Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

It’s been a while WordPress, it’s been a while. Where and how do I even start? I haven’t written anything for the last few years because there were a lot of changes in my life. But for those of you who might be wondering, I’m still a nurse! I moved to Germany last year to work in Elderly Care (I know right?! From Pedriatric to Maternity to Geriatric!).

There’s a lot of struggle working in a new environment, not to mention the language barrier that comes with it. I did study German for a year before coming here but there’s just still so many things to learn and so much to take in that I had no time to write anything. And I feel so sorry for myself (and for the readers, if you’re still there) for not being the usual motivated, inspired writer that I was. Even now, as I am typing these words, I feel like this article is already on a brink of disaster but please, please bear with me. I will revive myself, one word at a time, I promise.

February 7th 2016 was the day I landed on Frankfurt airport on a chilly Sunday morning. I completely underestimated the European weather, wearing only a blue knitted cardigan that was obviously meant for spring. Joke’s on me. But one year of living in Europe has made me realize that winter is actually the least of my worries.

So here I am, fast forward to a year later..a year that has taught me independence, strength, loneliness, and most of all, kindness. I stepped into the door of my new workplace filled with anxiety, hoping that my one year of learning German will not fail me. I greeted everyone with a smile because you can never go wrong with that. After all, first impressions matter when it comes to your first day at work, don’t you think? I spoke to everyone in a formal manner (German has formal & informal) to show respect and decorum, only to be changed after five minutes because it turns out I was making everyone uncomfortable. But I do still speak formally to my bosses and my patients. I blame it on my Asian roots.

Working as a nurse, you think, wherever you are it’s all the same — the theories, the knowledge, the skills. But even though I am an experienced nurse, I am humble enough to say that I don’t know everything. And when I’m not sure of something, I ask. I double check. I practice.

Yet what do I get in return? Belittling remarks like, “Haven’t you learned that in school?” “Did you not understand what I said?” “Don’t you know any knowledge about that?” “Sigh…”

But suck it up, I tell myself. You cannot expect everyone to understand you. There is no shame in asking questions, in wanting to learn and improve yourself. Never apologize for your shortcomings. Smile, be kind.

Nobody told me that working in Elderly Care is a lot like being in a psychiatric ward. Most of them are depressed, aggressive, disoriented. Mehr tot als lebendig (more dead than alive), as they would say in German. I’ve handled different kinds of patients in my entire nursing career, but the elderly has got to be the most challenging. It’s almost like taking care of a toddler, minus the cute part. I slowly see myself getting frustrated, angry, impatient.

But suck it up, I tell myself. You will grow old one day and wish someone was there to take good care of you. And when you reach that point in life, look back and remember how you patiently spoon fed Mr. Z for an hour or how you gathered up your Wonderwoman strength to turn Mrs. B side to side every 2 hours. “It wasn’t an easy job,” you would one day say. So smile, be kind.

In school, our mentors would always tell us that in order to become a successful nurse, one should have these three elements: Knowledge, Skills, Attitude. All three are of course important, but one bears more significance than the others. Working in a multi-racial institution, I met people who are impressively smart and capable. But sadly, not all of them has a heart. I am not a perfect nurse and I admit that I lack in many areas, but I have a lot of love to give. And in this profession, no amount of drug can cure the emptiness these patients are feeling when they’re almost at the end stage of their lives. Sometimes your presence is enough to make them feel okay. So the next time you see an elderly, please smile. Be kind.


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On this particular morning, I woke up deciding to be my melancholic self.

Strange isn’t it? For we have been taught to wake up and pursue happiness each day, and here I am chasing the opposite. I don’t know what made me think this way. It’s probably my lack of plans for the day that had stirred me to be reflective for a little while.

For the past several months, my life has been trailing a get-up-and-go routine. I wake up at 5:30am, leave the house at 6:45am, and arrive just in time for work at the hospital. After 8 hours (and maybe even more) of taking care of sick children, post-partum mothers, and frail elderly…my energy inevitably reduces to nothing which makes it impossible for me to live a little after work. The next day, the same scene happens. But this post isn’t about my life as a nurse, or the lives of the patients I’ve tendered to. I have written no letters for my patients today. This day is for the people who took the time to write me letters of thanks, encouragements, and forgiveness.

On a specific corner of my dresser is a box that draws no particular attention. It has been there for as long as I could remember. What I couldn’t remember was the last time I opened it. And today, I felt the moment it has been waiting for finally arrived. 

Inside the box is a pocketful of memories. It consists of letters from high school friends (some I am no longer acquainted at present), college friends, family members, and even previous lovers. Some are not even letters. They were just post-it notes that have special messages on it. I kept it anyways because regardless of how short the messages were, I believe the person who wrote it put aside a precious time from his/her precious life to write it.

I couldn’t quite well recognize whose signature this is…good thing I know your handwriting too well, Aimee 😉

Yes, brother. I managed to stay single for the rest of my high school years, thanks to you.

The most adorable find in my memory box!

You are a true friend, Jannel! Lol.

Thank you for sending me one of the longest and most touching letter I have ever received :’)

You know you’re in trouble when the guidance counselor starts giving you letters like this.

Rummaging through the 194 letters made me wonder if I was able to write every one back. Was I able to return to them the same special feeling that I felt when they gave me the letter? My heart says “I hope I did,” but my brain thinks otherwise.

It has been a long, long time since I last received a letter. I guess technology snatched away that opportunity to make people feel they are somebody to someone. Reading the letters allowed me to feel an assortment of emotions I cannot even make sense of. It’s like laughing so hard yet tears start to gush from your eyes and you cannot tell apart if you’re sad or just extremely happy. And though I am thankful for technology for making it effortless to communicate with friends, I believe handwritten letters are still a novelty.

Some people are withdrawn to writing their special someone a letter. They are afraid that laying them all out in a piece of paper might diminish the true meaning of what they really feel. But I believe otherwise. I believe it is important to let people know you love them, or that you are sorry for what you did, while you still got a pen and paper on hand. The seasons may change and the years will surely go by, and the people who wrote the letters may not even stay the same, but the letters will remain true till the end of time.

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It must be stressed from the beginning that I was not a born nurse. The entirety of how I fell into the fate of heroism is due to my mother’s imprint. She is a nurse, you see. A born one, who is to be envied. I cannot retrospect a time in our lives where we had been rushed to the E.R because of some queasiness. My mother knew exactly what has to be done, and unless your ailment is debilitating, no such hustling shall take place.

Perhaps I should start my story in my college days where nursing was viewed as a 7/11 store – convenient, available, and accomodating. At least that’s how I pictured it to be before I entered the gates of my university. Of the 181 students who graduated from my high school batch, more or less 50% had chosen the path of nursing. It took me an entire summer to finally come aboard with my fellow nursing compeers. Why? In the primal years of my existence, I knew I was the kind of person who takes the road less traveled. The person who leaps beyond what’s orthodox and doesn’t abide with whatever it is that’s conventional. I was my own person, until circumstances propelled me into a different wave.

The first-year of nursing is a mixture of adjustment and ambivalence. You’ll have your first taste of epic failure, and that leaves you thinking “Was I right in choosing this profession?” I lost count of the many times I’ve pondered on deviating to a more suitable career. Besides, it’s only the first year. It’s not yet too late to make life alterations. But second year, third year, fourth year had passed, and I still found myself on the same ground. What is it in this profession that had kept me unmoved? Perhaps it’s because I was meant to be here and not there. I refused to be beaten by failures in a few units. Besides, it’s good to fail once in a while. You get to learn what your weaknesses are, and once you’re ready, you pick a perfect time to fight back. And by the the perfect time, I meant the final exams.  As what a mentor told me, we learn little from our triumphs and much from our defeat. I never forget.

I did not graduate as cum laude or with any distinction. I was not that smart, apparently. And as much as it pains me to admit this, I’m just like most people. Average. But I won’t bail out to my belief that there is something in me that others don’t have. Someday, when I discover what that is, I promise to write something about it.

Going back to the world of nursing, I’ve found that the people who are supposed to have your back are the ones that end up pulling you down. I had professors who never failed to include sarcasm in their encouragements, who belittle us in every way. A piece of advice: learn to teach your students without crushing their spirits. How would you help them build their confidence if you’re already doubting their ability from the start?

I also have senior nurses who often compare us to their dawning years, back when everything done is ideal. Newsflash: it’s already the 21st century. Gone are the days when sickness were as simple as cough and flu. If you want an ideal nursing care, then give us an ideal nurse-patient ratio. How else would we become effective at work if we’re handling 20 patients per nurse and only a pair of hands?

And to top it all off, I have a mom who is a nurse. Imagine the pressure.

Another thing I’ve uncovered when I started working as a professional is that, what they teach us in school is a far cry from what’s actually happening in the walls of the hospital. When I was a student, I would only be in charge of one patient…when in reality, you get to have ten or more. This is a true test of flexibility that I wished I’ve learnt from school, but didn’t. I may have heard a professor say,”As a nurse, you must be flexible,” or have read it in Kozier’s book or something, but never really got to experience it til now.

In school, they tell you to assume a great measure of emotional distance. Well that’s easy if you’ve only known the patient for a day or two (which is the typical duty days of a student per week), but what happens if you’ve cared for that patient long enough to call him by his first name? What happens if you have to do a post-mortem care to a child whose mother is weeping incessantly in front of you? Do you get to say “Excuse me,” or “Give me a minute..” You can’t. You’d think with all the tragedies we witness in the hospital, we’ve already mastered the art of apathy. Well I tell you this, if you’re a person who cannot connect with a suffering human being then there’s something wrong with you.

In school, they ask you to be nice to other nurses, to greet every doctor you meet in the hallway. But what happens when you don’t get back the respect you unquestionably deserve? For instance, when you call upon a doctor to report a 180/100mmHg blood pressure, you’d anticipate a “thank you for this referral” reply. But instead you’ll get “Go find doctor..this or that,” then they hang up without saying goodbye. You’re lucky enough if they answer the phone, or you’ll end up like a lost bird roaming the grounds of the hospital searching for Doctor Who. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that life in the hospital could get overwhelmingly stressful which does lead to situations such as this. I just hope I was primed for it.

When you’re a student nurse, the only thing you have to worry is to not be late for duty and to come with a complete paraphernalia. And if the gods of sky heard your plea, heavy rains have the power to cancel out your duty. In the real world, you have to attend to work  no matter how atrocious the weather is. What kind of angel of the sickroom are you if you stayed home while everyone else is needing your heroic service? Shame on you.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, if you’re a nursing student or planning to be one, toughen up. I know a lot of people who had the intelligence to pass the board exam, but don’t have the guts to face the true challenge of hospital work. It’s an exhausting job that often requires us to work beyond our shift. We cannot leave the hospital until we drained the last drop of patient’s X catheter. We cannot undo what has been written in patient’s A chart because erasures are prohibited.  You know for a fact that we leave no room for errors when we’re dealing with a human life.

Because of this, I am often visited by nursemares. At times I would be jolted at 2:00 am and call my co-worker who is on duty and ask, “Did I give patient X her medication?? Was I able to drain the fluid from patient A’s chest??” It’s a temporary madness that we nurses are very familiar with, because we know that one inadvertent error can spell the difference between life and death.

Have I mentioned how bummering a nurse’s schedule is? We rarely involve ourselves in social activities because A) We need sleep, B) our shift simply won’tt allow it and C) we need more sleep. There are times I don’t even know what day of the week it is. We nurses work weekends and holidays because people don’t just get sick Mondays through Fridays. This is not a protest for I fully understand the career I have employed myself into. This is simply a verbalization of what it’s really like to be a nurse.

But you have to know, though nursing is the most exhausting job I know, it’s also the most rewarding. It’s true you can get two or more patients for admission on your shift, but you also get to discharge a few whom you’ve helped in their remission. I know I’ve only been working in the hospital for ten months but I am proud of myself for weathering the storms. My principles may not always concede with the hospital’s and my beliefs may differ from my workmates, but at the end of the day, you are your own person. And in those ten months, I was able to deliver a baby into life, and grant a patient’s last wish which is a decent death. Now tell me, what’s more awesome than that?

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“Baby out 1:50pm. It’s a girl,” echoed by the obstetrician who delivered you via C-section. I let out a sigh of relief when the last part of your body was pulled out gently by our medical team. But wait, maybe I was wrong in relinquishing that sigh sooner because I heard no cry and saw no movement from your body.

 And then there’s another problem. You are missing two of your limbs, Aryana. Perhaps a congenital anomaly uncommon to full term babies like you. But first things first, and that is your airway. I kept in mind that your breathing is my priority and the rest, we’ll just have to deal with later. Together with your neonatologist, we rushed you to the cord dressing area and established a clear airway for you. I rubbed your back, an intervention used to stimulate a cry from newborns. I wasn’t very successful with that. All I heard was grunting…but that was better than no cry at all.

“Ready for intubation,” said Dr. Tin. She was about to place the laryngoscope in your mouth when suddenly, you let out a laborious cry. It wasn’t blatant, but any cry from you would be very much acknowledged. Be proud Aryana, you just saved yourself from manual ventilation.

But the battle isn’t done yet. I now have to face the dilemma of your absent limbs. Yet what can I do? I am a  nurse, not a miracle worker. But rather than focus on what I am  incapable of doing, I turned to what I am empowered to do. I spoke with your father and shared with him your brief and honest situation. Of course it’s your doctor’s job on filling your family with pathologic explanation. The technicalities of your case are left to her, while my job is to provide your family with words of comfort. For me, that is an even harder task because anyone can explain the physiologic deficiency of your body, but to say “it’s going to be alright” to a family who’s already dismayed by the outurn of events is a crucial toil. Giving words of encouragement to them is like watering an already dead plant. Useless and disappointing.

But you are my priority Aryana, your family comes second. And as I am writing you this letter, you were already discharged from the hospital. I wish to tell you a lot of things,  but know that you are much too young to understand. I’ll say it anyway for I don’t want to let time pass with words left unsaid.

Baby Aryana, you are a gift from God. You are His masterpiece regardless of how you look like. What you lack doesn’t define who you are. You may not become a famous runway model, but maybe in time you’ll discover some talents with your hands. Perhaps become a painter, or a writer like me. The world is harsh, so be strong. Remember, you have to be brave with your life so others can be brave with theirs. Be an inspiration.

You are a blessing, Aryana. Please never forget that.

Sincerely yours,

Your NICU nurse.

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