Writing with Humor

“It’s not what happens in your life but how you write about it.”

                                                —David Sedaris, Master Class: Storytelling and Humor

I watched David Sedaris talk on Master Class the other night. I got hooked right away when he said that everything is funny—eventually.

Lately, I’ve been feeling preoccupied with the complexity of life, and I am also feeling less chipper. This is perhaps due to a restricted social life secondary to Covid. Not to mention the fact, I’m indeed getting older. So, when David Sedaris, sitting in a chair and looking directly at me from the TV screen, said that when we get older more and more “stuff” happens, “like you fall down.” Write about it. Of course, if I fall, I only hope I don’t break a leg. It would take a great effort to find humor in that scenario. 

I’ve written in the past about my confusion on how to handle getting older. Never mind that I’ve been a geriatric nurse practitioner most of my professional life. All I’ve learned about getting older seems useless when I apply it to myself. In fact, I wrote a post called:  How to handle this age issue in which I describe a scene where I had walked into a Weight Watchers’ storefront on a rainy day to sign up to lose the ten pounds that has ebbed and flowed across my midriff for the past twenty years. The sales lady, encouraging me to enroll in the program, mentioned that WW had helpful information on the internet. In fact, she authored an informative Blog. Then she hesitated, eyed me up and down, and asked if I knew what a Blog was? I immediately took offense thinking that she saw me as an older woman (of course I was) who, obviously, had to be ignorant of all technology. I pulled myself up stiffly and in a snooty voice told her I had my own Blog. I stormed out of the store.

At the end of my post, I mentioned that I regretted I had reacted so poorly. There could have been a teachable moment for the sales lady had I casually told her about my Blog. And laughed at the thought that I was computer illiterate just because I was older.

David Sedaris wouldn’t have been so understanding and forgiving. He wouldn’t look for teachable moments. He wouldn’t have taken umbrage either. He would’ve let the story play out—knowing the scene will become humorous—later. He thinks it’s fascinating to show peoples’ prejudices. Plus, it’s important to add the author’s own fallibilities.

Will David Sedaris’ suggestions be helpful in tweaking my attitude toward my own aging? Will showing the humor in the inevitable and enjoying the irony in what life hands me make me a better writer? And help me better handle this age issue?

Best Tips for Writing in the Time of a Pandemic

I found the best advice for writing in the time of Covid-19 in BREVITY’S Nonfiction Blog, Wednesday March 18, 2020. Written by Brenda Ridley

I am reblogging here:

 

 

Ten Tips for Writing While Quarantined

by Dinty W. Moore

by Brenda Ridley

Assuming that you are up and about during the COVID-19 pandemic, you could view this period of social distancing as an unexpected gift to your writing life. That’s the attitude I’ve adopted as I decide how to use my time while exiled from my job for two weeks.

Last week, Pennsylvania’s governor ordered schools state-wide closed to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The small independent school where I double as admissions coordinator and office manager complied. While the risk to our students of COVID-19 exposure is probably low, we could not in good conscience remain open while 99% of the schools in Philadelphia shut down. Ours is a very small school but, luckily, one with digital resources that teachers can use for online instruction. Most of my work time is spent on the phone, making sure that teachers have the resources they need, the office runs smoothly, and performing first aid in the absence of a school nurse. I have some online tools that I can use, but only a couple projects that I think I can finish at home. That leaves some open time periods during the day that I don’t usually have for writing. Here is my plan for writing while quarantined with some suggestions that you might find helpful:

1) Keep a schedule. It is so tempting to sleep in when you get up before six o’clock every weekday morning and now don’t have to. But if you don’t set up a schedule for the week, you’ll wonder where the time went and why that essay you started three months ago still isn’t finished. I’ll set my alarm for 7 a.m. and plan to start writing at 9, after exercise, breakfast, and kitty time. I have better focus in the morning, but you should create a schedule that works for you; just schedule your writing time no matter what.

2) Limit socializing. Life as I’ve known it has temporarily shifted. Everything is closed: my yoga studio, the public library, my writing group is on hiatus, even my church is practicing social distancing. Of course you can call, text, or email friends and family, but don’t do it all day. Your pen or keyboard needs you to propel it. Block out a social hour or two when you can catch up and commiserate with everyone each day.

3) Reconnect with your partner, your kids, or your pets. I rush out of the house early on workdays and don’t usually come home until almost six. I see the kitties briefly when I feed them breakfast, but there’s no time for cuddles and chatfests. My partner is still asleep when I leave. While my schedule is more flexible I can carve out some time for canoodling when I’m not drifting off to sleep and muttering incoherently. Imagine the boost some quality time can give to our relationships.

4) Eat well and rest. I enjoy cooking but don’t like to spend all day at it. When home for the day I usually prep dinner early so that at dinner time there is less to do. Doing most of the work early in the day makes it more likely that you’ll eat better instead of grabbing fast food or ordering a pizza.  And set a reasonable bedtime that ensures you get enough sleep. A poorly-fed, sleep-deprived writer might produce something, but is it something you really want others to read?

5) Get outdoors at least every other day. There is plenty of evidence that walking outdoors, forest bathing, hiking and other activities make you feel better. My attitude improves considerably when I’ve returned from a brisk walk.

6) Turn off your television. Too much news is not a good thing, and a lot of conjecture by pundits and talk show hosts isn’t news. All of the chatter about COVID-19 is increasing people’s anxiety. If you must know what’s happening with the virus on a daily basis, choose one reliable news source and limit yourself to 30 minutes of “information” per day. Your nervous system will thank you.

7) Put your writing house in order. I know I have two weeks before I return to work or am told to stay at home a little longer. I’m a writing newbie and don’t have tons of projects to work on, but I have at least three essays I’ve not been able to finish. My modest goal is to finish at least one of them and to develop a strategy for completing the other two. If I stick to the schedule I’ve set for myself, I think I can accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

8) Read. No need to say more.

9) Stay open and flexible. COVID-19 has made a fast and furious impact on everyone I know, even though none of my friends or family members have contracted it. All of the twists and turns science is taking in order to get a handle on this virus require us to think about how what we do impacts someone else. Stay flexible enough to shift with the tide of events and follow the lead of experts who know what they are talking about.

10) Finally, breathe and write; breathe and write some more. I came to writing as a late bloomer but quickly found it to be a practice that I can pour almost any emotion into. Some of those scribbles are just for me, not an audience, but writing helps me to clarify my thoughts and emotions so that I can get the junk out of the way and focus on what I want to say. So, breathe and write your way through if you’re quarantined. Appreciate the gift you’ve been given.

THE WEIRDEST HOME VISIT

This originally appeared on 08/12/2012. The Weirdest Home Visit is one of many stories that didn’t make it into the first book. I am considering it for inclusion in my second book.

Nursing Stories

When I worked in the home care program at a VA hospital in Illinois, medical students sometimes came along with us nurse practitioners while we made our visits. I enjoyed showing them the reality of delivering care in the patient’s home—where we were guests—the subtle line between suggestion and decree, education and instruction, doing for the patient and letting the patient do for himself.

One afternoon, when I had a female medical student riding with me, I had trouble finding the house. In the day of no cell phones or GPS’s, I stopped at a gas station to call the patient’s wife. Was I being paranoid when she sounded like she was being deliberately unclear?

We finally drove down the well-manicured block in a rather upscale neighborhood. One house in the middle of the block was “protected” by a row of stately cypresses or if cypresses trees don’t grow in…

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Computer Crash

I have been without my computer for four days so I didn’t work on today’s post. I didn’t have a computer to track any other posts that I could reblog. I didn’t want to scratch out a new post longhand. Maybe I could’ve been more aggressive or use my I Phone to pick up the slack in order to get a post out today, but I didn’t. This rant serves as an informal publication. I decided that not having access to my computer let me off the hook. Frankly, it was liberating. I enjoyed the forced separation from my constant sidekick. The computer is my portal to writing and without it I am free to pursue other activities—like shopping—even if I don’t come home with any purchases. When did I last have lunch by myself?

Not to be productive, to me, is paramount to being slothful. I am a writer and must write and/or complete one book promotional action every day. Well, how about I am also a person who enjoys a day off or a moment to enjoy myself without guilt. If my computer is not working how can I feel guilty not accomplishing my daily goals?

Sadly, my computer was up and running as of 6 pm yesterday. I didn’t rush to document this morning’s post. In fact, I put the writing off until now. I will be back to my routine soon.  In the meantime, I am holding on to this wonderful guilt-free break for as long as it lasts.

Persistence and Determination

I look back on 2018 with wonder and gratitude. My book is finally published. I feel such a sense of accomplishment. I don’t credit this achievement to talent, genius or education as you can see from my most favorite quote below:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge

Up until the of the end of November, I worked with Caitlin Hamilton, my publicist, who promoted my book through book signings, guest posts on writers’ blogs, testimonials, interviews by correspondents of newspapers, etc. Now the job of gaining visibility for my book is up to me.

In 2019, as I learn more about marketing a book than I care to know, I will also begin writing my next book about my nursing experiences.

I wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year and the persistence and determination to reach your goals.

 

 

The Physician Supports the Nurse 

I am following a physician’s blog: Suneel Dhand.

Reading his post for the first time, I had a gut feeling I would like this guy. I think he represents a new and steadily growing wave of physicians who are becoming more aware of the effects that good communication has on patient outcomes and improvement in health team collaboration.

After I read his blog today: Doctor, I am just double-checking that you spoke with the nephrologist before I give that? September 4, 2018, I was moved to write this comment:

Thank you for this very timely and important post. We older nurses have many unfortunate memories of altercations with physicians who were more concerned over their status than the welfare of the patient and the benefits of team collaboration. With a renewed interest to improve the patient experience and prevent medical errors your post shows what physicians can do to improve communication with co-workers, especially nurses.

Here is Dr. Dhand’s post:

(I highlighted what he said that so impressed me)

I was recently seeing a rather complicated medical patient in the hospital. We were treating both a heart and kidney condition, and things were not going so well. To spare anyone non-medical who is reading this the scientific details of the bodily processes involved, we were essentially balancing hydrating, with the need to get rid of excess fluid. After seeing the patient, I spoke with the nurse, went over the clinical dilemma, and mentioned that I would speak to the kidney specialist before making the decision—and would perhaps order an additional medication if appropriate. I went back to my desk, entered a note onto the computer, spoke with the nephrologist, and we decided to go ahead and order the medication. A few minutes later, the nurse came back to me and asked: “Dr Dhand, I saw your order and just wanted to double-check that you spoke with the nephrologist before I give that medication?”.

The way the question was asked, may have come across to some as slightly condescending. I could tell some of the other doctors in the room were surprised with such a direct question. After all, I’m a reasonably experienced physician—why would I order a medicine I didn’t want to give? And how dare I be asked so bluntly if I’ve double-checked with another colleague, after I’ve already said that was part of the plan? Did this nurse not trust me?! It wasn’t even a particularly strong or toxic medicine, but one that we use everyday on the medical floors.

I paused for a bit, and said: “Yes, I’ve double checked, and it’s fine to give, no problem”. The nurse, sensing this question may have come across in the wrong way, then said: “Oh, I just wanted to check because you said you were going to speak with the nephrologist…and I looked at your note, and you didn’t even mention the medication”.

Indeed, that was correct—I wrote my note just before I had the conversation.The nurse was spot on. Whether or not the question could have been phrased differently is irrelevant, and I actually found the fact that this nurse sought to clarify the issue with me, highly impressive. I passed on that compliment. Not to mention the fact that the question was based on the conscientious act of actually reading the physician’s note!A more junior doctor colleague in the room afterwards commented on how what was asked to me sounded like a bit of an affront. Actually, I said it was the opposite, and explained why. There’s no room for ego in healthcare, and that’s frequently how mistakes happen, and what the nurse did was outstanding.

That interaction interested me, because as someone who teaches communication, I know I myself would have handled that situation very differently 10 years ago. Indeed, many doctors would have snapped right back at the nurse or taken offense that they were being so directly questioned. Perhaps even with a sarcastic response. “Of course I have, do you think I would have ordered the medication if I didn’t want it?!” “Yes I’m a doctor too, and wouldn’t order a medicine for no reason (you dare question me like that!)”. Imagine if that had happened, what the effect would have been on the nurse of being chewed out, possibly leading to not double-checking an important clinical issue in the future if they felt like something wasn’t right. A bad thing to happen to a well-meaning professional! Many doctors I’m afraid to say would have responded very differently to how I did, and chosen the latter approach during a hectic day when they already felt overloaded with questions and issues. I’m sure if you ask almost any nurse, they will tell you about countless times when they’ve been needlessly talked to in a terse manner by doctors. That’s not to say these don’t represent a small minority of interactions, but certainly enough to remember.

The one thing I feel most proud of as I’ve (hopefully) matured over the years, is how I handle situations like that. I may have always had a relatively calm demeanor, but I was definitely much more of a hot-head around the time when I finished medical school. Not confrontational, but definitely more somebody who could get into needless conflict over things like this. For anybody not working in the high-paced and frequently emotionally charged healthcare arena, you may not realize that run-ins, disagreements and personality clashes are part and parcel of the job (frequently between physicians too). They happen every day, everywhere. I remember after one negative interaction I had with a colleague many years ago, I was talking to another group member, and was given some great advice. She said: “You know what Suneel, always remember the saying: Great Minds, Don’t Mind”. That saying, Great Minds, Don’t Mind, has always stuck with me. It’s so very true, in all aspects of our lives, and something I strive for every day. The very best of us don’t take offense, become hyperreactive, or needlessly be petty and escalate situations, when we could easily interpret something as a personal insult. Especially when we are all doing our best for our patients at the frontlines of healthcare.

 

Just to reinforce what older nurses experienced when we were considered the handmaidens of the physician, I’ve included this previous post of mine: Don’t Question the Doctor,February 19, 2017, describing my good friend Lois Roelofs’ altercation with Dr. Jericho:

 

One afternoon while making rounds, I dashed in to see, Mr. Barnes, my last patient, in 236-1, the triple ward next to the nurses’ station. He smiled when he saw me. “I’m going out for dinner tonight. Dr. Jericho is picking me up at five.”

“Oh? I didn’t know. He didn’t tell us at the desk,” I said, scanning his Kardex card in the vertical file positioned on my left arm. “I’ll check on it.”

Back at the nurses’ station, I checked the doctor’s order sheet for Mr. Barnes. Hospital policy dictated that patients could leave hospital grounds only with written orders from their attending physician. Dr. Jericho was not the attending physician; he was a personal friend. And there was no written order.

I faced a potential explosion. Dr. Jericho’s capacity to be short-tempered was well-known to the nursing staff.  We’d each had our experiences. None of us liked it, but we felt powerless to do anymore than endure. And I didn’t need the problem right then: I wanted to give report on time and get home on time, once.

I dialed his office. “Hello, Dr. Jericho, this is Mrs. Roelofs on Hall Two. Your friend, Joseph Barnes, told me you were picking him up for dinner.” I swallowed hard and took a breath. “I see no written order covering this leave. I’m calling to see if you’ve run this by his attending, Dr. Acorn.”

He barked into my eardrum. “I don’t need to check anything out with anybody. Do you hear me? It’s none of your business….who is this again? What’s your name?”

“Mrs. Roelofs. Head nurse. Hall Two.” I forced my voice to sound strong.

“I’m coming right over to clean your clock,” Dr. Jericho yelled into the phone.

My head and heart spun wildly into one big tuft of fear that settled in my throat. I raced to a friend working on the ward at the other end of my floor. We schemed to hide me on that ward when Dr. Jericho arrived. Then we stationed lookout nurses. Minutes later I got the message. I ducked into Room 214, a five-bed room on East, and hid behind curtains drawn around a vacant bed. When Dr. Jericho arrived, my cohorts told him I was off the floor on an errand. He strode into my nurses’ station across from Room 201, parked himself on my desk chair, and bellowed, “I’ll wait.”

When I was a student nurse a few years before, I had scrubbed to assist Dr. Jericho in surgery. He became irritated with something and kicked a metal wastebasket across the room. Anesthesia saved the patient from being startled off the operating table. However, my nerves, as a novice, vibrated with the intensity of the metal clanging against steel and tile. Now my nerves were vibrating once again.

Suddenly, my friend peeked around the curtain, wearing worry on her face. “He won’t leave until he sees you. He’s camped out. Slicked back hair, black suit, green paisley tie, and all. You better come.”

I returned to the utility room on my ward with its steel cabinets, stowed commodes and IV poles, soaking instruments and thermometers, and corner hopper – a large square toilet-like bowl for rinsing bedpans. Standing in the doorway to the adjacent nurses’ station, I said as confidently as possible, “Dr. Jericho, I’m back. I understand you want to see me?”

Dr. Jericho launched to a standing position. “You bet I do. Who do you think you are to question what I’m doing? To tell me I need a doctor’s order to take my friend out for dinner?” His words torpedoed through the nurses’ station and up the ramp to pediatrics.

He stomped toward me. I backed away, inch-by-inch, until I was flush with the hopper. One more step and I’d plop into hopper water. I was trapped. Only the smothering smells of disinfectant separated us. “It’s my responsibility to see that hospital policy is followed, sir,” I said. My breath stopped momentarily.

“Who are you to tell me what hospital policy says? You, young lady, are never to question me again. Do you understand?”

His words slapped my face like sleet on a winter walk. I could have punched him – he was close enough – but I thought better of it. “Yes, sir.” I held back a salute that he seemed to demand. He turned, clicked his heels, and marched out, as if on a military drill.

My meds nurse, LPN, and aides crowded into the small nurses’ station. “What happened? What’d he say? I’ve never seen him so mad. At least not this week.”

“Oh, the usual Dr. Jericho stuff. Nothing new.” I said, trying to sound nonchalant with a heart rate of over a hundred.

Reaching for the desk phone, I glanced at a list of phone numbers and dialed Mr. Barnes’ attending physician. He gave me the order. Why hadn’t I called him in the first place?

I determined never to let a doctor’s behavior intimidate me again.

Caring Lessons: A Nursing Professor’s Journey of Faith and Self, Lois Hoitenga Roelofs, 2012, pp 49-50

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A Day in the Emergency Room for a Nurse Who Loves Her Job

Reblogged from Off the Charts, August 16, 2018 by Tarra Midgette, RN, is a nurse in an emergency department in North Carolina.

I love this post and wanted to share it with you because Tarra Midgette so poignantly describes her inner thoughts and feelings as she goes about her not routine day in an ED. No one has to guess how hard it is to be a nurse after reading her story.

Another day begins.

Nursing shoes, always left in the car It’s hard to explain how I feel after yesterday . . .

I wake up and head to work with a smile. I’m wearing my normal attire, blue scrubs. The color is rather ironic. I put my shoes on in the car like always. The shoes never go inside, as they bear remnants of the day before.

I walk in to meet my tribe. We laugh off the previous day’s challenges as we start over. Patients come in and are greeted with the warm Southern welcome of this community emergency room. Coughs, chest pain, leg injuries, moms, dads, babies, grandmas. A patient with my story who is fighting battles that I fought years ago. My heart aches. I give her hope. She is optimistic. I’m soaring, feeling high on life.

A girl who lost a baby. My heart aches. Why does this happen? What do I say? How do I comfort her? I pray for her. I make a funny joke, at which she has a two-second reprieve from grief and we share a laugh. I feel peace.

A boy is vomiting and writhing in pain. He is scared as he gets his first IV. It’s in and he’s proud of himself for not crying. The medicine works. He is discharged and can’t wait to go play video games with his friend. I give him a hard time; we laugh together.

In comes a child with mental health concerns. He wants to die. He is searching the room for potential weapons. He is overstimulated and needs to decompress. He tries to choke himself with a bed cord. He cries. I cry. I go to the bathroom and pray.

There’s a code coming in? Lines, compressions, CT, return of patient’s pulse! No pulse. Resume compressions, pulse check, nothing. Last round of CPR, pulse check, “I have a pulse,“ pulseless V-tach, resume compressions. Time of death. I’m tired and out of breath. I feel defeated , , ,

New patient. I must smile and pretend that today is a good day. Many emotions at the end of a shift.

I drive home and can’t unsee what has happened today. I pray, I am confused, I am proud, I am sad, I am overwhelmed. I leave my shoes in the car, the blue scrubs in the laundry, and I shower to wash away today’s pain. Tomorrow I will wake up and head to work with a smile because I love being a nurse.

Letting Go of the Life We Plan

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
― Joseph Campbell

I didn’t plan to write a book but that’s what happened. I had always wanted to be a writer and, even as I worked as a Nurse Practitioner, I took writing classes, went to workshops and kept a journal documenting patient stories that one day I would expand and publish. But writing a book was never on my agenda.

I like to think I followed Joseph Campbell’s advice and stayed open to the many possibilities that came my way. And I may have, but not intentionally.

I am pleasantly surprised to find myself a soon-to-be published author.

With the New Year almost here, I reflect on the serendipitous events that supported my literary efforts, including meeting other writers that inspired and encouraged me, finding supporting mentors and willing beta readers.

Somehow what I needed at the time found me.

In 2018, as I journey along the publishing road, I plan to stay open to all the new adventures awaiting me.

Thanks to all of you who follow my Blog.

I wish you happiness, health and contentment in the New Year.

 

Why Your Imperfections Make You Perfect

imagesI’m now taking watercolor classes, struggling to create something that I can be proud of but mostly learning how to be humble and not compare myself with my fellow classmates. As hard as I try to enjoy the journey and not focus on the end result, I still strive to have my finished product an example of perfection.

I never thought of imperfection as an asset until I read my watercolor instructor’s latest post.

 

08 MARCH 2016

Why your imperfections make you perfect

 by

Suzanne McDermott

 

“Perfection itself is imperfection.”

  • VLADIMIR HOROWITZ

 

The gap between Lauren Hutton’s two front teeth.

The wiggly lines of Gahan Wilson’s cartoons.

Uneven brush marks in hand-painted china.

The leaning tower of Pisa.

The tempo at which Toscannini or Glenn Gould raced through pieces.

Odd chisel marks in hand-made furniture.

These are just a few examples of what might be thought of as imperfections that, in fact, make a person, place or thing memorable, beautiful, unique.

My favorite live figure model of all time hated her thighs. What a pity. She was stunning.

Make a little list for yourself of physical things, personality traits, or emotional baggage that you think make you imperfect. Forget about what you think anyone else may think about these things. You’ll never know for sure anyway. Plus, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It matters what you think, how you feel about yourself.

Take that little list and find a way to accept, embrace, and ultimately love each and every one of those things, traits, and pieces of baggage. You may find that this exercise can make it easier to let go of said baggage because, hey, who needs it and who has places to store that old crap anymore?

Anyway, all the little marks and bruises, faux pas and clumsiness, guilt about Bad Things You’ve Done and so forth, all of those things make you you. And by the way, you—the real you— is just traveling in this body and personality temporarily.

You’re much bigger and brighter and shinier than you remember. There is no one like you. Never to be repeated, you are a miraculous variation of the human being.

Learn to love yourself.

Nursing Stories in the Top 100 Best Nursing Blogs

First, I am excited that there are 100 best nursing blogs.

Wow. Great job nurses!

And I am pleased that my blog, Nursing Stories, has been included in this group.

And, yes, I am boasting.

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Nursing Stories

Nursing Stories is a heartfelt blog about one woman’s experiences in nursing. Marianna Crane, the blogger, has been in nursing for over 40 years, and she now uses her blog to share her stories from the past and present. She has been a certified adult nurse practitioner since 1981, and she has a passion for writing that is evident in her blog posts. Marianna says, “My goal for this blog is to encourage nurses to boast.” You can get inspired to be a better nurse thanks to this woman and the great stories she shares on her blog. Some of those stories include:

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