Bear Hug

Some days, you wonder if you are doing enough, caring enough, loving enough.

You go to rounds and hear things like doctors don’t care or don’t spend enough time with patients.  And you sit there wondering how you can do more.  Because maybe, just maybe, they could be right.

You spend time researching to help someone.  You talk someone through even the simple things.  Sometimes you just make small talk because it seems right.  You stay late.  You go in early.  You think about them when you are home.

Then, someone you cared for dies.  And you get a big, tearful bear hug from the most challenging family member.

Suddenly, it is all worth it.  Suddenly, I believe it might just be enough.  Suddenly, I remember God put me here for a reason.

The saddest airport

Today marks our last day visiting the city where I did med school and where we spent our first 3 years of marriage.  

It was a great trip.

I’m sad it is over.

I’m sure I will share more of the awesome stuff I learned and the places we visited.

But for now, I must share that the airport here is one of the most depressing airports I have ever been in.  It isn’t the ugliest, or the sketchiest, or the smallest or biggest or any of those.  I have been stuck here a few times but not as many as in other places.  But, to me it is always sad.  

Maybe it is because I arrived here too many times with nobody there to greet me (actually I did have friends pick me up sometimes, but often it seemed we were on our own).  Maybe it is because I was always dropping off people to leave .  Or sometimes I was leaving people.  

The airport is on two levels.  Arriving, you can see people awaiting those who they love.  It is great when you see your person from either end.  It stinks when you are on your own.

But worse is when you are leaving or having someone leave.  There is an escalator to the secure area.  So, it is like they leave slower.

I’m sad to leave today.  We had fun with great friends.  I nerded it out at a good conference.  But, now it is time to get back to real life.  And likely not see our lovely friends for at least a year or so.

This airport makes me sad.  Okay, it is probably the circumstance.  But, I blame the airport.

How Did That Happen?: How I Survive Breaking Bad News

It is due time for another How Did That Happen? post. This one is How I Survive Breaking Bad News. Not how to break bad news. That gets covered all over the place. I’m talking about the facing people later, living the rest of your life kind of survival.stethoscopes1

This one is a result of my week of breaking bad news. I know, I am an oncology resident. More days than not, I break bad news. I tell people about pathology reports they don’t want to hear about. I tell them they have cancer (not always for the first time, but sometimes for the first time they really process it). I tell them their cancer is back. That it isn’t curable. That they need treatments they didn’t want. That they are going to die… Soon.

Breaking bad news is tough. So tough it is its own section in many med school communication classes. So tough most people do a crappy job of it because they are scared.

I’m a weirdo. I don’t love breaking bad news, but I like to do it. Because I believe people have the right to know the truth. And to hear it in such a way it is understood and compassionate.

This week has been especially bad newsy. From clinic to call to pediatric brain tumor clinic, I have delivered or been in on delivering all kinds of crumminess. It wears on a person.

  • It is okay to cry. Seriously. Sometimes, stuff is really tough and you just have to let it out. I’m not saying sob on the shoulder of the person you are talking to, but it is okay to shed some tears then or later.
  • It is okay to be angry or disappointed or relieved. Emotions are good.
  • I’m going to sound cliché, but reflect on it. Sometimes, you say stuff that is stupid or comes off the wrong way and other times it goes well. Actually think back on it, even if it is tough and then learn from it and move on. I tend to really stew on things, so this is something I’m working on.
  • Find the rays of hope. This is also helpful when delivering and discussing the news, but I really mean it is important for me too.   Sometimes, I start to feel like I am the grim reaper or that life is a miserable existence. It is good to find the bright sides, like how fortunate I am, how that person will have a good outcome or good days or whatever. Just something positive.
  • Count your own blessings. If I get really discouraged, I find it helpful to think of how fortunate I am despite the bad in the world.
  • Talk about it. Confidentiality is important to maintain, but there is nothing wrong with discussing it with co-workers involved in the case, or even just your thoughts around it without disclosing details with a friend or family member.
  • Have an outlet. I sing and dance like a fool. Or exercise. Or write. Just something not work that helps get some of that badness out.
  • Do something happy. I like ice cream. Or spending time with friends. Or music. Or books.
  • Mix it up. This isn’t always an option. But, I love that my job involves lots of time on the computer doing technical stuff or research, not just difficult conversations. I also love that there are really good positive things mixed with the difficult in clinics.
  • My faith is super helpful to me at those times too.

What are your bad news survival tips?

“BIFFs’ Weekend”

Last weekend, we had yet another awesome weekend.

We went away to a place near Kouchibouguac National Park with two of my best friends and their husbands (Child&D and L&C).  We decided last year to make it an annual tradition to go on a “BIFFs’ trip” (BIFFs is a word we made out of the abbreviation best friends forever back when we were in very early undergrad… We don’t really use it anymore, but it works in the context of naming the trip).  A trip where V&D, L&C and Child&D and Patrick and I could go away just (kind of) like old times no matter where we were in this world.  

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that all of us could go.  I was very disappointed.  Such is life.  But, we went to the park from our separate corners of country and met for a weekend adventure.  It was all the more exciting for me because it was most of their first times there and it was where I spent a large chunk of my childhood summers.

Although it was my second weekend full of people, it was worthwhile.  We saw lots of beautiful scenery (and Child too tons of pictures).   I took people on random back road adventures.  I got to eat scallops at this place we always stopped at when I was a kid.  We took L and Child for their first trips on kayaks.  We saw giant man-eating (okay, not really man-eating that we know of) jellyfish and caught all kinds of marine life at the beach.  We ate a ton of food.  Played some games, including one of my favourites, Bang where the other outlaws and I won, read books and laughed a bunch. IMG_0202 IMG_0214IMG_0197IMG_0219

A highlight of the trip was the fact that the house next door seemed to be particularly sketchy and had a lot of animals.   We think that a very feral looking cat who hung around while we cooked and barbecued was part of that household.  When we went out for a bonfire that evening, we acquired a very adorable kitten, who crawled into all of our laps and ate our hot dogs (she stole them from beside someone while she snubbed him).  Patrick had to try really hard to get her to go back to what we thought was her home, only to have her show up crying at our cabin door.  She wasn’t the only one, as it turned out, cats started appearing everywhere once night fell.  IMG_0230 IMG_0224 IMG_0226

I’m lucky to have friends who have been around since I was an awkward teenager (or even tween… ugh), or who I have stuck with since they were awkward teenagers.  I know not everyone is so fortunate.  Yes, that proves to be challenging because people do grow up, get married and change, but they are the closest things I have to siblings, so I’m stuck with them for life.  Even if it is sometimes insanely difficult for some and suspiciously easy for others.

A terribly embarrassing "selfie" from Christmas vacation 2007.  Back when the Child was still literally a Child.

A terribly unflattering photo from Christmas vacation 2006(?).  Back when the Child was still literally a Child.

So, I have someone who gets up early, drinks coffee by the pound and discusses things like books, life and music.  I have someone else who hugs me more than anyone else I know (less my mother and my husband) and somehow understands my crazy and knows what I actually am feeling even when I don’t.  I have someone who will always laugh hard and long at stories with me (even if they shouldn’t be that funny).  The cool part is that although everyone is unique, they all crossover too.  

Pretty cool, huh?

My Kind of Husband

I have the kind of husband who let’s me play in the waves at the beach for hours. Even if he’s cold.

He is also the kind who celebrates anniversaries a week early because Im on call on the real one.

My husband is also the kind who gives me cancer for our anniversary (the giant microbe kind) and is okay with the fact it is probably my favourite part of the gift.

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1 week to five years and we’re still alive!!

White As Snow

The M family has been on the road (minus our guard cat, Jeter). 

Vacation is a beautiful thing.  Especially when it is spent with friends and family (and good books and beautiful scenery).  It is late, we are still away and I am lazy, so no pictures for today.

I just wanted to quickly share a song that has been on my heart.  It is called “White As Snow” apparently, although, I thought it was called “Create In Me” so it took some epic searching to track down the actual song and not some random hymn.  We have been singing it a fair bit in church the last few months and some words in the song are taken from Psalm 51.  

 

 

 

 

Have mercy on me, oh God

According to your unfailing love

According to your great compassion

Blot out my transgressions

Have mercy on me, oh God

According to your unfailing love

According to your great compassion

Blot out my transgressions

 

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

 

The sacrifices of our God

Are broken in a contrite heart

Against you and you alone

Have I sinned?

The sacrifices of our God

Are broken in a contrite heart

Against you and you alone

Have I sinned?

 

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of my salvation

 

Wash me white as snow

And I will be made whole

Wash me white as snow

And I will be made whole

Wash me white as snow

And I will be made whole

Wash me white as snow

 

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

I have been struggling with anger and guilt and a whole host of other emotions because of a friend and some other crummy circumstances life has thrown my way.  They have come to a head of late and I stated to notice some of my behaviours and tendencies.  To be honest, I don’t like them.  I also realized that although some circumstances are crummy, some people don’t always treat me the way I know I should be treated and some difficulties are bigger than I can fix, it doesn’t mean I can’t pray through them and love and act in such a way that demonstrates grace.  I haven’t been so grace filled.

And yes, I am human.  And yes, I am allowed to feel hurt.  But, it is wrong for me to be bitter.  And I shouldn’t be spiteful (even if it seems satisfying in my head at the time).  Really, I choose how I feel.  And yes, feelings are just feelings, but continuing to fester can be harmful.  And it is sinful.

So, basically I have been reminded that those thoughts, those tendencies, although completely human, they are wrong and hurtful to God.  And in the end, they are hurtful to me and those around me.  But, most importantly, they are wrongdoings against God who has done a ton for me and loves me despite the crap I do.

I don’t deserve to be forgiven for some of this garbage.  But, the cool part is that God has taken care of all that stuff.  A big sacrifice.  And I keep getting second chances.  And that is awesome.  And should make me more excited than it does sometimes.

I really want to be restored to that kind of joy.   The happiness that comes from knowing what I have been saved from and how loved I really am.  I want to move away from some of my harshness and bitterness.  I want to love those who hurt me and those who seem beyond my reach.  I want to be patient.  I know there is no magic switch.  Relationships are hard.  Life is complicated. I’m human.  

But, He is God.  So, He can move me in the right direction better than I or anyone else can.  So, this song is my prayer.

Reuniting With Some Favourites

I had the best weekend.

We spent time with the core group from our small group from when we lived on that lovely island for med school.  The 7 of us were together for basically 3 years and other people came and went.  It is the first time we were ALL together in 2 years.  I have been looking forward to this time, since I found out it would happen in May.

There are people that life is simple with.  There are people that, for introverts like me, barely count as people.  Who you can just exist with and not feel completely drained.  The kind of people you can just pick up where you left off and hardly miss a beat.

These are those people. 

We went to Magic Mountain, a pretty awesome water park.  We played mini golf.  We made up our very own road trip game to drive to one couple’s home complete with mid-trip car switches.  We stayed up until 2 in the morning playing Sing Star and were up and off to the races again at 10.  We explored a market and watched Highland games.  We grocery shopped and went to games stores.  We BBQed and lounged around just talking for hours.  We played a million new board games until almost 2 in the morning again.  We went to church, we went to lunch and had a great discussion.  

I barely took any pictures except at the Highland games.  

I love that we can be real with each other.  Really, truly honest and open about where we are.  That we can talk about tough stuff.  And in the next breath crack jokes about being “tied and pleasured” (long story).

It was a full weekend.

I was sad it was over.  

We are blessed to have many good friends.  Despite that, we have been feeling discouraged because we don’t have as many close friends where we live currently (but we still have a few we are attached at the hip to), but part of that is because it is so rare to have the kind of friendships we have with this crew we spent the weekend with.  God provided us with great people when we needed them in a certain way and I know He is doing the same here, just in different ways.  It has been a slow go feeling like we are a part of things here.  And part of that is because it was so easy when we were there.  And maybe that is because we needed it to be at that time.

Community stretches you and grows you.  Spending time with what was our main community was amazing.  And comforting.  And a true testament to how awesome God is.  Our church here encourages community, and I can sense the community, but it is bigger and broader than what I once knew in some ways and the relationships, like people are different.  But, then again, so are we.  It is a good thing.  

I am thankful for full weekends.  And friends who change and yet stay the same.  And for the comfort that comes from really loving and knowing people.

We get to go away with some other very special friends this weekend.    People we have known and loved much of our lives. I am super excited.  So, really, we are very fortunate.  Two awesome weekends in a row!

I have a musical interlude for this post.  A song that was stuck in my head the whole weekend and, well, is still stuck in my head.  It isn’t quite about amazing friends or community and yet, in some ways, it fits because of the concept of coming together.  

A Good Father Gives Good Gifts

A good father gives good gifts.

This is a concept that I don’t struggle with. At leat not the statement itself.

I was fortunate to grow up with an awesome Dad who provided for my needs and many of my wants. So, the fact that God would do that too, doesn’t stretch my imagination too far.

And yet it does.

I was talking about this with some friends from church last week and it has been coming up in the study I am doing this Lent season.

God gives good gifts. Tons and tons of them.

For some people, that alone is tough to process because they grew up in environments where that doesn’t seem plausible. Where their loved ones didn’t provide good gifts, so the concept that God would is tough to grasp.

For me, it is tough to process because that is a lot of gifts. And those gifts don’t always seem good.

The thing is, that sometimes we are so needy that we miss out on the real gifts. And we miss out on the biggest gift of all, Jesus.

In church a couple weeks ago, we were talking about how we really shouldn’t be giving God ultimatums. Because ultimatum faith is not faith at all. The concept that we will believe if we see a sign. We will believe if good things happen. That our faith is based on our day to day experience only. That can’t be the case. There needs to be trust. Our reality needs to be changed.

Realistically, there have already been signs. The whole water into wine thing… A sign that God provides the best for his people. The whole healings and miracles chunk of time, again, sign of provision, sign of who He is, etc.

Should that be enough?

I mean, there is a place for seeking signs.  It happens in the Bible.  But, in our discussion it was that people sought signs in faith that God would respond.  And it wasn’t an I’ll do this if you do that kind of sign.  It was a seeking evidence for God’s will sort of thing.  And even then, if  you get down to it, often, it was more of a confirmation because the human was doubtful than a necessity.

I am an empirical person, so I admit that it is tough for me sometimes, as I am sure some of you reading this think I am bat crazy. But, I have read around the manuscripts and the origins of the documents and have drawn conclusions that God and Jesus make sense to me.  And that those gifts are good gifts.  And that the changes in me are good gifts that couldn’t be because of me alone.

The reading I have been doing asked the question last week that also kind of followed along with something we were discussing at church.

How would the presence of God be more satisfying to you than answers from God? –Huag and Walker (2013)

Agh. That is a tough one.

I would love to say that I am super holy and that the presence of God is always satisfying without answers.

I would be lying.

Realistically, I know the statement is true. The presence of God is comfort and peace and joy, but it just isn’t simple and happy go lucky butterflies and rainbows.

Answers are tangible. They are the evidence for an empirical mind. And I want answers because I like being worldy brand happy. I want my career to be perfect, I want my family and friends to be happy and healthy, I don’t want to worry about money or housing and I want to have kids. The thing is answers aren’t always what we think they should be and answers will only satisfy me for so long.

I have been struggling with answers. It is tough sometimes to remember that an all knowing, loving God is present when you are hurting and longing for something you can’t have.

It brings me back to ultimatum faith.

Belief because I got what I wanted and acts of faith because I want something. Or disbelief because I can’t have something. That when bad stuff happens, God must be judging us and we aren’t good enough.

It just doesn’t work long term. In fact, it can get to be soul crushing.

I have been learning, especially over the last year or so about valuing the presence of God even when things aren’t going right, when I’m not happy, when things are tough and when loss happens. I have lots of gifts. More than I can ever count. More than I realize I even have. My last couple years have been emotional roller coasters.  But, I feel best in the presence of God because that is better than the stuff I have here in the long run. Sometimes the best gift is no gift at all. Just time and love.

I am striving to switch my perspective. To value the presence over the gifts all the time, not just when it is easy or when things are going terribly or awesomely. Kind of like we should enjoy time with our loved ones, not what they give us.

Presence of God is more permanent than answers. Sure, it is more fluffy sounding, but really it is more hearty.

A good father gives good gifts.

I am thankful for that. I like my gifts. But really, in order to be a good father and give good gifts, being around is key, otherwise you can’t know what to give when. You need to know who you are gifting to.

And that is why I prefer the presence of God. Even if I like the gifts.

Happy Patrick Day

20140317-212540.jpgIt is St. Patrick’s Day.  Patrick calls it his day.

It makes sense, he is both Irish and his name is Patrick.

Unlike the town where I went to med school, it is not a day off of work here for him.  Sad face.  So, he bribed his class for the day with cupcakes commemorating his day.

Therefore, on the way home from the gym, the Child and I bought him an appropriately titled cake.  It confused the guys working at the Dairy Queen.  My eating a too big piece of it probably cancelled out the 5k we ran.

It made us smile.

 

Learning in Ultrasound: A Person is a Person…

I can’t believe how fast February flew by.  It is Medical Monday again, which means time to link up with some other lovely medically affiliated blogs.  Check them out at the link below.

As you may know, I am on a radiology rotation.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time I go see some ultrasound imaging.  Other aspects of imaging are more comfortable for me (especially Nuc Med for obvious reasons), but ultrasound is my black box, so I figured learning is good.  So, I am doing ultrasound at the hospital where I usually work.  Lots of livers and thyroids and kidneys.

Then, up on the screen pops up a perfect looking 8 week embryo.  Cool, I think to myself, that might be my kid in another four weeks.

Image from babycenter.com.

I then remembered that all of the obstetrical ultrasounds are generally done at the children’s hospital unless there is someone in emerg.  I asked why this ultrasound was done at the hospital we were at.

Its for the TPU replied the fellow.

Termination of pregnancy unit.

My heart sank.

He said I could leave if I wanted to.  But really, this is part of my learning.  Part of life in a hospital and in this world.

I watched him read four ultrasounds of perfect little embryos between 6 and 11 weeks all with heartbeats and the works.  Perfect little embryos that might have otherwise grown up, although it is tough to say for sure because bad stuff happens.

I went home and cried to Patrick because it seemed so sad and so unfair that these babies had to die when maybe they wouldn’t.  It seemed so unfair that so many women want babies so badly and yet here are people who for whatever reason or circumstance don’t or can’t want their own.

Just over a week later, after losing my own baby, Elim, I sat in that department again.

Yet again, I saw babies getting their photo taken to confirm that they were indeed alive (because the procedure is different if they are alive or dead).  I saw one person who had terminated pregnancies 6 times.

I had an overwhelming urge to go in and yell at these people.  To tell them that I am here, working and trying to piece together what is left of my sanity because my baby died before it would have even been very visible on an ultrasound.  That I really wanted that baby.  That it isn’t fair that they get to choose, but I can’t.  To ask a big huge why.

But, I didn’t.

Because that isn’t fair of me (or very professional).

Their baby dying, my baby dying, really, it is all a loss.  Those kids are all with God now.  They all had potential.  They all died because they were made in a fallen world full of brokenness.

That mom may mourn the loss of her child like I do.  Everybody grieves differently.   Maybe not now, but maybe later.  I have heard of the struggles of moms who make that decision.  And maybe she won’t.  I can’t put myself entirely in her shoes.

We aren’t very good at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.  We are, however, really good at trying to point out other people’s wrongs.

Image from chzbgr.com.

I’m not here to have the pro-choice or pro-life debate.  In fact, I don’t want to hear it because it is often hurtful, overdone and narrowminded on both sides of the coin.  Sin is sin.  Death is death.   Pain and anguish are universal.   We have free will.  That is all on that.

I read this blog post from The Lewis Note called “Why Miscarriage Matters When You’re Pro-Life.”   It was strangely timely based on the adventures of the last few weeks.  Check it out.

I read this post the night after my second day in the ultrasound department when I was really struggling with the value of life and how we see it as a society.

It rocked my world.  Because it is so true, especially in a Christian context, but I am sure it works for others as well.

I have already experienced both the good and the bad sides of this post.  Some people are really nice.  Other people aren’t.  And some nice people say stupid stuff (I sure do).

Thinking on how I responded to people who lost kids at the same point, I think I had empathy and sympathy for both.  I think I did place more value on the aborted baby.  I also think I had more sympathy for that child’s mother because there was action and potential.

Looking at scans, it is the same.  Already dead babies are already dead, so in a way, it seemed less sad than about to babies about to die.

That isn’t necessarily fair of me.

Both an electively aborted baby and a spontaneously aborted baby were both alive at one point and had potential and value.

And then, there is our approach to the mothers and fathers.

Don’t forget the fathers.  Many people do.

Everyone needs love.  It doesn’t matter how voluntary a loss was, it doesn’t matter how old the child was (although this does often impact they way people can grieve and what is considered “acceptable”).  You need people willing to live the grief with you.  To sit it out with you because that is what you might need, even when it is uncomfortable (just like sitting through scans that are upsetting helps us to learn and grow in a different way).

If you claim to care about a person, to care about life, then you should stand by the mourning no matter what they are mourning and no matter how long that what was alive.  If you want some practical suggestions and examples, check out that post.  I am the first person to admit that I tend to project my feelings on others, so if I think something would weird me out, I tend to avoid doing that for someone else or letting someone do it for me.  I’ve learned that I am often wrong and my assumptions were totally incorrect.  If you aren’t sure how to help or love someone where they are at, ask.

I guess I’m learning more than I anticipated on this radiology rotation.