again. I showed up to my scheduled shift and was taken to the back to be trained in...filing. Yes, filing.

       I chatted with the nurse doing my orientation while we worked. "So, what kind of medical providers work at Planned Parenthood?"

       "Well, at this center...we have a couple doctors, but mostly they're CNM's, certified nurse midwives."

       "Oh, cool! I'm in pre-nursing right now, and I'm hoping to get into OHSU's CNM program."

      "Neat. Yeah, I know a lot of people who were trained there. That's a really competitive program, though. Good luck."

       "Any insider tips for how to get in?"

       " I said, I wasn't in it myself, but from what I've heard, you need patient contact experience. If you have patient contact volunteer experience all throughout college, that's the one thing that can really make a difference."

       I sighed. "Any idea where I could look into that?"

      He spread his hands. "Two weeks ago I would have said here, but now...I really have no idea. Anyway, let me know when you're done filing this pile and I'll bring you another one."


Planned Parenthood Patient Support

Posted by Lucille on January 2, 2013 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I signed up to be notified of volunteer positions in a host of organizations, and had all but forgotten about it when I got an email from Planned Parenthood with the magic words 'volunteers with doula experience will be given priority'. Heck yes.

It was an emotional support position, providing support to patients during abortions. After some initial amusement that the same training could qualify you to help in two seemingly opposite events, I took a long walk and decided to apply. I had an interview the next day and was a confirmed Planned Parenthood volunteer by the end of the week.

Even in places like Portland, abortion is a very controversial topic. I've already gotten a lot of questions and even heated words over my decision, so I'm going to take a moment to explain my thought process. (This blog details my personal views at specific moments in time only, and is in no way meant to represent the views of Planned Parenthood.)

Abortion is one of those issues where people's opinions cover the entire spectrum. There are people who believe that abortion should be available as an option to any woman, no questions asked, and people who believe that abortion should not be considered as an option, ever. Most people, I think, are somewhere in between. There are circumstances where I would consider abortion as an option for myself, and circumstances where I wouldn't. The turning point, then, was realizing that my personal delineations of when abortion could be the right choice for me did not matter in the slightest. I could support a woman through an abortion even if that was not the decision I would have made in her place, because I believe it is fundamentally her decision (in consultation with a medical provider and other relevant professionals)-- not politicians' or voters' decision, and certainly not mine.

I think part of the reason there is so much tension in the grand pro-life versus pro-choice argument is that the pro-life community is coming to the table prepared to debate when abortion should be an option, and the pro-choice community is showing up ready to debate whose decision it is. They are having entirely different conversations. In any case, I believed a friend of mine when she said that women seeking abortions are by definition in crisis. My decision to volunteer will not change the number of women getting abortions, only whether they have someone to hold their hand and remind them to breathe along the way. Plus, this would provide the much-needed in-country patient contact experience for any future grad-school applications, the break in the you-need-experience-to-get-experience cycle I'd been hoping for.


Posted by Lucille on January 2, 2013 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I was invited to go with a friend of mine who volunteers at the humane society to a promotional event for adult cats, and brought my little brother with me. We were just going to look. I swear, we really were. But we fell in love.

       Mittens, a black polydactyl (thus the name) cat, is one year old (the youngest a cat could be and still qualify for the sale) and very much a kitten at heart. My brother played with her and guarded her from other customers, begging to take her home, while I tried to get through to mom and dad at work. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease?

       Mom sighed and agreed, and Dad laughed and told us to adopt them all, so we got a cardboard pet carrier from the front desk and made our way home with a new best friend. She chose my brother as her favorite human pretty quickly and now spends every night curled up in his bed, and during the day chases dust bunnies and lasers, and occasionally gets surprised by her own tail.

       We're smitten with a kitten named Mittens.


Posted by Lucille on January 2, 2013 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Over two years ago now, we said goodbye to my childhood pet, Buttercup. She had lived a long and full life, and though we were all saddened by her passing, there was no doubt that it had been her time. In the weeks afterward, we waited for my little brother to voice the typical child response to a cat's death, and ask for a kitten. One day while lost in thought in the car, he suddenly looked up and said, "Hey Mom?" We all turned around expectantly. "Can we get a corn snake?"

     Mom came home from getting errands the next day, and said casually, "Oh, Lucille, would you bring the cat in from the car?"

       And thus Ming, an elderly Siamese cat also called Dr. Mingus by Dad, Moonstone by by my brother, and Orange by me (because she is completely gray and I liked the irony), came into our lives.

       We found out a little while after that she had early renal failure, probably caused by that cat food recall in 2007. Mom was deeply bonded with this cat, and worked very hard to make her quality of life as good as it could be. Ming, in turn, genuinely seemed to love my mom, and was kind enough to tolerate the rest of us. She had a good year and a half of living a normal cat life, thanks to Mom's efforts, but in the last few months she had declined both physically and mentally. Now, in addition to vomiting regularly, she started peeing outside the litter box. At the risk of sounding heartless, I was more than ready for this cat to go. But there was no question that it was Mom's call, so we waited.

       She started peeing on food. Not her food, mind you. Only people food. I'm sure that this was only an expression of cat dementia, but her thin eyes made it seem like she was glaring maliciously while she did it, daring you to try to move her. We moved all of our food off the counters and up into cupboards, and started moving her to other rooms if we wanted to cook. I went home to visit last weekend, and in the morning I made sure to check that Ming was not in the room, stuck a piece of bread in the toaster, and left to go to the bathroom.

       And then the smell of burning cat pee filled the house, and Mom came running upstairs to see what happened. Yes. She peed in the toaster.

       She stopped eating a few days after that, and a few days later we laid her to rest. Goodbye, Ming. May you make your way peacefully to kitty heaven, and may there be an infinite array of people food waiting for you, for you to frolic in and pee on to your heart's delight. Rest in peace.


Posted by Lucille on January 1, 2013 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I've given up, temporarily, looking for jobs and internships, and have been focusing on volunteer opportunities. Again and again, I've been turned away by people saying, "Geez, I'd love to say yes, we need the help, but we don't have the resources anymore to maintain a volunteer program or train anyone new."

Wanting desperately to help, and not being able to, was reminding me of Gambia, of holding women's hands while they were treated poorly, even brutally, by midwives and nurses, and feeling completely powerless to do anything about it. Wrestling with these emotional memories again, I started to wonder if I had gotten stuck in those moments, focused on the pain I could not stop, to the point of being blind to the impact we were having. Just like simply being in Gambia was powerful for us, simply having us there, offering an alternative cultural perspective, was significant, and the things we did that were most powerful were probably the things we didn't even think about: inviting girls to play soccer with us, praising the head of the maternity ward for standing up to a male colleague, celebrating her wedding without a single comment about her being old, talking with young people about safe sex and birth control without acting disapproving or embarrassed, asking the women at the lodge questions instead of only directing them to the men, reading books and writing in our journals in front of young girls, insisting that the proper translators be brought in so that we could get consent before we worked with a patient...

We could not tell anyone to do things differently, and though there were times when this was extremely difficult, I do think there is value in the humility of observation, and coming to learn rather than to enforce our ideas of right and wrong. However, I think what we were able to do, asking questions, and more questions and more questions-- valuing their opinions by putting them in a position to teach, while offering another perspective, even just the idea that other worldviews based on other assumptions exist-- was a LOT more powerful than we realized.


Posted by Lucille on December 24, 2012 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

When I first came to PSU, I applied to the childcare center, but was told that because most employees tended to stay for the school year, it was unlikely they would have any openings until next fall, and that I should reapply then. I went there the morning of the first day of school to turn in my application, only to be told that the application deadline was actually in early summer. Great. They offered to hold on to my application just in case.

      I walked back toward the school, along the fenced area where children were playing. A tiny red haired girl stuck her fingers through the fence and waved at me. "Hi, Jainaba!" she called. I did a double-take. Clearly, I had to have misheard.

       "JAI-naba!" she said again, in the exact same sing-song voice I had heard so many times. "Jainaba Jainaba Jainaba!"

       Was there any remote possibility she had been in Gambia? No. If I had seen anyone with red hair in Gambia, I would have remembered. I was still staring at her mutely, and she suddenly looked confused. "You are Jainaba, aren't you?"

       I nodded, still not saying a word.

       She stood up on her tiptoes, giggling and waving me toward her. "Why don't you come play with us?"

       "I...can't," I said, "I'd love to. But I actually have to go. You have fun, though, okay?"

       She giggled again, and her pixie-perfect red hair swung around her face. "Okay. Bye, Jainaba!"

       I have no explanation for this.


Posted by Lucille on December 24, 2012 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I've been looking for off campus housing for next year since last spring. Affordable housing in Portland is pretty slim to start with, and I keep getting turned down, even from room rentals on craigslist, because I don't have enough rental or credit history. Awesome. To top it off, it is very much a seller's market right now. I went to one open house, and people were waiting outside the door with already filled out applications, and then raced each other to be the first to hand it to the agent when the door opened. With those odds, the application fee became a weighty decision. As the weeks ticked closer to the start of term, I was starting to panic.

       Then I got a late night call from a friend. "Hey Lucille we found an apartment and it's close to school and affordable but the move in isn't for another month and our friend doesn't want to do it so we don't have enough people do you want to and can you fill out this form right now and send it back?"

       It turned out that we also needed a cosigner, and I will probably owe dad for the rest of my life for getting up and wrestling with the printer formatting to help us get all the forms to my friend by 3AM. At nine the next morning, we got a call, and we had an apartment.

       The story is that it's in a really posh, fancy apartment complex downtown, but they ran out of money when they were upgrading everything, so there is one hallway where the apartments are normal, and thus less expensive. Our non-upgraded apartment is huge, about the same price as the rooms I was finding on Craigslist that had a half hour bus ride to school, and we get to use the common areas of the absurdly high end building, including a work out room and hot tub. I never want to move.


Posted by Lucille on December 24, 2012 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Help, I'm trapped in a washing machine. There's got to be a way to break this cycle. I can't volunteer as a doula in the US because I don't have enough experience volunteering as a doula in the US. I can't get a job as an office worker at any of the dozen places I've applied, because I don't have enough customer service experience. I can't set up an internship through the women's resource center or biology department because I haven't volunteered, and I cannot volunteer because the training was over the summer, though I still can't figure out how I was supposed to know that. Is there a secret I'm missing?