Poll: The White That Binds Ornament

Readers, I’m doing some marketing research, and I need your input.

Last week during my interview on RNFMRadio, Keith, Kevin and I discussed creating an ornament with the image of my painting, The White That Binds (Pinning Ceremony).  I believe Kevin’s suggested I consider doing this in time for Nurses’ Day, in May, and June graduations. The ornaments would be available to buy on-line. What do you think? You can leave further suggestions in comments. Thanks for your help!

The White That binds (Pinning Ceremony) mixed media by jparadisi. )

The White That binds (Pinning Ceremony) mixed media by jparadisi.

Pondering Dreams

Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011

Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011

People who deny themselves the privilege of dreaming are doomed to failure.

Oscar Hammerstein II

I met a twenty-something student who wants to become a doctor. He’s completed a GED and is taking art classes at a community college. For some reason, he enrolled in a science class and became enchanted by the organisms floating on a glass slide he viewed through a microscope. That’s how he decided to become a doctor. He asked for my opinion. Not wishing to throw doubt on the dreams of another, I pondered my response.

His question reminded me of the only writers’ workshop I’ve ever attended. Introductions were made around the library table where we gathered. At my turn, I introduced myself as an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse. The eye rolling, and general lack of enthusiasm expressed by the group clearly implied my dream was ridiculous. During lunch break, a fellow participant actually told me, “You know, it takes an MFA to become either an artist or a writer.”

There’s a saying in poker: If you look around the table and can’t tell who the rube is, it’s probably you. At this table, surrounded by other wannabe writers, I was the rube.

A few weeks later, despite the dissuasion of the workshop participants, I submitted two stories, “Voyagers” and “Icarus Again,” to the publisher of an anthology of nurse stories. Both were published. Encouraged by kindly, professional editors, my writing and artwork have been published nationally many times since. My first art exhibition, fresh out of art school, was favorably reviewed by a local art critic, which is more difficult to do than it sounds.

I am an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse.

So there.

I think about this a lot when hooking up chemotherapy infusions to patients with advanced, metastatic cancers. Their prognosis is terrible. Though it’s impossible to know what I’d choose unless actually facing similar circumstances, sometimes I think I’d choose sitting on a tropical beach staring at the ocean until the end, and not spend my last few weeks or months in an oncology clinic fighting the odds. That’s when I remind myself that any patient perhaps belongs to that small statistic of people who survive or go into remission, allowing them one more birthday, one more Christmas celebration, a family wedding, or a grandchild’s graduation.

If there is no hope, then why am I an oncology nurse? Have we nurses witnessed so much human crisis that we’ve limited our capacity for dreams? Where lies the division between dreams and realism?

What are your thoughts? Which is the larger transgression: offering overly optimistic hope or being a gatekeeper? How is this idea reconciled with diminishing healthcare resources?

 

JParadisiRN Guest Post for RNFM Radio. Live Interview Monday March 18 at 9pm EST/6 pm PST

The Bride by jparadisi

The Bride by jparadisi

In preparation for the live interview with nurse co-hosts Keith Carlson and Kevin Ross on RNFM Radio: Nursing Unleashed! I’ve contributed a guest post Why Nurses Should Make Art.

We’ll discuss incorporating art into nursing practice. By the miracle of technology, the guys plan to Tweet images of my painting series From Cradle to Grave: The Color White. You can see them on Twitter after the hashtag #RNFMRadio.
If you aren’t able to listen during the live show, each episode is archived on the site for listening at your convenience.

Here’s the details:

  • JParadisiRN guests (live) on “RN.FM Radio: Nursing Unleashed!”, the newest internet radio station for nurses.
  • The LIVE interview is on Monday, 3/18/13 at 9pm EST / 6pm PST. You can listen in here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rnfmradio
  •  Even better – CALL IN with your questions, comments, thoughts, or just to say “hi!”
  • If you can’t listen in, bear in mind that the show will be immediately archived and available for listening on Blog Talk Radio (http://blogtalkradio.com/rnfmradio), and will also be quickly available as a free downloadable podcast on iTunes.
  • Call-in # is: (347) 308-8064.
  • The link to listen in on Monday, 3/18/13 at 9pm EST / 6pm PST again is: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rnfmradio

I look forward to connecting with you then!

Changing Nurse Stereotypes Through Creative Control

At a restaurant, I demurely settled onto a chair pulled out by my escort. Glancing at the menu,  I wonder out loud what the night’s special might be. In a gesture meant to display his bravado, my date raises his finger to signal the server, shouting, “Nurse!”

Another relationship bites the dust.

If Kafka Wrote About a Nurse by jparadisi

If Kafka Wrote About a Nurse by jparadisi

The public’s image of nurses hasn’t changed for decades. Every Halloween, sexy nurse costumes appear out of nowhere, as if summoned by call lights. On TV shows, doctors do hands-on patient care while nurses find the necessary supplies STAT! from wherever TV hospitals store their supplies.

The media represents nurses as one of five basic archetypes. Oncology nurses, in particular, tend to get lumped into the nurse saint group, perhaps because of the longstanding relationships we tend to develop with our patients. It’s a difficult persona to uphold during long, short-staffed shifts.

Additional images are created from combinations of the basic five, which are:

  • Nurse bitch
  • Nurse saint
  • Smart-ass nurse
  • Nurse/mother substitute
  • Sexy nurse

Why do derivative portrayals persist?

Because screenplay writers do not write from a nurse’s perspective.They write about nurses from their own point of view, limiting the possible creation of new characters. These portrayals of nurses are weak because depth of knowledge, intuition, internal dialogue, and a range of personalities cannot be grasped through observation without familiarity. Writing workshop instructors will tell you: Authenticity only occurs when a writer has a clear understanding of her topic.

For instance, in his deeply moving novel, Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese creates a complex tapestry of personality for his character, the surgeon Thomas Stone. However, in his portrayal of Sister Mary Joseph Praise, the mother of Stone’s twin sons, Verghese resorts to a clichéd saintly-sexy-mother nurse composite who dies early in the story, saving him from further character development.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest Verghese is more familiar with the personality traits of surgeons (he’s an MD) than of nurses. He writes a stronger character when he’s familiar with his character’s point of view.

With this in mind, I believe nurses will not be authentically represented in the media until we raise book writers, novelists, and screenplay writers, or TV and filmmakers, from within our ranks. The media’s portrayal of nurses will change when nurses take creative control of it.

What might occur if grants were available to nurses desiring to make film documentaries, write books, or create paintings from our point of view? What if hospitals allowed, and encouraged, creative sabbaticals for nurses to pursue such projects, as do many other industries? Would the public perception of nursing change? Would nurses’ perception of themselves change? Would patient care and delivery of service also benefit from nurse empowerment through creative control?

Nurses: Telling Our Stories Can Help Others

In art school, I once presented a painting entitled, “Recuerdo (I Remember)” for class critique. The painting was inspired by my experiences as a pediatric intensive care nurse.

The image sparked an enthusiastic discussion among fellow students, during which I answered many questions about the role of nurses. One classmate told the story of her baby’s stillbirth decades earlier. She thanked me for the sensitive rendition, allowing her to share her story.

The instructor said, “You’ve got something here.”

Recuerdo (I Remember) by jparadisi

Recuerdo (I Remember) by jparadisi

Recuerdo appeared in the college’s continuing education catalog the following spring. I was pleased with the painting’s reception, but I realize it could as easily have had the opposite effect: bringing a classmate to tears. Nurses’ stories are proverbial double-edged swords. When wielded thoughtfully, they heal. Even so, they can easily cut someone else to the bone.

I am aware of the power of story when practicing oncology nursing. I was occasionally a patient at the infusion clinic where I now work. My coworkers view the story I bring from the experience favorably. That I can teach tying scarves into attractive head coverings for chemo-induced alopecia is a plus. However, through trial and error, I have gained judiciousness about telling patients I am a cancer survivor.

Here are some self-imposed rules I follow about story telling in the patient care setting:

  • Know your patient’s prognosis. It’s one thing to tell a newly diagnosed stage 1 breast cancer patient that you are a survivor, and that her hair will grow back. It’s something else entirely to say the same thing to a woman with metastatic disease. Tailor the story to the patient’s needs.
  • Talk about cancer treatment in universal terms. Some cancers do not have the same level of news exposure and financial support as breast cancer. Cancer patients should not feel they have a less “special” kind of cancer.
  • If you are not ready to answer questions about your experience, don’t bring it up. It’s natural for patients in similar circumstances to ask what treatment options you chose. If we’re talking about breast cancer, they may ask if you had a mastectomy. If so, one or two? They may ask about sexuality, too. You might be judged for your answers. You have to stay therapeutic anyway.
  • Allow patients to have their own experiences. Cancer treatment is not one size fits all. Do not assume that a patient shares your concerns. Exchanging information is often best done through asking questions rather than offering opinions. Let the patient direct the conversation.
  • Know when to let go. Being a cancer survivor does not make me the world’s best oncology nurse. The experience is simply a tool at my disposal. What’s best for most patients is a team of expert, compassionate caregivers bringing their unique experiences to the conversation.

Have you had a health condition that impacts your approach to nursing — or a coworker who has? What advice would you share?

Ah Yes! Back in The Studio

I write so much about nursing and art that I sometimes forget I’m a painter. Low census yesterday meant I had a free day in the studio, with this result. I love the flexible hours of nursing!

Untitled (Woman Holding Baby Doll) oil on wood by jparadisi 2013

Untitled (Woman Holding Baby Doll) oil on wood by jparadisi 2013

Commitment Makes You an Artist or A Nurse

That I am an artist was never questioned by anyone other than myself. It took time for me to believe in myself as an artist, because I felt I would know when I became one. Some artists laugh at such thoughts:

In artistic work one needs nothing so much as conscience; it is the sole standard. — Ranier Marie Rilke

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

How do I know I’m an artist?
The same way I know I am a nurse: Not because I am paid for my work, but because of my commitment to nursing. Commitment manifests itself as time set aside for continuing education, and time to practice skills. It’s not enough to want to do something. You need time to practice skills, whether it be starting IVs, or developing a series of paintings for exhibition. You commit to nursing through education, taking boards, and continuing education. You have to commit to creativity, too.

Begin with one hour a week, every week. It needn’t be the same day or time each week, although a set schedule may make it easier, childcare and weird nursing work schedules may necessitate flexibility. Protect this hour as if it were a difficult-to-reschedule dental appointment.

What will you do with this hour each week? You will have a creative date with yourself. For now, don’t invite a friend. Free yourself completely of taking care of other people. You need to hear your voice to find your creativity. You may already know what you’ll do with the time: write a poem or short story or resume piano, dancing, or voice lessons. If you’re drawing a blank about what to do, here are a few suggestions:

  • Wander the aisles of an art supply or craft store. Give yourself $10-$20 to spend on pens, paper, stamps, inkpads, dried flowers — whatever. Need ideas? Check out MarthaStewart.com, or Pinterest.
  • Wander the aisles of an office supply or dollar store with $10-$20. Buy felt pens, stickers, glitter, glue sticks, and an inexpensive scrapbook. Tear pictures from old magazines of everything catching your eye. Paste them into the scrapbook using a glue stick. Decorate the pages with your glitter, stickers, and felt pens.
  • Buy a cheap rectangular or square flower vase made of clear glass. Fill it three-quarters full with small glass beads. You can use small, polished stones instead, but they tend to scratch the implements. Use it to hold pens on your home or work desk.
  • Go for a walk with your camera. Take snapshots of anything that attracts your attention. Take lots of pictures without over-thinking the process. You’re practicing how to “see.”

The important thing is to make a habit of allowing yourself at least an hour a week to explore and develop your creativity. What ideas can you add to this list?

Maintaining Curiosity in Nursing Practice

Insight is the unanticipated gift of creativity. It struck like lightning during a shift in the oncology infusion clinic.

A colleague asked, “Where does IV iron come from?”

Baby Doll in Conical Bowl by jparadisi

Baby Doll in Conical Bowl by jparadisi

I’ve infused the stuff into patients for years, but never wondered how the iron was obtained. From iron ore? By soaking rusty nails in water? It seemed unlikely it’s derived from blood products, as it’s often prescribed for bloodless surgery patients. However, what most impressed me was the curiosity that stimulated the question in the first place. It demonstrates thinking outside of the box, and beyond a task-driven mentality. Curiosity prevented her from mindlessly hooking an IV drip to a patient. She sought understanding.

Insight struck: curiosity is a foundation of creativity.

The questions “What, how, and why?” gave birth to science and art. They inspired Leonardo da Vinci to dream of contraptions which later became the basis of modern aviation. Artists ask themselves these questions standing before a blank canvas, a lump of clay, or the ingredients for tonight’s dinner.

My father, sitting at the head of our dinner table, told me many times, in his Italian accent (English was his second language), “Sweetheart, never stop devil-upping your coo-ree-os-ity.” I understood he meant: “Never stop developing your curiosity.” It remains excellent advice.

Maintaining curiosity in nursing compels you to create individualized methods for patients to organize and remember their home meds. Curiosity fuels your medication information searches and the creativity involved in formatting to educate people of various backgrounds: patients, their families, students, or coworkers. You create presentations that work best for any occasion: handouts, graphs, pie charts, or PowerPoint.

Curiosity leads you to use creativity in your nursing care plans:

Imagining what losing your hair feels like, you cheer up a chemo patient by helping her collect pictures from magazines of hairstyles — short, medium, and long — so she can visualize her new hair when it grows back. Maybe she’ll try a vivid new color too.

Wondering how to entice a patient to eat more, you explore recipes for textures and flavors of food that will appeal to him.

Why is the easiest question of all to answer: “Because I care.”

Nurses are creative in ways we care for patients. We don’t simply “push a button.” Neither do we stop developing our curiosity. This is the art of nursing.

By the way, IV iron solutions are man-made.

Learn to Say No

Developing creativity requires personal time. You’ve heard it before: Learn to say no.

I was a new-ish nurse working night shifts on a busy hospital unit. Our census exploded,

The Bride by jparadisiWhat are you married to?

The Bride by jparadisi
What are you married to?

and every evening the nurse manager called all off-duty staff begging until someone accepted the overtime shift. It is difficult to refuse extra shifts when it’s your manager asking. This went on for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. Answering machines were new back then, and I resisted owning one.

One afternoon, my daughter raced to the ringing phone, picking up the call before I could. I overheard my manager asking, “Hello, is your mommy there?” As I reached for the receiver, my daughter blurted out, “You’re not going to make my mommy go to work again, are you?” Embarrassed, I grabbed the phone. On the other end, the manager apologized: “I’m sorry, I guess I’ve been calling too often. Enjoy the evening with your daughter.”

The next day, I bought an answering machine, and learned to screen calls.

Not long afterwards, something unexpected happened: The manager took her overtime-paid hours to administration, along with the record of increased census. They discovered they’d save money by hiring another FTE. The overtime calls became occasional.

Moral of the story: it’s not my personal responsibility to fix my unit’s staffing problem. I’m not advocating nurses refuse shifts during staffing crunches. In nursing, being a team player is essential. However, I found that if I work more than two overtime shifts a pay period, I get a diminishing return on the extra income because of taxes where I live. Therefore, my flexible boundary is to limit overtime to two shifts a pay period. I learned to say, “No,” to more than that.

Recognizing which problems are yours to solve, and which are the responsibility of others is the key to learning to say “no,” to coworkers, patients, children, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, soccer moms, whomever.

Write this down and tape it to your bathroom mirror:

I am responsible for my own stuff, and that is enough.”

The caveat to this affirmation is:

If you step in it, you’re going to have to clean your shoes.”

Remember:

▪ Avoid drama.

▪ Evaluate commitments carefully.

▪ Protect your personal time.

Our ability to say no is strongly connected to the important relationships in our lives. Nurses in particular are conditioned to believe that saying “No” in order to make time for ourselves is selfish. Add the nurturing nature of a nurse to this training, and saying “No” becomes nearly impossible.

You cannot grow creatively without time to yourself. Recognizing what stuff is yours, and what belongs to others is the first step towards self-care and personal growth.

Do you think nurses have more difficulty saying “No” than other professionals? Do you think this problem is gender related? What experiences have helped you learn to say no?

Are You Circling The Drain? Self-Diagnosing A Creativity Resuscitation

Voiceless mixed media on vellum by jparadisi

Voiceless mixed media on vellum by jparadisi

Productivity and creativity are not the same thing. Neither are they mutually exclusive, but they are not the same thing. I didn’t always know this.

Like most nurses, I have always been productive. Whether making things with my hands, painting the dining room, running 10Ks, growing my own vegetables, or hand-making pasta, I often sat down for dinner around 9:00 p.m. It wasn’t until a breast cancer diagnosis flattened me on a couch that I realized the artist inside of me was starving.

In retrospect, there were early symptoms before the differential diagnosis that a creative resuscitation was necessary. Do you have any of these symptoms?

  • You think, “I can do better than that,” when watching friends or colleagues succeed in a creative endeavor. Maybe you can. The question is, why don’t you?
  • You daydream about what your life would be like if you didn’t have commitments to a job, spouse, children, etc.
  • You use the universal sign of creative strangulation: When you talk, you tend to place one hand at your throat, with the thumb and index finger forming a V around it. What words and ideas are you choking back with that hand?
  • You use the universal sign of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders: When you talk, you place one hand on the back of your neck. What burdens weigh heavily on that spot? Can you set any down?
  • You feel vaguely unfulfilled despite your accomplishments.
  • You hang out on the periphery of creative people. You have an inexplicable desire to help them succeed, but don’t believe you possess their level of talent.
  • You’re bored despite high productivity.
  • You fear releasing your creativity will destroy life as you know it. You believe you cannot be fulfilled creatively and hold a job or have a family. Or be a nurse.
  • You knew what you wanted to be when you were a child, and it is not what you are doing as an adult.

Nurses recognize when productivity is mistaken for quality in health care. We sometimes fail to make a similar assessment about ourselves.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms? Can you add to the list?