Bricks to Share

Today I sat over coffee with a friend I love so dearly. It has been months since I’ve seen her and sat with her, face to face. But with her, there is no front. I don’t know how you learn to trust the people you trust, but you just do. And we heaved right in. Because there was so much hard to sift through. So much we needed to share to unfold and refold in the shaping of our lives. Because with the people you trust, you want them to walk alongside you, and know your truth. You want them to know the way she knew when she asked me how I was, and I said I was okay, that I was not in fact okay. She knows who I am, not because we share countless experiences, but because we trust one another to come into each other’s space and be real and see each other’s truths.

She is brave and I am thankful she is where she has found herself on this day. With a lightness in her breath and a freeness in her laugh. She is letting go and moving forward. She is seeing her worth on the other side of so much heavy. I can see there is still struggle to climb through. I hear it in the cracks in her voice and see it in the welling in her eyes. But I am so proud of her and her strength. I am so proud she is choosing to always stay above where the ugly could drag her. Friend, you are mighty, and your kids will look back, wide-eyed, and always feel your love and know you will always be their constant. You will always be their home.

We talked about the often times unbearable amount we shoulder. The home, the meals, the kids, the work, the everything. It is too much and we are breaking. Under all this multi-tasking superhuman proficiency, we are being chipped away. We are weathered. When and how will we crack. You don’t understand unless you understand. I’m not in a space where I can articulate it more than that.

So, we turn to one another.

I remember when I felt like I just could not another moment. My son was sick. I was working an insane stretch. I felt like I couldn’t take in an entire breath. In that moment, it was the community of women that shoulder their own weight that leaned over to hold up mine. I never asked, but they knew. They leaned in with meals, carpooling, texts, and care packages. And every single piece of themselves they invested in me, gave me the air I needed to keep taking full breaths.

It’s hard. I never feel like I can’t do it all. I know I can carry all the bricks up that mountain, and do it well. But when my community shows up to offload this weight one brick at a time, my shoulders lighten. My back hurts less. I have more strength in each step.

This week, I feel more grounded. I feel as if I have the energy to carry an extra brick. I know my community well enough that I know they will not solicit for help in the same way I will not solicit for help. So in the same way they showed up for me, I show up for them. In care packages, in homemade pasta and meatballs, in texts, and in coffee dates. I need them as much as they need me, and that is what true community has taught me. Lean on me and I will lean on you. And when everything feels too heavy, we will lighten one another’s load, one shared brick at a time.

Permission Granted

Today, I am giving myself permission to acknowledge yesterday. I am giving myself permission to say that I feel overwhelmed and sometimes it is too much.

Saying this out loud in itself feels overwhelming. Actively broadcasting feeling overwhelmed means that I don’t have it all together. It feels like an admission to weakness and feeling incapable of handling all the things with command and poise. It sweeps the I-don’tknow-how-she-does-it-all wonderment from right under my legs. This is not who I am–Overwhelmed. I scoff it off. Bury it deeper. Just keep powering forward.

I am juggling it all, with grace, with an eloquent efficiency, and without flinching–not one bit. I can take care of my family, manage my Joanne Gaines curated home, invest in my friendships, be career-driven, and give back to my community, and bear the unexpected without the blink of an eye. These are the delusions I crowd my mind with to push out any doubt.

Overwhelming shouldn’t have a seat at my table.

Last night was one of those nights. I had to stare Overwhelming in the eye. My day began unexpectedly–as I have come to timidly expect these days–with my son waking up with a fever. My husband swamped with work. My girls moving around slowly and forgetfully as if this “getting ready for school” thing was a new wonderment they have never ever, ever experienced. My day, derailed as I preoccupied myself with caring for my sick child, picking up meds, cough drops, disposable masks, soup, crackers and all other things to tend to my son’s cough, sore throat, fatigue, and body aches.

I can see now what I was doing. I was trying to stuff my feelings of having to leave for the night and not be there for my son by over preparing. By overcompensating.

By the time I thought about dinner, my girls were off the bus and barging through the door, wet snow splattering into our front entrance as they dropped their bookbags, kicked off their snow pants and boots and started rummaging the pantry for snacks. One daughter to get ready for dance, the other for hockey, and Mom can you register for the school fundraiser right now and what are we eating for dinner and should I bring a snack or are you packing me a dinner and where is my water bottle? I fought with myself whether I could insert a nap before my overnight shift. I felt as if all the pieces were all tipping on the edge of a wobbly waitress tray. The slightest trip and it would all come tumbling down.

I felt dramatic. I wanted to stop. I wanted to not leave for work. I wanted to be by my son’s side. I wanted to sit on my couch. I wanted to cry. I wanted my daughters to be able to find their water bottles by themselves and remember to have everything they needed for hockey and dance without me scrambling to find the odds and ends. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be calm and in control. I wanted to not raise my voice or sound exasperated. I wanted to handle all the things and not have these emotions. I just wanted to all together give up on tonight. Maybe tomorrow would be better. But there was still so much to push through. I hated how this was all making me feel. Overwhelming, please get up and leave.

Maybe it wasn’t even the events of today that was making me feel so taxed. Maybe it was the culmination of tiny stressors day in and day out. Absorbing each small event and inadvertantly depleting my reserve until there was barely anything to pull from. The reserve is empty. The Overwhelming is sidling loudly and disruptively into its place.

As the queen of compartmentalizing, feeling these emotions bubble over felt irritating and I judged myself for being so dramatic. Emotions are consuming, and there is not time for more consuming things.

So, I tell myself to breathe. One task at a time. One thing at a time. It is not the end of any world. It’s just Overwhelming here to sit alongside you. Shake its hand. Say hi. You can work through this. You will always get to the other side.

Christmas Day Magic

The alarm’s deafening, staccato siren cuts into the thick cloud of sleep and jolts me out of the soft warmth of my sheets. It is 4 am and time to get up for work. The ache in my lower back from wrapping presents and transferring them from their hiding place to under the tree is a reminder that today is Christmas Day. I fumble in the pitch black to find my bearings and ready myself. 

Once I am dressed, packed to go, with my coffee mug security blanket in hand, I feel the sleep that once clung on my eyelids slink away.

I sit in the dark, blanketed by silence. The glow of the Christmas tree reminding me that on the other side of this work day is magic with my family. 

Working holidays is a non-negotiable in my profession, as in many professions. We take our turns, and we are exponentially grateful for the holidays we are off when our colleagues share the load to allow us time with our families. On holidays I am on, I remind myself that it is not the time of day or date that will make the Christmas magic come alive for my family, but the togetherness and traditions we foster, whether in the earliest parts of Christmas morning, or when my work day has ended. 

Once I am in my car, coffee thermos still close by, music turned up, I have fully transitioned to the mental calm I need for the day ahead. With the unpredictability of each day in the Emergency Department, all I know to do is to set a consistent, steady mindset and be prepared for anything.

Christmas Day is no exception. Just like work days do not stop for holidays, neither do illnesses, traumas, and all things unexpected. 

My day starts with a toxic Tylenol overdose closely followed by a patient with COVID-19 struggling to breath. As we work quickly to reverse the damage she has done to her liver with the massive amount of Tylenol she took and simultaneously try to stabilize his breathing three rooms down, I am summoned to the ICU where another COVID-19 patient, who has been on life support for 4 weeks, has suddenly collapsed a lung and is downward spiraling. The family has been called to say their goodbyes. 

The ICU team has been working to expand her lungs with a chest tube. They have called down to the ER looking for backup. I focus on the task at hand, quiet the busy around me, and methodically place a chest tube. Her lung re-expands. Her oxygen levels rise. She lives through Christmas Day.

How much difference I made in her long-term prognosis is yet to be determined, but I am forever grateful that my training and experience let my hands move reflexively and quickly in that moment. She was sedated on life support and may never know I was there that day, and her family may never know I was there either, but I am hopeful this has allowed the magic to stay alive on Christmas day for those that love her. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter. They may never know me, but I will remember her, this day, and have thought about her often since Christmas. 

Death around the holidays has always been a heaviness that we carry with us in the ER. A time of togetherness shattered by loss. The heartbreak magnified by feeling isolated in your feelings of devastating grief when the world around you appears to be swept away in festivities and joy. It is not lost on us in the Emergency Department. We are fighting alongside you to keep the holiday magic alive.

I open the door when I arrive home and I hear my kids’ footsteps pounding down the hall to me, their loud excited voices echoing in a capella. My son yells, “STOP! Don’t touch Mom!” They know the drill. Before they can hug me, I will rid myself of the day’s worth of germs. My seven-year-old halts in her tracks, and trails closely behind me, brimming with anticipation and giddiness, trying to practice patience in her every electric, bounce.

“How was work?” my son asks, as he always does. 

“I saved a mom’s life, so it was really good.” I respond. 

“Is that why you HAD to go to work today?” my seven-year-old asks.

“Yes. That is exactly why.” I tell her. 

I can see now that the magic did not begin at the end of my work day, but started the moment I woke up on Christmas Day. I can walk through my day and be thankful for every minute I was gifted. As our family Christmas morning traditions officially started that day at 4 pm, the day’s events filled me with gratitude for family, for love, and for the lives that would make it through the magic of Christmas day.