princess jewels

May 15, 2022

She was one of our last few patients on a Friday afternoon. It had been a long week and I, for one, was feeling the weight of all the needs. And, in this work, there are so many. You may have heard mention of a national shortage of baby formula. If you wondered if it  was real, I, for one, am inclined to think that it is: mothers come into the clinic telling us they are feeding their infants regular soy milk, unable to find baby formula on the shelves. As they are about to check out, we hand over a tin from our shelf of donated formula but know that it is not enough . . . never enough . . .

But I digress. As I do.

Feeling the weight of all the needs, I began to take vitals for a new patient yesterday afternoon. Her parents, young and conscientious, took note as I jotted down her weight. They mentioned that she hadn’t lost as much as they were afraid she might have, newly recovered from a bug that had left her unable to eat for several days. She had been to an Urgent Care clinic, they explained, as I tried to get her height and realized that she was terrified of the disc I needed to place on her head for the measurement. With three of us joined in the effort, I managed to get a number down. When it came time for the pulse reading, I put my stethoscope on, held up the chest-piece, and knelt in front of her. “You know what this does?” I asked, She gazed at me, clearly hesitant. “It hears your heart!” I said. “Do you want to listen to your heart?”

I then made a show of listening to my own heart. ( thought, to be quite honest, I was realizing that I should take the time to do so more regularly—it was rather interesting to hear my own heartbeat ;-) ) 

Watching me with only a slight bit of lingering wary-ness, I saw a guard let down as she nodded, yeah.

I smiled and told her that she’d have to watch me REALLY carefully in order to learn how to listen to it. I then put that stethoscope to her chest and, while she quietly and calmly watched me, I counted out her pulse rate. By the time it was her turn, I had the number I needed, and she was happily engaged in the game of it all. I knelt in front of her, holding the stethoscope to her chest after fitting the earpieces into hers. A few moments later, I lifted my eyebrows dramatically and mouthed the words, “Do you hear it?”

She slowly, and solemnly, nodded her head.

The rest of the vitals were also a game, from that point on, fully enjoyable for me no less than for her, as I got to smile back at her wide-eyed grin. She proudly wore the “crown” I placed on her head to measure the circumference, and she smiled when I “lasered” her with the thermometer.

Looming in my awareness of her newly gained trust, however, was the knowledge that I would soon have to break it: she was predicted, I knew, for two vaccines after the doctor had seen her . . .

Sure enough, 20 minutes later, the light went on in the nurse’s station. The other nurse and I prepped the syringes and walked back in to her room.

Her smile faded ever so slightly as we arranged her in her father’s arms, positioning her little frame. And then the first needle went in, and back out again, and tears began. Prepared to grab her legs, I realized with surprise that she was not fighting. She cried, but sat still and stoic in her father’s grip.

A moment later it was done, bandages were in place, and I told her I had a prize for her. I pulled out of my pocket the cloth purse I had chosen out of our treasure chest. And I told her that, inside, were her princess jewels. “You wore your crown already,” I said, and now you get to put on your jewels.” Still teary-eyed, she pulled out the little bracelet and slipped it on her wrist. I stood up to then and said goodbye to her parents and to her. As I walked out of the room, she looked straight at me and, through her sniffles, tears still rolling down her cheeks, she lifted her jeweled hand, waving while she tried to get out the words, “Bye-bye.”

She wasn’t the only teary-eyed one in the room that day. But she was certainly the bravest.

*photo is not mine. simply a royalty-free image that I found lovely.

life

May 8, 2022

Death is evil.

I wrote those words some time ago on a post about my GramBea’s death.

War is evil.

I said these words tonight, sitting down with my husband after adieu’ing our dinner guest. I was picking up my newest book, entitled Silver Like Dust, and had paused, looked up from my book, and read out loud the words that brought tears to my eyes when spoken out loud. Words of hate that were printed in a newspaper, spoken about an entire race, during a war. I sputtered through the words, saying when I finished, “That was actually printed! . . . How????.” 

Peter nodded, and commented, calmly, that war does that—dehumanizes people.

Stunned, it occurred to me then that, yes, we are probably seeing a similar sort of dehumanization happening in the all-too-real present war we are witness to.

And, yet, today . .. 

-I chat with a woman I know only through regular stops are her workplace. We share a brief, teary-eyed coversation about the truth of the ambivalence that Mother’s Day brings to those of us who do not fit into the standard boxes . . .

-I am the recipient of an act of simple, loaves-and-fishes kindness . . . yet again . . .

-I sit in awe at the sight of a super-human dancer, while in the midst of a Yo-Yo Ma playlist. The man appears to be made of rubber, in a sublimely graceful series of motions. I stop my reading and gaze at the beauty of a human being who is in pure, uninhibited, un-self-conscious motion.

I marvel.

Life is good.

*photo is from the last day of a long week in the clinic. Getting our new workplace set up, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that I get to work for a place where we, recognizing the pain that we encounter each day, are willing to creatively insert bright spots into the lives of the little ones coming in for care. “Follow the dragon,” we say, as we usher patients out of the rooms. Wide-eyed stares turn to smiles when they see that yes, indeed, there is a dragon just waiting for them to find him :-)

a piece

April 29, 2022


Sometimes there are so many needs and so many demands that it starts to feel overwhelming. In this new role I’ve been getting used to, as a healthcare worker, I’ve often felt hesitant and unsure…at times, even, incompetent. Today I was feeling the weight of a week of long days and great needs. A homeless patient with an infant. A 5 year old with cancer.
So much pain.

So many needs.

And I, in my newbie role, know too little to be able to help in ways I wish I could.

As we are moving the clinic this week, our practice is trying to carry on while equipment is carted out and chaos is mounting. Some of the supply cabinets have already been moved out of the exam rooms, so for a few visits the doctor I was scribing for would stop in the middle of an exam to go grab an ear piece for the otoscope. Before going into the next patient visit I stuck a few of the pieces into my pocket. Sure enough, a few minutes later she paused, about to leave for the earpiece. I reached into my pocket and handed her a pair. She laughed out loud and, for a moment, it felt like, maybe, somehow, it would all be ok … in the midst of all the pain.

There seems so little I can do. But, at the end of the day, I can at least be the “ear piece holder extraordinaire” for one hard-working and great-hearted practitioner. And today, that is enough.

loaves and fishes

April 24, 2022


An email from an old friend brought a happy dose of fond memories and happy smiles today, thinking of the walks and talks we used to enjoy. She spoke of blooming flowers and simple meals. Then she mentioned the hand and wrist pain she was experiencing, that was threatening her work as a florist. I recalled the months I spent recently, unable to run and limping when I walked, and I ached for this kind friend who spent decades teaching art in a remote Zambian village, before returning to her homeland in Ontario. This is what I wrote to her, amongst other farming and flowery chitchat …

A funny thing happened this afternoon as I was picking up groceries. I was looking for coffee and saw a kind we really liked that was listed as on sale for a great deal (Bustelo, if you want a coffee rec 😂). The nearest department was the meat section so I went over to ask the gentleman, who had his back to me, if I could get help. He came over and, when he did, I noticed that he was in the middle of making sushi. Looking at the display of packaged sushi then, I couldn’t help but gaze longingly, wishing I could feel justified in such a splurge. I asked him a bit about his work and then he asked me what my favorite kind of sushi was. When I told him that anything with either raw or smoked salmon was my preference, he picked up one of the packages and said, “Just a minute…” Several moments later the small man returned. He handed me a bag, said “The receipt is in there.” Winking a bit, he added “Enjoy.”

I was so dumbfounded I really couldn’t properly thank him. Dinner tonight was a series of quietly thankful bites. It’s been probably a good 5 years since I had something similar-most recently probably the Korean version when we attended a Korean Church in Ghana. 

Kindness. Sometimes I forget how long it’s been since I experienced pure kindness from a stranger. But when it happens, it reminds me that the goodness is bravely and courageously waging war with the so-prevalent and threatening evil.

*photo is of our recent Easter weekend spread, joined by a friend for a simple biscuits and ham dinner. No complaints here about our usual farm fare 😂)

good

April 16, 2022

Good Friday. It almost slipped right by me this year. I started out the morning in a rush of work-panic, going over the past few days’ clinic documents. The nurse I had worked with Wednesday noticed a confusion on the schedule and, for a harrying few minutes, I was terrified that I’d made a mistake, messing up my Spanish speaking , and giving vaccines to a child who wasn’t supposed to get them. I’d already been on edge about the weighty role I’d recently stepped into, and the prospect of error was truly terrifying, with little ones in my care. As it turned out, I’d done everything correctly. Perhaps in part due to the heightened level of awareness that this healthy stress creates? But the moments of panic were there nonetheless, so that by the end of the workday I realized I was still trembling slightly, if I slowed down enough to allow it … this, then, is Good Friday. Fitting, perhaps? I selfishly dwell today on the reality that I have been the cause of temper tantrums in 4 year olds and panicky screams in 1 year olds. I don’t blame them in the slightest, as I blubber out “Lo siento”s while plunging needles into little limbs. No wonder that other nurses I work with have spoken of Walmart sightings of patients, provoking screaming children at a glimpse of their needle-bearing devil incarnate.

And then, in order to fulfill what was written, He said “I am thirsty,”

A jar of sour wine was there, and so they dipped a sponge into it and lifted it to His lips.

Breathing His last, he uttered the words “Eloi, eloi, lama sabbachthani “ … 

“Into thy hands I commit my spirit”

Praise be for a God who gets it. A God who has felt the piercing pain of life’s ills. And who has compassion on those of us feelings it’s pain day in and day out.

Good.

your smile

April 5, 2022

For 5 days shy of 7 months now, a part of me has been weighted down by the fear of pending bills. And for much of that time, my fear has turned out to be well-founded, with all manner of specialists and surgeons and departments offering us their requests for our donations (I jest). It has been, to put it mildly, a trial. 

One night, at a dinner gathering with friends, several months ago now, a friend, familiar with the peculiar trial of fielding medical trauma while uninsured, asked me how much I was working. When I told her that I was only part-time then, she noted that it was a good thing . . .

And yes, countless hours have been spent writing letters, filling out forms, sending documents, and making phone calls (or, more precisely, rocking out to the “on hold” tunes that I have, not to toot my horn, become quite adept at.

Today it ended. 

The last bill has been paid. We are, as far as I can tell, debt free.

Oddly, once the shock wore off and the reality of it set in, the first emotion to squeeze its way into my newly spacious soul was an achey longing. A longing for my GramBea. I wanted to tell her the good news. I knew she would understand. She got it. She got me.

I suspect that there is more of this to come. More ache. More longing. 

Grief.

I miss you GramBea. You know that. You used to tell me I could “do anything.” Life has hammered quite the opposite into my fearful heart over the past few years. But tonight I think that maybe, just maybe, you spoke some truth into being. I see your smile.

Kay and I both knew the routine better than we would have liked. Poised on either side of the petite 5-year-old, prepared to corral a flying limb or bear-hug a writhing body. It soon became apparent, however, that this one would not put up a fight. He seemed intent on putting up a brave front, his expression grave and stoic. As the needle neared his arm, however, he couldn’t hold back the tears springing to his eyes or the trembling to his body. I gave an extra squeeze to the hand I was holding and pointed over to the shuttered windows, pulling his attention away from the side about to be pricked. 

“You see those windows?” I asked. 

He nodded.

“We can’t see outside them,” I continued, “but I know what’s out there. I can see it too—it’s a blue elephant. Do you see that?”

His eyes widened. He nodded.

“I think it’s the mommy elephant. I see another one, too . . . do you see that?

He nodded again.

“What color is that one?”

He paused. “Pink,” I heard, soft but confident.

“I see that one, too!” I exclaimed. 

“It’s the big brother,” he added.

“I think you’re right! You know, I think there might be another one there, too. And I think it’s fuchsia. Do you know what color fuchsia is?”

He shook his head. I started to describe the color but then interrupted myself to point out to him that he was all done, blood drawn and arm bandaged.

He smiled.

There comes a time, I suppose, when all you need is a fuchsia elephant.

leaning

February 28, 2022


I am one of many, in this community, and in the world at large, feeling the weight of fear. We see snippets on the news. We watch the skyrocketing gas prices. We hear the terrifying word “war.” And we wait. We wait for the “bomb to drop,” so to speak—crudely at least. 

My pastor once told me, as I was reeling from my grandmother’s death, that, (roughly quoted), “people may say what they will but, when it comes down to it, death is evil. No matter how inevitable it is, or how long a life has been . . . death is evil.”

Somehow those words brought me great comfort. They validated the horror I had felt when watching my GramBea breathe her last breaths.

Now I wonder if that same brutal truth applies to war. Evil. When it comes down to it.

Over the past few days I’ve been binging news sources, after realizing that I was woefully out of touch with the current events in the Ukraine. It helped in one sense; but, in another, I felt my nerves amping up. I found myself snapping at the dog if he lingered too long in a sniff-patch while we walked. I fought back rapid-breath nerves when envisioning the work challenges to come. I wondered what I should do to help.

And then I realized that I can only do what I know to do. At the moment, I have no influence in what is happening across the ocean. I cannot even control what is to come in the full week of medical work I have in my own realm of life. It is all, for now, a bit of a waiting game.

This morning, one of the songs we sang for the worship service was one that I have fond memories of. When I was attending a multi-cultural, inner-city church decades ago, we would celebrate MLK day each year by gathering in a large circle around the sanctuary, holding hands and singing “We shall overcome.” It made me cry each year. I also was a part of a fabulously eclectic and rowdy gospel choir there. We would periodically sing “Leaning on the everlasting arms.” And when we did, it was a show. Our choir director would have us sway in unison, leaning heartily against each other when it came to the chorus:

Leaning, Leaning. Leaning on the everlasting arms . . .

This morning, in our little mountain church, I let loose. It was not the expected course of action for a Presbyterian worship team. And I didn’t even know if it was visible to the congregation. But when we got to that chorus, I smiled and I leaned while I sang.

Later, as I was getting into my car, I was stopped by a woman calling out from her own car window.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean for you to get wet . . . I just wanted you to know how much it meant to me this morning, to see you leaning during the songs. Thank you . . .”

There was no further explanation. I have no idea why it was meaningful to her. But I do know that it brought a sense of purpose to my own life on this cold and wet Sunday morning.

I can do so little if I focus on the tragedy in our world at large. But I can lean on the everlasting arms.

*photo is a recent favorite piece (of peace? ;) of our homestead life

some days …

February 19, 2022

This morning it occurred to me that I’m feeling beaten by the week. Or, more precisely, by my dealings with hospital billing departments. Thinking about how consuming it’s been, I tried to talk myself out of writing about it; my rationale was that my writing should be used for good stories, well told, and not “wasted” on annoying aspects of daily life. But then I realized that if I’m trying to tell stories about the real stuff of life, it’s a bit dishonest to appear as if I don’t deal with the same humdrum stuff of it as everyone else. So there’s your fair warning: this is a tale of the humdrum…

I should preface with the background information that we have been fielding various bills, from all manner of hospitals and clinics and providers ever since Peter’s accident in September. For the smaller ones, it’s seemed reasonable to just pay the amount up front, as soon as possible. But for all that run over about $1000 I’ve tried to jump through the hoops offered to us uninsured folks to try to get a lower bill. Some have worked. Others are still pending.

One of those amounts to more than our entire listed annual income last year. Granted, we fall rather squarely into a low income bracket; and we tend to consider our goat milk, rabbit meat, fresh eggs, and garden produce as a sort of non-monetary “income.” But the number still gives pause. And that facility’s process has been notably tedious to work through, involving semi-weekly paperwork submissions and phone calls. It’s been a good thing I don’t have a full time job.

This past Monday I get a text from Peter that he’s been called by collections, informing him that we have been sent to collections for not taking care of that bill in time. My initial dismay soon turns to confusion when I realize that I have spoken with the hospital since the deadline he’d been told, and each time I have done so they say to continue waiting while our case is processed. I have also asked them to make a note on our account about that fact, wanting to make it clear that we are not avoiding the bill.

Later in the day, after work, I do two things: one is a re-sending of my last emailed documents, asking them to reconsider our case and asking why we were sent to collections. Then I call the number that has become one of my favorite contacts. I punch the numbers before the automated prompt finishes talking. I then hum along with the easy jazz, anticipating each next tune in their playlist. “How may I help you today” interrupts the music.

I launch into my prepared spiel, explaining that I submitted the main financial aid application papers on November 29, sent in the follow-up request on December 23, and had spoken several times since then with agents who told me to keep waiting, as it was in process. Why then, I ask, have we been sent to collections?

Another short hold later, the agent returns and confirms that yes, all my paperwork has been received on time and that, no, we should not have been sent to collections. What do we do now?, I ask. We continue to wait, I am told. Ok.

On Thursday of this same week I receive an email response that states, simply, “Hello-please call 888-***-**** for an update on your case.”

Assuming I will receive the same information I had gotten earlier this week, I decide to call anyway.

Another series of automations. Another hold. 

“How can I help you today?” I hear. Explaining my reason for calling again, I wait a bit more until the agent returns.

“I see here on your account that you are not responsible for the $,$$$ date of service bill. You do owe $118 for the other dates of service.”

My mouth drops open and I gasp. I ask her to repeat the information, rewording it several times to be sure I am hearing it correctly.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Um…no …thank you…

I call Peter and stammer out the news. We breathe the goodness together for a moment. I tell him I’m afraid to believe it until we get the new bill. He agrees.

Later in the afternoon, it occurs to me that I can test this by just asking to pay the bill now, and my level of excitement builds at the prospect of having it done. Only one other bill pending after this one …

I make the call. “How much would you like to pay today?”

All of it, I think, I say.

That will be $,$$$.

Oh no, I tell her. I spoke with someone earlier today who said we now only owe $118…

A few moments later she replies that no, we still owe the full balance. “I don’t know why you were told that,” she said. “Your plea was denied on  February 3.”

I lose my words at this point, beginning to stammer. But I talked to someone on February 14. I don’t understand…I don’t understand…

She then asks if I would like to speak to a supervisor. Unsure if I can even speak coherently anymore, I agree.

The supervisor is, thankfully, both kind and efficient. “I know it’s been a little while for you,” she says. “Actually, it’s been a very long time. I apologize for that. The reason is that we don’t usually have bills this large” I can’t help but let out a short grunt of agreement. “And yes, it was turned down on February 3. But it was also sent for another review. For a bill this large, it has to go through all the levels…”

When she has finished talking she offers to give me her name, so that I can ask for clarification from her in the future. She says that she hopes it will be approved but that she cannot guarantee anything.

I’m emotional by the time I hang up, expressing my gratitude for her help, and agreeing to continue to wait.

We wait …

stuck

February 10, 2022

“I feel bad…,” I told Peter, as he was leaving this evening, “…bad for getting mad at him. But I’m still frustrated.” I was on second shift tonight, in a sense, taking over with Bart while Peter went out for a weekly evening running group. I used to do it with him but have been sidelined from running for about a month now, thanks to an odd pain in my hip.

I’d taken Bart out for his afternoon walk when I got home from work today and, trying to get out the door, had gotten annoyed when he insisted on going straight back to Peter each time I tried to get him to come out with me as I stood, holding the leash. Knowing that he loves his walks, and his usually overly eager to bound out the door, I couldn’t figure out why he insisted on plopping next to Peter in the living room.

Later on this evening, once Peter had returned home, we sat together on the couch. Watching Bart, I commented that, “I don’t get it. I don’t get why he insists on following you around like that . . .”

And then, as he does, Peter made one of those observations that pops out of his mouth as if it is the simplest thing ever: an observation that leaves me stunned afterwards with its profundity and the wisdom.

I think it’s a foster thing, Peter began . . . and then he explained that, when we first got Della, she seemed to take about a year to really settling into the fact that she was home here. That she was safe. 

He went on to explain that it seems as though Bart is afraid of being left behind. And since Peter is the one home during the days, letting Bart tag along during homestead chores, Peter is the one Bart has latched onto as his person. And if that person leaves his sight, he panics.

My eyes welled up as I went over to Bart after that. I knelt next to him and stroked his face. “Hey bud—you know what? We’re not going anywhere. And you’re not either. You’re stuck with us. You hear me?”

He looked up at me, lifting his paw and resting it on my forearm. I rubbed his belly and kissed his nose. I think he heard me. I think he forgives me. And I think there’s a little bit of Bart in most of us . . .