Live Like You Were Dying

I am sure that by now,many of you have heard the sad news that a great visionary in the world of computer technology has passed away. His name was Steve Jobs. He was only 56 years old and died as a result of a seven year battle with pancreatic cancer.

In the process of reading articles on the internet over the past few hours, I have ran across several quotations of Mr. Jobs’ that people have posted to remember him. Many of them are thought provoking and make very valid points about life in general. There was one, however, that stuck with me more than all the others. I believe it offers insight as to what might be going on in the mind of someone who is literally staring death in the face. Mr. Jobs said the following:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make choices in life. Because almost everything-all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

This quote is part of the Stanford University commencement address that he made in 2005 not too long after he had received his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Anyone who is familiar with pancreatic cancer knows it is a diagnosis that is considered terminal. It is a devastating disease that has taken the lives of well known celebrities as well as people I have known personally.

A few years ago, I watched in awe as a young Carnegie Mellon University professor by the name of Randy Pausch delivered a very courageous “Last Lecture” to his students and colleagues. He,too, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His poise and courage while knowing all the while what was about to take place, had me awestruck. I bought his book “The Last Lecture” hoping it would serve as a reminder to myself that life is precious and to make each moment count.

I have watched individuals far removed from the spotlight and national media fight their own personal battles with cancer as they knew that the end was nearing. Their stories of courage and integrity are no less wonderful than those we read or hear about in the national spotlight.

Why my fascination with the thoughts of those who are terminally ill? Steve Jobs to my knowledge was not a Christian, but to me it is profound to hear the actual thoughts of someone who is facing his impending death. I simply cannot fathom the huge shift that must take place in a person’s priorities when faced with such grave news. We can imagine how we might feel in that circumstance, but only someone who is really in that situation  knows what it is like.

Steve Jobs summed up his feelings about his particular situation by saying, “Because almost everything: all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure. These things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

I am not sure exactly what Steve Jobs himself might have considered important, but I do know what a very wise man who was even wealthier than Mr. Jobs had to say about that topic. His name was King Solomon and he summed up the great “business” of life with these words, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

As a nurse, I have had the privilege of caring for many terminally ill patients in varying stages of their illnesses, such as the newly diagnosed or even those in the final stages before death. There are so many important lessons that those who are nearing the end of life’s journey have to leave behind for the living. Lessons that King Solomon shared with us in his collection of wisdom called Ecclesiastes.

Lesson 1: Not until we come to the understanding that we are all in the process of dying (Ecclesiastes 3:1)can we really begin to live. I’m not trying to be morbid, but plainly state a fact. Thanks to Adam and Eve(First Corinthians 15:21) from the time we are born, our body begins it’s journey of aging which will eventually lead to its death. Sometimes we, without realizing, live as though we think death only comes to other people. (James 4:14)

Lesson 2: Death comes to everyone regardless of who they are or how much money they have. Mr. Jobs was the 45th wealthiest man in the world, a billionaire. No doubt he had access to every medical advantage that was available but it wasn’t enough to help his earthly body defeat pancreatic cancer.

Lesson 3:  Life is not all about our wants and desires. There is a far greater purpose for living and that is to serve God and try to lead others to Him. When we have that as THE priority at the top of the list, everything else will fall into place and life will much more satisfying and it is only then that we will be contented. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Lesson 4: If we are prepared, death is definitely not the end. It will be the beginning of something much greater…so great that our human minds can’t quite comprehend. If we have committed ourselves to doing what God has requested that we do to become His child (Acts 2:38), we have a far more wonderful life waiting for us that cannot be found here on this imperfect, disease stricken world!

A few years ago, country music artist Tim McGraw released a song about a man in his early forties who had been diagnosed with cancer. In the song he tells about how the man, faced with the possibility of death, suddenly comes to a realization of the things that were really important and makes many changes in his life for the better. The chorus concludes with the words, “And I hope someday you get the chance to live like you were dying.”

Kind of morbid I know, but the whole gist of the song was that the man didn’t really start living until he was faced with death. When he was forced to get his priorities in order, it was a more full life than the one he had originally had.

The phrase “live like you were dying” is actually used as a positive statement. It is a wish that the person hearing the song would enjoy a happy, full life without actually having to go through the same painful lesson that the man in the song had gone through.

How easy it is to get so caught up in the day to day details of living…I hope I never get so caught up in the rat race that I forget to live like I am dying!

 

Thanks for reading!

Marlene

 

 

 

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Everybody Is Somebody’s Baby

I admitted him on the morning of the first of three back to back shifts so I knew we were going to get well acquainted before my third day was up. The patient was a middle-aged gentleman who had been admitted to the unit due to alcoholism. Once again, after having gone on a drinking binge that almost cost him his life, he had been dropped off at the ER by his family. They had brought a suitcase of his clothes and left emergency phone numbers as they headed off to catch a plane for an already scheduled trip to California.

Apparently, the family had become accustomed to these binges and knew the routine well. He would be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for a few days to see him through his immediate medical emergency and then be transferred to a detox unit and eventually discharged home to probably start the whole process over again within a short length of time.

By the time that I, as a nurse, have an alcoholic for a patient, they usually have had at least one close call with death and they are getting into the final stages of their addiction which is evidenced by complications with esophageal varices (enlarged veins in the esophagus that can bleed easily) and many are jaundiced from livers that have been destroyed by the alcohol. They are emaciated and malnourished because they don’t eat nutritious food…their food is alcohol.

This gentleman had definitely hit the bottom of alcoholism’s dark well and even bounced a few times in the process. He was very quiet and withdrawn. I did my best to care for him even though he really showed no interest in talking. I was relieved that, for the most part,  he was calm and cooperative because withdrawal symptoms had not yet set in. It was still frustrating to have to clean up his “mishaps” with the urinal many times during the day. He just could not get his “aim” right and I honestly felt like I had worked in a public restroom all day when the shift ended each night.

He never said, “Sorry” or “I didn’t mean to do that.” He would just look at me with an expression that said, “I would really rather be somewhere else with a drink right now.” I tried my hardest to show compassion and friendship, but I hardly got any more than a few words out of him. The room smelled like a urinal despite my cleaning efforts and it would have been very easy to have just found him disgusting and left him alone to wallow. I mean, he was just another alcoholic who probably would never change and would go right back home and repeat the same steps that had brought him to the hospital this time, right?

My third day happened to be on a Sunday. No one had been in to visit him the past two days since his family was all out of town. He was sitting in his bed with his usual bewildered look on his face. I was charting just outside his room when the door to our unit swung open. I don’t know why I looked up, but when I did I saw a frail little elderly woman ,who looked to be in her 90’s, standing in the doorway. She was so bent over with age that the top of her head would have only come to my shoulder. She had a purple hat on her head and was obviously dressed in her Sunday best. Pearls swung from her neck as she walked and she balanced her purse on the same arm that held a walking cane. She looked around for just a few seconds as if to survey the situation that she was walking in to and then started taking small slow steps with her well-worn black shoes. Her ankles were swollen and hung around the sides of her shoes but that didn’t stop her slow but deliberate progress.

She was alone and I was somewhat amazed she had navigated the confusing halls of our hospital without assistance. I don’t know why, but I had a feeling she was there to see my patient so I stood up to meet her and asked, “Can I help you?” She told me the patient’s name and I escorted her to the correct room.

Every little step she took was with great effort on her part and she huffed and puffed a little as she made her way. I will never forget the words she said when she reached the room or the expression on the patient’s face. She said, “I’ve come to see my BAAABY!”

The patient, even though he was 57 years old, looked like he had just been caught by his momma doing something wrong! His expression spoke volumes and looked as if he were thinking, “What on earth are you doing here and how much do you know about why I am here? She was pleasant with him and chattered the whole time while he stiffly sat in the bed looking uncomfortable with his usual bewildered expression. I doubt she knew the true reason for his visit to the hospital. I am sure family had spared telling her the true reason.

Her statement, “I’ve come to see my baby!” Made me rethink how I sometimes view my patients and others around me. When I looked at her son, I saw an alcoholic who had horrible hygeine practices, was apathetic, and bent on self-destruction. It would not have been hard to have just given up hope and walked away. When she looked at her son however, she saw that little boy to whom she gave birth, rocked, hugged and kissed and who gave her hugs back.

My children,especially my son Daniel, hates for me to remind them that he and his sister Rachel will always be my babies. Intellectually, I know they are grown with lives of their own and that they are a man and a woman, but another part of me sees the little baby boy or girl toddling around the house or sleeping in my arms.

I cannot help but believe that God as our Father, views us in much the same way we do our own grown children…maybe just like the elderly woman who had come to see her “baby.”

We make mistakes on a daily basis, we forget promises that He has made, and we try to take care of things all by ourselves without His help and guidance. We forget to show Him our love and appreciation at times like we ought to, but still, He remains constant and unmoving. Why doesn’t He just give up and kick us to the curb? Because He created us, we are His “babies.” Unlike our earthly parents,He knew us even before we were even fully formed in our mother’s womb. He knows the count of every hair on our head and He knows the thoughts of our hearts. No matter what mistakes we make or all the wrong we may do while here in this world…He loves us.

If an earthly parent can be so forgiving and loving of a child who constantly makes mistakes and causes so much hurt and pain, how much more loving and understanding is our heavenly Father toward us? The answer…He sent His Son to die on the cross for us.

Just like the weary parents of wayward children I see in my intensive care unit day in and day out, He waits…He waits for us to come to our senses and understand just how much He truly does love us.

Some days it is really hard to take care of patients who have reached the point of no longer caring about themselves or even those who love them most. They appear to be void of appreciation or concern for those they are hurting with their behaviors and determined to continue on the same destructive path.

I just try hard to remember that they have a soul and a Father in heaven who still loves them and wants them to come home to Him. He stands patiently, like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, just waiting to get a glimpse of them on the horizon headed toward Home.

Sometimes it is hard, but then I remember the Sunday that the elderly momma sat by her sad, alcoholic son’s bedside and I am reminded…everybody is somebody’s baby.

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United We Stood

There is something about a profound event in history that always makes people, no matter the age at the time of the event, say the following, “I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news…”

Mark’s grandfather, Bill Howell, often told that he remembered hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 as they were sitting at the table preparing to eat his birthday dinner. He would mention the details of that day often so I know the events of that day forever made it’s mark upon his memory.

There is something about hearing shocking news while in the midst of performing our usual activities of life, that engraves the moment on our minds forever. We can remember the feel of the weather, smells such as dinner on the table, even the clothes we were wearing and every little mundane detail is remembered along with the event itself. It is as if for a brief moment our senses are heightened and we can remember the moment in our minds almost as if it had been recorded on video.

I remember at the age of 12 years old, being in my grandparent’s living room in Alabama one hot August day when the television began scrolling across the bottom of the screen announcing that Elvis had been found dead. I remember the sunlight from the outside contrasting with the cool shadows of my grandparent’s living room and even the window’s  reflection on the screen of the old television set. I was only 12, but I knew Elvis was a big deal.

I remember the cold sunny day of January 28, 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger  exploded in the sky killing it’s crew of seven astronauts. I actually did not have the television on that morning so when Mark got home from classes at Faulkner University, he told me they had announced it in chapel. We were expecting our first baby, Daniel, at any time and I felt compelled to record the events of the day in his baby journal so he would know what was happening in the world just before he was born.

I remember vividly the night that the first bombs fell on Baghdad in The Gulf War. It was a Wednesday night, January 16, 1991 and we were eating supper before church services. Word came over the television in the middle of a regular news broadcast with Peter Jennings, that the sky in Baghdad was lit up with tracer fire and planes could be seen in the sky. Bombing had begun in Iraq. It was also Mark’s birthday and just like his grandfather, we were preparing to enjoy Mark’s birthday supper. In contrast to Mark’s grandfather listening to the events of Pearl Harbor on radio, we were able to actually able watch the bombings on television as they were happening! That night we spent our church service praying to God for help and guidance and for the safety of those who would be in battle. I remember actually trembling a little that night when I went to bed wondering what Iraq’s reaction would be. Were we safe? We lived just a few miles from what would have been an important military target…the Milan Arsenal in Milan, Tennessee. I was only a baby during the Vietnam war so as an adult, I just didn’t know what to think about my country being at war or what to expect in the months to come.

September 11, 2001 was also a normal day for us like many people across our nation. The kids had gone to school as normal, Mark and I had a late breakfast. I was in my first semester of nursing school and it was a day that I did not have classes. I was studying in the living room when I heard Mark call me in to our bedroom to see what was happening on the television. It was shocking to see that a plane had hit one of  World Trade Center towers. We watched as smoke billowed out and I remember thinking, “As tall as those towers are it really shouldn’t be a surprise that an accident has happened with a plane.”

Life went on as normal in the house with occasional glances at the television to see the events that were taking place at the World Trade Center towers. Around 9:03 AM, anyone who was watching the events on live television saw the second plane circle around and crash into the second tower. That was when reality hit hard…the United States was under attack.

That day was spent with our eyes riveted to the television unable to fully believe or comprehend the events that were unfolding before our eyes. Major transportation in the United States came to a standstill in an effort to get control of what was happening. I will never forget noticing that it seemed just a little quieter outside as I looked up into a sky free from the jet trails or signs of any aircraft. Who would have thought we would have missed seeing airplanes in the sky? We just take it for granted to look up in the sky and see evidence of their travels above us, but for a few days after 9/11, the sky looked just as it must have on the day it was created by God.

The memory of that tragic event that sticks with me the most however, is the feeling of unity as a nation that I had never felt before that day. When I went to class the next morning, things had changed. There was no black or white or young or old anymore. We were all on the same level because we were all Americans and we were all in this fight together. Our country had been rattled to it’s very core and people were forced to rethink what was actually important. A lot of the pettiness that plagued our nation was put away for a while as we all united together to try to help each other deal with the tragedy. We could pick on each other, but no one had better come in from the outside and pick on us as a nation!

Patriotism was through the roof! Flag manufacturers could not keep up with the demand for American flags. People wore American buttons and ribbons proudly everyday. I remember a local newspaper printing an American flag that could be cut out and displayed and you would drive through town and see home after home with that newspaper flag in the window. The words God and America were used in the same sentence together unlike I had ever seen before in my lifetime. I remember actually crying, as I watched on television, members of the United States Senate standing on the steps of the Capitol singing an impromptu “God Bless America.” For once, you could sense that it was not staged for political hype, but it was a heartfelt gesture on behalf of a nation that was hurting so badly.

So here we are ten years later. I just wonder… if another American tragedy took place similar to 9/11 we would we, as an American nation, still seek God the way we did back then or would it be considered too politically incorrect? Would we again see our United States Senate stand on the steps of the Capitol building and sing “God Bless America” with great pride and conviction? I hope and pray with all my heart that we would…the thoughts of not seeking God for comfort and help to heal is to painful too think about.

I really struggled with how to end this blog article. I really don’t like to end things all doom and gloom. I wish I could end it by saying that this great nation was even greater because the events of 9/11 caused it to draw closer to God. Instead, in the ten years since that horrible day, our nation has seems to have been drawn farther away. Even patriotism and pride in our country seems to be subtly discouraged by those who are in power. I don’t have to tell you that in many, not all mind you, but many public school systems, the name of God is discouraged while other religions are actually encouraged because it is politically correct. We even have a so called religious group that makes it it’s mission to protest at the funerals of  soldiers who have fallen in very defense of their right to protest!

I know…I know. There are tons of good things about the United States of America and I am so proud to be called an American. I vote and I fly my flag at home proudly but…if we just drew closer to God we could be so much greater.

I am worried about my little grand daughter Jenaleigh and what kind of  United States she will have in which to grow up. When she goes to football games and the National Anthem is played will she be one of the few kids who knows to stand at attention with her hand over her heart as she faces the flag? When she reads the Pledge of Allegiance in a textbook will it be the version that includes the phrase “one nation under God?” Will she be one of the few children who appreciates and understands the great sacrifices made by men and women of every generation to keep America free so we could worship God and live in peace?

It’s not too late to have our “One Nation Under God.” What can we do?

First, pray fervently for our nation and it’s leaders everyday. Pray for President Obama and his administration that they might look to God for guidance in matters such as abortion, gay rights and generally what is best for our nation’s citizens. Pray that he will strive to be a president that is pleasing to God.

Second, be a good citizen and exercise your right to vote and when you do vote, vote for the candidate that comes closest to practicing what is morally right by God’s standards. Vote for them regardless of how advantageous it might be for your pocket book or your retirement account. Please don’t be one of those who say the following, “Well, they are all crooks so I might as well vote for who is best for me financially!” Statements such as that, to be kind, show ignorance and a Christian who says that should be ashamed. Do your research and vote for the candidate you feel will come closest to voting for Christian values and then hold them accountable!

Third, stand up for what is right no matter what is thought to be “politically correct.” A lot of people in the world are simply followers and just go the path of least resistance. The media says, “Think this way!” and they blindly follow without any thought or reasoning as to why they are doing it. Be someone who doesn’t just follow the crowd, not to be stubborn or obnoxious, but because you are someone always does what is right according to God’s guidance in the Bible.

As the events of 9/11 are remembered in the next few days, my prayers will be with the families of those who lost loved ones. To have lost someone in such a hateful and vicious attack on American soil must be a pain that is incomprehensible for most of us to understand. I will also being praying for our nation as a whole…praying that the remembrance of the events on that beautiful sunny day in September will reawaken a desire in all Americans to unite and strive to bring our nation closer to God.

Thanks for reading!

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Alzheimer’s Disease: Who Cares for the Caregivers?

A few days ago, like many of you, I was stunned to see a courageous 59 year-old Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, announce to the public that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, a type of Alzheimer’s. I will be the first to admit that I am not a big sports fanatic, but her frankness, strength and determination in facing this disease made quite an impression on me as a nurse.

I had to know more about this amazing lady who is so brave and matter of fact about her disease, so I looked up various websites to learn more about her. I had always heard of her, but I never realized how astounding her career as a women’s basketball coach has really been. Not only has she been a fantastic coach, but she has tried to be a role model to her players and instill within them the desire to excel. Every one of her players over her 36 years as a coach, has obtained their college degree or is actively pursuing one. 45 of her players over the years have become coaches themselves. She has had eight NCAA national championships! It is hard to fathom that a brilliantly talented woman who has touched so many lives in the course of her career, may at some point in the near future become unable to remember the thrill of her championship wins or even recognize a basketball. Even worse, she may not remember being a mom to her son Tyler.

She of course, will not be on this journey alone. First of all, she has millions of fans who will support her all the way, but her son and her family will be her real support. My heart goes out to her family because the journey they are about to embark on will not be much easier on them than it will be on Pat Summitt. You see, they are every bit as much victims of this terrible disease. As her caregivers, they will have to watch helplessly as the qualities and traits of the person they have always known as Pat, Mom to her son Tyler, slowly fade away like a candle as it runs out of energy and dims.

Pat has an idea of what she faces. Her own grandmother had severe dementia. The final stages of the disease are not pretty, yet she as she has stated, “It is what it is.” She plans to live her life fully by continuing to coach “as long as the Lord is willing” and I applaud her for it.

There are so many families who are dealing with Alzheimer’s or at least some form of the disease. It usually starts out appearing harmless with episodes of forgetfulness or forgetting the names of familiar objects. It progresses over a period of time, which varies with each individual, to the point that an person may not even know who they are. They may lose all language skills except for the repetitive use of certain phrases. They usually have repetitive physical behaviors such as shredding tissue, wringing their hands, picking and pulling at clothing continuously. Eventually, they may lose the ability to even swallow, lose all control of their bowel functioning and become incontinent, and lose all motor function eventually becoming bed bound until they pass away.

Life is uncertain, none of us know what we may face before our tenure on this earth is over. Pat Summitt has been very forthcoming by admitting that when she first received the diagnosis she was very angry and it took a little while for her to finally come to terms with it. I would hope that if sometime in the future I received the same diagnosis, I would have the same courage and fight for life that she has displayed.

As a nurse, I have great concern for not only those who are diagnosed with this disease, but those who stay by their side and care for them…the caregivers. I know from experience that caring for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s is one of the most exhausting and frustrating things you can do. I get to leave after a twelve hour shift to go home, but if a caregiver is caring for an Alzheimer’s patient at home, they have few opportunities to step away and are at great risk for their own health and well-being deteriorating.

An Alzheimer’s patient who is in the late stages of the disease usually has to be watched continuously for their own safety. They are at great potential to fall or do things unknowingly to harm themselves. Depending upon which stage they are in, reasoning with the patient may be useless. Apathy is a trademark symptom of this disease and the caregiver can plead with them to stop a certain behavior, but they just don’t appear to understand or care. Often times they repeat the same phrases over and over, hallucinate, many times they want to go home even when they are in their own bed. No amount of reassuring or explaining will help. Even though the caregiver may understand that the patient with Alzheimer’s cannot help their behavior, it still takes it’s toll on them.

So,what can we do to help those who are the caregivers?

1. When offering to help the caregivers, be specific. In other words don’t just say, “Let me know what I can do to help.” Call them and say, “I am going to the store, what can I pick up for you?” or”I made an extra batch of soup so don’t worry about supper tonight.”

2. Give them a sympathetic ear and offer reassurance. Be a good listener. After spending day in and day out with someone who is confused, it can be so good to carry on a conversation with someone who understands what you are saying and can reciprocate. Oftentimes, even though a caregiver will do their best to be patient with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, frustrations can build up. They need to be reassured that this is normal. They are only human, not a superhero. Give them an outlet to safely vent their frustrations and reassure them that they are doing a good job of caring for their loved one. (While it is normal to be frustrated with the apathy that Alzheimer’s causes a patient to display, it is NEVER okay to verbally or physically abuse anyone in this condition. Intervention on part of the caregiver and patient would need to be done by the appropriate authorities to protect the patient.)

3. Offer to stay with the Alzheimer’s patient to give the caregiver time to get away to take a break or to take in new scenery. Sometimes just stepping away for just a few hours can do so much to revive them and lift their spirits and give them energy to resume their responsibilities.

4. Encourage them to seek out a support group for Alzheimer’s and then make sure they are able to attend the support group. It helps tremendously to talk to others who are in the same shoes as yourself. Guilt over frustrations with the Alzheimer’s patient’s behavior is prevalent among  caregivers. Finding out others struggle with the same feelings can do much to alleviate their burdens and equip them to cope.

5. The greatest coping mechanism a caregiver can have is a faithful relationship with God and a church family to turn to for comfort. Encourage them to pray and let them know that you are praying for them as well. If they are a part of your church family make sure they are kept abreast of the goings on in the congregation to prevent them from feeling so isolated.

I confess I have never been a big basketball fan, but I believe I just may have to be a Lady Vols fan. It will be amazing watching Pat Summitt coach and cope with whatever issues her disease may cause. Undoubtedly, many watching her will be encouraged to persevere no matter what circumstances in which they find themselves. She will also serve as a reminder that life is precious and should not be taken for granted.

Even though she has taught a lot of young women over the years how to win and overcome obstacles and even lose with grace and class, I have a feeling she is about to teach her greatest lesson yet.

Thanks for reading!

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God Never Promised a Rose Garden.

In 1970 Lynn Anderson, a country music singer, released a hit entitled “Rose Garden” written by Joe South. It’s lyrics are written from the point of view of a lover explaining to her love interest that their relationship was one in which the bad times were going to have to be accepted along with the good times. The chorus is what sticks out the most in my mind. It goes like this…”I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden. Along with sunshine there’s got to be a little rain sometimes.”

I would be first to admit that the recent devastation and loss of life from tornadoes we have experienced here in Alabama have been more than a “little rain.” It has been more like a deluge of epic proportions and has affected so many lives. When tragedy like this happens, it often makes people think about their relationship with God. Many become angry with Him and even wonder “Why?”

Some who don’t know God very well may be thinking “I don’t want to be a part of any God who would allow such terrible destruction of people including innocent children,” or “How can a compassionate God allow things like this to happen?”

Others who believe themselves to be Christians may be angry with God thinking, “Why did You let this happen to ME? Haven’t I lived a Christian life and done all You have asked of me? Why didn’t You protect my family from this destruction?”

Some even go so far as to claim that the tornadoes are punishment from God for evildoers but Jesus tells us, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: fore He maketh His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.”(Matthew 5:45, KJV)

So many times I am afraid we unwittingly place blame on God for tragedies that are not His doing. How many times in an effort to console a person who has lost a loved have we heard someone say, “God must have decided it was his or her time,” or “God took him or her to be with Him.” These statements are all made with the best of intentions. They are said with the hope that they will console that loved one, however I am afraid we are unknowingly placing a blame on God that is not deserved.

Was it God who caused that drunk driver to drink alcohol and get behind  the wheel of a car and kill that family of four? Was it God who caused a young man to get high on drugs and go on a shooting rampage? Do we really think God would cause someone to have cancer so He could take him to “be with Him,”or that He would cause a little child to run out in front of a car and be killed because “He thought it was his time?” Was it God’s choice that our bodies should begin to age even from the day we are born until eventually the body can no longer perform life processes and death comes by old age?

Because we live on this imperfect earth, we are sometimes physically and emotionally harmed by the sinful choices of others. We are innocent bystanders that sometimes happen to be in their path of sinful recklessness. Sometimes we suffer just because we are imperfect human beings and just simply make a mistake in judgement such as a little child running out in the road or driving while we are impaired. Examples could go on and on.

Someone might say, “Why would God allow such horrible weather that kills people?” God who created the universe certainly has the power to change the weather if He so desired. The fact that He restrains himself to allow natural events such as the weather to take place shows the mighty power He has. If He were to interfere with the natural workings of the weather, then where would He be able to stop? Would it be fair to choose people in this country over people in another country?

When He created the universe he set into motion  Laws of Nature that are always constant and unchanging. For example, you know without a doubt that if you stumble, gravity is going to pull you down to the ground. (Ouch!) You will never float up into the air. Floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunami’s, and even tornadoes are all part of the delicate balance that God put into place when He created the world. While each of those can have catastrophic effects on the earth’s inhabitants, they also play a part in how the earth hangs in perfect balance. If God were to suspend the laws of nature for a select few, it would put the world into a state of chaos.

Many in society have a misconception of what Christianity is about. Many see it almost as if it is a good luck charm that will prevent them from experiencing any traumatic events in their lives as long as they follow the “rules.” No wonder so many people become disallusioned and angry with God when they experience terrible events in their lives such as cancer, loss of loved ones, or even devastation by a tornado.

Paul plainly states “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, KJV). Some have casually read over this verse and have the idea that this verse means that all things WILL be good for those that love the Lord. So wrong.

You see, if we are going to blame anyone for the terrible things we must endure here on earth we must blame it on ourselves…mankind. In the very beginning of time, life was perfect and then mankind, Adam and Eve, sinned thrusting us into a world where life would be hard. God had given them simple directions, but Eve messed up (with encouragement from Satan) and Adam followed suit. As a result there would be consequences. Mankind had to leave the beautiful perfect garden of Eden where everything was provided for them, to live in a land where they would have to work hard just to survive. Their bodies would be subjected to diseases, aches, and pains and as each year passed, their bodies would grow more feeble with age. They were subject to the elements such as earthquakes, floods, famine, and drought–and maybe even tornadoes.

Thankfully, God still had mercy on us as His creation, and promised us a Savior through which we could have relief from this earthly life. A life that at times can have such heartache and misery.

God’s promise to man found in  Romans 8:28 is not a promise that being a Christian will prevent bad things from happening to you, but it is a promise that IF while living on this imperfect earth, disaster should strike, heartaches should come, or great physical pain should have to be endured, He will be there to help you through and everything will be okay whether it is in this life or in the perfect life to come. Some kind of good will come from the situation that must be endured.

No, when God sent His Son to this earth to provide us with the opportunity to have a better life, it wasn’t just a promise for a better life here on earth but also for a better life after we have died. There are definitely wonderful things that we experience while on this earth as a result of being Christians, but the greatest thing of all is knowing that this life is not all there is…there is so much more waiting for us in Heaven.

He never promised that if we live a Christian life it would be all roses, butterflies, and happy days. Christianity is not a good luck charm to spare us from calamities here on earth. Christianity is about clinging to God and obeying Him so that when the disasters do come, and they will, we will have the strength to persevere and push on knowing this is not all there is…that something better awaits.

“I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime.” A simple little song meant to have been spoken between two imaginary lovers however, the sentiment holds true for us today. As a Christian, there will most definitely be sunny days full of joy, but there will also be the rainy days that will come to keep us from holding too closely to the sunny life here on earth. The rainy days will help us remember that there is a place called Heaven where, unlike earth, it never rains and the Son shines forever.

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Lessons Learned in an Ugly Little Green Trailer

Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning and I am slow stirring around, I like to lie still for a few moments and take in the sounds of the morning. I can look into our kitchen from my bedroom and see the morning sun spilling in through the windows and I know squirrels and birds are scurrying around on our back deck…that is, if the neighborhood cat isn’t lying on one of our deck chairs taking a catnap.

I love to listen to the different sounds of our home like the ice maker clicking and whirring in the refrigerator or our central heating/cooling unit faithfully doing it’s job to keep the air pouring out of the vents at just the right temp.

Our two-story cottage type home is not very fancy or even very big, but it is just right for me and Mark as we are emptynesters. Sometimes, I just find myself wandering around the house. I’ll go upstairs to the cozy bedrooms, or down into the basement where my occasionally used exercise equipment is or out onto my beautiful back deck overlooking the woods and I’ll think to myself, “How lucky am I?”

Mark and I are first time home owners after 26 years of marriage with most of that time being spent in homes provided by the congregations where Mark preached. We have been so thankful to have had those good homes in which to live and raise our family. If truth were to be told, we probably could not have even afforded to have purchased a home in the early years of our marriage so those homes were blessings, but there is just nothing like owning your very own home.

Each home in which we have lived, a total of six, have been special because of the memories made in each one, but there is one that is more special because of the valuable life lessons that it taught me.

Mark and I had been married about a year and a half when he got the opportunity to attend Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama on a full tuition scholarship. Mark was a full-time student and I was soon to be a new mom because we were expecting our first child Daniel. We would drive three hours on the weekend one way for Mark to preach at the congregation where he grew up. That supplied us with some income and we were very fortunate to have congregations to help support us while Mark obtained his BA degree in Bible. Money was very,very limited and we soon realized that we were going to have to make some changes from our apartment to more affordable housing. Affordable as in a single wide trailer in a trailer park.

Now, before I proceed further let me clarify that I think trailers, otherwise lovingly known as mobile homes, are usually very nice places of abode. We spent four very happy years living in what I refer to as “our ugly little green trailer” and even now if I were somehow given the chance to go back in time and change from the ugly little green trailer to a nice home in the suburbs of Montgomery, the little trailer would win hands down.

I should, perhaps, tell you how we acquired our little trailer. Immediately after Mark and I had married, Mark’s grandfather had gotten the trailer as part of a real estate deal that he had made. I clearly remember the day that Mark and I went in the trailer to try to clean it up for his grandfather. I was immediately disgusted by how filthy it was. There were beer cans behind the stove and all around the filthy floor.The stove had so much caked on grease that you could hardly tell that it was a “lovely”avocado green. It had mousey brown carpet and ugly worn paneling. I distinctly remember saying the infamous words that would haunt me in the years to come. “I would NEVER live in something like this!” I had said smugly. A year and a half later…guess where I was living? Yup. In the same ugly little green trailer I had said I would never live in!

Living in the little green trailer was the only way we could stay in Montgomery and Mark  finish his degree at Faulkner. The trailer was free. All we had to pay was the lot rental fee and utilities, so Mark’s uncle Phil, who happened to move mobile homes for a living, hauled our trailer from Winfield, Alabama to Montgomery and it actually remained intact for the journey!

The trailer was two toned and faded with white on top and avocado green on the bottom. I’ll never forget the day my parents and my sister Amy came to see us after we had moved in to the trailer.  I was watching for them to drive up and the shocked look on their faces was priceless, but they too, soon came to love the ugly little trailer as we did. They also learned about the little idiosyncrasies of the trailer such as whenever going down the hall to the bathroom, you had to keep to the right or you would feel a huge dip in the floor where apparently it had rotted. Inevitably, we would have guests over and forget to tell them about the dip as they went to the bathroom and we would hear a faint “whoop!” at that particular spot. I usually responded with, “Oops! Sorry, I forgot to tell you about that!” We never used the front door simply because it was padlocked and wouldn’t work anyway. The flooring was literally splitting down the entire length of the trailer and in the kitchen, the linoleum had pulled apart and you could see through the floor to the ground. I solved that problem by putting a well placed rug in that spot. The windows were the roll out type windows and I honestly believe the hinges on every one of them was broken and when a storm would come, the windows would flap with the wind and bang. I vividly remember at the time that we moved in to the trailer, it was getting close to my delivery date with Daniel and my pregnancy nesting instinct kicked in big time and I scrubbed that little trailer from top to bottom! I cleaned the carpet with only a wash cloth dipped in cleaning solution while on my hands and knees! Unfortunately, the next day I could barely walk, but the mousey brown carpet actually looked brand new!

The birth of Daniel began the transformation of the ugly little green trailer into a cozy little home for a family. Overlooking the trailer’s faults became a way of life and we quickly adapted. So many wonderful memories were made in that little trailer that was so homely looking. It never failed us. We always stayed warm and dry in the winters and cool and comfortable in the summers. Two babies were brought home to it, and it was where Daniel learned to walk and have his first Christmas. I will never forget one beautiful fall day as Daniel, barely able to stand, held onto a living room chair and jabbered in baby talk at colorful leaves blowing just outside the floppy broken down windows of the trailer. He felt safe and happy and that was all that mattered. Rachel only lived there four months, but she too called it home while sleeping in a bassinet in our tiny bedroom at the very end of the trailer.

The ugly little green trailer was the place where a lot of our most treasured friendships today had their beginnings. Many a time Mark’s classmates, young preacher boys and their wives, would come over to spend an evening. For four years it was full of love, laughter, babies cooing and jabbering, late night studying, home cooked meals and happiness.

So what lessons did the little ugly green trailer teach me?

First,  the phrase “Never say never.” is so true. We never know what circumstances we might find ourselves in throughout our lives, so use those words with great caution. They have a way of coming back to visit you and teach you humbleness.

Secondly, fine furnishings and decor do not a home make. We had hand me down furniture and nothing matched. Our couch was cheaply made with a rust and brown windmill pattern on it and when you sat on it, you would sink to the floor. I remember being so embarrassed when kind church people came to see our newborn son or daughter and bring food. I hated for them to see our ugly little green trailer with its pitiful cinder block steps. Most of those kind people lived in beautiful homes in Montgomery suburbs, and with maturity I have learned that a lot of those people who visited us probably had their own stories of humble beginnings. I should never have been embarrassed, but I was only a 19-year-old kid.

Thirdly, you can live with a great deal of less “stuff” and still be incredibly happy if you make up your mind to do so. We hardly ever ate out and rarely ever spent money on anything but necessities, but I remember we were incredibly happy and found joy in simple things. Our society today believes that when you marry you should be living the dream by having a brand new home with a picket fence and nice cars immediately upon saying, “I do.” This fallacy has caused a lot of newly married couples to become disallusioned with their marriages. If the dream to own the beautiful home with furnishings doesn’t come true, they will go deeply into financial debt to acheive the dream causing terrible stress upon their marriages. They fail to understand that their parents did not accrue their financial standing immediately upon marriage but only after several years of hard work and sacrifice. We live in a society that screams to our young people, “You DESERVE to have the best and you deserve it RIGHT NOW!”

Fourthly, God will always, ALWAYS will take care of us and supply our every need. Every time we thought we were going down for the last count, God’s providential care would intervene and things would somehow turn out okay. We spent more than a few nights wondering how we would make ends meet, but He never let us down.

Fifthly, because of the homely little green trailer, I can more fully appreciate the beautiful home we own today. I remember going to the homes of the church members  in Montgomery and being in awe of their beautiful homes. I knew we would probably have a beautiful home someday and that our little trailer was just a stepping stone to better things, but I could not help but wonder what it was like to cook supper in such a nice kitchen or wake up in a beautiful bedroom each morning. If we had started out with the home of our dreams, I’m not sure I would have learned to appreciate the things that I now have and to be as thankful for them. I think about our trailer and where we began and stand in amazement of the beautiful home we call our own today. I realize compared to some homes it’s not as fancy or elegant, but to me it is beautiful and one I am proud to call mine.

Time flew by and Mark did graduate and we moved from the ugly litle green trailer to start a work at a congregation in south Alabama. We sold the little trailer to the man who owned the trailer park. He moved it to a different lot and painted it a tan color. Occasionally, when we have the opportunity, we still drive by there to just take a look to see how much things have changed and to see if our little trailer is there. It still is… it’s just not ugly green anymore.

Sometimes, I wish that I had taken more photographs of the little trailer. I’m sure at that time I thought it wasn’t anything special enough to be taking pictures. All I could see was the things that were wrong and imperfect so I never tried to capture images of the trailer.  To me, it was just a stepping stone to get us to somewhere else in life. Little did I know, it would actually serve as the foundation for the life that I have now. A life full of love for God and family and appreciation for all the little things I have in my life.

Would I want to go back and live in that little trailer now? Nah…I’m not crazy! I love the sweet little house I have now. But, not for all the money in the world, would I trade the lessons that I learned in that ugly little green trailer!

Thanks for reading!

Marlene

Our first home purchase after 26 years of marriage.

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A Simple Act of Love

As I type this, my sweet husband is out doing his Christmas shopping. He always waits until the last day or two before Christmas and amazingly always hits the mark when it comes to gift giving. Me, I spend several weeks trying to find just the right gifts and then they have to be wrapped just right. It can be an overwhelming experience and I have long said that there should be some kind of special button a person can push that plays the “Hallelujah Chorus” when the last gift is bought, wrapped and sitting under the tree.

I get so caught up in the details, but Mark plays it cool and always seems to come out on top when buying my Christmas presents. He always manages to find just exactly what I wanted in the perfect size, color or sometimes he finds something I love that I didn’t even know I wanted!

Last year he gave me his best present ever and it wasn’t anything that could be purchased. You see, I had become frustrated with purchasing the bows that you find at Wal Mart in the bags. It just seems like the quality of the bows are lacking while the price continues to climb and usually they fall off long before the gift is opened. I had decided that I would buy ribbon and make my own bows to go on my packages. Labor intensive, yes, but so pretty under the tree. Apparently, Mark had watched me make the bows since I usually sat in the living room wrapping and watching TV with him.

I had to work Christmas Day and I was so tired when I came in the door, but much to my amazement I had beautiful presents waiting on me to be opened. The paper wrapping was pretty, but the most wonderful thing was that each gift had a beautiful hand-tied bow adorning it! I had no idea he had paid attention to my bow making! Now to some of you that might not be a big deal, but for this wife who’s husband is very much a man’s man, it was amazing. He had spent quite a bit of time making sure each gift was beautifully wrapped and ready for me when I got home. It would have been so easy for him to have just wrapped them and left them at that and I would have been perfectly happy. It was important to him that he go the extra mile and make my gifts even prettier by making his own bows and he did a really good job too!

The gifts in the packages were wonderful, however the bows on top represented so much more. They represented time and effort he had spent just to do something special for me because he loved me.

As the special day approaches very soon, we should make sure that we don’t get so caught up in the frenzy of the moment that we lose sight of the simple acts of love that will be shown all around us. Don’t over look tiny details like a visit from a friend, a favorite dish prepared lovingly, gifts made by little hands, or hugs of family members. Cherish each one.

I am sure last year when Mark was making those loops on those bows, he never thought about how much it would touch me, much less have a blog written about it. It was just paper and ribbon, but the simple act of my husband making handmade bows for my gifts spoke volumes as to how much he loved me and wanted me to be happy. The memory still lingers even a year later and will last  forever I am sure.

Merry Christmas everyone and thanks for reading!

Marlene

 

 

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Apples and Oranges

This is that time of year when local schools sell fruit boxes to raise money for local band programs, sports programs, etc. Mark and I ordered our share of fruit this year from a nephew and kids at church. I love to get the fruit and then share it with others because we can never eat it all before it ruins.This is also the time of year where apples and oranges that I normally see in the grocery store at every visit, take on a more special meaning for me and bring back Christmas memories.

You see, when my sister Amy and I were growing up, we always awoke on Christmas morning to find an apple and orange along with tons of delicious candy in our overflowing stockings. The apple and orange were always at the bottom of the stocking, tucked down in the toe. I know I took those poor pieces of fruit for granted and a lot of times left them stuck in the toe of the stocking. I mean, to me they were pieces of fruit that I saw everyday in our fruit bowl on the counter so they sometimes went neglected on Christmas day and  ultimately ended up back in the fruit bowl instead of being devoured along with the Hershey’s kisses.

It wasn’t until a little later when I was older, that I discovered the reason for the the oranges and apples being in my stockings all those years. I don’t think my parents intentionally meant to place the everyday fruit there for a specific message to me and my sister Amy, but years later it always serves as a powerful reminder to me of a simpler time.

My parents would be the first to tell you that their childhoods were not easy ones. Maybe not as hard as other children’s, but difficult nonetheless. My dad was one of three children and they moved a lot, often to wherever my grandfather could find a job. Daddy’s favorite place of all to live was a house known as the Castleberry Place near the railroad tracks in Eldridge, Alabama. Daddy and my aunt Mary Jane and uncle Landon became favorites of the train engineers and they would throw candy, coins, and fruit to the brothers and sister who would often stand nearby to watch the trains pass.

My mother was one of ten children and knew what it was like to have to share clothing, belongings and to work hard in the fields picking cotton. Treats for a family of ten children were few and far between. To walk to the nearby country store to get a bottle of soda was an event and even after you got the soda, it wasn’t entirely your own and had to be shared with siblings.

Apparently in those days, apples and oranges were real treats to have because they were not as readily available as they are now. They usually only made an appearance around this time of the year. Both Momma and Daddy remember getting apples and oranges on Christmas day in their stockings and if they were lucky, they might get a piece or two of peppermint candy.

That tradition was passed down to my sister Amy and I and I don’t think it was necessarily intentional. I believe to my parents, those pieces of fruit reminded them of happy Christmas mornings in a day and time where Nintendo or iPhones didn’t exist to compete with the simple fruits. A time when you couldn’t go to a local Wal-Mart and find a row of every kind of candy imaginable in every flavor imaginable. So, when they had children of their own, they naturally did what they remember had made them happy as a child on Christmas morning.

I haven’t been as faithful as my parents about putting an apple and orange in my own children’s stockings. I mean, it’s hard enough already to fit a bounty of candy and goodies in a cramped stocking and then trying to fit two pieces of fruit is near impossible!

This year however, with our first grandchild coming in May, I want to renew this humble tradition to keep us grounded so that we remember just how blessed we truly are. I plan to tell my grandchild (grandchildren) about their great grandparents and the apples and oranges and hope that the simple fruits will always serve as a reminder to always appreciate God’s blessings in their lives and to learn and practice the true art of contentment. I hope it will also serve as a reminder to them to look around and remember those who are less fortunate not just during the Christmas season, but every season.

Just simple everyday fruits that you can purchase at your local grocery store on any given day of the week, but not so long ago those fruits brought much joy and excitement to a lot of little children in rural Alabama and I suspect many other places.

May we never over look the simple joys in life, a warm home, a good job, a cozy bed, a loving church family, loved ones to see at the end of a long work day…joys too numerous to name, but if one were missing, we would give all we owned to have it back. Let us never forget to give thanks to the One who gives us everything we need.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

Marlene

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A Glimpse Into Another World…A Soldier’s World

I originally posted this particular article back in November 2010, but I believe it deserves another posting with Memorial Day approaching. I will never forget the young man you will read about. I am sure he has no idea of the impact he made on my life that day or for that matter, in the years to come. I know there are thousands more men and women like him who have served and defended our country knowing they might pay the ultimate cost…some have given all. I just recently mounted an American flag to fly proudly outside our home as a tribute to all the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve. Thank you to the families who bravely pressed forward while loved ones were on foreign soil protecting us. Thank you to those who gave up the comforts of a safe, comfortable home and nearness of loved ones so that we in America could sleep safely in our beds at night without fear.

He was a young man in his early thirties… a handsome young man with a wife and children and he had just recently served time in Iraq and was now back  at home with his family.  The day I met him, he was preparing to have surgery.

We nurses took an instant liking to him. He had a great personality and was “cracking” jokes constantly.

We rolled him back to the Operating Room with him smiling, joking and laughing even until the point he was placed under anesthesia. The surgical procedure went well and was uneventful until it was time for us to wake him up from anesthesia and move him over to his stretcher.

We were calling his name, and became slightly amused at the expression on his face. We were expecting to be able to laugh and joke with him once more, especially because the stress of impending surgery was now over. He, at first, looked at us with intense confusion on his face and then he started yelling “What!” over and over as if he couldn’t hear what we were saying. We still thought him to just be joking with us, but it soon became apparent that he was in another world…one we as nurses and civilians knew nothing about.

As I was wheeling his bed into the recovery area, he started asking me with great urgency, “Am I in the green zone?” I believe those were his words. I apologize to those with military experience who may read this if I am not using the correct terminology. I later discovered he was asking me if he was now in an area that was considered safe by his military unit in Iraq. In his mind, he thought he was there…in Iraq.

Several times I had to firmly hold him back in the bed because with great terror in his eyes he would say, ” I’ve got to go see about my unit…I’ve got to go see about my men.”  Sometimes he would ask with fear in his eyes and voice, “Did I miss a bomb?” There was nothing I could do or say as a nurse that would convince him that he was safe in his hometown in the states and that he had just had surgery. If I mentioned he was at home he would want to know if he had been wounded so badly that he had been sent home. If I mentioned he was safe in a hospital, he wanted to know if he was in Germany in the hospital. Time and time again he would briefly lie back in the bed for a few moments and then suddenly bolt up in the bed holding his stomach wanting to know once again if his unit had been hit by a bomb and was that why he was hurt. This would lead to him, once again, begging me to let him go see about his men to make sure they were all okay.

At one point, I called his wife back to Recovery hoping she could orient him to time and place, however this only caused him more stress because he thought she was in Iraq with him where it wasn’t safe! He thought she had been flown over to be with him and he begged her to leave saying, “It’s not safe over here for you.” She held his hand and tried to reassure him over and over and he finally he began to relax somewhat.

As I monitored his vital signs and watched his reactions, it became obvious to me, and the nurse anesthetist, that he was having a post traumatic stress incident that had been triggered by the anesthesia.

His wife talked to him and reassured him and stayed so amazingly calm as he asked her the same questions he had asked me with the same stricken look of fear in his face. It hurt me as a stranger just to witness the fear in his voice and his face, but what was it like for her as his wife? His reactions and statements had to have confirmed a lot of the fears she had dealt with night after night as she waited for him to come home safely to her and the children.

I was struck with amazement at the integrity and courage this young man displayed. He thought he was injured yet he felt compelled to go see about his men, to make sure they were okay. He felt responsible for them. He never once exhibited concern for what he thought was a bomb inflicted injury to his own body. His wife later told me that he had been over a unit in Iraq that would travel up and down the roads looking for roadside bombs. A young man from our area that had been killed by a roadside bomb a few months earlier, had been a part of her husband’s unit, however her husband had not been on duty that particular night. She said he had always felt that if he had been on duty that night, he might have been able to prevent that young man from being killed.

I had to leave the soldier and his wife to take another patient back to the Operating Room, but I checked in on him about an hour or so later and he was in his room seemingly back to himself except groggy from the anesthesia. His wife later told me he had no remembrance of what had taken place in Recovery.

He may not remember, but I always will. For almost an hour, I got just a tiny glimpse of the fear and stress that a soldier endures while at war. The intensity of his emotions were so strong, I felt as if I were in Iraq with him. I just simply cannot fathom the courage it takes for men and women to willingly put their lives in harm’s way day in and day out to preserve our freedoms and way of life.

That young soldier and his wife will never have any idea of the impact they made on my life that day.Before that day I thought I appreciated the men and women who serve our country, but because of them, I have a far greater idea of the sacrifices they have made. Undoubtedly, he saw things and endured stress that was such that it will remain with him the rest of his life.

As this Veteran’s day approaches, please go out of your way to thank those you know who serve or have served in the military. You may see a tear or two of appreciation well up in those eyes that have seen and  experienced so much.

If you are a veteran and reading this…thank you from the bottom of my heart and please know that I do my best every day to take advantage of the great freedoms you have so bravely protected and will never take them for granted.

Thanks for reading!
Marlene

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Now,When You Say for Better or for Worse…How Bad are We Talking Here?

I’ll never forget a certain man that I had for a patient. He was in SICU bed #7 for several weeks. I admitted him the night he came in via helicopter from another facility here in the state. He had had a hemorrhagic bleed on the brain, a subdural bleed, and had been so combative he had been paralyzed and intubated by the flight nurses so they could get him to our hospital safely. The next day the tube was removed from his airway and he was allowed to regain what would be, at that time,his normal level of conciousness. His normal level was not a good level. He constantly thrashed around in the bed and had to be restrained. He moaned very loudly especially if you tried to reposition him or touch him. I had to apologize to the patients next door to him for all the ruckus. He was a very tall and lanky man and we had to dodge getting whacked by a big hand or a big foot that would come swinging out of the bed. He hardly ever said intelligible words, but he could make some of the loudest most dramatic yelling sounds if physical therapy came in to work with him, or if we tried to turn him so we could clean up his frequent bowel movements!

To spend a day taking care of him would be exhausting! He was what I called a “Houdini” and could wrangle those long lanky arms out of any restraints. He had a foley catheter in his bladder draining urine, a tube that went into his rectum to collect the copious amounts of liquid stool, and a PICC line so we could give him his medicines IV and he seemed to strategize for hours on end just exactly how to get his hand on one of those tubes to pull something out. Grant it, part of me doesn’t blame him. I wouldn’t have appreciated the tube in the rectum either, however it saved a LOT of mess, sheets, time and loud yelling by him to have that tube there. Most importantly, it kept his skin from breaking down so easily.

Even though he was a handful to care for, you couldn’t help but develop an affection for the man. For the longest, he would not say a word except for “uh-uh” and that was when we were asking him to cooperate. If we tried to feed him, he would clamp his lips down in a flat line and refuse to open his mouth. If we asked him to sit up on the side of the bed, he would balk by yelling and pulling away and saying a long drawn out “uuuhhh-uuuhhh.”

One particular day, I had spent all day strategically placing pillows to try and prevent him from pulling something out. I would catch him a few times with a death grip on the rectal tube and pry his hand away in the nick of time. I could tell he probably was a character before he had been afflicted with brain bleed, because he would always laugh this low villanous laugh that sounded like “ahhh haaa haaa.” On some level, he knew he was being a handful, and he was getting a kick out of it!

When we have a patient for a long length of time like him, we nurses develop an affection for them and they sort of become everybody’s “pet” so to speak. Eventually every nurse in the unit had taken care of “Houdini” so he sort of belonged to all of us.

On one particular day when he was my patient, his wife made a memorable visit which had been prompted by our Case Manager Carolyn. You see, when a patient has been evaluated and determined to no longer need to stay in intensive care, Carolyn begins to work with family members to develop a plan of care for when the patient is discharged from the hospital. His wife had arrived reluctantly to discuss this with Carolyn at the patient’s bedside.

I’ll never forget that day, becuase I heard her high heels clacking on the tile floor long before she arrived at the room. She was dressed very fashionably, her hair perfectly coiffed, and she reeked of perfume. My patient was 78 and this lady appeared to be about 50! She stayed close to the door of the room and would not go near his bed or even touch him. She kept saying over and over, “There’s no way I can take care of him like this! He smells so bad! I’ve got my own stomach problems and I’ll make mine worse if I have to take care of him!” She would then give a few obligatory dry heaves as if to prove her point to us. It was evident she wanted nothing to do with him anymore now that he was in this condition. He was an inconvenience to her now and she wanted no part of it.

The part of this meeting that tore my heart out was as she was leaving, without saying goodbye to him I might add, he got very still and with his head leaned against the bedrail in her direction he moaned out a pitiful, “Mama”. She responded by saying roughly, “What? What do you want?” He again moaned, “Mama.” It was all he could get out, but it was evident he was pleading for her…wanting her to come near him…to accept him. She, however, ended her conversation with us and clacked her high heels down the hall, out of the unit.

We hardly ever saw her after that, and her response made us pet and pamper him even more because we felt so bad for him. For all intents and purposes, he had been abandoned and we became his temporary family.

Now , I don’t know what kind of husband he had been prior to his illness. His wife never verbalized that he had mistreated her and after having met her, she seemed the type who would have let us known. Even if he had been a difficult person to live with, she still had made a vow to “love and cherish for better or for worse.” Clearly, she must have never thought the “worse” would be like what it was.

As a preacher’s wife, I have attended my share of beautiful weddings. The young couple stands facing one another with love and admiration glowing from their faces as they repeat the vow to love one another “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” I cannot help but wonder, “Do they have any idea of how bad worse can be?” Not only do I wonder that, but I also wonder if they realize just how quickly it can get to that point. “Worse” doesn’t happen just to elderly after a long, full life together. It can happen in the twenties when you are full of life and growing a family or forties and fifties when the family has become just you and your spouse and you are enjoying the fruits of several years of hard work.

I am always reminded of this when we admit young patients such as 23 year-old mother of a newborn who has been brought down by a fatal brain aneurysm or a young mother who suddenly has her body wracked with blood clots of unknown origin that leave her in a comatose state. I have even seen a young man stand beside the bed of his young wife with bewilderment on his face because he just doesn’t know how to handle taking care of a wife who has just tried to commit suicide by taking a drug overdose.

I stand in awe and admiration of husbands and wives who keep vigil at their loved ones bedside. I can’t imagine what goes through their mind when they see the one they love lying in a bed with several of tubes coming out of what seems every opening in the body. A lot of times they are on ventilators to help them breath with secretions oozing out of their mouth because the tube is irritating to the delicate tissues. To see a loved one cough and gag because a tube is in their airway is not a pretty site. Because the person is so sick, hygiene is probably not as good as it may have been before the patient became sick. As nurses we do the best we can, but there is just so much cleaning that can be done for someone who is confined to a bed with tubes and monitors. The body is amazingly designed by God, and when it is sick, it has ways of letting you know something is not right. A person may sweat profusely, the body doesn’t have the most pleasant odor, and the breath can be horrendous. Still, despite all the things that may seem repulsive and offensive to others, I see husbands and wives on a daily basis come in and lean over the bed of a loved one and kiss their face and stroke their hair seemingly oblivious to anything being out of the ordinary.

I can not tell you why, but for some reason the palms of the hands in someone who has been bedridden and very sick for a long time, can be the most malodorous part of the body! It is a very strong, pungent smell that will remain on a nurse’s hands if you don’t wear gloves.We try to wash the hands repeatedly using good smelling soap. We apply lotions, I have even tried shaving cream to try to cut the smell, but it still remains! The best explanation that I can offer is that it must be a combination of bodily toxins, medicines, and sweat that secretes in the palms of the hands and causes an offensive odor.For some reason, however, even though it may smell so badly, the hand is one of the first things to be touched and held when a spouse walks into the room. Some will never let go of the hand until they have left the room! It’s as if they are oblivious to anything being out of the ordinary! All they know is that is that is the one they love lying there in that bed and they just plain old don’t care how bad they may smell or look!

Thankfully, and suprisingly, we don’t see many patient’s abandoned by their spouses the way my patient was that day. We, as nurses however, don’t necessarily always know what goes on after our very ill patients leave our facility.

Our little unit “Houdini” did make a fairly good recovery from his brain injury and even went home to his wife who accepted him back provided he “was able to take to take care of himself.” Recently, his doctor showed us a video that he had recorded of him at a follow up office visit which showed him standing straight, smartly dressed in a sweater and dress slacks and he was vigorously waving with a big grin on his face and saying, ” Hi nurses! I’m doing good! Thanks for taking care of me!”

(Sigh)…that’s what makes this job worthwhile…

Thanks for reading!

Marlene

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