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The middle ground

Updated: Nov 16, 2019

The census is low at work, which is nurse language for... we don't have many patients on our unit right now.


And in our hospital, when there aren't enough patients, nurses don't get to come in.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I didn't get that 5 am phone call yesterday morning saying 'you're cancelled', but instead got to wake up, shower, and go in.


It's interesting what scarcity will do to you. Take something away from somebody, put them in a state of uncertainty, and pretty soon we are all more instantaneously thankful.


Nurses that previously have shown up to their shift dragging their feet, deep sighing and eye rolling, are now bounding off the elevator announcing 'I'm so glad I get to be here today!'. We're all giddy and relieved to be the lucky ones that aren't being called off.


To be fair though, the unit I work on is filled with women who LOVE their career.


As time has passed, 8 years in to this profession, I have grown to appreciate the fullness of what it means to be a nurse, both at the bedside and within the tribe of nurses I practice with.


Work brings me sanity. I spend the majority of my week at home immersed in the *lovely* shenanigans of my darling children, so the time I get in the hospital (two 12 hour shifts to be exact) is it's own entity.


And after becoming a mother, going in to the hospital is less of an escape and more of a support. Like a modern day well, where the necessity of water, or in our case a paycheck, causes all of us to show up and share in a common purpose- both to provide for ourselves and our families and to care for high-risk pregnant women. Instead of standing in line, talking and sharing while we hold our jerry cans and fetch water- we hang out at the nurses station where we hold our stethoscopes and share stories, process life, grieve and laugh together.


We, a bunch of intelligent, strong, powerful, funny women get to be with each other, for 12 hours a day, multiple days a week. Which to me, seems kind of rare in this day and age.


Today I got to share my entire story with a coworker about how Mike and I have ended up as missionaries. Why we are moving to Uganda. What our family is looking forward to. We both geeked out over the Helping Babies Breathe video where a newborn is properly resuscitated and is carried back over to cuddle its mother.


You get to teach that? She said.


The things you have time for when the census is low.


When I went to take the blood pressure of my patient with preeclampsia she told me the doctor who just rounded on her was the same doctor who delivered her last baby. Her daughter was preterm. A little bigger than her outstretched hand and only lived 2 days.


Her husband was sitting on a chair, listening and nodding, with eyes glistening. The same husband she had (in casual conversation that morning when he wasn't yet there) declared "her very best friend" to me.


"He's the quirkiest guy I know. I love that man so much." She said, laughing.


And now I saw their bond ran deep.


"How was it to see the doctor?" I asked.


"Bittersweet." She said, emanating a strength borne from despair.


And then she briefly shared the story of that time.


When she was done, I thanked her, and we talked a little about her current pregnancy. She was more peaceful than the average high-risk antepartum patient, and I think the peace was coming from a place of gratitude. She was thankful for the care she was receiving, and the passing of time which only got her baby that much older and more capable to survive outside her womb.


Again, in a different form that morning, I was seeing the effects of scarcity... on this woman. She had yet to have a living child. "We've been trying for 6 years."


She gladly settled into bedrest and did not fight the limitations placed on her to not move. If she could only stay pregnant just a little longer.


I left her room impressed.


I just met a warrior. There is an actual war on her body, and she's fighting, and she is brave and valiant. I wish I would have told her that. I wish her unborn daughter could see this version of her mother.


I went back to the front, to my computer screen that had inconsequential things pulled up on it, things that seemed engaging before I had gone in that room but now seemed trite. I noticed a little lump in my throat. The physical accumulation of sadness for this couple.


"How's that patient doing?" My coworker asked. She knew about the doctor who had just rounded on her, and the patients history of loss. And what that might mean for her morning.


"Surprisingly, she seems good. But I feel bad for her. For what she went through. I hope it goes well this time." The lump vanished.


This is the part of nursing I never considered in school. While I was so concerned about making sure I didn't get any bubbles in my IV tubing, or what it would look like to manage my time between a load of patients, all those medication side effects or how to find someones reflexes on my first try, I didn't so much think about who I would be doing these things with, or how to prepare to be a good teammate. Yet over time, as the skills and knowledge began to build, naturally so did the relationships. The deep heart work of being a nurse gets processed in bits and pieces, in moments when a coworker asks a simple question and stops to listen.


I felt a little wave of sting. I love my job. I love my patients, their family, and my coworkers. I love all that just happened. The bearing of one persons pain and the love that helps it dissipate as more people enter in to it. And I'm moving to Africa.


And for the third time that morning I could see that not having something, or even the thought of not having it, can make what you do have shine a little brighter. As I pictured moving away into a new place my love for my coworkers grew.


I am processing the reality of what I will be leaving here, of these bonds and this purpose and my role- of how moving into something new requires me to let go of really great things that I just want to keep forever.


It's partly the season we are in. This in-between time. Where there is heightened awareness of all that we have, all that we are leaving, all that we will miss. I assume this is some sort of anticipatory grief that is common to anyone in our situation.


At the same time, Mike and I are looking forward to what is in store. It was 13 years ago that I boarded a plane to Ghana, West Africa, met Ma the midwife in her rural birth clinic, and saw my first birth. I had no training, no medical degrees, or experiences. In fact, I had to put my head between my legs, drink water and take deep breaths as I watched that baby come out- but I also knew there was no going back. I had found my passion.


So really it has been such a long time in the making, that I am a bit shocked it is finally here. I recount all the ways God has shown Himself to us in this process. It has been years and years, of individually answered prayers. Some mundane, others miraculous.


Yet uncertainty about the future is still an awkward place to dwell. Whether it's our nurses questioning their next paychecks, the mother wondering about the outcome of the life inside her, or us curiously awaiting an overseas move.


This is a time of looking forward while equally trying to soak in what is in front of us. We are leaning in different directions at the same moment.


I have to remind myself where I find my stability. The definition of stability being "the strength to stand or endure".


I cannot find my strength in how firmly planted we are here, or how well we will be able to set up a home and a life in where we are headed next, because these things are nebulous. I pray in this time that my stability will come from knowing Christ, and what my daughters Storybook bible explains so simply as his "wonderful, Never stopping, Never giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love". To be able to rest in the manifestations of how that shows up during this time, and to know Who it is from, will be my stability.


*****

(*This post is HIPAA compliant, identifying details have been changed to protect patient privacy)







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