May 27, 2013

The Long Gray Line

Before Brad left for West Point's 'Beast' boot camp, he gave me a CD to listen to while he was away. "All My Loving" by Jim Sturgess {listen here!} from the movie Across the Universe was track number one. There were many lonely days that I listened to it on repeat more times than was probably healthy. I wrote to Brad every single day as our only form of communication, and he still has a hard time expressing how much those letters meant to him. Our relationship was still so new at that point, but there was no denying we were falling in love.

Track number one again played on repeat for me recently, but this time silently in my head. As I waited for the commencement ceremony for the United States Military Academy Class of 2013 to begin, a wave of nostalgia hit me. As I sat in the freezing rain in my bright red poncho and rain boots I had begrudgingly worn rather than my adorable planned sundress (yes, the weather was that bad), I thought about the lyrics, what they meant to me then, and what they mean to me now. Four years have come and gone, and so much has happened! I was accepted to and graduated from nursing school, we adopted two kittens, I moved to New York. We traveled together to Key West, Las Vegas, Boston, San Francisco, Alaska, and France. We watched Michigan State win a lot and Army lose a lot of football games (sorry love, couldn't resist). We both said goodbye to our childhood homes as our parents moved on to bigger and better things. Brad asked a big question, and I said yes. A lot can happen in four years, just to name a few.

And now we can add one very big one to the list. Brad has joined the long gray line as a West Point graduate. He is now a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army and will join the 36th Engineer Brigade at our first duty station, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

One thing that did stay the same as Brad journeyed from lowly plebe to officer rank was love. The love we share, love from our families, and love from new and old friends alike. Just as my daily letters got Brad through boot camp and a silly love song helped me survive, it is because of all of the love in our lives that we celebrated a very big accomplishment in rainy Michie Stadium on May 25th together. The weather of graduation day, although a bummer, did not dampen the happiness of the graduates, family, and friends one single bit. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise to hide the tears of joy that fell like waterworks down my cheeks as I got that much anticipated first hug on the field.

To 2LT Witt: Okay, okay. I guess you can take some of the credit. Maybe it wasn't entirely love that got you to graduation day. I suppose a good deal of late nights, physical challenges, hard work, and lessons learned in leadership were necessary on your part too. For some odd reason I expected you to come out of the barracks for the big reveal in your new officer's uniform as a different person. Much to my delight, you are the same exact guy I fell in love with four years ago, just with a spiffy new get-up and admirable title and career to match. You earned this, and I could not possibly be more proud of you. In fact, watching you graduate and commission was the proudest moment of my life so far. Choosing to serve our country in a time of conflict and uncertainty speaks volumes of your selflessness and courage. No matter where Army life takes us from here, together or far apart, know that I am always right beside you. You have "all my loving," always.

From R-Day...

West Point would post pictures of the new cadets every day during boot camp. My summer was spent in a tiny cubicle in the call center at Whirlpool Corporation. Needless to say, I spent many hours scouring their website searching for a familiar face in a sea of soldiers. Here is what I found... Graduation Day!  

As captured by the photojournalism queen (who we are blessed to call our dear friend), Jill Knight of Jillography
We are forever grateful to you for giving us the gift of such awesome and emotion-packed pictures.
© Jillography 2013 /

May 11, 2013

South Circle Five

"To do what nobody else will do, a way that nobody else can do it, in spite of all we go through; is to be a nurse."

I walked onto south circle five in 2011 as unprepared as every new graduate nurse. I will be the first to admit I was completely, but innocently, ignorant regarding exactly how unprepared I truly was. You come out of a rigorous, nationally ranked nursing program feeling on top of the world, proudly displaying your new badge with 'BSN' in bold and all capitals. But then your first patient's heart stops beating; you call your first code blue. Or a red-faced physician screams in your face. The most self sufficient patient in your assignment consumes all of your time and energy, leaving you feeling guilty about the ones who may have needed you more. Your time management skills (and bladder capacity) are tested far beyond your wildest dreams, and you start to wonder what you got yourself into. Is the stress of this career worth it? Am I really making the difference I set out to make when I decided to become a nurse?

In addition to the typical challenges of novice nursing, my first acute care position opened my eyes to something that those who know me best know is actually one of my biggest fears: death. Many of our patients on south circle five, also known as the Oncology Care Unit, are dying. Bad things happen to the best people and families. That is the cold, hard reality I had to face. One of my most memorable patients gave me a handwritten recipe card of her favorite family dessert as a gift. She wrote,

"To Kayla, my angel. Thank you for your care, 
your hard work, and above all, your love."

She died about a month after. I cried so hard that night as I held on tightly to her card, but in that moment I made myself a promise. Each fall using hand-picked granny smith apples (her specific recommendation for best results), I will smile and honor her memory with her famous apple crisp. I know that is exactly what she would want me to do.

I think people and challenges come into your life at exactly the time you need them most. Being surrounded by something so many people try hard not to think about and something that is very scary to me has helped me see the bigger picture. We have to acknowledge death as a part of life in order to live it better. Death is often unfair and too soon, and that simple truth has helped me make a conscious effort to let the little things go and be happy with the simplicity of day-to-day life.

So right now you might be feeling totally impressed by all of my wise realizations and deep sentiments, but I can't take credit for making the journey alone. My nurse manager told me during my interview that she has the best team. She was absolutely correct. I remember being forewarned by professors about workplace violence and experienced nurses eating their young. If there was one thing I did show up prepared for on day one it was this, but what I witnessed was the exact opposite.

There was not a single shift that I felt unsupported or berated for my lack of experience. My craziest days physically always included an extra set of hands or two to help me catch up, and my toughest days mentally always ended with a hug from a co-worker. My preceptor Renee, who I am convinced may have one of the kindest hearts on this planet, told me something in the very beginning that stuck with me: if we aren't aware of and open to our insecurities, we won't succeed. Whether applied to a career like ours that literally involves life or death or even just to everyday life, this is such an important thing to understand. I was never made to feel that my questions were stupid, and I am still learning new things every single day. It is such a great feeling to reflect on all of the confidence I have gained because of all I've learned. I'm not sure that my co-workers realize the role they have played in my life (but I am hoping many of you will read this and smile!). The same nurse manager that boasted about having the best staff now includes me in that incredible team. Her goodbye to me was something along the lines of,

"Your OCU family is always here for you. 
We raised you and love you." 

Again, she was spot on. The fabulous ladies (plus Jim and Mike too of course!) of south circle five are the most compassionate people I have had the pleasure of knowing personally and professionally. They have helped mold me into the nurse I have become and am still growing into. Instead of feeling upset about having to say goodbye, I am trying to cling to the hope that our military lifestyle with frequent relocation will lend itself to many more opportunities to meet different groups of equally wonderful nurses and friends.

As I move on to my next nursing opportunity I am overwhelmed by how fortunate I was to have had this one as my first. I will always carry it with me. The challenges, bad days, and difficult patients really are as tough as they seem, but I've definitely come to the conclusion that I am in fact making the difference I set out to make when I decided to make this my career. Nursing is worth it.

To every single person that helps make south circle five at Vassar Brothers Medical Center what it is - thank you, I love you all! You will be greatly missed, thought of frequently, and cherished always.