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.


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 …

conference psych may 2016 8      conference psych may 2016 14






6 Responses to “Seminars, Mountain Retreats and Psych Nurses”

  1. Willy May 9, 2016 at 11:31 am #

    I had worried that things wouldn’t go as planned and I’m thankful you had a receptive audience who probably was “de-stressing” in front of your eyes … especially with the dog noses and goodies you gave them.
    Be thankful of your gift. I know I am amazed and proud to call you my friend (and wife).


    • heimdalco May 9, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

      Thank you so much, Willy. You are a blessing & I appreciate all of your support more than you can imagine


  2. plf6452 May 27, 2016 at 12:08 am #

    I enjoyed this entry very much. From the beginning, when you “spoke”(won’t use quotation marks again in my replies to your blogs, Linda) about trying to be invisible in class on book report day, all the way through to the end of this blog. In fact, I love how you took this reader through your whole experience, from the moment you were asked to speak before the nurses at the retreat, right on through to the end of the experience and your thoughts and feelings about our trip. I felt like I was there.
    The idea of leaving your door unlocked took me back to my childhood and my hometown. A small town where that was the norm…you could leave your home’s doors and windows unlocked. when you went anywhere, you left the car doors unlocked as well. The house could be left unlocked and vulnerable even if the family took an out-of-town trip for the day. Simpler times, indeed. When I think about things as they are today, I cringe and truly long for those times again….
    It’s so cliche, but true here- -“Those were the good ole days”.
    I’m glad your trip and presentation went so well for you, Linda. The more I get to know you and read your blogs, it doesn’t surprise me that it all went so well. And the fact that you learned from the experience as well makes perfect sense. Live and learn..right?
    I’m sorry to hear of your battle with cancer. I didn’t know that about you..only that you had gone through a difficult period in your life. The fact that you are among the ranks of courageous women who have earned the title of “survivor” makes me proud and pleased to call you “friend”. I had a recent scare with a “suspicious” mammogram, then a biopsy just last year. It turned out okay for me. And I felt very lucky. My not close sisters…all came to my side to support me and, while surprised, was so glad to have them there.
    As a new fan of your blogs, I am also grateful that I’m one of the lucky ones who get to appreciate your gift. You teach with each blog. You entertain with humor and very well-chosen words. These groupings of words, so finely crafted, open doors into your life experiences. Through your writing, you also entertain while you teach. It’s a feeling like opening a window and feeling a “whoosh” of fresh air into the rooms that are MY life. I thank you so very much.
    **Darn battery going dead, so I guess I’m done…for now…


  3. heimdalco May 27, 2016 at 12:21 am #

    Peggy … thank you so much for your response. You actually made me cry for a number of reasons … your compliments, the fact that what I write entertains or touches you, your kindness & understanding about my breast cancer experience, the fact that you know what I’m saying, even when I say it indirectly, the fact that you are my friend. THANK YOU again.

    You write so well. You should consider writing a blog. With a blog there’s no pressure … no deadlines … Just an opportunity to write what you’re feeling & hope someone who reads it may have had a similar experience & understands or is touched in some way. Think about it …. You will be glad you did.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. plf6452 May 27, 2016 at 5:46 am #

    I thank you for your reply and words of encouragement, Linda. The fact that you think MY writing is well done is a compliment of the very highest order, really one of the best I’ve ever received. As for actually writing my own blog…I don’t think I have the kind of talent it would take to do a blog justice, let alone anyone who chose to read what I would or could write. You have more confidence in me than I do. That is never a good thing. It’s enough that you have enjoyed what I write in response to your blogs. I will never say, “never”, so how about doubtful.
    The main reason I say this is because several times, I have tried to keep a journal…always without success beyond a couple weeks. My life started a slow downward slope when I was eight. First, my Dad passed away and my younger sister and I were kept out of it. She and I have both felt some degree of resentment about that over the years. We are pretty close and have had many conversations about that time in our lives. We do understand the reasons things were done that way. Still, we sometimes have cause to think back on our early years and how our upbringing has affected us in various ways. Not too long after that loss, all the neighborhood kids were playing hide-and-seek one afternoon/early evening. When I made a mad dash to get back to the tree that was “home” and safety. I’m trying to remember-is that what it was called? I had been hiding behind a big tree right across the street from there. I looked both ways before I made that mad dash, but as I started crossing the street, a car came tearing around a corner nearby and the next thing I knew, I was laying on my back looking up at a lot of people staring down at me. Apparently, the driver didn’t stop at the stop sign before turning onto our street and hit me. That and a vague memory of rolling toward a driveway near my tree, are the only memories I have of the incident. Oh, I recall another sister yelling at the people hovering over me that she was my sister and to let her through. I was lucky..I had a few scrapes and a bruised hip and/or leg. I couldn’t walk for a couple of weeks, so poor Mom had to carry me up and down the stairs from the bedroom. The older girls bore the chore during the day. Finally, after a week, Mom made me take my dishes to the kitchen after dinner. She’d had enough, I suppose. I did it but it took me about a week to make it all of ten feet from my chair to the kitchen counter!! I remember thinking she was really mean to make me do that. But it turned out to be a wise decision for all concerned. I missed being outside with my friends and sisters, playing the many silly, but grand childhood games. I DID NOT play the one game for quite sometime, though. When I did play it again, I never chose a hiding place ACROSS the street. I got caught more often, but that was okay with me.
    WOW!! Well. now you know why I refer to myself as a ‘motor-mouth’ or a ‘rambling gal’…I always manage to make a long story longer!!
    As I do with others, I thank you for putting up with my blathering!! LoL OY!!!
    Perhaps I should skip the idea of a blog and write the great American novel instead…ROFL or I might cry!!
    Off to watch a bit of TV, then to sleep. G’night, Linda…


  5. heimdalco May 27, 2016 at 6:20 am #

    Don’t sell yourself short. We all have stories to tell & I think yours would be an interesting blog. Most of my better entries come suddenly … when I see something or something unexpected happens & I write down my very individual take on the circumstances. You could do that, too & blog space on WordPress isn’t expensive …free, mostly, which is cool. Never, as you said, say never …


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