In Which Several Unusual Events Occur


The day began innocuously enough, pushed to a small sliver of the bed by an exceptionally warm little boy who had shown up at my bedside late last night or early morning depending on if you see the glass half-empty or half-full. He has not crept into my bed in months, but his tear-streaked little round face in the moonlight tugged at my heartstrings, and I could not send him back to his room. Little did I know the surprises the day would bring.

In which a patient faints and technology intervenes:

My patients were not unusual, kind and full of stories of living overseas, but one of my colleagues had the opportunity to use a new device we were just briefed on recently when his patient felt dizzy then lost his balance. The premise of this device is stunning in its simplicity.  As no one in our facility is allowed to lift anything or anyone greater than 30 lbs, it uses a small portable battery-operated generator that allows what looks like several stacked air mattresses to fill sequentially, until the patient is raised to a height that makes it easier to transfer to a gurney or hospital bed.

In which a snowstorm appears suddenly in the desert:

Leaving work, though as always I am grateful for rain in a state that has been drought-stricken for so long, the chill and ongoing downpour had me planning for a quiet day of snuggling in front of the fire watching movies with my husband.  The rain quickly turned into snow as I drove home, which in this high desert place is not usually seen until November 30th, making roads slick and visibility poor, but turning the landscape into a winter wonderland in minutes.

In which a sleeping man surprises me:

Walking into the house, it was unusually quiet, and I found him sleeping on the couch. He is not one who usually naps, preferring to stay on a normal sleeping schedule when home, however, I knew he’d had 8 calls after midnight, the last a structure fire at 6:30 am, so I was glad to see him getting some rest.

In which a tree decides it has taken all it can take:

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As we prepared dinner, we noticed that one of our trees in the backyard had cracked beneath the weight of the heavy wet snow. It fell over as quietly as if it had just suddenly decided to lay down and rest without a noise.

In which the children try exotic tropical fruit:

My littlest ones have a habit of asking to try all manner of fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, and though I love that they love fruits and vegetables, the practical side of me is unwilling to pay $5 for 1 piece of fruit, especially when we have no idea if it will taste terrible. In the produce section of our grocery store, there is a section in which they sell very ripe fruit that needs to be eaten quickly for 99 cents/bag. Today, one of the bags contained both 2 dragon fruits and several star fruit.  While I cooked dinner, they looked up how to cut them up, and everyone got to try dragonfruit and starfruit appetizers.  Verdict?  Dragonfruit have a beautiful magenta color on the outside, but the interior is black and white, with a refreshing sweet taste and seeds similar to a kiwi.  Definitely delicious!  Starfruit when exceedingly ripe is NOT delicious with a consistency and texture like a cucumber without the seeds.

In which we have turkey cutlets, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, although it is not Thanksgiving yet:

While at the grocery store, I also saw turkey cutlets on sale, so decided to try a new recipe, or more accurately, I decided to take a few different recipes and then combine them together, add my own combination of spices, and throw them on a bed of kale and spinach.  wpid-20151116_184720-1.jpg

In which we all enjoy a moonlight romp in the snow, especially the dog:

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Today’s accumulation was between 3-5 inches depending on which side of town you lived on.  Numerous snowballs were thrown, a snowman was resurrected, then lost his head, and much rolling around across the front lawn occurred.

In which we all made wishes, and watched them sail into the night sky: 

My husband had been given 2 paper lanterns at the lantern festival where he and his crew were staged to make sure no fire-bearing paper bombs started any forest fires.  He brought them home for us to experience the magic. We watched them drift upward until they were indistinguishable from the stars, as we made silent wishes.

In which we all go for a moonlit snow hike despite it being very close to bedtime:

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Hiking down to the store to return movies was more fun secondary to the slip and slide factor, and the children enjoyed the opportunity to be outside so close to bedtime.

In which we end the day in front of the fire finally: 

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No hot cocoa as requested by the chocolate lover, but we did all warm our frozen feet by the fireplace, then upstairs for bedtime prayers and getting tucked into bed, cozy after the snowy adventure.

Tonight I’m grateful for days filled with the ordinary and the unusual.  I’m thankful to live in a place full of surprises. I pray for days like this for all of you, spent with loved ones in simple pleasures.

 

 

 

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A Lovely Day Trip


The soul needs time in open spaces, time to breathe in wide vistas, time on open roads. When I’m able to get away from the neverending bustle bound by the constricts of the hands on a clock, I can feel an almost physical expansion of my soul with every breath. It is a feeling for me like that you get when lying down in bed for the first time as each vertebrae unfurls and stretches.  I am blessed in this adopted place of mine in many places to expand the soul.

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A short drive from my home, and the topography opens up. This beautiful rock formation is intriguing in its shape, as if an enormous chisel fashioned it into these proscribed shapes.

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Autumn is showing its gorgeous colors in the golden leaves of these trees outside a small pueblo. We get much fewer reds and oranges in the foliage here as opposed to Michigan, but the colors of the Earth make up for it.

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The massive striations in these mountains always make me feel like I’m looking back into prehistoric times, looking at layers of history.

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As we drove closer to the caldera, the changes in climate are evident in the colors of the mountains and the types of greenery we saw.

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You can almost sense the presence of ancient rivers and glaciers in the cutouts revealing the hearts of these mountains.

Jemez River

We stopped at a fishing spot after we passed through Jemez Pueblo as the winding roads were making my little guy feel a little green, and found a rushing, gurgling tributary of the Jemez River bounded by large boulders and protected by 2 more bark-than-bite dogs belonging to a man who told us he’d caught a cutthroat trout about a foot long (as measured by his large hands) a bit further up.

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This formation is known as Battleship Rock. It rises majestically from the evergreens around it, surprising in its triangular shape.

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As we neared the caldera, my husband looked for the open state land where he had camped last winter for his first elk hunt. As we neared the place he had pitched his tent, a whole herd of elk appeared suddenly.  Another term for a herd of elk is a gang of elk.  This makes me giggle, thinking of West Side Story’s gangs transformed into elk.

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The gang of elk seemed unusual in that we saw many bulls as well as cows.  As soon as we approached, the whole herd began moving away, though not in a panicked stampede, just a bit offended, as if we had brought stinky cheese to the party, and they had suddenly thought of someplace else they had to be.

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It was much colder here than near home, and we weren’t dressed for the weather as warmly as we should have been. I felt bad for this motorcyclist with whom we were sharing the road, as he was so exposed to the biting winds, and the twisting roads were slippery enough that he was driving at about 25 mph.

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The effects of the Las Conchas fire are still evident over 4 years later. This fire was all over the news when we first moved here, threatening the homes of people we knew, causing respiratory symptoms, and spurring panic. It burned over 156,000 acres. I couldn’t capture the horizontal shadows thrown by the sunlight through the trees as well as I wanted to.

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Within minutes after this, we entered the Valles Caldera with the trees and evergreens suddenly opening into this wide open grassland with copses of trees and springs of the Jemez River suddenly appearing out of the ground.

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This is one of the newest Junior Ranger badges, as the Valles Caldera was placed under the auspices of the National Park Service about 5 weeks ago according to the park ranger at the office.  Our family made a total of 56 people whom he had seen that day, most of whom were hiking or bicycling into the caldera.  No motorized vehicles were allowed beyond the office at that point.  My little guy earned this badge by accomplishing 5 activities at the visitor center, including lassoing a (hobby) horse “like a boss”. I thought he did pretty well for a greenhorn who’d never tried it before, but the wind whipping around the corner of the building outside made us beat a hasty retreat inside.  One of the other tasks was to try to “band” the park ranger without him knowing, which consisted of trying to clip a “tag” onto his clothing, but as we were the only people in the visitor center at the time, pretty difficult to accomplish. He was very tolerant of my little guy’s attempts to sneak up on him, but gave him points for trying.  He gave credit to his partner for developing all the fun activities for the kids to do, as he was a newcomer to the park, having just recently transferred there from Yellowstone.

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As we headed out of the caldera, we could see the mountains of Santa Fe in the distance. It is amazing to me and to others that we have been skiing more here than we ever did in Michigan, partly because of my unathletic nature, but also because as my brother is always saying, “But you moved to the desert!”  My little ones are learning to snowboard, which to me looks like a lot of falling down, but they love it.

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Heading into the city to find lunch, I had a geek girl moment and had to snap a picture of this road sign.  I didn’t get a chance to get a picture of Trinity Road or Boomer Road, but think that whomever named the roads here definitely had a sense of humor.  We were so hungry that I didn’t take any pictures of our lunch, which included a crawfish po’boy, the Sidewinder reuben, cheeseburgers and truffle fries which my middle daughter practically inhaled right off my plate.  I tried a sample of a hard root beer which my husband thought was tasty, and I did not like at all as it had a chemically aftertaste. I’ll take my root beer untainted by alcohol next time.  This is not an actual picture of the dessert bowl after she got done with the crème brûlée, as it would just look like an empty bowl.  She has been growing like crazy and now is within a few inches of being taller than me (not that that’s very tall) and now can wear my shoes.

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As we drove home, sated and tired, the last rays of sunlight touched this outcropping of stone, looking to me like the perfect perch for angels to rest.

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My two little ones, now much happier now that they’d been fed more than the apples and juice boxes I’d packed for the trip, giggled and told stories to each other on the way home. I leaned my head back against the head rest, content to have been able to spend the day with loved ones in no hurry whatsoever.  I wish a day like this for all of you sometime soon.

Today I am thankful for the natural beauty of my adopted state, for a husband who loves the outdoors and suggested this trip, and for a phone camera that takes pictures that make me happy.  I have not altered any of these pictures except for cropping so you could see the true colors of this gorgeous landscape.

Waiting for Patience


My office door is always closed and locked, remnants of a day when an angry man stood over me and yelled words filled with hurt, anger, and frustration, flinging his arms out as if to grab me and shake the understanding into me.

“Why are my dreams so vivid?” they ask me.

“Why does it still feel like I’m there, fighting all over again, when it happened so many years ago?”

“Why am I still here?”

The brain never forgets, unless the insult is so severe that the parenchyma itself is damaged then dies off, or if we don’t feed it the oxygen it needs. Hypoxia we call it, but those memories don’t just need oxygen.  They need light in all its forms.  The soft rays of sunlight that come in the early dawn of a dreamless night.  The probing surgical intensity that exposes every forgotten detail of curved hair on bloodied arms. The incandescent glow of the faces of loved ones holding back the shadows.

Some injuries to life and limb are obvious. Every day when I walk into this hospital, I see veterans in wheelchairs, leaning on canes or walkers, arms and legs in braces or scarred, but the hurt that comes from post-traumatic stress disorder is not so apparent.  We are confronted with stories on the internet of people leaving nasty notes on the windshields of people using handicapped parking spots whom they judge to be unworthy of the designation and of what they consider a privilege.  Though I’m sure there are those who abuse these “privileges”, for every one of them, there are countless others who would gladly give back the parking placard for pain-free days and nights.  And for those for whom the wounds are invisible, there is no parking placard.

PTSD is real. The patients who seem to have the best grip on this have good support networks–spouses willing to tough it out, family open to seeing it, or friends willing to listen.  When my husband calls me in the middle of the day, it’s frequently to talk about a tough case or to hash out the best way to have handled a patient or incident. Because I don’t know anything about being a paramedic or firefighter, most of the time, I’m just listening or offering a “That’s terrible.” I know it is a way of debriefing for him, just like what he does when he first gets home, and what I do when I’ve had a bad case. He has people he can talk to at his firehouse, but I’m glad he chooses to talk to me, too.  This week was his first shift on call as a SWAT medic.  Luckily, he did not get called in, but every time his phone rang or he received a text, I could see him tense up.  I understand his reasons for wanting to do this work.  How could I not? But I also know that my job as his wife is to look for the signs that he needs help.  We have an increased awareness now about PTSD with social media and trending tweets, and the focus on our military has helped to bring the issue to the forefront, but still too many first responders and veterans are dying off the battlefield, and after the trauma, from suicide and the effects of substance abuse.  It can be difficult for these men and women who are held up as heroes to admit they are struggling.

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All of us need to recognize the concept of sonder, which in my mind should rhyme with wonder.  It means the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. If you have been lucky enough to escape sorrow, tragedy, hurt, and pain in the years that make up your time on this earth, count yourself among the lucky few.  We all have been through the fire at some point.  The trick is looking past our own wounds to see the scars that everyone carries after the flames have passed, and recognizing those who are struggling to carry on.

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June is National PTSD Awareness month, and June 27 has been designated National PTSD Awareness Day.  In the days before we knew better, they called it by a variety of names: shellshock, nervousness, hysteria. Those who have served in our military, first-responders, and survivors of any catastrophe from rape to hurricanes are at risk for developing this. It affects men, women and children.  Know the risks, learn the signs and triggers, and most of all, please try to develop the patience with humanity that comes from sonder. Today as we honor those veterans who gave everything on the beaches of Normandy, let us not forget those who came home with invisible burdens that had not yet been given names, or forget those who risk their lives every day.

http://www.frsn.org/Resources/web-links

http://www.nctsn.org/resources/public-awareness/national-ptsd-awareness-day

The First of All


I have to admit, I am not well-versed in the Bible  (pun intended :)).  For someone with a supposedly good memory, I can’t get Bible verses to stick in my head.  My mother was remarkably open to allowing me to go to other churches with my friends or neighbors starting even as young as elementary school, so one summer I was in Vacation Bible School at a local church.  I don’t know what denomination it was or even which friend I was with.  I do know it was not a Catholic church.  Our task that day was to learn a number of Bible verses.  The other children there seemed to have no difficulty with this, but at that tender age, I did not yet even know what the numbers after the names of the books meant.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we didn’t own a Bible.  We owned several, the one in our front room a large ivory one with gilt on the edges and a holographic (I kid you not) image of the Last Supper on the front.  Being the bibliophile I was already at that age, I would kneel at the coffee table, and carefully open the book, solemnly thumbing through the pages, and looking at the glorious pictures.  I felt the literal and figurative weight of that book, knew it was something precious, but had never thought of it as something one memorized like in school until after that encounter in vacation bible school.  I never saw my parents reading it, but I never saw my mother reading much of anything.  That required leisure time which she really didn’t have between the business, taking care of my father, and raising us 4 kids.   If she or my father read anything it was the newspaper, and frequently she was asleep within a few minutes of reading.  I don’t know how much of that had to do with the fact that growing up, there was no extra money for books.  Her toys as a child, she liked to remind us, were sticks and rocks. There is a great oral tradition in the Vietnamese Catholic church, and partly that is because women of my grandmother’s generation didn’t necessarily know how to read.  So prayers are taught by repetition, and the Gospel is preached, but in my grandmother’s house, prayer was the real emphasis.

And so, for the first time in a church, I felt inadequate and small.  The other children were called upon to recite bible verses that they had memorized, and I stood dumb, and quiet as usual,and knew not one Bible verse.  I did not even know where or how to find the verses.  I came away from that experience with a curiosity about the Bible, but also a feeling of it as something inaccessible and mysterious.  It had a code, and there were people who were in the know, so to speak, and I was not one of them.  Looking back now, I see it was a curious reaction for someone who loves books and reading as much as I do, but I can still vividly recall the way the afternoon sunlight slanted into that dim classroom, and the awkward silence that filled it when it was my turn.  Those childhood memories of embarrassment imprint on young brains, and persist long after our adult selves know better.

As I grew older, learned the code, that feeling of the Bible as being accessible faded a little, but I still did not see it as a source of comfort as some do, seeing it instead as a source of wisdom and knowledge.  At the age of 12, I set a goal to read the entire Bible.  In my innocence and desire to be more grown-up, I thought I could become wiser if I just read the whole thing.  So that summer, that is exactly what I did.  I had no plan other than to read it like I read all of my books-start at the beginning.

The bible I read was one I found on the mantel of our family room.  This was a smaller, lighter bible with an unprepossessing soft black cover.  It was nothing at all like the beautiful bible in the front room.  It had no pictures or gilt on the edges, and its pages were incredibly thin.  Every morning, after breakfast, I would climb up on the bricks of our fireplace, pull it down from its place, and curl up on the couch.  I read until I grew tired of reading, or until my grandmother called me for chores.  Then I would replace the bible in its place on the mantel for the next day.  It never once occurred to me that I could leave it next to bed or in a more accessible place like the Nancy Drew novels I read.  In my mind, it had its place and that was where it belonged.

I read every day, my mosquito-bitten legs growing hot and itchy against the rough wool upholstery of the couch. Summer days were interminable then, in a house without air conditioning, the hours stretched out before me without school to add some excitement and change.  I was captivated by the language, and the drama of the Old Testament.  Here was a style of writing that was very unlike Nancy Drew or Little Women, and I found it mesmerizing.

When I finally finished reading, ending with the puzzling and in some parts, scary, Book of Revelations, I felt proud of my accomplishment, and yet empty at the same time.  Other than being able to say I had read the Bible, I didn’t feel any wiser.  I still didn’t have any Bible verses memorized.  That is not to say I didn’t learn anything or wasn’t moved by it, but I had expected to be more grown up after reading it, and of course, I was not.

Over the years, I would gift many Bibles to kids and adults on special occasions, always the kind with the pretty pictures.  As my faith grew, I still felt the lack of biblical knowledge in my life.  As I was teaching my 7th grade Morality catechism class one day, it struck me that I knew more verses than I gave myself credit for.  All the years of sitting in church listening like my grandmother and her mother, had imprinted a few key verses. I felt compelled to share with my class my favorite verses, though as I have said I am no biblical scholar:

One of the scribes who had listened to them debating appreciated that Jesus had given a good answer and put a further question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.       Mark 12:28-31

I wanted them to understand the simple grace found in these words.  By these words alone, it is possible to live a life of service and compassion.  This is Jesus’ message to us.  He was speaking of a new way, compared to the myriad of laws found in the Jewish tradition.  If we are motivated by our love of God, we aspire not only to avoid doing anything that would damage that relationship, but also to actively– because he uses love as a verb–act in ways that will strengthen that bond, just like in our love for our family or friends.

In conjunction with that, the second commandment he laid upon us is made even more powerful.  It is not just the Golden Rule, in which we treat others as we want to be treated.  We must love others as much as we love ourselves.  If we do not love ourselves, in all our faults and imperfections, how can we love others?  And if we do, how can we not accept others in all of their faults and imperfections?

Today I am grateful for my mother’s willingness to let me experience other faiths as it gave me an appreciation early on for the similarities and differences among us.  I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a catechist in spite of my dearth of Biblical knowledge, and I am thankful for all those I know who are shining examples of living these commandments.

Our family Bible, given to us by my husband's grandmother, along with a card filled with words of wisdom regarding marriage.  She was a truly special lady.

Our family Bible, given to us by my husband’s grandmother, along with a card filled with words of wisdom regarding marriage. She was a truly special lady.

Learning the Ropes


Tonight at dinner, my little ones listened attentively to their daddy talking about the Rope Rescue, Awareness and Operations course he has been taking this past week. He’s in class from 8-5 learning how to tie ropes that can lift anything from a person to a vehicle weighing up to 10,000 pounds.  It’s an odd thing to have him home with us every night instead of his normal shifts. I wonder what military families do when they are used to operating without one person for so long, and then they come back, and everything is wonderful, but strange?

We talk obliquely about how these different knots and procedures can be used to support a person.  “This one can be used to tie a person’s hands together, so you could put them on your back and bear-crawl out if you had to.”  Dear Lord, please let him never have to.  “Would this work for extrication, like up in Seattle?” I ask.  His eyes meet mine over the chicken fettuccine alfredo that had to be reheated after the Cub Scout meeting ran long, and he nods once.  We move on quickly to the next topic and the little ones watch with big eyes as daddy demonstrates another knot.  My little guy can’t wait until he’s done eating to run and get his Cub Scout rope.   His little hands try to mimic his daddy’s as they deftly wind and twist through the air.

I imagine the families in Seattle sitting around the dinner table just like this when their world, literally, shifts and sweeps them from this life into the next.  I can’t stop thinking about how quickly life changed for them, and I feel helpless thinking about how little we can do for all those affected by this horrific tragedy. The news is full of talk about how the mudslide could have been prevented, all the reports and warnings published years ago, and the blame is flying everywhere.  Hindsight, of course, is always 20/20.

But how can we judge, when we are told in multiple reports  and warnings about the importance of eating right, daily exercise, getting enough sleep so our brain cells don’t permanently die off, and yet we continue to order those chili cheese fries (my personal weakness this month), put off those early morning runs, and sit up way past our bedtimes surfing the internet.  Our little ones learn by watching what we do.   They so want to be like us, learning the ropes on how to make their way through this world.  Their eyes see everything, tell us things we didn’t necessarily need to hear: “Your hair is super-funny looking this morning, Mama” or “Why is your tummy so soft?” as he’s laying on me, after a tickle fest.  They see how my eyes stray to my cell phone in the middle of conversations with them, distracted by the technology I tell them is bad for them.

At bedtime, my little guy adds in a name I’m not familiar with to the long list of loved ones, human and furry,  we keep in our nightly prayers.  “Is he your friend?” I ask.

“Not necessarily.” (I love it when they co-opt our own adult-sounding phrases).

“Is he one of your classmates?”

“No, he’s in the other 3rd grade class.”

“So, why are we praying for him?”

“Because he got hit by a baseball, on his cheek and he has a big thing there now.”

“You mean it’s swollen.”

“Yes, he’s hurt, so I want to pray for him,” he says in an exasperated tone.

Duh, Mama, that’s what we do.  We pray for people who are hurt.

I”m still learning the ropes, too, it seems.

For all those families in the aftermath of the mudslide, the survivors still searching for loved ones, the rescuers and first responders hoping against hope to find someone still hanging on, tonight we pray for strength and courage to continue on.

Today, I am thankful for teachers, big and small who teach us the ropes in life.  I am thankful for the brutal honesty of children who help us see ourselves as we truly are.  On a completely different note, I am grateful also for whomever invented chili cheese fries, which I’d like with a side of willpower please.

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Be Not Afraid


This past Sunday, like too many Sundays, we walk into Mass late, yet again.  We scoot into the section where we always sit, because us humans, we are creatures of habit, near dear friends with their five children, one a baby boy just learning to talk.  I try to focus on the readings, but in the back of my head is running the list of things that must be done before the alarm clock rings Monday morning. I scan the doors, waiting for my husband coming straight off his shift to join us.  I am praying today for patience and for guidance.  You see a few weeks ago, my husband told me he was thinking about joining the SWAT team.  Yes, that SWAT team, the one you see on TV facing off the bad people, running towards trouble.

When I met my husband he was studying to be a pilot, and when he told me he was thinking about joining the military, I point-blank told him I would stop seeing him.  Not because I don’t respect and honor our military, especially now that in my work I directly serve veterans, but I knew myself.  I knew that the fear that I felt already everyday would be overwhelming.  I could not bear the thought of lying in bed at night worrying about him.   I said it calmly, as a statement, not a threat, then logically persuaded him to continue with his schooling, because I am not a reactor.   My oldest is the same.  We never tear into presents, always taking the time to admire the wrapping and read the card, then carefully going to the seams and pulling off the tape.  Before starting anything, I have to look at all the angles, deduce all the potential ramifications of what could happen if something went wrong.  Though I am a joyful person, I live my life by knowing what the worst-case scenario could be. I have been motivated by fear and the avoidance of danger all of my life.  When my parents left me in charge of a grandmother who could not really speak English and 3 younger siblings, my goal was always to keep them safe.  I took real-life stories from the newspaper and Reader’s Digest as lessons on how to avoid tragedies, incorporating them into my arsenal of weapons to keep fear at bay.

And so, when he very off-handedly mentioned while we driving to the store that he was interested in training for a spot on the SWAT team, I didn’t react.  I didn’t yell or cry.  He reminded me of an incident in which a police officer had recently been shot, and how her life was saved just because a paramedic firefighter like himself had been nearby.  You see, although firefighters and paramedics are standing by in scenes of emergencies like with what happened at Sandyhook Elementary, first they have to wait until the scene is secure, deemed safe by our brave police officers who although they have some medical training, are not medics.  He would be wearing SWAT gear, of course, covered in armor.  “If I were there,” he said, and my heart skipped a beat imagining this, “We could get to people sooner, and be there immediately if a police officer is hurt.  It would make a real difference.” I know this.  I know how minutes, even seconds count when your life’s blood is pouring out on the ground.  It is part of our training as physician assistants, sayings like “Time is muscle” as in the heart muscle, or “time is brain” as with stroke patients, are just part of our vernacular.  I understand this, and he knows it.

I look at my watch.  He is late, and unlike days where I am working, he can’t call me while I’m in church.  My girlfriend’s husband gets up to take his youngest daughter to the restroom, and the baby boy begins to call “Da da”  repeatedly.  Everyone glances over, and smiles, even me.  Father Charles begins his homily and I feel like he is speaking directly to me.  “Be not afraid,” he says.  He speaks of climbing our mountain, the same mountain I referred to a few days ago in my blog post High Desert.  His words fill me, pushing back the fear.   For some people, church is the desert, or a quiet place where they can meditate.  I am not one of those people.  I miss church if I am not there at least on Sundays.  I feel like something is missing if I am unable to attend.  Days like this when the Gospel and the community to which I belong lift me out of the mires of fear and ordinary life are part of why I am here.  I need this connection, this reminder to get out of my head, to stop carrying around this burden by myself.  None of us is alone, not truly.

Here is the difference between now and when we first met.  I am the one who suggested he investigate becoming a firefighter.  It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? That I would suggest he spend the rest of his life going into dangerous situations, when I prevented him from doing it so many years ago just doesn’t fit.  But knowing him, I knew that this man I jokingly referred to as the Boy Scout, would love this work.  That his steady hands in an emergency, knowledge of all things mechanical and construction-related, and his aptitude for medicine would serve him well.  This is what you do when you love someone.  You don’t hold them back from what they are meant to do.  No matter what it does to you.

Communion arrives, and he is still not here.  I stop scanning the doors, knowing he will not come this late.  When I see him later, I will smile and tell him about how well the baby is talking now, and about our friends who asked about him. I will be able to tell him and mean it this time, that I will support him no matter what he decides to do.

He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and suddenly from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this, the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them, saying, ‘Stand up, do not be afraid.’  And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but Jesus.” Matthew 17: 5-8

Today I am thankful for our police officers, all the firefighters, our military and for all of those who make our world safer by running towards danger.

Happy Birthday Baby Brother


Today my baby brother turns 35.  He doesn’t look his age, and in fact, I would say all my siblings look younger than their actual ages. I’m not sure if it’s good genes, good living, or just good luck.  Despite that, just typing that sentence has made me feel older.  To distinguish between my two brothers when I’m talking about them to people who don’t know them, I call the older younger brother my little brother, and the youngest brother my baby brother.  Ironically, both little brothers tower over me, and my little sister is taller than me by several inches.  It wasn’t always that way.  There are plenty of pictures of us growing up in which we are posed in stair step fashion, and I was the tallest until about 7th grade when I stopped growing.  It was all downhill from there.  The thing about siblings that I think only children miss out on, is the getting to grow up with them, and getting to watch them grow up, if you are the oldest, like me.   Like all big sisters, I have memories of the annoying baby brother who was always trying to barge into my room when my friends came over.  This was followed by the insufferable teenage years (for both of us).  As he has grown older, I’ve watched my baby brother do things in his own style, his dimply charm winning friends and influencing people with ease.  I remember the high school principal loving him, despite the fact he would fall asleep in math class, a class he managed to ace, of course.  People always ask me if I’m sure he is my brother, and I don’t know how much this has to do with how different we look (he was the captain of our high school’s football team) or with our personalities.

Now that we are both adults, it’s fun to see how different and yet how alike we are.  He is a diehard Lions and Tigers fan, and actually travels to places just to play golf.  I don’t even understand the game of football or why anyone would waste an afternoon watching golf (unless they needed a nap.)  He and I are both foodies, though his concoctions are more adventurous than mine, and always end up having mango or citrus in them for some weird reason.  We both love to travel, though he has been more places for fun than I have.  We both love our families very much.  He is generous to a fault.  His Christmas and birthday presents are always thoughtful and fairly well-wrapped.  He thinks of things like putting together welcome back from maternity leave baskets for his assistant.  He knows more about financial planning and economics than almost anyone I know, and is exceptionally good in his career as a financial consultant (I knew he was paying attention in math class).  I, on the other hand, could put all I know about economics into 1 very short paragraph.  I am proud to say my baby brother has grown up very nicely.  I am blessed to be close to all my siblings, even though we live so far away from them now.  My children are the only nieces and nephew, so they have special relationships with their two uncles and aunt.  To sum up this birthday post for my baby brother, I’ll leave you with these insights into his character from his youngest niece and nephew:

His 10 yr old niece says he is : Playful, kind and cuddly.

His 8 yr old nephew says he is : A bit awesome, fun to play with, and nice.

Today I am thankful for my baby brother, who is a super uncle and a good man.  And ladies, he is single.  (He will probably kill me for that one.)  He should be thankful I didn’t post his picture!

High Desert


We are in the desert now.  I resisted coming here for many years, dreading brown and barren vistas. I was spoiled by lush trees, the lap of waves against the lakeshore, and the smell of lilacs in springtime.  The street where I grew up is lined with bushes that have likely been there for 100 years, some of them almost as tall as the houses they encircle, and walking to the bus stop as a child, the scent of thousands of those delicate purple blooms would fill the air.  I wanted lilacs for my wedding, but lilacs are too delicate to survive a whole Catholic wedding ceremony and reception.  I settled for roses and alstroemeria.

Then on one of our many trips to the desert, the sister of my soul and I went hiking.  The town in which I grew up has one hill where we would occasionally go sledding.  It is nothing like this mountain.  The discovery that lies around each bend, the crevices filled with tiny flowers in craggy rocks, the unending climb upwards until you emerge from trees and roots to vistas of clouds and open space.  I fell in love with this place that day, feeling my soul open up on top of that mountain  surrounded by the greenery I thought could not grow in the desert.  I learned soon this is high desert, that is, an arid land in an area of high elevation. These sparse words do not convey to you the beauty of this place.  I live near the base of the mountain, and so if I am lost, I know to turn towards the mountain and it will lead my home. The mountain looks just like a movie set image, changing everyday depending on the time of day, and the moisture in the air.  In the spring, desert flowers bloom across the calderas and slopes of the mountains, purple and bright pink spiking the sagebrush and wheatgrass, drinking in the moisture of the rainy season.

There is very little moisture here though. It is wholly unlike Michigan, the peninsula surrounded by lakes.  In September of last year, we had a record-breaking (literally, from 1929) 5 day total of 3.16 inches of rain.  I had not believed others when they spoke of dry heat, but it truly is different. Because of the elevation, full sunlight is incredibly warm, and hats are not just decorative here, but a necessary protection from the sun. In the shade, away from the piercing beams of the sun, the warmth instantly is halved, and tolerable. It is nothing like the sticky heat of Michigan where stepping out of the shower, one is instantly drenched in sweat.  At night, temperatures drop quickly.  The danger of fire is always high.  Coupled with the lack of water, it makes fighting fires more challenging for my husband and his crew.  Very little water is wasted here.  Living in this desert, awareness of thirst is a new thing for me as I am one of those strange people who never got thirsty, even when dehydrated to the point of developing kidney stones.  The wind adds to the lack of moisture, whipping across the mountain.  At it’s full strength, the wind is glorious and frightening all at once, bending trees and knocking down walls.

If you are like me before I lived here, I imagined the desert in which Jesus spent his 40 days and 40 nights like the Mojave.  Endless dunes of sand punctuated by a few scrub plants, a still and desolate plain.  Since I moved to this high desert city, though, I picture him here.   Though some would argue differently, I believe he was as human as you and I, subject to the same physical pains and hurt that we are.  He must have been cold at night, something I would  not have thought of before living here.  I picture him being tempted on the top of what I think of now as our mountain, the wind howling around him, echoing down the expanse.   Having known abundance before, and now knowing thirst, it has brought me closer to what that deprivation must have felt like.

Today I am thankful for that thirst, and the awareness it brings of need.  I am thankful for the wind, and the coolness and wildness it brings to my life.   And I am thankful for my mountain, for the perspective it has given me in this high desert place.

My favorite pic of NM

 

 

My Name is Not Lenny


Dear Mr. O’ Reilly,

My name is not Lenny.  I did not graduate from a community college, and even if I had, my master’s degree in physician assistant studies more than qualifies me to take care of you and the veterans that I serve.  Your off-hand comment about not wanting to be cared for by someone who is not a physician is revealing.  Perhaps you arrive on the set of your show, and perform all of the duties necessary to get on the air from running the microphones and cameras to making sure that your guests have water to drink, but that is not how it works in medicine.  We operate as a team. Your show has highlighted the shortcomings of our health care system, so perhaps that is why you have not discussed the quality care provided by physician assistants.  I would implore you to educate yourself and thus help to educate America about what physician assistants are doing and can do to bridge the health care provider gap that is present now, and that research shows will continue into the foreseeable future.  Saying that PAs are akin to “Lenny, who just came out of the community college” grossly misrepresents my education and the quality medicine PAs practice in every medical setting and specialty in America. The misleading information in your show does a great disservice to the millions of viewers who trust the information and opinions you provide.

What you need to know is that the majority of today’s PAs are educated through intense, graduate-level medical programs wherein we are trained to diagnose, treat and prescribe. In contrast to your comment, 94 percent of PAs hold bachelor’s, master’s or higher degrees. We are often trained right alongside physicians in medical schools, academic medical centers and residencies. These programs are modeled on the medical school curriculum with a combination of classroom instruction and a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. That means I share diagnostic and therapeutic reasoning with physicians. PAs are nationally certified and licensed to practice medicine and prescribe medication in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories with the exception of Puerto Rico. PAs are authorized by the State Medical Boards to practice medicine, meaning I can perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, assist in surgery, perform procedures, provide patient education and counseling, and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes among many other medical services.

I have to admit that I do not watch your show, other than the March 4, 2014 broadcast in which you stated that “If I want a strep throat diagnosis, I don’t want Lenny. . .,” in references to clinics that are staffed by physician assistants and nurse practitioners.  Mr. O’ Reilly, can you please clarify your statement as to why the care received from a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, although good enough for  millions of Americans, is not good enough for you?  I took my son today to an urgent care clinic for what I knew to be otitis media, and he was seen by a nurse practitioner who provided excellent, compassionate care.  My children receive all of their routine care from a physician assistant who specializes in pediatrics.  I did not go out of my way to choose them as these were the providers chosen by my insurance, but given the choice I would pick both again.  This is the reality of medicine in America today, and I and many patients, especially those living in rural, under-served areas are grateful for my fellow physician assistants and nurse practitioners.  Physician assistants are increasing access to high-quality healthcare. We know better than anyone that our health care system is broken, but instead of making disparaging remarks about the people doing the work, we just roll up our sleeves and do everything we can to make sure that we take care of everyone who walks through our doors.  Please join us in our fight to make our medical system better by highlighting what works, including the 95,000+ physician assistants working in hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Nguyen

To everyone following my blog along this Lenten journey, I hope you know that I write only about those topics which inspire me and which I hope will inspire you.  For my gratitude journal, I am blessed to have found my life’s calling as a physician assistant, and I love what I do every day.  What I try not to do is participate in discussions that denigrate others or are polarizing, and I am thankful for the opportunity to live in a country where it is still permissible to freely voice our opinions, but when misinformation which is harmful is disseminated, I have a hard time not speaking up.  Please take this as fair warning that this may happen again 🙂 .  I welcome any comments you may have about your experiences with PAs, and am aware that there are bad eggs among us, just like with any profession.  Also, please feel free to tell me how you are doing with what you have given up as we blaze on. I am still working on that fear of failure, but have to admit it is getting a little easier with each blog post.  Please pray for a speedy recovery for my  little guy and his bilateral ear infections.  He is sleeping now, as we all should be.

I am providing a link to the clip of the show solely for the purposes of accuracy:

http://www.billoreilly.com/video?chartID=610&footer=true#play

If you are a physician assistant and would also like to respond to Mr. O’Reilly, please check out this link from the American Academy of Physician Assistants (the italicized parts of my letter were copied from a template provided on this link). I could not, of course, resist adding my own touches:

http://www.pasconnect.org/lenny-from-community-college-how-to-respond-to-oreilly-factor-misinformation/

Ashes & Smoke


On this Ash Wednesday, my thoughts turn naturally to fire and smoke.  Did you know that the ashes smudged on our foreheads come from the burning of Easter palms? I don’t pretend to be familiar with all that goes into the preparation of these ashes, but I picture an enormous conflagration burning white-hot, shriveling green and yellow palms into the black ashes with which we are marked, billowing white smoke surrounding those tending the flames.

Smoke can tell you a lot about a fire.  It seems intuitive, but something I never thought about until I became a firefighter’s wife.  In my life, and probably yours too, my only contact with smoke was innocuous and annoying at most, like when the wind blows campfire soot and embers toward you, or perhaps a signal that it’s time to get rid of the $10 toaster you bought on sale.

Now, smoke is always bad, in this land where the Rio Grande no longer lives up to its name, and a cigarette butt thrown from a truck window can set flames greedily licking up the wooden stairs to a freeway bridge.  Like settlers in the Old West, my husband and his crew scan the horizon, reading smoke signals.

White smoke on the horizon tells them that a knock-down is occurring. Steam and residual smoke from a fire are mixing,  and the fire is on its way to being contained.  Not surprisingly, black smoke is a harbinger of a poorly contained-fire, likely burning toxic materials, one that is not yet under control.  Either way, firefighters see smoke and a curious mix of trepidation and excitement charges through them.  This is what they train every day to do.

Wikipedia-Fire

In the same way, Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of a fire for me.  It is a time of change, burning away the old, and each Lent I am filled with a similar mix of trepidation and excitement.  When I was a child, it was a time of deprivation: what could I give up, so I could mimic those 40 days in the desert?  I did not understand then what I know now.  The challenge is not just emulation, but true change.  Can we burn away that which makes us toxic?  Will the fire that lies within us be enough to leave nothing but the ashes of renewal?

This blog is part of that renewal process for me. The drive for perfection stalls me before I speak, before I write, before I start any new project, as a protection against failure. I am giving up my fear of failure for Lent, and thus I will be posting every day, fighting the urge for perfection in every line, and I’m sure my hands will be shaking before I hit the publish button. And so, on this first day of Lent, I begin this journey and invite you to be a part of building this fire with me.2012-11-24 16.48.31What do you want to set ablaze?