Hidden Wounds

 
“Growing up in an abusive home completely changed my outlook on life. There’s no love inside the home, only fear. Eventually, the pain and fear became normal. You’re afraid of your parents but you’re also afraid of a world without them because they’re all you know. You’re anxious, depressed, even suicidal. You have no social skills. It’s a lonely world with no way to cope.”
 
That was the searing testimony of Wyatt, a thirty-year-old military veteran in my developmental psychology class. On the first night of class, he warned me that he might pace in the back of

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The Spirit of the Holidays

 
Snow is drifting down lightly outside my window, and the early-morning light is just starting to shine into my room. I am nestled in my bed, snug and content. Nothing is going to get me out of bed this morning, I think. Then my alarm goes off, and the realization that it is Thursday, that I have a more important place to be, pulls me out of the warmth of my bed. I know I am headed to a place filled with more joy than even a comfy bed can offer me. 
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Poor Me

 
Usually, I loved my work as an RN in the coronary care unit. But I always dreaded leaving my family on Christmas. Poor me.
 
So, whenever the schedule called for me to work on the holiday, I’d think back to 1980 and my patient, Mr. Watkins. 
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The Masks We Wear

Every day we pass by friends, acquaintances, classmates and strangers, and all of us are wearing smiles on our faces. For some, that reflects feelings of bliss, joy or contentment. For others, though, it can be a mask.

I often think about my pain and the smile I wear to mask it. Most days, I am have the ability to express my troubles and fight the uphill battle against chronic depression. I tell myself, “You can do it! Just go and talk it out with your therapist.”

At least I had the ability to express myself and fight the

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Zipped

 

“What do you think?”

“How long does she have?”

…”We need you here.”

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A Different Kind of Holiday

 
Ever since I was hit hard with myalgic encephalopathy/chronic fatique syndrome, the illness so eloquently portrayed by Jen Brea in the film Unrest, the holidays have been very different for me. Gone are the holiday gatherings, the caroling with friends and neighbors, the concerts. My body is too weak to attend any of these festivities, and the sound makes me dizzy within a very short time. I’ve been mostly housebound these 27 years.
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Not Sharing

I’m not going to share the whole story. That period of time was awkward and painful and private. Health scares and hospital stays seem more personal when they happen over the holidays. There’s something a little more permanent about them in the collective family memory. We’ll never forget that Christmas in the hospital.
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A Time of Tribulation and Thanks

 
Ma always made the most delicious Thanksgivings: turkey with stuffing; mounds of mashed potatoes dotted with bright green peas; a Jell-O mold containing pineapple and cranberry sauce; cole slaw and candied yams. Her holiday dinners were culinary feasts—meals that stretched the elastic waistband of my pants but still left room for me to nibble on leftovers later in the evening. Thanksgiving with my parents, maternal grandmother, and two children was the perfect holiday—until the year it wasn’t.

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Last Call

 
It’s been a few months since he died. A simple, white stone now stands watch for him at Camp Butler National Cemetery.

I have put off canceling his cell-phone service as long as possible. His children, friends and family from all over the world still call to hear him say “Leave me a message,” then weep and pour their hearts out into his voice mail.

But money is tight. The phone has to go. It really wasn’t much good, when none of his doctors would call him on it when he so desperately needed them.

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Counting to Thirty

I am with people when they are most vulnerable: in the hospital, stripped of their clothes, with nothing on but a thin gown that has been worn by many bodies before. My role is a constant balance between “human” and “robot.”

T-minus three minutes. The room is ready; the positions are assumed; the monitors are set. We stare at the clock as the seconds slowly pass, standing in silence to conjure up the stillness before the storm.

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No Right Words

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

I knew Amy wasn’t doing well; when I had seen her on Friday, she just laid in bed, breathing heavily. She didn’t even turn to look at me, much less talk. I had sat with her for a while, sang Amazing Grace almost inaudibly, and left the small bag of bananas and salt prunes she had requested on the small table beside her bed.

I had left strict instructions with the nurses that night—Please, call me if anything happens. Call me if she passes. I want to know. I didn’t know if

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Mystery Solved

 
I’m sitting at my desk when the phone rings. A blue jay is feeding her baby in the coral tree outside my window. She is determined and direct, pecking her catch in gentle spurts into the little bird’s gaping beak. The fledgling squawks hoarsely for more. I pick up the phone.  
 
It’s my son’s oncologist. My heart no longer jumps into my throat when I hear his voice; we speak frequently now, comanaging my son’s leukemia–a case that is proving anything but ordinary. I have no idea why he is calling today.
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