Tomorrow we are having the rooms on the second floor of our new townhouse painted. Before we moved furniture to the center of the rooms, I stored in a large cardboard box, out of harms way, the treasures I kept on the shelves of my desk.
Among the various memorabilia I packed away were the usual suspects: I Love My Grandma mug, a picture of my husband and I in Costa Rica taken last February with the waves of the Atlantic Ocean breaking behind us, and various items made by the grandkids: a sea shell necklace, a painted ceramic porpoise, and a handprint of one of the grandsons on a blue clay dish.
There were other items that also occupied a place in my office and heart:
I have served as preceptor to many nurse practitioners over the years. My first student, Cindy, gave me the sand castle. It reminds me of the talent and dedication of all the students that shadowed me in my practice, and my hope that I had made some small contribution to their professional successes.
(I had written a post about this mug. The wife of one of my patients gave it to me.)
I remember Sadie Rooney handing me a brown paper bag on my visit that autumn day in the early 90s. Her husband, Jim, a self-taught preacher, had died the month before. At first it seemed she wouldn’t have the strength to honor his wish to die at home. But on that day, Sadie was pleased with herself because she had cared for Jim up to the end. So when I reached into the bag and pulled out a mug and read the inscription out loud—24-Hour Woman—I figured Sadie was thanking me for being there for her. I was the 24-Hour Woman: the nurse practitioner orchestrating the journey towards the final curtain for Jim. And buoying up Sadie to face, head on, the whole dying business.
All these years I kept the mug. It came with me when we moved out of state—twice. Sat on my desk at each new job. A reminder of my nursing success. Or so I thought.
I had made notes of my visits to Jim and Sadie. Now as I write their story for my upcoming book, I am re-thinking Sadie. How resilient she turned out to be. She was there for her husband—night and day—quelling her own fears and insecurities. And at our last meeting, she told me of her plans to become a preacher.
Now with the passage of time, I see Sadie as the 24-Hour Woman. Thinking of her gave me the encouragement to take on new challenges as she had done.
When I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, I volunteered for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation along with a social worker friend, Betty. Oak Park has the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes built between 1889 and 1913. While we volunteered, we learned about architecture in general, and Frank Lloyd Wright in particular. Betty and I staffed the gift shop once a month on weekends, enjoying a great diversion from our day jobs: caring for chronically ill elderly.
When we moved to Maryland from Illinois in 1993, Lois, my best friend, gave me this set of keys. “Keys to the past,” she said, instructing me not to forget the many fun and poignant moments we had shared for the past twenty years. “Keys to the future,” I said looking forward to the excitement of change. It didn’t take long for me to realize I could never replace the treasure of friendship. Brass, the metal of the keys, is strong, pliable, and resistant to deterioration, like a strong friendship, Lois’ and mine, now in its 43rd year.
This gift was from a nursing friend and coworker, Christa. She and I developed breast cancer about the same time almost twenty years ago. She gave it to me when she moved to the west coast some years later. The angel proved to be far too fragile for me, the proverbial bull in the china shop. I display the angel in its imperfect form as a reminder that beauty does not need to be unimpaired.
The pink ribbon with a 1999 medal commemorates my first Komen Run for the Cure in Washington, D.C., the 10th anniversary of the run, with a record breaking 52,000 participants. I walked between Christa and another woman I had met at a support group after my surgery. We were among a sea of women cancer survivors, and one or two men, in pink T-shirts, and supporters, family and friends, in white T-shirts. It was an experience I never want to forget.
The ribbon seemed the perfect medium to attach the three pins used to hold the ends of a broken bone in my shoulder in place (The pins pierced the skin and were screwed into the bone) so it would heal without surgery—a new procedure developed by the orthopedic surgeon I chanced to be referred to in 2001 for treatment. I was in the right place at the right time when I fell.
A patient and his wife presented this gift to me with wide smiles and much ceremony. He was one of my most frustrating patients, never heeding my sage advice. It reminds me to remain accepting and, at the same time, persistent.