Archive | May, 2016

Max and Me and the Vet Makes Three …

20 May

I wake up 30 minutes before the alarm is set to go off. I don’t know if I’ve had a peaceful sleep or not but waking up has been jarring & I don’t even try to sneak in a few extra minutes under the covers. Already I feel the stress making me suck in my abdominal muscles.

I get up & bypass the toilet; regardless of the “FULL” message I’m getting from my bladder. Instead, I reach for a glass, fill it with water from the tap & wash down my blood pressure pill. It’s a protective measure meant to ward off any stress-related strokes that might be currently circling the unprotected lobes of my brain. If nothing else, I’ll be proactive.

I remember that today is one of those on my calendar that annually is off the stress-filled scale. Even though I know it will be short-lived, I want to be as prepared for it as I possibly can be (it’s that proactive thing).

I’ve just recently spoken to a nurse’s spring conference about Stress in Nursing. My presentation was successful because I did research on the subject, personally dealt with stress as an OR nurse for more than half my life & I was well prepared. So what’s the big difference, I ask myself as I give my attention to my bulging bladder & try to prepare myself for what’s to come today? I’ve had many years of experience with today’s task, too, yet it stresses me to the “max” every year.

I begin to sweat …………

I realize that the “Nursing Stress” I endured for more than half my life cannot hold a candle to “Vet Stress” & that’s what’s got me going this morning. Our cat, Max has an appointment for his annual veterinary visit.

Don’t you LOVE those commercials that remind you that “Stress Sweat” just smells worse??? So now I’m stressed out about that hour between 10:30 a.m. & 11:30 a.m. when Max has his appointment, about getting him there AND about “Stress Sweat.” Will I offend socially when I’m lugging the cat carrier through the double doors of the veterinary clinic & Max comes face-to-face with a waiting room full of barking, salivating dogs???

I decide to put those worries “on hold” & eat some breakfast.

Max is nowhere to be seen & I’m not going to look for him. Cats have some kind of “Catdar.” They just KNOW stuff like when you’re going away for the weekend & not taking them, which ONE person out of the 11 people in the room hates cats (those are the laps they elect to sit upon) & when there’s a vet appointment even BEFORE they see the cat carrier. (The cat seeing the cat carrier results in loss of precious time attempting to get them out from under beds & off the tops of refrigerators & shower rods. I KNOW … I’ve BEEN there. So we delay THAT sighting as long as possible.)

With breakfast behind me, I take the cat carrier out of its hiding place in a wing chair in the living room & put it on the table in the sunroom. I go out & open both car doors, put my purse inside & go back for Max. I find him sleeping peacefully on the family room sofa, scoop him up in one quick motion & nudge him into the cat carrier. He goes reluctantly … but he goes.

Max is just cool. He’s a 19-year-old Himalayan with powder blue eyes & the sweetest disposition there ever was in a cat.  As he’s gotten older, he’s sort of turned into a furry little old man who can become grumpy & even that has its charm. I love him & my concern on “Vet Day” begins by worrying about frightening him. Just putting him into the cat carrier seems to do that, although he is stoic, bunches himself into the back of the carrier & begins panting.

I grab my car keys, struggle the carrier into the car & my heart is racing. I have to run back in the house for a last trip to the “john” before leaving. Damned diuretic!

I get into the car & now Max & I are BOTH panting. I turn on the ignition & try to adjust the air conditioner so Max gets air in his carrier. He is, after all, panting.

Did I mention I am sweating???

At the top of the driveway, I believe I have to go to the bathroom again but we’ve struck out on this journey & I’m not about to turn around now for ANYTHING. Maybe my excessive sweating will wick some of the water from my bladder & I will be able to make it to the Vet’s office.

Max is quiet … & panting. I, on the other hand, am panting AND sweating & begin cursing that diuretic I took this morning along with my blood pressure pill. But at least I haven’t had a stroke, although worrying about that socially unacceptable “Stress Sweat” is adding to my emotional discomfort & I begin to worry about what might happen to Max if I have a wreck. Will he be killed or injured or, worse yet, be ejected from the carrier & lost while wandering down the highway & into the woods between the sparsely spaced businesses between our house & the veterinary clinic? Who will find him? Will they give him a good home?

Max has stopped panting as I realize I have a death grip on the steering wheel & my knuckles have gone totally white. I realize this as we arrive at our destination & I’m hoping there will be no cars in the parking lot at the veterinary clinic. But there are … &, from my vantage point, each seems to have a large dog occupying the passenger seat.  But at least we’ve made that 100 mile trip to the clinic … actually only a few miles & in the 12 minutes it takes to get there from our house… but it FEELS like 100 miles.

I leave Max in the carrier in the car while I go in to scope out the waiting room for dogs. The vet comes into the empty waiting room & asks me where Max is & I tell her, “In the car. I was just checking out the waiting room for dogs …” She seems to understand that logic & I go back to the car to get Max.

I am sweating that awful “Stress Sweat,” my heart is pounding, my bladder is bulging, I’m panting & as I open the door & reach for the cat carrier I realize that Max is sleeping. How could he be sleeping? I need 60 mgm of IV Valium right now & Max isn’t even panting. I check to see if he is breathing thinking he might be dead. But he is definitely sleeping. …for which I am grateful.

I struggle to the entrance of the clinic & a very nice man opens the door for me. He has a very large dog with him & inside there’s a couple with a howling Jack Russel. When did THEY arrive in the waiting room? The Jack Russel gets Max’s attention as I try to find a seat & adjust the carrier so Max can’t see the dogs. He’s panting again & I am praying not to cause a scene by looking panic stricken, allowing my bladder to rupture all over the waiting room & perhaps even needing to call the Stroke Prevention Unit of the local Fire Department’s EMTs.

Finally, it’s our turn & I take Max & his carrier into the exam room. While he very reluctantly got INTO the carrier, he is dead set against getting OUT. The vet tech tries to pull him out to no avail & ends up dumping him out. As he lies down on the exam table, I sit down in the only chair in the room & we both stop panting. It’s a miracle!!!!

The vet is a friend & is very gentle. She has Himalayan cats of her own so she is very tuned in to Max’s fears & temperament. She calms him immediately with her touch & he hardly whimpers when she takes a blood sample from his neck.

Max & I wait the 30 minutes that are needed for the results of his blood work. The vet team is kind enough to leave us in the exam room &, while we can HEAR large dogs in the waiting room, we don’t actually SEE them, which is good for both of us.

Max is a much better patient than I am his pet parent.

The vet & I discuss the blood work results. Max is slipping into a bit of kidney failure, which goes along with being the very senior cat that he is. But he is currently doing OK on his own & we will keep a careful watch on him.

He is also a little anemic & the vet gives him a B12 shot. She wants him to have one each week for 4 weeks & then once a month. I will be giving him his shots & that reminds me that I gave my mom the same shots when she became ill & in her 80s. I can’t help wondering if … although I am a nurse … I will have any difficulty giving Max his shots as I did giving them to my mom. There’s something about not wanting to hurt those we love deeply, even though we know we are helping them.

The vet tells me I will see a big change in Max this afternoon after the B12 gets into his system. I thank her & I leave the exam room with Max sleeping in his carrier. I must admit that reaching this particular leg of the journey is a relief & neither Max nor I are panting.

Seeing the vet bill almost gives me a heart attack but I have managed to avert a ruptured bladder, a stroke & a psychiatric meltdown, so I guess … as I’m handing the office girl my credit card … I can deal with the bill.

The ride home is far more relaxed than the trip TO the vet. I feel much better & Max is quietly lying down in the carrier sort of nodding off. I am grateful for his good report & for whatever miracle has gotten us through yet another annual vet visit.

Back at home I get the cat carrier out of the car & set it on the ground. Max seems very curious about the sounds & smells of “outside;” the ones he missed when we started our journey an hour & a half ago.

We go inside; I open the door to the carrier & Max steps out. He goes to check on his food, checks out the stairs to the bedrooms & family room & comes & sits on my lap in my office chair. He always does that when we get home. I believe he just wants to make sure he is home & that nothing has changed while we’ve been gone. He purrs & we both drift off … finally leaving this morning’s stress behind. It is the most peaceful moment of the day so far.

Unless you know the love of a special animal it’s difficult for me to describe my relief at knowing that Max, although elderly, is still in good health & that there just may be a chance that I may have the “PRIVILEGE” of going through this special, stressful day again with him next year.

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Seminars, Mountain Retreats and Psych Nurses

9 May

I did my best to slide down as far as possible in my chair & become invisible in school on oral book report day. I was hoping I would be overlooked & not called upon to give my report. Sometimes my panic increased because I hadn’t completely read the book I was supposed to be reporting on but mostly it was just the standing up in front of people & speaking that totally freaked me out.

Being the president of a local club in the years between then & now has been a continuing balm to my jittery public speaking nerves & my skills improved.

Going through the breast cancer experience… being a proponent of & focused upon early detection & mammography & wanting to shout that out to every woman on the planet was what it took to toughen my ability to speak publicly. I was asked to speak to clubs, seminars & our regional cancer center about my journey & I found out that speaking on a topic about which I had great passion completely ended my fear of public speaking.

Now, it seems, I’m speaking to just about everybody about a number of things. And you know what?  I love doing it. Would my English teacher be surprised & would she feel some sort of ownership for my new-found abilities? Maybe … & that would be OK, even though she had nothing to do with it. As we mature, we learn that there’s nothing wrong with letting people think they’ve done something really well (like getting me past my fear of speaking in public) if it makes them feel good, accomplished & “whole” somehow, even though they actually had no hand in it at all.

I still speak to breast cancer seminars but also speak to clubs, seminars & groups about fundraising, science fiction fandom, being a professional woman & most recently about stress in nursing. What qualifies me to speak about that subject was working full time for 38 years as an Operating Room RN where I learned, first hand everything I ever wanted to know about stress & then some; right up to & including a few things I never really wanted to know at all.

I’ve been writing a blog for several years & have been freelancing just as long. I’ve had articles published in magazines & our local newspaper & even wrote a book of original poetry & prose that was published in 2013. What seems to have made me somewhat recognizable, however, was a story I sold last year to the Chicken Soup people that was published in their Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses book that came out in July of 2015.

The Chicken Soup people provided a publicist to all 101 of us whose stories were published in the Inspiration for Nurses edition, which tells me there is no substitute for publicity & it’s not always as easy to market yourself. I have been grateful for the Chicken Soup intervention.

In August of 2015 I was contacted by a nurse who is the co-president of the Virginia Community Psychiatric Nurses. We email chatted, talked about our nursing careers & talked about my story in the Chicken Soup book. She asked if I would be interested in speaking to the VACPN Spring Conference in May of this year.  I said I was interested & she asked what topics I could speak about. I listed a number of topics & she suggested that I might speak about Stress in Nursing.

The conference theme was to be Wellness & Recovery: How Nurses Help.

Nurse wellness,” is a necessary component of caring for others & stress management for nurses is a huge part of the ability to care for patients. Since I had been a living example of dealing with stress in nursing for more than half my life, I told her that would be a viable topic for me. She invited me formally to speak at the conference & I accepted her kind invitation.

I immediately started putting together ideas for my presentation in my head … 9 months ahead of the conference date & I was filled with enthusiasm. I’d made the right decision to accept the speaking invitation.

By the time May 2016 arrived, I’d been working on my stress in nursing presentation for several months. I titled it, “When Your Job Hands You Stress, Ask for a Redo.”

I wanted to do a good job.

The VACPN Conference was held at Shrine Mont Retreat & Conference Center in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia. It’s owned by the Episcopal Diocese & consists of the main building or Virginia House that was originally built in 1873. It was restored in 1987 & the guest accommodations refurbished. In addition to the Virginia House & guest quarters, the attractions include The Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration; an open-air cathedral that was consecrated in 1925. The area is rife with history.

Shrine Mont is a retreat in the truest sense of the word. Arriving for the conference with the co-president of VACPN, the area was lovely & very quiet. Back roads, which were the main arteries to the Shrine Mont Conference Center were infrequently traveled, except for visitors to the Center. The closer we got to Shrine Mont, the fewer cars we saw.

We arrived under a heavy cloud cover & sprinkling rain &, city girl that I am, I immediately was introduced to the truest meaning of the word, “Retreat.”

I had been told ahead of time that Shrine Mont was a place of rest & meditation; an opportunity to disconnect from all that was hectic in the world. Not only were there no TVs or phones in the guest rooms, there also was no air conditioning. That didn’t prove to be a problem on our trip because the weather was cold, rainy & dreary for the duration of the conference with a need for heat long before there was a need for “factory air.”

The guest rooms could only be locked from the INSIDE & were left open as a matter of routine when the occupant wasn’t there. There has not been a theft in over 100 years & belongings were assumed safe left in guest rooms unlocked & unguarded. I was skeptical but after dragging my over-packed luggage up a flight of stairs & down the length of a long porch I decided to just “go with the flow” & trust in the safety of my unlocked room & the 100 year track record of the institution.

The guest rooms were sparse but functional with a set of twin beds, 2 flat pillows, a small dresser, a night table & 2 lamps. A small mirror hung on the wall just above my head & there was no phone, no clock, & as Jen had prepared me, no TV. The bathroom was modest with a shower, toilet & simple sink.

I started ticking off my concerns in my head & wondering what I had gotten myself into.  I was glad I’d brought my own clock & had my cell phone but guessed I would miss a television. At home I enjoy setting the TV timer & drifting off to the sounds of local news & HGTV & that just wasn’t going to happen there.

I reluctantly left my possessions, except for my purse, & went across the street to the Virginia House / Conference Center where most of the conference attendees were arriving.

The Virginia House was lovely; beautiful ancient wooden floors, antiques placed casually between more modern sofas & chairs & old pictures & oil paintings adorned the walls. There was a gift shop with everything from t-shirts & jars of local honey to logo pajama bottoms. It was an interesting place & although they had no umbrella for sale & I badly needed one, they did have a shower cap that I bought when I went shopping with one of the nurses who was also there for the conference.

Dinner was quite a surprise, as were all the meals to come. Served in a high-ceilinged, huge old dining hall, each meal was indescribably delicious, completed by the inclusion of a dessert.

After dinner there was a Wine & Cheese Reception followed by a Meet & Greet & time spent in the large old living room talking & getting to know the nurses who were there for the conference. I liked everyone immediately & felt as though I’d known them for years & perhaps worked with them side-by-side. It was an unusual feeling of acceptance & mutual respect. I’m sure if God had any responsibility for putting that first evening together in that very special place, he sat back & watched us interacting & said to himself, “Well, now … that’s good.”

I returned to my unlocked … & undisturbed room, put on my new shower cap & took a warm shower. The bed creaked when I got in, but I was in bed by 9:30 & asleep by 10 … something I hadn’t done in years. That squeaky bed was like sleeping on a cloud & the flat, pancake-like pillows turned into marshmallows. I woke up before the clock went off, feeling rested with none of the neck & back pain I feel first thing in the morning at home. I was amazed & it was a miracle.

BACON!!!!

Wednesday night before heading back to our rooms the talk was all about BACON.  Shrine Mont was said to have THE best bacon this side of just about anywhere & everyone was looking forward to it on Thursday morning.  By the time I took off my shower cap & crawled into bed, thoughts of the best bacon this side of ANYWHERE were twirling around in my head. Maybe that’s why I slept so well & woke even before the alarm clock went off. I was NOT disappointed. The BACON was every bit as good as the advertisement the night before. I had 3 slices & doubt that the microwaved, low fat, more healthy version of bacon I insist we have at home will ever be completely satisfactory again.

I sat with a different group of nurses at every meal trying to get to know as many of them as possible & learn their names. It also gave me a chance to talk “nursing” with them; something I didn’t realize I’d missed since taking an early retirement from my operating room nursing career. It was good to speak the language again … if only for a little while.

My presentation was on Friday so I sat in on the morning meetings on Thursday, went to lunch & went back to my room to go over my notes for Friday’s 2 hour presentation. It was a very relaxing day & I was especially looking forward to speaking to the nurses. I was sure their enthusiasm would encourage them to participate easily in the interactive parts of my presentation.

I have this idea that people remember presentations; learn from them far better & possibly retain what they learn longer if they begin with humor & have humor included in them along the way. That’s the kind of presentation that I enjoy & that holds my interest. With that in mind, I’d put together a “De-Stress Gift Bag” for everyone that contained a glow stick, finger trap, mustache whistle, an alien eraser, a nose pencil sharpener, a pencil with NURSES ROCK!!! written on it & a wearable dog nose. The gift bags seemed like an excellent way to begin even before starting my presentation.

As part of my presentation I’d planned to give a demonstration on how stress can become very heavy & weigh us down if we don’t learn to put it down. Originally, the demonstration involved using a glass of water held in place by someone for an extended period of time, demonstrating that the longer you hold the glass of water, the heavier it becomes. The lesson is that stress is like that – the longer we hold onto it, the more damage it eventually causes us.  I decided to adapt the demo for nurses & changed the glass to a hand-held urinal instead. I filled it with water & added just the right amount of yellow food coloring to create a remarkable resemblance to what one would normally expect to find inside a urinal. Nurses just understand the urinal concept & I knew the demonstration would make them laugh & get their attention.

Friday morning I got up early, dressed & went to the lecture room to place the “De-Stress Bags” at everyone’s seat so they would have them when they arrived after breakfast. The fully loaded urinal was in a bag waiting to be introduced into my presentation at just the right moment.

Before I began my presentation, the nurses opened their “De-Stress” bags & began going through the fun stuff inside; trying on dog noses & testing finger traps. As I’d hoped, there was a lot of laughing.

As I got into the presentation, I asked one of the nurses to help me with a demonstration & I handed her the full urinal … to everyone’s delight & to another round of laughter.

There was a lot of interaction from everyone & the presentation went extremely well. At the end I showed them a video our science fiction club made that was funny & there was more laughter & discussion of the need for laughter in relieving stress. Someone noted that it was healthy to stay in touch with our “inner child.”

I hated for the morning & the conference to end.

Afterward, people talked with me privately, told me they enjoyed the presentation, had learned a lot & had FUN.  I was delighted that they had enjoyed my time with them. I especially enjoyed sharing my presentation … & myself with them … & that they shared so much of themselves in return.

Someone suggested that we all put on our dog noses & go out on the porch & take a group picture, so we did. What a goofy, special photo that turned out to be.

In so many ways my 3 day RETREAT was almost magical. I learned a lot about psychiatric nursing & the dedicated people who make it their occupation; the dedication they feel towards their profession … & especially towards each other. I learned a lot about relaxation, too … how I don’t need gadgets on a daily basis & how I can sleep a refreshing sleep without the distractions of television.

My take-away from my time at Shrine Mont with those delightful people is that it’s possible to make friends in just a few days & that it feels good to share a part of myself with special people. I learned that simplicity can be a beautiful thing & a wonderful diversion from life as we know it on a daily basis filled with TVs & gadgets & things that go bump in the night.

A special THANK YOU to the VACPN for inviting me to speak to their Spring Conference. It is a memory that I will treasure.

Sometimes when we plan to teach … we LEARN. And that’s just huge …

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