A Pediatric Workers Nightmare

On Friday I was called to a unit where a nurse just learned her child, just weeks old, was headed to an ER.

That’s it.

No news, no updates, no words from the ambulance. Just a devastating void of answers, a pregnant with baited breath and tears and grief kinda pause. A terrifying fear filled silence.

And my worst nightmare.

Well, not just mine, but everyone who works in a pediatric hospital who has kids or grandkids shares this nightmare. My child gets sick. My child rushed to the ER. My child far from me. My child without me. My child struggling. It is as though my heart would break just hearing about it and talking about it again. Working where I do, I am always reminded of the heartache caused in the blink of an eye, in a moment, and in between one breath taken and the next silenced breath.

It is not uncommon for people like me to fear that my child has died when he’s not in my bed in the morning. Yes, just because he is not making noise in the room I may wonder if he suddenly fell off his dresser, he stroked, or picked up some random virus from the carpet that caused him to stop breathing immediately. Completely irrational, but feels so real given the story of the nurse above. Now, I’m not actually that overtaken by fear. But the fear is present. The nightmare still in the back of my mind that I hear my child is sick and I’m not there. That is just scary and cuts deep to my heart. And I manage it well most of the time.

On Monday, I hear from a coworker that child died, before she even got to the ER.

Stunned silence. But this time, it’s not the nurse who is overwhelmed by the silence, but me and her staff who instead feel utterly heart broken.

The nightmare begins again.

But even then, my nightmare is but small in light of this baby’s lifeless body in his mother’s arms. I just have a nightmare, she a tragedy. It is a small price for providing a ministry of presence in her silence of not knowing. It is the necessary cost of serving places of pain where Gods hiddenness feels real and the pain of grief more real.

The nightmare realized.

Come Lord Jesus. Come with your light into the darkness of nightmares become real.

When Holidays Hurt

I hope that we are thankful enough people during these holidays. Thankful enough that we are aware and thankful enough to remember.

Holidays are a beautiful wonderful time. They have the potential for incredible joy and lots of family time, feasts, gatherings, secret Santa’s, parties, traveling, songs, and all sorts of other good stuff.

But holidays are also a time of grief and hurt because families are incomplete:

  • Families with loved ones serving in the military far away from home.
  • Families anticipatorily grieving the loss of a dear and core member of the family because of illness, aging, or chronic health issues.
  • Families missing a parent or both parents because of divorce, separation, division, or even death.
  • Families who can’t come together because they are distant or live distant.
  • Persons feeling lonely and isolated with mental illness like depression.
  • Children missing families because of neglect or abuse.
  • Children missing family because their family has to work to make ends meet.
  • Families grieving the loss of a child.

Holidays can be brutal. Are we thankful enough to acknowledge the fragility of life and own our gratitude for the special relationships we cherish and not just the stuff we call “blessings?” Really, the question is, am I? This is just as much personal struggle and desire as it is a soapbox of sorts.

I am particularly aware of the last thing on that list. I am a parent who finds great joy in my children, and I work with families who will lose children and have very few reasons to celebrate when the holidays arrive. One less seat at the child’s table, if not just one empty seat that shouldn’t be. One less hungry finnicky mouth belonging to a beautiful kid. One smiling face missing in the family picture.

Perhaps it is the loss of the child who far outlived expectations of life and lived on that home ventilator till just recently. Perhaps it is the loss of a school ager to an awful virus. Perhaps the loss is a teen who committed suicide. Perhaps it is the loss of a toddler to a cancer that his brother also has. Perhaps it is the loss of a baby due to a sudden and unexplained stoppage of the heart. Perhaps it is the loss of a baby who couldn’t make it to birth, a miscarriage that weighs on that family. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The list could go on with losses that families carry during this season and feel excruciatingly painful.

Please remember these families. They do not need sympathy but people who aren’t afraid to notice that the family is not complete and that the grief sucks. They do not need your truths (and I believe those truths too) that their boy or girl is in heaven, rather they need people who can invite them to tell stories about that boy or girl that will make them laugh and cry. They do not need reminders to move on, but reminders that you are there and their little one will not be forgotten.

I feel grief for these families, but I also acknowledge the beauty and courage in their grief. I don’t know what the right words are, but my heart goes out to these pained families looking for peace this holiday season, looking for a friend in the chaos, looking for a voice they will not hear again. May they find that voice in the form of Gods comforting love, in the presence of their family and friends, and in their own hearts where that voice will always be cherished.

Reach out to others if you know who they are. For any who might appreciate support, I am thankful to hear your story and your grief if you want to share.

Morning by Morning (9/15/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Ryan’s snuggliness lately, as he’s been coming to me a lot and hugging me, and in a special moment, hugged me with the first uninvited/unforced “I love you” I can remember. That’s awesome!
  2. The beautiful morning out in the park.  Sunshine and a light wind is quite nice and relaxing.
  3. Our new residents at St Lukes who are helping us at Texas Children’s.  They are a great group, both funny and engaged with our work with children and parents and families. It’s been a privilege to provide their orientation.
  4. The little boy whose hand I got to hold yesterday.  Ventilated and hurt from abuse, it was a gift to hold his hand for a short time. There are many words for the experience but it is a sacred one.

Morning by Morning (9/8/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Our awesome neighborhood that is both quiet and full of kids, with lots of really great people. And it stayed dry enough in Harvey, and that counts for something too!
  2. The encouragement I received for my birthday two weeks ago but I am still loving.
  3. The continuing help of volunteers across the city cleaning up the flooded homes and caring deeply for displaced families.
  4. Our new CPE residents that will be serving at Texas Children’s.  They are a great group and I look forward to getting to know them well.
  5. Pics of Ryan sleeping!!

Morning by Morning (9/7/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Another gorgeous day with amazing fall weather.  What a beautiful set of days we are enjoying after last week!
  2. Seeing resilient and joyful kids around the hospital.  These little boys and girls are hope giving and inspiring.
  3. The smiling boy I met this morning, who has had a challenging couple years but is teach free and smiling full now!
  4. Time with Ryan in the mornings before I get to work!
  5. The Beads of Courage program for nurses and staff.

Morning by Morning (9/6/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Ryan sleeping through most of the nights now.  What a great gift it is to not have a child coming into our room!
  2. Norma Shreck, my boss in Spiritual Care who I find easy to talk to and love her sense of humor.  She also is so committed to supporting us as best she can and is willing to go out of the way for us. Having a positive relationship with a supervisor isn’t a given, and I am appreciative!
  3. A working car for my commute.  
  4. The walk to and from my car to work, which allows for calming, peaceful times and some good activity before and after work.
  5. The beautiful autumn weather we had today in Houston.  Breezy, not too humid, cool(er), and sunny- gorgeous day!

Morning by Morning (8/31/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Tom Sharon, the chaplain who I served rideout with.  It was an absolute privilege and humbling to serve with a faithful and compassionate man who carries himself with understanding, wisdom, and commitment.  I couldn’t have served with someone more encouraging! The Cardiovasular Units are so blessed to have him!
  2. Doug Foster, one of my Church History professors at ACU. Doug was also a mentor and encourager.  I remember he would make us do weekly essays and grade them 1-5, and  5’s were rare but given when deserved.  He helped me learn to write integrating info and history, not just repeating it.  I owe a lot of personal growth to him.
  3. Jeff Childers, another of my history professors at ACU.  He taught more of the history of the NT and religious history.  It was Jeff who helped me integrate and think about other faiths with perspective.  Also, he helped me see that history has many facets and lenses. And that history is fun!
  4. The HBO series From The Earth To The Moon, which I started watching again yesterday and gripped me with fascination.  Well made!
  5. Nick Matthews, an RN who I deeply respect and love for his passion while being laid back.  Happy birthday! (And prayers for your heartache now Nick!)

Morning by Morning (8/30/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Being home around family after a long week.
  2. Hearing Ryan’s invitation to play with him over and over, “Come on, daddy” 
  3. Seeing the glorious sun rising over Houston this morning!
  4. The relief brought by colleague chaplains at TCH yesterday that allowed me to go home.  Their navigation of waterlogged streets and leaving their families to help me is so appreciated. Thank you Pam and Naguib!
  5. The PICU nurses I served with who serve with humor and perspective in crisis.  I love getting to be a part of them.
  6. My father in law and his wife Ibi and the love and welcome they provide my family, especially as they rode out Harvey and needed a place real close for play.
  7. Living in Houston. It’s a great place that I call home, even with all this flooding chaos!

Morning by Morning (8/28/17)

Today, I am at the hospital riding out Hurricane Harvey while Houston gets inundated by water.  There are many things to be grateful for in the face of this devastating hurricane:

  1. Elana, Elana, Elana.  Her ability to watch Ryan while I am required to serve at Texas Children’s is humbling in the least.  She is covering me as she usually does and covering more than her fair share and loving on Ryan as a great mother while I work.  It’s not lost on me and while I am here I feel awful about not supporting her at home during this weather, but fundamentally I am grateful for her.  I love her!
  2. Praying with staff who are desperate for news of safety for their family and their homes.  During these prayers and times of gathering around the units, I find that there are people who are handling so much trauma, so much uncertainty, so much crisis during this time and yet emerging resilient.  Their strength and their love reflected in tears is beautiful inasmuch as the grief is heartbreaking.
  3. Assisting physicians do free writing as a way to manage their own stress and overwhelming emotions.  Today, I got to watch a physician lead his own fellow physicians into places of vulnerability, and it was a privilege to be there for support and encouragement and listening.
  4. The pictures of Ryan that Elana sends that sustain me with smiles and comfort.
  5. All the people and friends who have contacted me and sought out to send their prayers and thoughts my way.

Surrounded by Family!

Today was my birthday, and of course, Hurricane Harvey had to join the party.  So I got called in to work for the day and stay through the storm, however long it will be. It’s not exactly my dream birthday.  I mean, work anxiety on Friday and staff worry and leaving the family behind.  Not exactly dreamy.

But two things happened that made the day great.

First, I didn’t get called in on Friday night so I got to hang out with Elana and Ryan and spend quality time with Ryan this morning. Elana was sweet. Ryan was active and playful and imaginative.  We played in the pooled water in the park.  I got to be surrounded by my family, even in the face of rain and thunder and cloudy skies.  I love my family.

Second, I got to work and walked into the PICU and got to be treated to 40 people wishing me happy birthday, one well wish and smile at a time.  Someone bought me pizza (thanks Jill!). Someone brought me a soda. The nurses were wonderful and appreciative and I was humbled by them.  I got to spend quality time with night shift staff and be treated to a cup of coffee, laughter, and collegiality and friendship. Even some families I know got into the act and made me feel wonderful. It felt like family, and I was surrounded by them. 

The joy of my immediate family and welcome and care of my PICU family made for a great birthday, full of encouragement and love.  

I might be at the hospital, sleeping on a cot, with the heavens pouring down rain, but it’s been a good birthday because I have been surrounded by my family. Love it!