In Gratitude

May 12, 2018

Today in Vermont there was a march and rally held to support the nurses at the University of Vermont. I chose to walk in support of the amazing care that I have been given and for the way that I have been taken care over the years of being a patient. But more than that to say in a small way that the time and work that these nurses do is invaluable and is making a difference. Below is an article that I wrote earlier this year... I share to it to encourage you to thank the nurses in your life for all that they do. These listed below (and the hundreds of others across this journey) have truly changed my life. 
How do you say thank you to those whom meet you in the worst season of your life? The seasons when you are at your weakest and sickest? The seasons of life where you are to feeble to stand, and sometimes even whispering costs you all of the energy you have for the day? The season that someone shows up to champion the way through a maze that seems to have no end with their words and their consistent actions?

When I first entered the clinic in 2016, it was only a few days before my 36th birthday. I wanted to be anywhere but there. I was coming from the ER where a serious blood clot had been discovered. Unfamiliar with blood clots and extremely sick, I walked in shaking like a leaf. I wasn’t a rookie with health issues, but for me this was truly one of the scariest times of my journey. I was unfamiliar with the world I entered and grieving another step in my health walk. A blood clot in my opinion (at the time) was one of the worst things that could have happened.

As I walked into the clinic on the 2nd floor of the hospital I stood in line, waiting to check in, and nervously looking around at those in the waiting room. As my eyes scanned the room I was met with compassionate glances, knowing looks from those who had walked not only a similar journey of mine, and other ones that had stories I could only imagine. I was soon to discover that the hematology and oncology clinic would be a constant source of surprise in ways I couldn’t begin to envision.

My registration with the ladies at the check-in reception area was one of the easiest and kindest check-in experiences of my life. Noticing that I was not feeling well I was asked if they could get anything for me and when I whispered no, I was given a gentle squeeze on my arm and promptly handed some tissues and a cup of water. My hand shook as I tried to sip the water and I tried to calm myself. The first thing that was said to me that day was not asking if I was a new patient, but a kind word of sympathy that I had had to come to the clinic at all.

Now I joke with Laurie, Maureen, and Susan, sharing that they are the first line of defense of love. I don’t know how they do it, but I stand amazed every single week as they know each patients stories. They always have a question for me about my life and seem to remember the tiniest detail. If it is a rough day they seem to almost be able to sense that and take a few extra moments of their precious time offering a word of encouragement. I have been to literally hundreds of doctors’ offices, and yet none have ever set the stage of time in a clinic as well as those ladies do. This isn’t just about checking in one more patient for them, this is about compassionately and carefully assessing how they can meet the patients needs in any practical way from the start.

After check in I moved to the waiting room where my right leg nervously bounced up and down as I waited for my name to be called. When it was, I was greeted with a kind smile, and after a quick routine question verifying my name and birthday, I was kindly led down the hallway to the doctors’ room. On the way there the Medical Assistant, Mila, sweetly talked about the day, explained about the clinic briefly, and in the room encouraged me that things would be okay. As a scared young woman, I grabbed onto her words like they were a lifeline.

From that day I have realized that this is the motto that the Medical Assistants (MAs) and Nurses live by- they will do everything in their power here on earth to make things okay. As a young kiddo recently said to me, “are you sick too? If you are, it’s okay, this is the place you come to get better”. From the words of a young one- things are summed up perfectly. This is the place that you come to get better.
Life has happened within these cream-colored hallways. The hallways are no longer frightening but have become as many of us patients call it, a sanctuary. The good and bad test results that have come back, the scary news of an unexpected surgery last year, the hope that is offered, and the gentle reminder to live. Throughout my time here I have seen again and again the ways that I am not just one more patient or one more number in a machine. While this may happen at other hospitals the opposite has happened here. My story has become known, my life pre-diagnosis has been heard (one countless story of teaching after another to the point that some of the nurses have now even asked about former students by name), and my beginning and fragile steps of starting to transition out of the clinic has been celebrated.

In a profession that has an extremely high turnover rate the clinic has seemed to accomplish the absolute impossible with a close-knit staff that calls themselves (and their patients) a family. As I walk these halls twice a week (sometimes more) I have never witnessed a rude or short word being spoken. I have witnessed a mixture of emotions from patients, but each of the staff has remained calm. Even in what I would consider to be trying times there is compassion offered and grace extended. It doesn’t matter what is going on in their personal lives (of which many times I forget that they must also have) as they have a single minded focus to compassionately meet us in what could be the darkest part of our story. They make the choice to show up to work and know how to have the unique ability to rejoice with one patient who is going into remission and weep with those who are receiving other news. The highs and lows may be extreme but the attitude and the consistency of the MAs and Nurses never wavers. In a practical and completely unpretentious way the MAs and the Nurses help to rewrite that into one of hope.

And so it is in these hallways I have discovered a beautiful secret to what makes this place a unique light in our stories. It is in the kindness and caring of individuals who view their normal work week job as so much more. Like the patients, many have come to the clinic through a variety of circumstances but unlike the way I cringed coming in- they have fearlessly chosen to be there. They have worked tirelessly to come up with ideas and concepts of how to have the best flow so that patients receive the best care. They will stay to the last patient is finished, long past a required work hour. They are organized, on top of everything, and exude such a professional confidence that as a patient you can relax because you know that you are well taken care of.

Where some would assume that only the worst stories happen here, I have learned that life is lived within these hallways. It has happened in the encouraging conversations that have taken place as “Courtney” (my nickname for my port) is accessed with Toni, Anne, Louise, Stephanie, and Patti, in the laughter with Stephanie, and the unbelievable and unrivaled sweetness of Olivia, Kelly and Julia. It has happened in the hallways where talks of life have taken place with Sue and Jacob, the jokes with Ryan, Kevin and JT, the hugs and waves and support that come from Sherry and Mila, the confident professionalism from Lorrie, in the gentleness of vitals being taken and weight being assessed, to the infusion nurses professional encouragement to patients in the infusion bay, and to all of the heroes (even those not named) that we as patients interact with day by day.

The clinic here at UVM has accomplished in my mind the impossible. It combines an ability to have amazing medical care along with an intimately created bond between patients and staff that is a key element in the healing process.

And so I return to my beginning question that I have often considered, “I wish I had a million dollars or more so I could think of a tangible and appropriate way to say thank you to those who have done so much for me. How do you thank the people who have changed your life?” I still don’t know that answer. Any feeble attempt wouldn’t be able to adequately describe my gratitude. What I do know is that I am a different person than I was before here. A better person, one who has been inspired by my heroes.

These MAs and Nurses and the ladies in check-in and check-out areas have spent their lives in service to others. Many worked in numerous medical fields before coming to the clinic. Some have walked their own battles with Cancer in their families and others have their own wells of personal stories. In the service to us as patients they have selflessly put their own feelings and opinions aside, in the understanding that who is before them is most important. In this clinic their patients victories are their victories and the defeats and tears are their own.

Look beside them and you will find their co-workers. Look behind them and you will see thousands of patients whose lives they have touched and changed.

While some may never know the names of those I have mentioned and those unnamed ones in the clinic, I believe that is for a simple reason. A great MA or Nurse or clinic staff member may have little external history to record. This is for the simple reason that their lives have spilled over into others. They are the pillars of the hospital and are more essential than any drug or treatment that could be given. Their sacrifices will help us live beyond what we thought we could. For it is in this hematology and oncology clinic that they have created a world beyond sickness.

A world where we keep trying past what we believe is humanly possible. A world that encourages us to hold onto what is true and important in life. A world where we are inspired to grab onto courage no matter what the day or future may hold. A world where the fighting happens deep within and most of all a world where we believe the impossible can happen. 
And most of all my heroes have helped me create a world where daylight will always follow the dark.

1 comment

  1. Really great post and brilliant pics! It was so lovely to meet you, can't wait to catch up again : Health & Fitness