Category Archives: Life Lessons Learned

Psych

No joke, it’s true. I’m a psych nurse. I retired once and returned to nursing full time within two years. “Why?” many asked. Lots of reasons,  and a topic for another day.  “But you’ve not done this before,” friends and family commented with concern. I admit I felt pulled and challenged to commit to something I once feared.  Good news, It’s going well and I really like it.

It’s been nearly a year working in a state hospital with severely mentally ill patients.  The vast majority are lovable in spite or because of their illnesses.  There are many terrific people who work in this system. I need to write about it as a way to process and take care of me, to increase awareness and reduce fears about mental illness and hopefully to inform and entertain.  Characters, events and tales are fiction and any resemblance of actual people, places are coincidental.

Psychiatry was the last rotation of my nurse training decades ago. I hated it!.  I found the location and  patients frightening, and the staff callous and as damaged as the patients.  The instructor, Mrs. Castle was spooky with a flat facial expression and Mona Lisa smile. Therapeutic communication seemed inefficient and vague.  At the time, Castle offered two memorable lessons:  the benefits (soundless steps)of her crepe-soled shoes and the importance of coffee to stimulate a well timed and formed BM in the AM.  Stick with me people, nurse stories often discuss seldom spoken topics.

In spite of my resistance, fear and arrogance, dang Mrs. Castle pounded in a lot of learning, techniques, and communication tools that have sustained me throughout my nursing career.  So there’s a big lesson here that I have tested repeatedly and almost always continues to amaze. Fear and resistance guide to the exact challenge that should and can be faced.  It never fails to teach or guide me to where or whom I need to know.

Why would a grey haired grandma on Medicare go back to direct patient care in an antiquated facility, with some of the sickest mentally ill?  A Psychiatrist that I hold in high esteem suggested that she could see me working with this population. It was as simple and direct as, “I think you could do this.”  Secondly I prayed about where I could be most useful.  Finally I am at a point in life that I have a heart that is both tough and soft enough to love those seen as marginally loveable or lost.  I laugh it off but also believe this period will be my Mother Teresa years.  Psych nursing can be less physically demanding and a good fit for those who move a little slower than yesteryear.

Applying and interviewing for work can be intimidating.  Heck, getting someone to take a look a 40 + year work history is nearly miraculous.  The old rule about, it’s who you know, or using your contacts to grease the wheels still holds true today in my experience, at least to open a door or getting a call.  Well obviously I got the job. My husband thought I had lost my mind…………more on that later.

Hold Your Thumbs

Our dad was a giant of a man, both in strength of character and body. Standing six feet tall he was strongly muscled with meaty, thick hands, a killer smile and a heart the size of a small nation. He could be fierce and ominous to an opposing lineman on a football field but to those who knew him, he was the safest place in the world. As a young man he worked in a meat packing plant.  He was often seen carrying a side of beef hoisted over a shoulder.

Tom Keating, long time reporter for the Indianapolis Star, recounted the time “Kuntzie” cancelled the moving company Keating scheduled for a family move. Instead, he showed up with a truck and two young sons and moved the household. He even carried out a refrigerator by himself sans dolly. Our dad was full of the possible.

He was a big kid at heart. He loved to laugh. He was playful and full of mischief. He was an athlete, coach, teacher and a leader.  He was great with kids fueled by their wide eyed wonder, curiosity and innocence. He was a gentle giant who loved to hold babies, play and work hard and teach.  A lesson he taught each one of use as small children was the practice of holding our thumbs.

In our family when we wished, hoped, wanted or intended a particular outcome – those times when a prayer or good luck was needed, we held our thumbs. As youngsters, we couldn’t quite master crossing our fingers. He would show us how.  Try it now. Fold your amazing apposable thumb into the palm of your hand and gently wrap the other four fingers around the thumb creating a barrel-shaped fist.  It’s almost like a maraca at the end of each arm. This can be a subtle act, a terrific way to get grounded in a moment, harness nervousness, and build interior strength.  There’s confidence, comfort and sense of solidarity this little ritual.

So if someone says, “I’m holding my thumbs for you”,  you are in good hands. It may not have the power of a novena, but it’s pretty darn close. You can be assured that a particular saint, our dad, Bill, Kuntzie, Smiley, Coach is whispering into God’s ear on your behalf.

The Last Hurrah

Elizabeth Mitchell Kuntz, 96 (Aunt Betty) was laid to rest. Though she appeared cold and still, I see and hear her moving from table to table, working the room, hugging, laughing, and promising to catch up while never loosening her grasp on daughter Kathy’s hand.  Husband Joe watched with amusement and pride from his favorite chair as the heavens and saints welcomed her.

She enjoyed her last years as family matriarch having outlived all the others of Mitchell/Kuntz elders.  The celestial festivities will continue for weeks because she had lots of friends. She liked people and social activities, cards, get-togethers, entertaining, church and women’s groups, and bowling, even into her late eighties. Oh my, Aunt Betty loved to gamble, a lot. I once saw her wrestle the last quarter from a eight year old playing Left, Right, Center.  Honest, she took her gambling very seriously.

As a kid, playing at their house we were nearly always encouraged, NO- hustled outside, “Go on now, you kids play outside!”  She wanted us out of her hair while she talked on the phone, immersed in baking or fixing dinner.  Eating there was always a good, second only to my mom’s cooking.  They, Betty and Hank, were a bit competitive about sewing and baking prowess. Betty was generous in hospitality. I can’t remember a time as an adult she didn’t extend “come for a visit.”

One of the most appealing things about Aunt Betty was her willingness to love easily. She let people into her heart.  Perhaps it was the losses of loved ones in early life and harshness in her upbringing. She craved acceptance and I think as a result was willing to extend the same. She welcomed in- laws and step children quickly as one of her brood almost immediately.  Granted it may not have been felt by each of them as attachment but that is how it appeared looking in. So much so, I’ve heard her own children claim Betty cared more for their spouse than she did for them- in only half kidding tones.

Betty loved being on the go and involved. She wore out many a younger friend or family with her zest and enthusiasm, as long as it was almost noon or after.  All those years on a farm did not make her a morning gal. She will be missed, but heaven will be livelier with Betty in attendance tonight and for all time.

Ermapalooza! My Bumbling into Fear

My most recent ‘writing’ is nothing more than email dashed off yesterday.

Subject: Mermaid (stinkin’ spellcheck- ERMA) Bombeck Writers Workshop

Getting very anxious about the nearly here,
highly competitive, registration process for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.  Will a special font make me look more attractive?
I have a reliable Word doc. Name, address, email, website, phone and credit card information written, proofed, edited- no shitty first drafts for this occasion. Planning to position said cliff notes strategically on my desktop today. Bookmarking site.
Tomorrow; stopwatch timed practice accessing site, refining my cut and paste of info (faster & more accurate) than my keyboarding. Now carb loading- woke up from working nights convinced a chocolate eclair, or two, is the perfect pre reg meal.

Hold your Thumbs for Me!

 

Soul Soothing in Recovery

Carrie Newcomer & Jana Stanfield

Carrie Newcomer &
Jana Stanfield

Music is reliable tool to shift my mood, thoughts and attitude.  It is often a passive prayer with me a quiet watchdog. Music is a terrific driving companion leaving less room for negative thinking.

It has often been an extended hand when I’m awash in turbulent waters of depression, grief and even anguish.  My spirit experiences the vibration of certain chords, the pulse of rhythm, the dance of melody and resonance of harmonies, reminding me that I live and breathe.  Music can nudge me into a sense of hope andlightness.

Jana Stanfield is dubbed the Queen of Heavy Mental, a writer and performer of social work songs. I was listening to her before having much knowledge of 12 step programs of recovery.  It tickles me how I missed the screamingly obvious messages in songs titled, ‘Next Right Step’ and ‘Let the Change Begin’ and ‘Here and Now.’  I just picked up a CD and on the back cover is a coin bearing the Serenity Prayer.  Who Knew? Needless to say, the songs helped me long before I was aware.

Indiana Songwriter, Carrie Newcomer, creates songs and poetry that feed my soul.  She shares her rich appreciation and fascination with “the common things” in life that are remarkably extraordinary when viewed through her lyrics. Her work has fueled and guided my spiritual rebirth and growth.

Wise and peace loving, song after song supports a willingness to love wholeheartedly, inclusively. I am drawn to tales of justice, forgiveness, and relationship. I have learned to thrive in light and dark, and all the shades of grey in between, by learning that the sacred exists in simplest of things.

Music is as personal as fragrance.  It’s a chemical reaction in my understanding. It’s likely we may not enjoy the same sounds or artists. I share this suggestion to explore music as a component to health, a  gentle friend or a good coach.  Thank you, Jana Stanfield and Carrie Newcomer, for being minstrel teachers. You’ve helped me to recognize and appreciate so much beauty. Thank you. I’m glad to be a grateful, sober messenger.

Short Video: Why Swing Sets?

 

Good Neighbor Blogging

What a terrific assignment today! Comment on a minimum of four blogs that I’ve never commented on before. In the current Blogging 101 series there are literally hundreds participating. All are listed by site so it’s a buffet of lowercase, no space websites.
Pretty much like reading crepe paper banners of alphabet soup.

I landed on some interesting sites but cannot recall and failed to copy the URLs. I signed up to follow so I know they’ll be in touch.
One lobbed serve over the net, it’s their turn now.

The beauty of having an assignment to wander, explore and make new acquaintances is an adventure without travel. Therefore no packing, iffy bathroom breaks and unpacking!) There are those who get out there and actually travel. Blissfully readers can enjoy their photo journals of places and people they meet. What a generosity.

Our real life adventure included seeing a new family physician and location and dinner with some cousins tonight. That’s guaranteed fun. Be Well, and do all the good you can do!

Walking Wounded Caring for Patients

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Healthcare and healthcare workers of all disciplines are weary, under appreciated, fearful about the overwhelming responsibilities, liabilities and lack of security. Patient acuity and volumes are high. Nurse to patient ratios in many places are unrealistic. It is stressful, raw, gritty work regardless of all the shiny, electronic and adaptive tools. Healthcare is still a wonderful, miraculous, important calling. I believe it’s imperative that we help the on the job warriors to heal themselves and their work groups. Continue reading

Wounded Warrior Notes Delivered

I saw a Facebook post about writing to Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center before the holidays. My reaction was I CAN do THIS. Later that day I finished some hand crafted cards and wrote half a dozen cards. I invited my husband to join my effort and he wrote a couple. We both felt good about doing this. So I posted a challenge to my FB friends. Robin and Elizabeth took the bait and began writing. Each of us experienced joy and satisfaction from these simple acts.

A few weeks later, one friend and then the other said their notes had been sent back to them as undeliverable. Sure enough ours came back too. Having heard my friends’ disappointment I chose a different reaction. I saved my cards and thought, there’s a Veteran’s hospital in my city. I bet they can use these.

I visited the local VA hospital on my tiny mission and got so much more than a bargained for. A window of time on my schedule opened up unexpectedly giving me just what I needed to accomplish this task. (More about that later) Being a nurse gives me a lot of familiarity with the inside operations of healthcare and removes many barriers experienced by those unfamiliar. I felt certain VA would have a spiritual care program. That was my target.

I was efficiently directed to the chapel and the Chaplain Services office. I briefly explained that I had cards and wondered if they may have a use for them. I was treated graciously and the chaplain explained how they likely could be used. He showed me their chapel and offered more opportunities for service. The chaplain was trying to get a fix on my purpose, motivation, and connection. He became more suspicious when I asked to do a quick video of the two of us. He asked, “How are you connected?” This perplexed me slightly. I replied,” I’m a citizen interested in kindness.” I left with a big smile on my face.

As I said earlier this little side trip revealed many things to me. But for this story on note writing to veterans teaches me four things.
1. Being selfless without attachment to the outcome produces internal joy and can be shared.
2. It’s easy to be moved to act on behalf someone/thing exotic, foreign, or well recognized-
often that same need lies within my midst, in the same city, maybe even right next door.
3. Little adventures can lead to opening senses to endless possibilities and opportunities.
4. No act of kindness is wasted.

VA 1 VA 2

Confidence Training

My dad was a hero to countless people because of how he made them feel. In his company you felt like you were the most important person in the world, his most treasured friend. I was absolutely certain I was his FAVORITE Child, or at least his Favorite daughter, I am the eldest of nine. Now that I am older and wiser, I know that each of my siblings will tell you the exact same thing about themselves. This phenomenon ripples throughout all cousins, friends, former students and football players and honestly out to those meetings him for the first time. He did not know or recognize anyone as a stranger. He was amazing.

When we were little, Dad would coach us up. He encouraged hopefulness, always fostering a can-do attitude- imparting confidence. He taught us to always turn to prayer first and holding good thoughts second. He didn’t mention the idea of LUCK as I recall. Since little kids struggle with crossing fingers—We were instructed to hold our thumbs! Continue reading