Monday, November 24, 2008
When I look back at my life as a young lady the career options of the time were to a large extent the expectations of society. I was supposed to be a teacher, a nurse, or a Mrs. and that was how the system was rigged. Pondering these options I first decided on teacher.
I had my own ideas about what I would bring to the teaching profession. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher who would let children know how important it was to help others, the virtues of being smart and bright, and how this would lead to having fun in life. With all the enthusiasm of a young person bursting with boundless energy I was certain this fresh and innovative approach to learning could have a huge impact.
During my first year of college, while I liked the idea of being a teacher very much, I kept getting this nagging feeling that I was supposed to follow a different path. I knew I wanted to help others, but now I was thinking that I was supposed to be helping adults in some way. I went down the list in the career options book and looked at every career, and didn’t see anything that clicked into place.
I had a friend in the nursing program who really enjoyed it, so I thought: “Why not, I’ll give it a try.” I approached my nurses training with the goal of being as helpful as possible to others. I worked as a nursing assistant that summer and was accepted into nursing school that fall. I really enjoyed working as a nursing assistant, helping the patients and spending time talking with them.
I remember one lady in particular who was about 40 years old was and in the hospital because, as she told me, her husband and doctor thought she was “crazy”. She was on a floor with others much older than her for the most part, and she did not have a terminal illness. As I chatted with her in the course of my duties I quickly found out that she was a warm and loving mother of five who was simply worn down from endless work. Her exhaustion had lead to anxiety and sadness, but not in my mind was she remotely crazy.
I looked at her patient chart and saw she was on a long list of drugs to treat her supposed condition, many of which were given to treat the side effects of the drugs she was on. I was simply appalled. Her husband saw her as nothing but a workhorse, and when the workhorse finally broke down he dragged her to the doctor who medicated her without any consideration of her situation.
I didn’t know what I could do as a 19-year-old nurse’s assistant but I sure knew I had to do something. This just was not right. It was two arrogant men against a defenseless mother of five. I told her the medications she was taking were making her feel worse and that she was just tired from being overworked. I told her she was not crazy. I told her she just needed to take more time for herself and get her kids to help out more. I will never forget the look on her face as I spoke with her. The life came back into her eyes, the color back into her face. She clutched my hand and thanked me.
I told her the first thing I would do is to go over the medications one by one, understand them, understand their side effects, and ask her doctor to explain them to her. She really like the idea of getting off all the drugs and was eager to work with her doctor to wean off what she could. It was her life after all. I told her if she did not stand up for her rights, her health, no one would. She agreed, as this had been the case. She “recovered” so fast she was out of the hospital several days later!
As I went through nursing school this experience inspired me in several ways. First, it showed me the power of being a patient advocate and standing up for the rights of a patient. This sense of empowering someone who had lost hope seemed a great virtue to me. Second, it sent me on a rather odd path for a young woman – that of being a student of the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference). In nursing school I was learning how to dispense drugs correctly and how to follow doctor’s orders. In my own time I was learning what the drugs actually did and what their side effects were.
As I made my way through nursing school and on to the final home leg, my internship, I was bursting at the seams with knowledge and eager to put this to work helping patients with their health. As my internship went on the more I realized my goals were in direct conflict to that of the medical profession.
I remember one patient in particular, who was suffering from both a bad drug combination and doses that were too high. She was discussing her symptoms with her doctor who assured her the medications he prescribed were just right and that he would be prescribing yet another to handle her “complaint”.
In the hallway I approached him and suggested that the combination, side effects, and doses were likely causing some of the symptoms she was having and that he should consider adjusting the medications to see if it would help her. He became furious and told me to never question a doctor. I was shocked. He was more concerned about his ego than the health of the patient. And this attitude wasn’t just his, it was the prevailing culture. I learned first hand the meaning of MDiety syndrome, and it jolted me to the core. I knew at that moment, and so very close to completing my nursing internship, that a career in traditional nursing was not for me.
I bring up these stories to illustrate a few important points. The set of circumstances in our lives, such as environmental pressures or societal expectations, often provide us a path we can follow even if we aren’t sure what our calling may be. There are lessons to be learned from such experiences that may help us understand our true calling. In my case, these experiences forged my passion for being a woman’s health advocate and helping to educate society on the dangers of medications and the safe options that are available. I love to empower others with knowledge that fosters true hope and a path to better health. I have continued to do this throughout my life.
I also find it interesting that I always end up taking on a leadership role in whatever endeavor I am involved in. When I ponder why this is the case, I think back to times in my childhood, as the oldest girl of seven children. I remember playing school with my younger siblings, and sure it was fun being the teacher. I really liked being in charge of the classroom. In my neighborhood I used to love to organize carnivals and plays. My goal was to be a leader in something I thought was worthwhile. As I grew older I typed business correspondence for my father, who was a successful entrepreneur. I also had the opportunity to visit one of his client’s facilities and learned first hand the ins and outs of how professional business and customer service was conducted. I loved to watch him as he worked his business magic.
I see all too often that many women, especially after the children are raised, are looking for new meaning in their lives. This is not unlike the same feelings we had as young women embarking on life. So how do you start something new without throwing out the old?
My advice is to begin with an inventory of the things you enjoyed most when you were growing up. What did you think you wanted to be, and more importantly, why? What role were you playing in the activities you enjoyed most? What are the various lessons in your life that impassioned you to be a certain way? And lastly, what can you do in your future that will enable you to be more in harmony with what is really important to you?
Monday, November 17, 2008
Keeping track of sins was quite a burdensome task for a child. I tried various strategies, such as keeping a running list under my pillow. Minimizing sins in the first place was a top priority, but there were many grey areas that kept me pondering. Was it a lie or was it just a minor stretch that didn’t really qualify? Or was it that I saw it one way and another saw it differently? Did I really not honor my mother or father or did I just do a little something that I wasn’t supposed to? Was arguing with my sister and brother a sin? And if so, which commandment did I break? Stealing was more straightforward, and totally out of the question.
One thing was certain; the day of confession was never too far off. I attended a Catholic elementary school called Holy Redeemer. My 5th grade teacher was a rather stern Dominican nun who took the subject of sinning very seriously. She had a way of looking at you that made you feel there must be more sins. I learned early on it was not good to have no sins – sins were expected. If you didn’t have any you weren’t good, you were hiding something. This situation caused its own set of problems, as my sin list was pretty slim but there had to be some.
Each and every month the time for confession rolled around. She would have the class put our heads on our desks and close our eyes. She would read each of the Ten Commandments one by one while we looked inside ourselves and noted down how many times we broke that commandment or sinned against it since our last confession.
I usually wrote down a few extra sins, at least beyond those of my actions I thought might fell into the sinning category; just to cover all my bases. This strategy posed its own moral dilemma. Was the overestimation of sins a lie? Was I overestimating one of the sins I was not reporting? I have recollection of adding another for that, but then where did it stop? It was not an easy task to accurately figure out a sin total.
This was a very personal process, to be shared only at the time of confession. I felt I had struck a balance in this process. There was a certain feeling of safety in erring on the high side.
One day, as our teacher read the Ten Commandments and all in the class reflected on our lives, I completed my list and dozed off a bit. This was not uncommon, as it was quite easy for many in the class to go from soul searching to sleep. I was awoken by a tapping on my shoulder and a quiet voice from the boy sitting behind me, “Mary, you dropped you sins on the floor.”
I was aghast as my heart raced. A rush of embarrassment went through my body. How many of my sins did he see? Did I have more than him? Did I even have a normal amount? Confession, this most personal experience, had now been thrust into public view. I reached down and grabbed my sins off the floor, vowing to make sure that next time I would really work to be more accurate in my reporting as it sure did not pay to just put sins down for the sake of feeling covered. This is when I decided to put the sheet of paper under my pillow and go to my room to mark any whenever I felt I had committed a sin.
Looking back on these times I feel that the exercise given to my conscience was a bit over done. After all, I was basically a very good little girl. On the other hand, the idea of being morally responsible was firmly implanted in my developing mind and thought process. Throughout my life I have made every effort to do the right thing. Did that come from the strict discipline of my childhood? Or was that a decision I would have made for myself anyway?
While this early training may have left some scars, it was really all part of a learning process. And now, looking back, I am actually glad I had to learn to live in harmony with myself based on a sense of rightness and wrongness. I see that so many of the problems people have today interacting with each other, as friends, in relationships, and even in larger groups are rooted in the fact that their consciences just didn’t get to the gym often enough when they were younger.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
No one would mistake me for the average little girl. I was decked out with a beautiful hat upon my head, a dress with lace and frills, little white socks and patent leather shoes, and a beautiful spring coat to finish off my outfit.
This was all in thanks to my aunt who was a well-to-do woman and had two daughters of her own that in my lucky stars happened to be a few years older than I. Virginia liked my mother as she was a beautiful humble woman from a small farming town in Missouri. My mom was brave enough to marry Virginia’s youngest brother, a man of the big city. To show my mother that she was happily welcomed into their family, she shared her daughters beautiful clothes with our family.
It was a special feeling when Virginia’s finely wrapped box came to our door a couple times a year. I soon realized that being the oldest daughter did have some advantages, as I was always the first to wear these beautiful clothes. And so it was, with my Easter basket in hand and dressed oh so nicely, I ran out in my grandmother’s yard at the sound of the bell to begin my hunt for my first Easter egg.
The world seemed perfect that day and with full enthusiasm I set about my journey to find the Easter eggs. There was just one problem in the way of my perfect day – it appeared that my older brother, who was faster than I, had an incredible zeal for snatching Easter eggs from my grasp.
Seeing that the odds were stacked against me, I quietly set out in a different direction to secure my first egg. And there it was, a little green egg under the bushes. I thought to myself, “I found one!” I knew it was my egg, as it was talking to me, “Come find me, Mary, I am here for you.”
Being careful not to announce my find triumphantly, as my brother was doing, I focused on my goal and started making my way. All of a sudden a big breeze came rushing upon my face and I stared. It was my brother racing by to grab that green egg before I arrived. He shouted my shout, as loud as he could, but with a little variation, adding a word, he said, “I found another one!”
I stood there and watched, I could not believe my eyes. The look on my face spoke hundreds of words. That was my egg, I thought. That is not fair. I saw it first. I got no help from anyone, as my mom was occupied with my younger sister. And my dad, who must have thought this was a bit humorous, took a picture of me at that exact moment in time.
I quickly realized that if I was going to have any fun at all, I would need to be faster and smarter. And then I saw another egg, but this time I took a different approach. I yelled out “I see one, it’s mine” and pointed across the yard into some bushes. My brother took off after it and I then quickly went over to where I saw the real Easter egg and proudly plucked it into my basket. Yes indeed, the sweet taste of success.
I learned that beautiful spring day to be thankful and appreciate your good fortune for those things given to you in life. But in the competitive game called life I was going to need to be smarter and faster to be successful. And so from this early experience, which is so clear in my mind to this day, I committed myself to being a strategic problem solver. I realized that in times of great need I would have to count on myself to come up with an answer, a way. It was a lesson that has resonated throughout my life.
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