Nurse on a Bike

the adventure

Dining Tables.

The bike trip has ended.

I have moved to Washington, D.C. Well, Arlington for a week, and then into my “own apartment”(!!!1111) in Washington, D.C.

I still don’t know how I feel about this “experience”, it continues to seem surreal even as I live it. My first week of work has started and ended rather uneventfully. Minus the tears that unexpectedly flow from my eyes every time someone tells us how stressful, emotional, and difficult the upcoming year will be.

I am embarking on a terrified new beginning. My terror is masked by my disbelief in the very process I am entering, and hoping to achieve. One enormous fear is whether I will transition socially–will I make friends? I’m just a nervous little girl with nothing to say to anyone! Will they like me? I’ll need their support emotionally, mentally, and physically…and if I don’t get it, what then? Misery, grief, and depression?

The bigger, and more important fear, is whether I will actually be a great nurse. Will I understand the signs of when a patient is crashing? Will I know how to respond appropriately when it’s not looking too good? How will I address assessment findings, when I need to immediately act upon them especially? And how will I find myself interacting with all the interns and residents?

I am embarrassed by these fears, and know that I create a tough exterior to mask my inner vulnerabilities and weaknesses. I think it’s partially from being raised with brothers and imposing masculine expectations on myself. So while I’m not outwardly competitive and don’t exactly invest my self-worth in whether I’m “better” than people, I don’t want anyone to see me as “less than” or “weaker” than others. So don’t call me cute, because every perceived instance of apparent cuteness will make me run from that perception even more. And if I’m scared in a situation, I will hide it and tough it out and threaten to physically harm you before I’ll cry. I’m able to acknowledge that I don’t know something, or that I’m ignorant of what’s going on in a given situation. I’m not able to acknowledge being overwhelmed.

On a different note, but related to transitions, DC has already given me a lot to think about in how it’s different from NJ. I’d just like to document a few minor things.

1. As a person of color, I am ACTUALLY a minority here. I don’t know the statistics, but I have never felt like people of color were in the minority where I grew up or went to school. It was a rare occasion for me to be the only person of color in a given room. In Nursing school, white people were a tiny minority of the student population. Now, I am one of 6 people of color out of 76 new graduates in the program I have entered. I am often the only person of color in the room. I am the only new grad of color in my unit.

2. People are boring. And very few people have been understanding my sarcasm or humor. Am I less funny than I thought I was? Am I more sarcastic than I thought I was? Am I the one with a weird sense of humor, or do they just take themselves too seriously? Time will tell.

3. New Brunswick, NJ, where I grew up, is a shit-hole. I didn’t realize that I was actually living in a relatively poor, dangerous, slum…compared to the poor, dangerous area of DC that I am moving to! I can raise my standards now that I’m out of shitty college-town-land

4. When I lived in shitty-college-town-land, many of the white friends I had would complain about getting cat-called or sexually harassed while riding their bikes or walking. While that happened to me occasionally, it was probably only 6 times within all of college. I’m not going to say I’m gorgeous, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that as a person of color, I was less of a target of harassment than white women simply because of color. I also never really got the whole, getting-favors-from-men-simply-because-I’m-a-woman. I’d also venture to say that it wasn’t because I’m not beautiful that I didn’t get those favors, but more because I wasn’t white in New Brunswick (a town where 90% of the residents are non-white, and at least 50% of the students were  non-white). Since moving to DC, I have experienced an excessive amount of friendliness and favors from men of color. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. If those men of color are doing favors for me, risking their jobs in some cases, because they expect something out of me or are trying to get me in a situation that I will regret being in, or if being a woman of color is simply considered more attractive and approachable in a city where people of color are actually a minority. Or some twisted amalgamation where doing a favor for me is sexually gratifying for me. Or are those people just NICE???!!! And I’m from NJ and can’t handle people being NICE to me, so I immediately get defensive and skeptical??

5. People are boring, and people from Princeton University are particularly boring. They are also ill-adjusted to existence in the world outside of the Princeton bubble. No wonder alumni populate the town of Princeton. They can’t handle environments that are not cookie-cutter perfect.

6. I am incredibly judgmental, and that will bring me down.

That’s all for now.

mat

Rehearsal

Generally, in my life, there have not been many points when I have had to THINK REALLY HARD about a particular problem. The hardest mental battles that I have had to face have been neatly resolved with lists of pros and cons, discussions with other people who are involved, studying long hours with coffee, or admit that while I will keep working as hard as I can, some things are beyond my control (ie, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia within individuals). Studying, in college and high school, came fairly easy to me. In high school, the hardest I had to think was probably when I was attempting to logically solve theorems in math class. Knowing there was a right answer, but not knowing how to get there on my own, would frustrate me to no end. In college, finishing nursing school is one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but it was still pretty mindless studying. Even the so-called “critical thinking” that they pretend to train us for is memorization of how they want us to think. ASSESSMENT-DIAGNOSIS-PLANNING-INTERVENTION-EVALUATION. AIRWAY-BREATHING-CIRCULATION. Like a robot, I can tell you how to logically respond to the questions, even if I don’t always get it right. And the purpose of studying at this phase of nursing is simply to repeat the motions enough so when I take the NCLEX, I’ll get it right.

When I have encountered “problems”–challenges, for which I know there is a way out, but do not understand how to get to it on my own–there has always been others who I can go to and ask for help, advice. In South America, I could always turn to Lissie and say, “What do you think we should do about this? Is there anything?” And if we were in a tricky situation, the deciding factor was often the issue of money. “We’re on a sketchy beach and the police tell us that we’ll get robbed if we stay the night? Well, we don’t have any money to spend, so we’ll stay up all night, sleep with our eyes open and our hands on our pocket knives, and maybe we’ll make it out.” My car breaks down? Call my dad. I want to fix or build a bike? I’ve always been able to go to the bike library, Kim’s Bike Store, or to my boyfriend, Chris, who biked centuries in high school and has retained extensive bike repair knowledge.

A few weeks ago, I rode my bike to NYC to see my super-tough-you-should-be-jealous-you’re-not-friends-with-her housemate fight. I parked my bike in Brooklyn at a friend’s house, took the train to Queens, and went back to my bike in the morning. I found it had a flat tire. I have literally never had a flat tire in at least 3 years, despite riding at at least 300 miles each summer alone, and have literally never had to change a flat tube on my own. I’ve probably changed a dozen tubes, what with my friends having flats and my own desire to build bikes. I had an extra tube, but effectively did not, because the bike store unfortunately gave me a tube with the wrong valve. Eventually, I ended up taking the train with my sad and flat friend, Cecilia, back to Jersey.

In Jersey, reunited with Chris, we went over to the bike library to trade tubes. I changed the flat, rode a while, brought my bike back to Princeton. Yesterday, I then rode about 2 miles and ended up with a flat again. Cursing my head off, I went to the bike store, bought a few new tubes, and did the ol’ switcheroo once more. What now though? The brake pad just up and fell off? Cool. And my wheel isn’t clearing the other brake pad? Great. I recently wrote an email to my travel partner stating that brakes are my weak point, “I just don’t understand them.” I guess Cecilia (my bicycle) wants to test me…test my patience, my ability, my frustration threshold, my critical thinking skills.

Yesterday I said, fuck…I’ll make a plan for tomorrow. My game plan consisted of liberating some brake pads, watching you-tube videos on brake adjustment, and essentially fucking around with the brake apparatus until I got it right. The You-tube videos weren’t as helpful as I would have hoped, so I ended up sitting with Cecilia and my adjustable wrench on the driveway for 3 hours, trying everything I could think of. Cecilia is back in working condition (to my knowledge; we’ll really find out tomorrow when I test ride her to Philly).

As a recent college graduate, this was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in years. TO THINK. TO TRY. To know that there’s a solution out there, but I can’t just turn to the back of the book, ask the teacher for advice, or take it to the shop. To know that all of the pressure is on me to figure it out, and while there may be some introductory aids (you tube videos, phone-a-friend), I need to have the confidence to act on the knowledge I have on my own. I can’t just say, can someone come over and do this for me? I’m afraid I’m going to break this and I don’t want to have to take responsibility for it.

Well it’s time. It’s time to take responsibility, to hold myself accountable for the mistakes I make, the parts I lose, the concentration I do or do not have. It’s time to force myself to think hard.

Incongruence

Nurses who see what horrible pain people put themselves through become the most bitter, hateful people. Some ignore the pained screaming of a withdrawing alcoholic with hepatic encephalopathy who they think doesn’t deserve the care they are receiving. Cynacism takes over, and when a yellow body cries out their name personally, they respond, “Well, he’s DNR/DNI anyway. Let him go.” Others take their bitterness and cynacism and transfer it to their coworkers, making a conscious decision to avoid conversation and instead become a follower of crazed rituals, like bed baths for every patient at the same time every night with the same products, regardless of whether there are other things to do at that given moment. Their silence when with functioning people, but chattiness with the helpless, serves as a testament to their fundamental desire to help others, and to avoid people who don’t want to. They will not be tarnished by anger or cynacism toward the helpkess, only toward those they perceive as full of hate.

What will I become? At this point, I avoid conversation with my coworkers, but mostly because small talk disrupts the strict schedule that I function best with. When someone brings in family photos, no matter how adorable they may be, it interrupts the mental break that helps me save my energy for actual patient care and documentation.

Being a PCT for now is a simple job-all it is is patient care and documentation. There is very little critical thinking expected of me, and often, when I ask questions, attempting to learn from experienced nurses, I am greeted with incoherent or incorrect responses. I often wonder if I am the only person in the unit who learned to speak in full sentences.

Communication is something I will always struggle with. After living with people who passive-aggresively leave angry unsigned notes to those who mumbe to themselves and refuse to repeat the answer to the question, I get incredible frustrated when the intention of another person is not absolutely clear and when their face doesn’t match up with their message. But I know I’m guilty of the same crime: my stutter shines when I’m trying to relay important information or impress someone, and I’ve been known to smile when a patient is hungry for air, questioning whether their lungs or heart will hold out another day, laughing at the nurse’s often ridiculous behavior and my own inability to take control.

As a new nurse, communication is the key to everything I do. If I cannot properly communicate with the doctors, other nurses, and helpful people I work with, them I’m no good to them either. So I demand others to provide clear expectations from me. If I ask, “Do you need help, do you want to ask a few other people too?” And your response is, “I brought all the linens in already,” then no, I can’t help you. But if you say, “Actually, I do need yopur help!” then I can say, “Finally! A coherant sentence! When and where?”

The fact that communication is so difficult for me when people have different styles, and the fact that I despose nurses who do not have empathy for the pain of addiction, makes me suspect that my story will devolve into that of the silent nurse who gets chatty with her patients. But actually, I don’t eant to be that. I want friends, I want coworkers who I can bond with over common struggles with. Same thing everyone wants in life, same reason generations of young people have signed up for the military, same reason millions thought the world would end on the 21st. I simultaneously want that sense of community, but half-heartedly despise most of the people I work with.

Apprehension

Anticipating a potentially life-changing journey is like wringing a beach towel;  you keep squeezing it so tight because you really want it to be dry but it never quite feels there yet. Some days, all I can think about is the bike trip…for the last two months, I’ve had my present in my head. The month of May is planned, with ongoing preparation mapped out. Now that I’m in the month of May, it feels like I have very little to DO. Sure, I need to buy a few things and attach them to m bike. I am attempting Food Stamps today and am working the 16-hour evening + night shift to save up. I need to train; it’ll obviously be easier to start the journey if my muscles have been worked, stretched, and lifted. So the steps are in place. I know pretty much exactly what I need to do , what I will do, what I won’t do and how to push myself past where I want to go into where I need to be.

I am at work as I write this, and feel I’m just waiting. Waiting for the days when I will awaken with the sun, get my shit together, hop on a bicycle and think very little for hours at a time. Think probably nothing until little waves of hunger begin low in my belly, or my open, dry lips crave water.

It’s just a bike trip. It will, in the small and large scheme of things, be the equivilant of getting drunk with strangers at a bar on the weekend, or watching MTV for hours while I’m pretending to pay attention to a patient at work. It’s a way to pass the time. We’re given 80-odd years on the earth to fill, and fuck! I’m only on 21? Worst of all, I’m trying to savor the moment, capture every detail. My midlife crisis  happened when I realized people could get sick, when I met a quadraplegic in his 20′s who fell in a rock-climbing accident, when I saw an episode of Doug where the kids weren’t allowed to play ball on the lawn. What’s the point in perfectly green grass if its not going to be used? What’s the point in my apparently healthy, youthful body if the places I go are not going to nourish and fulfill me? If I’ve got time on this planet, if I am breathing and talking and laughing, I want to really breathe, speak words that I mean, and laugh like if I die that moment, it’ll be with a smile on my face.

I could get hit by a car. I keep remembering a friend of a friend who was killed while riding his bike on a not-super-busy country road. How devastated friends and family were. My friends and family absolutely would be mortified. Then I think, what if I get hit but I don’t die? I don’t have an advanced directive or a living will! My parents might keep me alive for a while. Chris knows how I feel about “heroic efforts” and artificial “life-sustaining measures”–but Chris and I aren’t married! Fuck! So I think to myself how principles clash sometimes, and that I should probably designate Chris as my durable power of attorney before I get squashed by a tractor trailor in Kentucky.

This is what I am reduced to thinking about, a month and a week before departure: the worst possible scenarios. I made my pacing list in January, and there is an ongoing route in the works. I could look into the final destination…how exactly will we ride into NOLA? But there are so many undetermined checkpoints along the way that can easily prevent the eventual grand entrance.

Interested, but not Engaged

I read the paper today.

More importantly, I went on facebook and saw the words, “Osama bin Laden”, “America”, and “USA” enough to produce a visceral nausea.

Patriotism, poised as the answer when we allow ourselves to believe, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”; our Paternalist Politicians will deal with it, and Ignorance is Bliss, blew up today.

The cold war no longer justifies our enormous spending on military goods, the creation of young, male, killing, raping, and torturing machines, and the stealing of workers dollars to give to rich, white, corporate thieves.

So a Satan is born, to take the consumer’s mind off of their business-driven government, off their shallow existence and dissatisfied days.

When the masses rally together–this time for their country, this time chanting USA! USA! U.S.A.! the ability for their own lives to substantially improve is diluted.

Their children’s future spoken so highly of is forgotten

Education? That shit’ll mess you up.

Loans? I had to get ‘em, you may as well too.

Poisoned water, producing cancers in teenage girls and babies alike, making mandatory the purchase of bottled water for life? Well, we’re America! Why don’t we consume some of the finer things in life?

Where does the logic not connect?

How do individuals see progress or democracy in war-torn countries propped up by artificial governments?

Who says  women’s liberation is the reason we enter, when women loose the ability to be educated, to run a functioning household, when women have no access to healthcare there nor here?

An unjustifiable lunacy has taken over the whole fucking world,

And while I believe in respecting difference, being cognizant of other’s experience and how that experience colors thoughts, feelings, and behaviors…

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE.

Compassion

As a self-described organizer and student leader for the last 7 years, I have learned that in almost every community, the wellness of the individuals involved is frequently taken for granted. We encourage our peers to put the movement, the politics, the community, issues, before themselves, to resist sleep, to become addicted to caffeine and stimulants in order to take on additional responsibilities and stressors at the expense of their mental and emotional stability, and at the expense of their relationships with others. While noticing these trends within organizations, I have also noticed that the groups who are able to function the most successfully make the happiness of the individuals involved central to the goal and meaning of the group.

Organizing in a college setting, for many, is a privilege that comes secondary to a job, a family, schoolwork, emotional needs of friends, romantic relationships, sleep, and self-care. Organizing should be driven by passion, by love, by solidarity, compassion, and hope. Organizing SHOULD NOT be driven by guilt, by wanting to be well-liked; should not be driven by a resume or a career plan. When individuals feel forced to spread themselves too thin based on the latter reasons, organizing becomes another job, another child, another stressor straining the emotional health of the individual. However, when we allow ourselves to act upon the outrage, passion, and love that propels us forward, there is the possibility for solid relationships, more equal power dynamics, a celebration of difference and conflict that can allow progress. Ultimately, to prevent burn out within our communities, organizing has to be something that we still WANT TO DO. It can’t be a chore that we begrudgingly carry out without understanding the true purpose of our actions. We must be able to view our responsibilities holistically, to celebrate our smallest accomplishments in relationship to the larger struggle, to be self-critical so as to not to lose focus, and to communicate with other organizers effectively.

Relationships between organizers, then, are essential to the quality of the group’s campaigns, tactics, and strategies. Are the organizers able to discuss differences in religion, race, sexual orientation, personal family issues and responsibilities, that color the acceptability of particular tactics, or are these differences ignored? How is difference approached—with a fear of difference, with cynical tokenism, or is there a genuine embracing of differences within and between identities, so that each person can feel comfortable, confident, and know that they will be listened to? These conversations can only be had if there is a foundation of trust between those in the group. If I know I am different, but cannot discuss and celebrate what makes me different, I will most likely feel alienated and, quite frankly, angry at others who I may want a sense of solidarity with.

Building healthy, trusting relationships is hard, no matter who you are, no matter how tangential or intertwined the relationship will be. In order to build trust, conflict is necessary, and in order to engage in conflict, trust is necessary. Each person has to trust the other that they will listen, that they will not spin the comments in a way other than intended, that their comments will not be used against them. In radical communities, though, these uncertain relationships are often the core of what keeps us going. For many of us, our families do not provide our need for healthy, trusting relationships; friends and lovers don’t understand our radicalism or passion, and we are often questioned by everyone else in the world to a point where we question our own sanity. We look to other organizers to provide emotional support, to teach us, to be accepted unconditionally, and to feel safe and protected. If these tenuous relationships are central to our ability to engage difference between organizers, these relationships can also add or detract to our passion for change. Sensitivity to others needs within the community, then, is essential to promote wellness and prevent burnout.

Within women’s communities especially, wellness can only happen when we trust each other enough to feel like we don’t have to prove ourselves. We can’t be afraid to say No. In building these relationships, we have to understand that the decline of invitations to events, speaking opportunities, additional responsibilities,  does not necessary reflect upon our commitment level, but rather upon our own confidence and trust level. If I need to prove myself to you, like you’re my professor, my boss, or my mom, that undermines our ability to operate functionally with each other as radicals. If I need to prove myself to you, the fun is gone, the drive is gone. I am organizing to impress rather than organizing in order to create and sustain fundamental changes within the microsystems of society that I enter. So all organizers must learn to accept another’s right to say No, I can’t do that. While I may or may not want to commit to another effort, another time commitment, another possibly lifechanging opportunity, I can’t. No individual entirely knows what another individual is going through, what an acceptable level of stress is for that person, what that person has been through that could act as a trigger. If another person sets a boundary, those boundaries should be accepted. And as in any human interaction, for one person to respect another person’s boundaries requires self-knowledge, self-respect, and awareness of how one’s actions affect another.

And when a boundary is set, I don’t owe you an explanation. No one deserves an explanation. So if you are told No, you CAN ask why, but you are not owed a justification. When I draw my boundaries—in sex, in patriarchy, racism, or homophobia in jokes, in responsibilities I am willing to take on-no one deserves an explanation. Sometimes I will provide one. Sometimes I will explain why I would prefer that you use a word other than gay or bitch, but often I won’t. Just because you want to know something doesn’t mean I owe you an explanation. As Audre Lorde writes in, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”:

“Women of today are still being called up on to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and o ur needs. This is ano old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women—in the face of tremendous resistance—as to our existence, or differences, or relative roles in a joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.”

 

 

BLANCA, y mi papa

I CRAWL

and

I CRAVE

The anger turned inward that you lead me to

You, acting like I’m a piece of shit

Like I can’t do anything right

Even the favors I do for you are turned against me

The sympathy I have is only returned with spite

I CRAWL, I CRAVE

Towards she who destroys my self-confidence

Belittles my existance

Laughs at my tears

Enjoys the conflict that leads me to them

I CRAWL, I CRAVE

Because revenge is not my strenth

Witty combacks impossible to formulate

My eyes burn with hatred but soon,

I CRAWL, I CRAVE

Relationships are normalized as dysfunctional.

At the floor, I slink along, hoping I will be given some fruit

Something fresh upon my lips

Rather tahn this bitter wine

I CRAWL, I CRAVE.

For that silver lining on our personality

Hoping we can be friends after all

Even though Arnold taught me some people won’t like you no matter how nice you are

I CRAWL, I CRAVE.

Dustless Black Pepper

I do look like you.

My eyebrows are formed in a similar shape, my smile, my grin, is not ashamed and its crooked teeth show themselves regularly,

just. like. yours.

We’ve both got glasses.

When we fight both of our pairs jump up and down on our face, playing hot potato, dancing on the angry contortions our faces create.

But we’re different, right?

Same race, different gender?

Same glare, different intent.

Same joy, same anger.

Same jokes, same insults.

Same frustrated endings to our own arguments, same hyper-rational intellectual defense mechanisms, and the same over-reactions and excessive temper taking control of our souls so that intellectual protective portion of our hearts says,

“Jeez. I just don’t know how to justify this.”

Same retreat.

Same ignoring the chaos we create, the anger we instill, the pathological relationship processes we attempt to normalize.

Same lack of concern for others feelings and drives.

And it makes me vomit to look in the mirror and witness a picture that even slightly resembles you

I am ashamed to contemplate my future, wondering if I have made any progress

Or will I, like  you…

Perpetuate abusive relationships with my partner, children, friends?

Seek to get to the top of my career potential, regardless of the effect on my family, my peace of mind, my health, my sanity?

Cope by putting myself on the highest pedestal possible, from my throne, dictate orders, refuse to apologize

Convince myself that I have the right, the foresight, to tell the peons below what to do and how to live?

Fuck history.

Can I work, grow, play beyond this?

Pretentious

A terrific disaster, this world. I look up into a white sky, with mist falling gracefully onto my tired but tempted face, moistening my sparkling white hospital pants, and simultaneously am amazed at my own ability to smile and laugh and love and live, and am darkened by our world, so filled with hatred between brothers and sisters, allowing ourselves to be divided through the tactics of the small minority of people who are in power.

I’m simple. Last night I made a delicious eggplant parmigiana using pre-made ingredients.I made it for my white cis-gendered male partner and myself, and I shared some with a white cis-gendered female housemate of mine who despises cooking. It was delicious: the flavors fused beautifully and delicately, and the sub roll was toasted to perfection (oh yes, I made it Jersey pizza-place style).

I then sat at the computer for a few hours, for that night I was not too swamped with my own self-inflicted school work to remind myself that there is a world outside of the confines of my beige sofa in an off-white room in a white house. I reminded myself that whatever claim is made that women’s rights have been won, that women don’t need to fight anymore, or critically analyze patriarchy, is a cruel blow against the millions of women who do not have access to an abortion when they are raped; to the women who are raped on a daily basis and are asked by police officers, “What were you wearing? Did you say anything to bring it upon yourself?”; to the children who are raped and are asked, “What were you wearing? Did you say anything to bring it upon yourself?”; to the transgendered people who are mocked, brutalized, and simply treated as if their very existence is wrong; to the  women who are still being paid $0.75 for every dollar that a man is making in the same position; to those of us who aren’t able to shut off the TV, shut out the magazines and media, and continuously be reminded that the “perfect” woman does not look like us.

I am incredibly privileged. I am set to live anywhere I want in the country, in the world. The greatest threat to my person hood and future is the lack of a consistent health care system to treat the patient (myself, my family members) holistically, and to recognize mental health to be as important as physical health. I have not personally been assaulted–physically or sexually–so no, there was nothing that “happened to me” that made me care about people. For some reason, I just can’t ignore a military industrial complex, which, paired with a prison industrial complex, disables communities of color as it maims, traumatizes, and subjugates the veterans and incarcerated it takes from those communities. Interconnectedness means that assaults against communities of color, against women in rural South Dakota who do not have access to abortions, against women at every step on the capitalist ladder (when women do find a way to function within this capitalist system), against transgendered peoples who cannot fit into a binary as easily as the rest of us…all of these are, in the end, an assault against my physical person hood.

So, I’m going on a bike ride this summer.

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