This is a guest article contributed by American Nurses Association California member, Teresa Martin RN, AMFT.
Why are we Caregiving Machines?
I’m a nurse.
And nurses don’t lie, cheat, or steal.
They breed that out of you in nursing school. They also tap into your basic nature as a caregiver and use it to build you into a caregiving machine.
My first “patient,” before I even went to nursing school, has been my guiding light. I will never forget her name, what she looked like, how she sounded, or how her skin felt. I will never forget the single most important lesson she taught me. There are things outside of our control, like the possibility of insidious disease. And there are things we have absolute control over, like how we care for one another.
Her wisdom continues to guide me as a caregiver, especially now, as nurses are called to action over and over. We give and we give. But why? I just can’t put my finger on it. Especially this year. Two hundred white shoes were placed on the steps of the White House at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — representing the nurses who died in the line of duty. Fifteen months in, the numbers are in the thousands worldwide. We’re dying on the front lines. We don’t have adequate supplies to protect us from this fate. A vaccine has come, but not to everyone, to fight a mutated virus. But how do nurses respond? We volunteer to give care at natural disasters in our “free time,” we work extra shifts to relieve some of the burden from other nurses, we quarantine apart from our families. Our patients, are our “everything.” We will have the hard conversations. We will hold your dying hand. We will fight for your life.
I wrote many poems to explore how I felt about being a nurse over the last fifteen months. It was almost easier to focus on just one year instead of the entire career choice. Nurses were hit hard. The losses we are witnessing have become almost too many to grieve. This death toll, and its impact on us all, will be the legacy our community, country, and world will have to reckon with.
Twelve Hour Shift
(For every woman who has held the dying child)
Pediatric oncology unit.
One nursing student was delighted, all white-teeth-smile,
She must not be a mother.
Never felt the dropping of her baby in her womb,
the slick delivery relieving the pressure,
the rhythmic tug of letting down her milk.
Orders flashed on screen, change a sterile bandage.
Orders screamed in silence, comfort the dying child.
She crawled into the nurse’s arms
strength of a lion, she held otherworldly still
through the smell of betadyne.
Bloated belly round and hard.
Docs rounded, said nothing, left no hope but
heads shaking, heavy shoulders. No new orders.
She stared into her nurse's soul, her eyes enormous and blue,
with a knowing, that we could not know.
She slept in our arms, pressed against the vibrations,
humming rhythms from long ago women.
Twelve hours - a Nurse’s time.
Take Care, of small feet
pattering in their heavens,
and the women who deliver them.
Will I allow Nursing to be my Calling or become my Kryptonite?
We all have “challenges.”
Through my poetry, I have found that some of my challenges have become my kryptonite. Kryptonite is real. We all have our own special brand of it. Maybe your kryptonite reaches for that third glass of wine, or that girl-on-the-side of your marriage. Maybe your kryptonite carries those extra thirty pounds of stress, that work-until-you-drop mentality, the negative thoughts plaguing your every turn. My kryptonite came from my sense of "duty" above my sense of self. This was coupled with ungrieved losses that were accumulating faster than I could process.
My poems about my kryptonite pushed me to acknowledge that I was embracing ideas and habits that were killing my inner love, peace, and joy. And without my inner love, peace, and joy, how could I really bring healing to others? My poems gave me the tools to neutralize my kryptonite and rise with the strength of positive thinking, joy in my heart, and compassion for the souls around me. The power to author and reauthor my thoughts through poetry and prose has been the single greatest tool to move my dial, to transform me, to neutralize my kryptonite - one poem at a time. I used writing, drawing, coloring, cooking, sculpting, photography, videoing, reciting, sewing, and even surfing to author and reauthor my life this year.
My community of nurses, front line workers, friends, and family watched me transform my life - become joyful again. They asked me a critical question: How can we do this? How can we leap into a life of love and joy? I will answer with one word: create.
How do I Rise from this last year and reclaim my inner Joy?
I used poetry and prose as my “process” to reframe, reauthor, and ultimately repurpose my life. Hard questions arose during this process. Questions that I am still answering. I wanted to share those questions with you. Maybe you can uncover your answers late at night when all is quiet around you. Maybe you can uncover the answers alongside your people who support and strengthen you. Maybe you can draw, sew, cook, or surf toward your answers. Each question invites you into my process. Take what questions you want to answer and leave the rest. They will always be here.
#1 One Woman told me over and over when I was young, “You are Strong. I see you. You can do this.” This made all the difference. Who is that person for you? Are you that person for someone? Who could you be that person for and why would you pick them? Creativity and mentorship go hand in hand.
#2 Two Hands, working, will get your inner work done. Drawing, coloring, painting, sculpting, cooking, writing, sewing… There is true power in using my hands to clear my mind, to let my mind wander, to connect my mind to something outside my head. How do you use your two hands and what happens when you are engaged in creating something real? How much time can you give to this everyday? Why might that be important for you? Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes.
#3 Three deep long breaths, three times a day keeps me centered, refreshed. When I wake up, before eating my mid-day meal, and when I go to bed I take three long deep breaths and consciously think of nothing. I let my shoulders sink down, my face slack, and my reset button turns on. What guided meditations have worked for you? What helps you meditate? What makes it hard? What can you do to clear your mind? Creativity rises from the quiet places in our soul.
RISE — get up
FIND — your stance
LOOK — it in the eye
SEE — yourself, others
OWN IT — RIGHT NOW
PLAN — to do right by your people
DO — decisive action
FINISH — no person left behind
CELEBRATE - the power to create
RECLAIM YOUR JOY.
Excerpts from "Fly with Me: One Woman's Leap into a Life of Love and Joy", Braughler Books, 2021. Available now for pre-sale at: https://store.braughlerbooks.com/books/fly-with-me.
About the Author
Teresa Martin is a Women’s Health and Hospice Nurse and Author of poetry and prose. She gives you what she has — her story. Teresa is dedicated to the experiences of women, their health, and how their stories transform the world. Her past work has been published by the American Psychological Association, Cambridge University Press, and Cordella Magazine. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and is always up for joining the ladies to surf gentle waves or fine-tune feminism over a strong cup of coffee. Contact her at TeresaMartinINK.com.