Monday, March 25, 2013

Blood Lovin'

The last time I can remember donating blood was in high school.  This strikes me as distinctly embarrassing - here I am, in a health profession graduate program, all fired up about healthcare for all, doing the right thing, taking care of people, and shit, my dad has cancer - and I haven't donated blood in more than six years.  Go me.  And why is that?  Well, it used to take twenty to thirty minutes for my sludgy blood to drain into the bag, my arm would go numb, my hand would cramp from squeezing, and I would pass out afterwards nearly every single time.  I called myself an athlete because I played field hockey, but the fact that I sucked wind up and down the field, barely drank any water, ate a real meals fewer days than not, and filled my journals with fresh plans to lose twenty pounds about every two weeks probably had something to do with it.  I considered puberty to be some kind of cruel joke that I could just refuse to accept by skipping breakfast every day and sleeping five hours a night.  My body was (understandably) reluctant to give up a pint of anything.

Today, I got done with my first day back at school two hours sooner than I had planned (schedule confusion) and stopped by the blood drive before heading home.  The nurse took my pulse, counting carefully for a full minute, "Sixty."  I had just lugged my backpack and a bag of textbooks halfway across campus, I was a sweaty mess, and I could only laugh as I imagined my trusty ticker, thudding along at a steady sixty beats per minute, not even fazed by the exertion.  I answered the questions, filled out the forms, and laid down on the padded table, ready to settle in for the next half hour.  Another nurse stuck me swiftly and smoothly, taped the bag down and told me to squeeze the ball intermittently.  I started thinking about grocery shopping tonight, and our new fish we named Fleur, and something else I can't remember because all of a sudden my nurse was back, telling me, "Okay, stop squeezing.  You're all done."  I was incredulous.  "What?!  I'm done?  How long did that take?!"  She checked the timer next to my bag.  "Um...five and a half minutes.  Good job!"  And the busily unhooked me, told me sit up slowly, and sent me on my way.

My strong and steady heart.  Pumping out giant whooshes of healthy blood, a pint of which will hopefully go to someone who needs it.  Five and a half minutes is all it took, but I've had a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Sun's Return

"Mom.  I'm busy.  Obviously."

All this time
The Sun never says
To the Earth,
"You owe me."
What happens
With a love like that.
It lights the


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

One day, last October, I went out for a run.  I had been going for short jaunts for a few weeks at that point and was feeling spry and fit and pumped up.  Look at me go! I remember thinking, as I bounced down our front steps in my newly purchased lightweight Saucony's.  I said I was going to start running, and start I did, and run I do, and here we go!  Gonna just go pound out four miles like it's no big deal because I'm a runner and that's what we DO.  A quarter of a mile later, I was in agony.  The autumn air was newly cold and it seared my throat and lungs like a branding iron.  My legs were leaden, and since I hadn't dressed warmly enough for the fall chill, they refused to warm up.  Filled with my own hubris, I had flown out the door during the peak of morning rush hour in New Haven and the streets were packed with minivans and SUVs of families in the midst of the school drop-off loop.  I cursed the multitude of witnesses to my struggle as I limped around a corner and knew that there was no way I was going to gasp and pant and lead-leg my way through four freaking miles.  I doggedly looped a few more blocks while curse words streamed through my mind and my fingers froze into red popsicles around my phone.  I checked the mileage as I stumbled through the front door, hoping for at least a three.  What I saw instead - 1.8 miles.  I was barely sweating, my lungs were heaving, and I was pissed.  I'll never be a real runner, I thought, as I stepped into the (largely unnecessary) shower.

* * *

I mapped out yesterday's run before I headed out.  I don't usually do this, since I track the mileage on my phone and I just go until I've hit my target for the day (training for a half marathon - at least, when you're a novice like me - is a lot easier with a prefabricated training plan that lays our all your runs for the four months leading up to the race).  But since my phone was low on battery and I figured ten miles would take the better part of two hours, I was fairly confident the battery would quit before I finished and I wanted to have a plan.  I put on my no longer new shoes, the right number of layers, my trusty ear warmer and slipped out the door.  With a lot less bravado than in October, I can assure you.  Well, here goes nothing, I thought as I fell into my long slow stride that always feels too easy until I hit mile seven and then I'm grateful that I didn't go pounding out the door at 5k pace.  

The first two miles were fine, a scenic trot up a barely trafficked road at the base of East Rock mountain that included all the elevation changes I had planned for the day.  (When I planned ten miles, I planned ten flat miles - let's not try to eat the whole elephant today, was my thought.)  Then, the route changed.  My rapidly concocted plan before skipping out the door had picked eight miles of roads that were packed with cars, semi-trucks, and a sidewalk that I could now see disappeared in about fifty feet.  Used car dealerships, boarded up houses, and vacant lots were whipping by on my left while horns blared on my right.  I glanced down in time to sidestep a used syringe and thought, Okay, change of plan.  East Rock loomed next to me and the entrance road was coming up on my right - blocked to cars from October to May.  Fine, I thought, a little vindictively.  Fine, we'll do it this way.  The din from traffic faded rapidly as I headed up the at-first gentle slope into the trees.  Pretty soon, all I could hear were the rustling dry leaves kicked up by squirrels and a few early spring bird calls from above.  Three miles to the top, East Rock is not particularly huge, but rather a long arduous climb that may be a leisurely hike but is certainly a challenging run.  Rounding the last curve at the summit, two sweaty guys passed me on their way about to head down.  "You're still running?!" one asked me, incredulously, and I flashed only a smile in response, too spent for words.  I sprinted the last fifty feet, paused the GPS tracking, and took two minutes to catch my breath at the top.  I looked down at New Haven spread below me, found my house, and smiled.  Two hawks circled lazily at eye level, watching the mountainside beneath them for a careless mouse.  The highway was a dull and faraway roar and I could see halfway across Long Island Sound.  My heartbeat had already slowed and I grinned as I noticed that I wasn't even breathing hard.  I did this, I thought to myself, and something proud and happy pinged inside me like a far off, tiny bell.  "I did this," I whispered to myself, looking down at the mountain I'd just run, the five miles I'd just covered, and looking forward to the next five ahead.

Fine, I thought to myself, with a lot less snark.  So okay, we ate the whole elephant today.  Not only are we running ten miles but we're climbing a mountain in there too.  So what?  Let's get it done.  And I trotted off for my second half.

* * *

Athletes are notorious for never being satisfied.  If we didn't medal, we wanted bronze.  If we got bronze, we should have gotten silver.  And everyone knows that silver only means "not quite good enough to win."  So it didn't surprise me that as I idled under the hot water yesterday, I was lamenting how long those ten miles took me, and chewing on my lip as I thought about running the half in just a few more weeks.  A real runner would be faster.  A real runner would be better.  I rinsed my face and inspected my ankles and feet for swelling.  Hold up.  Last October, you could barely get out the door.  And suddenly, ten miles was enough.  It was plenty.  Because that elephant was just a tasty snack and I'm not getting up from this metaphorical table anytime soon.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dog Days

One of my clinical group friends needed a favor.  She was going to Florida for the first week of spring break, and didn't know what to do with her dog.  I'll take her, I said.  I'll be here in New Haven, and it's better than you spending an arm and a leg putting her in a kennel for a week.

Mary, aka Bear

I adored Rupert, in spite of the fact that Rupert was the neediest dog I had ever owned.  Love and excitement and an inflated sense of our own maturity spurred us to get a dog when I was fresh out of college.  I could barely afford rent, let alone Rupert's seemingly weekly trips to the emergency vet due to whatever he'd most recently ingested.  He needed five or six walks a day, daycare when that wasn't possible, he took six months to housetrain (and even then, he wasn't perfect), he ate at least ten pairs of shoes, destroyed countless bras, and left a very nice rug in decidedly questionable condition.  But I adored him.  I loved him and everything he represented, and to this day, I miss him.

Bear (as seen above), is far less needy.  She's housetrained.  She knows her name.  She requires only four walks a day.  But you guys, I'm so over it.  I've had her for two and a half days now and my nerves are raw.  "Bear, stop."  "Bear, NO!"  "Bear, leave. the. cats. alone!"  "Bear, get down."  "Bear, don't jump."  "BEAR!"  

Teaching a dog manners in the one week you are babysitting them is more confusing for the poor animal than it's worth.  So I do the best I can, shutting doors and protecting the cats, and taking her for long walks in an attempt to wear her out.  I remember putting so much effort into raising Rupert, and loving (almost) every second of it and this - well, this just feels like work.  I also remember feeling like I wanted to babysit for every single solitary child I met and this is no longer true either.  I still babysit around here, but never for kids older than two (because again, trying to teach manners in a three hour time window is more effort than it's worth) and inevitably I come home emotionally drained and disgruntled.  I'm sick of pretending at all of this, I'll think to myself as I drive home, reminding myself grimly that every hard-earned twenty dollar bill is what puts gas in my tank and food on our table.

I mother the boy's dog, and I love it.  Sprocket listens to me, and minds his manners.  I take him running, I pick up his poo, I look forward to snuggling his sweet self every time I go over there, and it makes me laugh when I climb the stairs to his door, hear Sprocket's tail start to thump, and the boy tells him, "Your mom's here!  Go get her!"  I trust I'll feel similarly enamored of my own children someday, in a way that won't even compare to the weariness I feel about babysitting and nannying now that I've been away from it for several months.

Is this what getting older feels like?  Is this me getting crotchety, or just growing into my priorities?  After all, I'm pursuing midwifery, not a lifetime of nannying or dog-watching.  I hope it's the latter and not the former, but regardless, next Tuesday morning cannot come soon enough (Sorry, Bear.).

Friday, March 8, 2013

In Like a Lamb

And then it snowed six inches last night and I lost all hope.  But no, I'm sure that spring is coming.  I have to have hope that it is because otherwise I will curl into a ball of melancholy and only poke my (freezing) nose out to breathe.

* * *

As of 5 PM this evening, when my last assignment was due, I am officially on spring break!  This means that my first year of nursing school is now two thirds of the way done.  When we resume at the end of the month, we'll be doing units in pediatric, maternal-newborn, and chronic disease nursing.  I met up with an old Smith/Boston friend tonight on her way through New Haven.  We got coffee and I excitedly listened to the updates from her end.  When she asked me how nursing school was going, I felt a little at a loss for what to say.  Everything that springs to mind sounds trite and meaningless.  I think I spat out some brilliant summation along the lines of, "It's challenging and overwhelming, but really wonderful, too," which basically says a whole lot of nothing in eight words.  The truth is, I just don't know.  Trying to talk about nursing school from right smack in the middle is like trying to describe what the ocean is when you're barely treading water and there are no boats to be found.  I still wonder if I'm on the right path sometimes.  I think quite frequently that I will never be any good at this. I say the wrong things to patients, I get angry and frustrated with doctors and clinicians but say nothing and then hate myself for standing by.  I forget information that seems absolutely essential, and I lie awake at night, loathing my own privilege and not knowing what to do about it.  Usually, I feel useless.  Often, I feel worse than useless.  Challenging, overwhelming, wonderful - I could fill pages with meaningless descriptions and not say a single true thing at all.