Returning To Hoyt Street, Everything Has changed

photo: jparadisi

photo: jparadisi

I’m standing in line at the Post Office on Hoyt Street, along with at least fifty other people waiting to mail Christmas packages. It’s been two years since I wrote the post, Miracle On Hoyt Street, describing a similar experience.

Things have changed since then. Not gradually over two years, but abruptly. On Tuesday, December 11, 2012, we Oregonians experienced our first, and hopefully last, mass shooting at the Clackamas Town Center. One of the two dead, Cindy Yuille was a hospice nurse. I did not know her.

On Friday, December 14, 2012, twenty elementary school children and six faculty members were gunned down mercilessly in Newtown, Connecticut by a twenty-year old attacker we still don’t know very much about.

What is the differential diagnosis dividing the mentally ill from the criminally insane?

Today, standing in line while waiting my turn to mail packages, Christmas songs play on the same scratchy speakers as two years ago, but this time I feel unexpectedly anxious. I realize I am uncomfortable being in a crowded public place. I look around for my old nemesis, the postal clerk who was the Newman to my Seinfeld. She is not here. Perhaps she has retired, that lucky bitch (insert smiley-face emoticon here). Then suddenly, in my imagination, the remaining clerks behind the counter resemble ducks in a shooting gallery.  It occurs to me that they risk their lives daily, standing behind that counter in a large, freely accessed lobby without security. That thought causes me to look around and find available exits, which are scant. Would my best chance of survival be to race towards one, or hit the ground and pray I’m missed? I shake my head to clear it, and glance at the booklets of stamps available for purchase. One features a picture of the cartoon character Nemo with his father. I chomp down hard on the gum in my mouth to prevent the tears from coming back as I think of fathers swimming the vast seas, searching for children who no longer exist.

When I finally reach the counter, I thank the clerk for her good work, and wish her a Merry Christmas.

Home again, I make a special dinner to share with David when he returns from work. I say a silent prayer of gratitude when he walks safely through the door.

Over a glass a wine, I tell him about my anxiety at the Post Office. He understands, says everyone is feeling it too. He puts his arm around me, and pulls me close, while we watch It’s a Wonderful Life in the glow of Christmas tree lights.

The Season of Lights





photo by: JParadisi 2009

          The other day I wondered if my blog posts are depressing this time of year when people are celebrating the holidays. Who wants to hear about medication errors and cancer when there are family gatherings and parties to attend? My concern was validated when I read oncology nurse Teresa Brown’s blog. She told a story about shaving the head of a cancer patient losing her hair from chemotherapy. In response, one commenter posted that she will no longer read Teresa’s blog because it’s too depressing.    
     Yep, that’s what I was afraid of.        

     While I understand reading about hospitalized people can feel sad, to stop there is missing the point. I believe nurses write stories about encounters with their patients because of the universal truths of humanity they relate. Whether poignant or humorous, the stories shine a light on the characteristics that connect us all as part of the human race.       

      This is the season of lights.       

     Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, walked the hallways of an army hospital during the Crimean war, shining the light of her lamp on wounded soldiers while making her rounds. To her patients, she was known as The Lady with the Lamp.       

     Nurses, at our best, bring light to patients, by listening to their stories while delivering expert care. Treatment, especially cancer treatment, can feel like a season of darkness one must travel through to find the light at the end. Some patients will never leave the dark season of a chronic illness, and for them, nurses are there to hold the small lamps of hope needed to guide them along their journey.       

     This is the season of lights. During the darkest time of year, our society strings lights from our homes and businesses. We string lights around the trees outdoors, and those we bring into our homes. We light the Menorah during the Festival of Lights. We light our way through the season of darkness, and remind ourselves that nature’s light will return.       

     Nurses tell the stories that guide us through long shifts with fearful patients. The stories bring us back for the next shift and the next, until a string of these stories lights our careers, and our lives, until each of one of us finds our unique purpose in the darkness.       

     This is the season of lights.