Snake oil and hardboiled dreams

We are limping down the homestretch.

There are exactly four and a half days of school before we officially enter what I like to call the Season of Yes.
Yes, you can swim in the pool until the last bit of pink sunset fades and we have bats swooping over head and we can only see our way back to the house by firefly-light. 
Yes, you can climb out of the pool, and sit on the deck wrapped in a towel and eat your dinner straight off the grill and yes we will eat corn on the cob with gobs of butter that drips down our chins and eschew napkins and rinse everyone off in the hose afterward.
Yes, you can stay up late and watch old movies with me.
Yes, we can go for a long walk to the river because we have nowhere to be and search for the elusive blue beach glass that we have somehow decided brings good luck to the finder.
And for all of those reasons, I am counting down the hours until I can be summer Mom again. 
Because I have been out of energy and “done” since the last round of viral illness went through the house like wildfire and that was in early April. I have been sober for almost three months now and the energy that is involved in getting up every day, not drinking all day, doing the work, naval gazing, deep breathing, prayers, journaling, running, fighting cravings, going for another run, checking in with my amazing support group…  all of that LIFE stuff plus my sobriety stuff means we have missed parties because the beautiful photo card invitation with an adorably toothless child grinning at us has been buried under the mounting pile of bills and end of school year announcements about class parties and Field Days/ice cream/movie days and the avalanche of year end events and Oh crap there’s another awards ceremony this morning and just wear your pinchy sneakers another day because you are going to be barefoot in a few days anyways and when is it going to EEEENNNDDD-ness.
I am not sitting easy in new sobriety.  It has awakened major perfectionist tendencies in me. I lie awake, thinking of all the ways I can overcompensate for my screw ups this past year, or really, the last two years when my drinking really got to a toxic place. The insomnia, the scratchy burning eyes and the seemingly endless nights where I toss and turn and flip to the cool side of the pillow over and over, all while wishing for a big “OFF” switch for my brain.. I feel pressure to get myself together for summer so we can actually enjoy ourselves . Which is how I sort of stumbled across the lure of Pinterest. (I am not naturally one of those impossibly crafty, super Mom types that I call Pinterest Barbies… who are always posting incredible, inspiring things they have made out of raffia and popscicle sticks or whatever.. That I am even attempting to absorb organization by osmosis shows how dire it really has become).
I created an account and “pinned” some ideas, challenging (kidding) myself to actually try out some sort of enriching craft/ super healthy popsicles and the like this summer. Pins with perky titles like “40 Summer Bucket list activities.”  Nowhere do I see pins about plopping your kids down in front of a half hour of Princess Sofia so you can go cry in the bathroom because you are totally overwhelmed and not sure how you are going to make it through another 9 hours of this “use your words, stop yelling, what is this sticky mess, stop climbing the bookcase, did the cat fall in the fishtank again, say sorry, why do we work so hard and there is never any money and what if I’m just hopelessly screwing these kids up” type day while stone cold sober.
So, yesterday.  Due to distraction/nervous breakdown in progress/exhaustion or whatever, I forgot that when I signed the kids up for a week of summer camp, way back in January when I was still drinking,  I had “conveniently” checked the little magic box that said “Please withdraw the balance due automatically from my account on June 1st” because “Yay, I don’t have to remember to go online and pay it. How wonderfully convenient! Hooray me, for signing the kids up early, lets have a glass or wine to celebrate”
Except you have to remember to actually transfer money into the account before June 1st.
So yesterday our entire checking account was wiped out in one fell swoop and I’m sure the fall out will be fun the next week or so until we get paid again.  
Honestly, signing up for a “high interest savings account” where you can transfer funds by electronic transfer and have money available for withdrawal in 4-5 business days SOUNDS like a good idea when you set it up. But not when you have $1.12 in your checking account and you will be bouncing literally every “automatic bill pay for dummies” transaction like some kind of hyper kangaroo and you get hit with 30 dollar non-sufficient funds fees every time (Gee thanks, bank people, for flogging me for not only being totally forgetful but also poor, that’ll show me) and your cupboards are empty and 4-5 business days is a wicked long time, let me tell you.  And I’ll be that weird lady with the giant jar of spare change at the coinstar making a ridiculous amount of noise with my three kids all clamoring for a turn over the clanking noise of coins….
All of which to say is that in my utterly overwhelmed, unhinged state, I decided that yesterday was the day that I was going to make an effort to feed my kids something other than string cheese, fruit, crackers and yogurt which is what they had in their lunches for about the last, oh…. too many days. I was going to do something Fabulous! 
Peering into the empty fridge, I found five eggs.  Enter that thing I pinned about “You too can make perfect hard boiled eggs in your oven.. imagine the ease, the no mess, the PERFECTION… the beautiful, delicious egg salad sandwiches soon to be yours.”
And that is why Pinterest is exactly like a modern day snake oil salesman.  It promises a short cut, an easy out.
And in my desperate, foolish and sleep deprived state, I went right along for the ride..
The result:
I don’t know about you, but hard boiled eggs that resemble yellowed BPA-laden circa 1978 Tupperware just aren’t real high on the list of Appealing Things to Eat. And the smell?
The smell is like Satan’s own Sulfurous Potpourri wafting directly from the depths of hell.
The glaring lesson to be learned is the same one we have been learning since pre-school.
Be yourself. And most things that are worth doing take time. Shortcuts and “magic fixes” rarely are either short or magical…
In all of the whirlwind and pink cloud days of being sober, I imagine that I have to change everything that I am, or make up for the things I lack or which I overlooked.  I have forgotten that though I am going through a big change, and putting things back together,  I can still enjoy being what I am. Or if not enjoy, at least accept.
I am a disorganized Mom who has a daughter who might have mulch in her hair more often than not from some daring swing set trick, but who also has the best heart, practices compassion as effortlessly as most people breathe.  She draws pictures that make me smile no matter how bad the day. She makes up crazy songs and gets busted reading books late into the night because her mind is voracious. She’s a dancer with the energy level of a humming bird on crack. She is all wild hair and skinny arms and her will is as strong as mine which is a little scary.
I have a son who may wear head to toe mismatched camo outfits ALL THE TIME… but has an incredibly rich imagination, the best giggle, boundless enthusiasm for engineering, minecraft and monster fish. He practices scooter tricks and tells the best knock knock jokes. He has a tender heart and sensitive soul that is sometimes hard to see under all the quirks. He’s the kid who really thinks about the underlying messages in Marvel movies and who discusses them with real sincerity and insight while I’m tucking him into bed with his beloved stuffed animals. He always needs one more hug. 
I have a frequently naked, ornery, adorable preschool girl who explores the world fearlessly and is scary-smart/ beautiful.  She can color a picture for an hour, hold her own at the skate park with teenage boys zooming past while she wears her Captain America helmet and rides her pink scooter. She is obsessed with owls and will spend hours curled up next to me reading a book or just because she is still my little one. She is my garden helper, and actually works hard helping pull weeds and has always sung to the plants to help them grow.  This year she been serenading the broccoli every day.
I need to just accept that God is using me; the hot mess, the hopelessly non-crafty, flawed, recovering, distracted but well-intentioned Mom to grow these little ones into joyful, incredible people. And that’s a role that I can handle.  Because they are amazing.  Maddening and amazing. And I can do it without gallons of wine.  I can do it better without gallons of wine.
And it’s best to just do it in my own imperfect way. If I’m learning anything in sobriety, it’s that nothing can happen overnight. I have to take it easy, not rush ahead or be extreme.  That goes against my natural temperament.  My brain has identified the problem so it wants to fix every broken thing, right every wrong, eradicate every problem RIGHT NOW. But that’s not how this all works.  I have to take my time. There aren’t any short cuts or quick fixes.
So, I’m going to chalk those eggs up to folly.
I will gracefully keep busting out those cheese sticks and keep reminding myself that if I keep getting up every day and doing the right thing, and then the right thing after that, then ultimately…
Every little thing gonna be alright.

Scars and mirrors

Her twisted face is mere inches from mine and my ears are ringing from how loud she is screaming inside this small room. Her shrieks are echoing out into the rest of the Emergency Department which has gone eerily silent.  Black eye makeup streaks down her cheeks to mingle with tears and sweat. She is screaming obscenities and commanding me to let her go. The smell of alcohol, dirt and sweat stings my eyes. In the next breath she is screaming, begging ,”please just kill me. Just kill me”. I am speaking quietly, calmly down near her ears where I hope she can hear me. ” I hear you. You need to try to calm down. We don’t want to hurt you. We are trying to help you.”  But she is beyond hearing.  She is spitting, kicking and trying to bite my hand that is holding her hand down onto the bed as our staff struggle to put on the locked wrist and ankle restraints without being kicked.  I look down at her slender wrist, see the thin blue veins which are lumpy and scarred from shooting up and then my eyes travel further up to a network of silvery and red horizontal lines, scars from cutting. There are hundreds of them. A small, homemade broken heart tattoo hides on her inner arm. Her eyes are pleading, enraged, defiant and sad all at the same time.

Later, when the medications I have given her have taken effect and she is lying quietly in the darkened room with a warm blanket she whispers to me, “You just don’t know.  I have to get out of here. I got kids.”  She is barely out of childhood herself, though she looks much older. I imagine if that was one of my children, with a scarred body and shattered mind, strapped to a gurney in four point restraints, strung out and off their meds and so drug addled and drunk they want to die. And I know that I’ve seen the look in her eyes in my own mirror after I’ve been drinking.

The gurney rolls up the back ER ramp, surrounded by EMS workers in blue uniforms. On the stretcher is a man a greyish white color that any nurse recognizes immediately as a bad omen.  He looks frail, his skin translucent and clammy. His eyes meet mine with an animal desperation as he vomits cascades of bright red blood into a cheap plastic bucket. I can read what he is asking me without words: “Am I going to die?” I speak to him calmly, recognize the smell of vodka mixed with blood which is a smell that stays in your nostrils long after you’ve gone home and showered in scalding water. He vomits again, a seemingly endless gush; a startling crimson sea. I start his IV, type and cross for blood transfusion, start hanging IV boluses as I watch his pressure dropping precipitously. I send a tech on the run down to the blood bank.  As the monitors start alarming with a startling cacophony, he grips my wrist with his grey cold fingers and he says “is this it?” And I say, “I don’t know. We are going to do everything we can.” He is whisked off to the OR to fix his ruptured varices.. veins in his throat that are torturously dilated after years of chronic alcohol use. I survey the wreckage in the room he has vacated.. the trash on the floor, the suction equipment, the empty bags of transfused blood, the air still heavy with fear and vodka and the unmistakable metallic smell of blood. He is a year older than me.

The car screeches up onto the ramp in front of the ER, the doors fling open and a body is tossed out onto the sidewalk which is more like a river since it is pouring rain. I run down with my radio, immediately notice the blue color of the boy lying on the ground, call for help and start CPR. My team arrives, we load and go with me sitting on top of the gurney still doing compressions as we roll through the waiting room, full of wide -eyed back pain sufferers, toddlers needing stitches and miserable flu patients, back through the pneumatic doors to one of resuscitation bays. Everyone does their jobs, we administer narcan and suddenly the dead boy is back. His eyes open, he takes a gasping breath and immediately starts yelling and cussing at me, calling me the cunt who ruined his high. I remind him that he was dead five minutes ago and that we just saved his life. The doc and I calmly explain the need to monitor him for a while in the ER since the heroin he took could cause respiratory depression and death when the meds we gave him wear off.  He tells us to go fuck ourselves, rips the heart monitor off, flings it at me, cusses a few more people out and storms out of the ER, out onto the street as thunder rumbles.

Forty five minutes later we get a call on the EMS radio that they have a priority one overdose en route to us with a 5 minute ETA. They roll through with an intubated patient,  CPR in progress. I see curly wet hair, then peer at his face and recognize the boy who had just left an hour ago. EMS said unknown down time. We work the code for a long time, check with ultrasound for cardiac activity, and finally he’s pronounced dead, exactly 2 hours and 24 minutes after I first took his pulse out on a sidewalk in bucketing rain.

I hear a familiar voice from behind the curtain of room 3. I know who it is, even before I go in the room to go assess my latest patient.  He smiles at me as I enter and I check him out. Double amputee, Vietnam vet in the bed, wild grey hair he has covered with an old bandana. He has a raspy cigarette voice and a deep laugh that makes the fluid wave in his distended belly ripple. He is dayglow yellow and smiles with perfect white teeth in his wasted face. His spindly arms are cradling his massively distended belly and he jokes “We’ve gotta stop meeting like this, Wen.”  He goes on to brag to me that last week, when I was off work he came in and they tapped him for 4 liters of fluid. His personal record. His stories are great, his attitude is amazing. Yet his body is failing, his liver is shot and most likely I won’t be seeing him much longer. But there is something about him. He talks about the joy he found in sobriety. A joy that sustains him, even when he is obviously dying. I look at him and I think how can he be joking and laughing when he’s in so much pain. How can he be telling others about his peace and serenity now that’s he’s finally sober?

In my gut, deep down, under my neat blue scrubs and name badge that says “RN” on it, under my professionalism there was a voice that I tried to ignore. A voice that was warning me. A quiet voice drowned out by the raging need I felt after shifts like those when I would pull into my driveway in the wee hours. I’d come up the steps with throbbing feet and reach for that glass, hear the glug glug glug of wine that I was gulping before I even had my coat off.  When I was still a young, unjaded nurse, I used to come home and pray and go to bed…. then years later I would tiptoe into my sleeping babies’ rooms and kiss their sweet innocent cheeks and breathe a prayer of thanks over them, then lie awake until the call of the alcohol drew me downstairs for a glass or two. But in that last year, I couldn’t face their innocence knowing that I was bringing a monster inside me into their rooms. I didn’t want to breathe my poison on them.  I felt tainted by what I had seen.. and utterly convinced of what I knew was coming for me. I would sit in my dark kitchen and drink until the faces faded. But they still haunted me the next day when I would wake with a splitting head, queasy stomach and a soul that felt shredded and hollowed out.

My last shift before my last drink.

EMS rolls in with another intubated patient. Eyes fixed and dilated, she’s posturing on the gurney, a sure sign of neurological damage. I’m the primary nurse. Rest of the team shows up to help. EMS tells me that she was found unresponsive by her family. Suspected alcohol overdose. Respiratory arrives and we put her on the ventilator and we start multiple IVs. She starts seizing and I yell for meds. Someone brings them and I am hanging them as her family enters the room. 16 year old son acts as spokesman and her two younger daughters, age 10 and 5 hang back with fear in their huge eyes. One of the nurses goes over and speaks to them quietly, assuring them. I speak to her son who tells me that she had been in recovery for alcohol for a year, started dating a new guy who he said was bad news. She decided last night to have “just one more” which turned into him finding her slumped on the floor of the kitchen when he woke up in the morning at 10 am. He wasn’t sure when she stopped drinking or how long she had been lying there.
I start focusing on titrating drips as her blood pressure is dropping and she’s continuing to have intermittent seizures. I listening to the rhythmic hiss and whoosh of the ventilator breathing for her. Her jaw is slack, her eyes rolling. Her two little girls are crying quietly at her bedside and kiss her arm and hand.  The son takes them out to the waiting room to meet their aunt who has come to take them. I stop focusing on numbers and the medicine for a minute and really look at her. Notice that her necklace is digging into her neck around the ties that are holding her breathing tube in place. I can’t loosen it so cut it off and place it in a bag with the clothes we cut off. I wonder what the story is behind it… an angel with a single wing.

Boyfriend arrives, staggering and slurring, yelling at her to wake up and pulling on her tubes and lines. I call security and we all try to calm him down. His eyes are blood red, his hair is wild and nothing we are saying is registering. He keeps grabbing her and crying he’s sorry. He turns his eyes to me and towers over me saying ” the paramedics told me she was fine. Why did you do to her? Why aren’t you helping her.” His voice gets louder and he comes closer, grabbing both my arms. I grab his hands and twist away as security steps in and end up dragging him out of the ER.  Her son appears a few minutes later and tells me he called the cops to have the boyfriend arrested because he tried to assault him in the waiting room. I ask him if he’s ok and he says in a shaky, shuddery voice, “yeah. We’ve been through this a lot. I thought she was finally better. I can’t believe this is happening. She just kept saying she just wanted one more and then she’d be done for good.”

A few hours later, I’ve taken her to CT and xray and we’ve discovered that she had aspirated (vomited while unconscious and breathed it into her lungs), had a massive hemorrhagic stroke and most likely an anoxic brain injury. She will probably never wake up. I’m reading the CT results on the computer I’ve rolled up next to her bed and I look at her. Freckles across her nose, red hair, slender. A few years older than me. She looks like me.  I have a premonition and the hair is standing up on the back of my neck. I shake it off.  I give report to the nurse taking my assignment. I turn in my radio, grab my bag, walk out of the ER and drive home feeling that need. The need.

At home, it’s 0300 when I get in the door. I’m shaking. I can’t stop thinking. I drink. And I drink some more. As if I can just wipe that memory out of my mind, deny the premonition I felt.  The irony that I was making it come true was lost on me as I just slammed shot after shot.

I stumbled to bed, woke with my alarm, had a rough morning getting the kids to the bus. Fight with my son who was melting down about the seams in his sock, sending him off to school in tears instead of with a hug and less annoying socks.. still seeing her face when I shut my eyes. More drinking. A whole bottle of whiskey. Then darkness. Blearily waking to realize I forgot to get my preschooler off the bus. Squinting with one eye to see to drive when the road looked like four roads. Entering the school office, realizing I was slurring terribly. Bursting into tears and telling some unintelligible story about having the flu and oversleeping my alarm. Alarmed faces of the office ladies. Maybe the real truth was too hard to believe. I was almost falling down drunk at noon and about to drive my five year old home. I have no idea why they let me take her. Another squinty eyed drive up the road. Home. Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pretending to be the competent mom who gives her kid lunch after a busy day learning her ABCS. Except I dumped a jar of olives instead of jelly onto her bread. Started over. Opened a second bottle of whiskey. A few more shots since the shame was trying to creep in past my “don’t care, nothing can touch me” alcohol fueled bravado.  I remember giving my girl a sandwich and some fruit and then stumbling upstairs to my room and that was it for the next 12 hours.

I remember horrible blips and snapshots of that night. I somehow called my husband in my blackout and told him to come home. I remember him trying to pull me out of the shower and my voice that sounded like someone else’s’ just crying over and over that I wanted to die. Telling him I’m an alcoholic. I want to die. All those fearsome truths that I’d been skirting around for years. The truth was out. The curtain was whipped back like in Oz and this was the new reality. Around midnight, I sat up in bed, finally able to steady my spinning mind to ask about my kids who I was assured were safe. Looked down at my legs and saw that my kneecap was completely dislocated. I felt nothing. Not a thing. Absolute numbness. Stood up and it popped back in, hobbled to the bathroom, squinting in the light to see the entire right side of my face covered in bruises, my lip split and swollen, my tooth missing, my entire body covered in bruises and aching from falling. I have no idea how I busted my face. Limped back to bed, pulled my covers over my shaking shoulders, feeling ice in the pit of my stomach. And I sat there in the dark and realized that I had two choices: I could ignore it. Chalk it up to a bad shift, a rough week, just a one time mistake. Yes, I’d had blackouts and hurt myself before but never that bad. I could cut back or try moderating again. Or, I could absolutely face the fact that I was going to die if I continued this way. I could choose to surrender to the idea that I simply can never, ever drink again. I could have killed my daughter or myself or someone else. The school could (and should) have called the cops. I could have fractured my skull falling with that much force, could have aspirated and been just like my patient, leaving my three kids crying and never understanding why I left them.

I chose the second. And every day I wake up and choose the second.

And I see these patients with different eyes now. I don’t fear them anymore, being terrified to see myself in them, wanting to deny the similarities.  Now I see the commonalities. I feel compassion.  I am able to quietly share, ask questions now that I never would have before. Because I KNOW them. I am them. And they can make that second choice too.

So, I’m like my dayglow yellow man now. I have hope and joy. I am utterly grateful that I was given the chance to walk away, though limping and looking like a hillbilly with one front tooth for a few days. I still have a lot of challenges, a lot of scars. But I have gratitude too. Oceans of gratitude instead of oceans of shame and despair.

Now when I look in the mirror, I can see the lines on my face, the remnants of pain. But I also see a twinkle in my eye.

And there but for the grace of God go I.