His name was Ogden. He was 95. I was 10. In a valiant attempt to be a mother and to also make a living, my mother would bring Ogden to our house and sit him in the chair by the windows in the front living room. I remember that I didn’t want to sit in Ogden’s chair with its green velvety upholstery, after his visits. This reaction made me feel bad. I remember the feeling very well.

I was curious about Ogden, but also afraid. As he was old. His hair was white. He walked very slowly using a walker with wheels, needing the aid of my mother, his private duty nurse. My mother would joyfully announce to the household, “Come meet Ogden guys!,” making sure his legs were firmly against the chair as she sat him down. As he slowly, carefully sat I could sense his fear. I didn’t know then what made him so afraid, but now I know. I know now about the fear of falling when debilitated, and know the fine-tuned challenges of living in a body no longer in synch with your mind. The mind still thinks it knows the subtle balancing and everyday calculations of sitting in an unfamiliar chair. But this knowledge is no longer fully translated into the sequence and precision of normal movements. After you have fallen and felt your dignity crash to the floor after miscalculating this basic act, you face a bigger fear: your mortality. As a girl I could sense that fear in Ogden, it raised the fear in me–of what I did not know about life.

At 10 years old my mother was already teaching me the foundations of nursing. Since then, 25 years of nursing has exposed me 10,000 times to life and mortality in all its ways. To know not just the technical side of birth and healing, disease and dying, but in particular the human aspects: each person’s courage and frailties, generosities and foolishness—to know how we look after each other’s’ hopes and grief’s and hearts and not just their social security numbers intertwined with medical record numbers attached to insurance policies. To know these things, I’ve come to see, is the nurses job. To learn how to touch the passing humanity of a crash victim in the middle of the night, whose life bleeds from him while his unknowing family sleeps. To visit and pray with the shell shocked family, and to discuss at such a time of numbing pain their choice to use his organs to save others’ lives. To encourage the post-operative transplant patient, who has withstood years of agonizing waiting, to see if the new organ will be accepted. To find some way to add to the fading lives of terminal patients I’ve come to know dearly over many years of nursing them. It is the cycle of such experiences, repeated so many times over a nurse’s career, face to face, skin to skin, word to word, prayer to prayer, that has guided me from that time of my first fear of Ogden, this ageing human in my living room.

The fear I first felt towards Ogden awoke a curiosity. As my mother gingerly came and guided me to Ogden after settling him into the chair in our living room, her standing between us made me feel safe. As I stepped closer I could smell him… A mixture of soap and urine … He had lots of moles; crusty like on his face, as a child I remember thinking they resembled craters on the sides of his mouth… I touched my own mouth in response feeling a wonder of awe… thinking about what this aging process in life would make me look like someday … I remember wanting to touch the wrinkles on his face, the deep defined lines on the sides of his mouth. I remember thinking while watching and observing my mother, wiping his mouth with a tissue as he was constantly drooling, how can she do that?! It disgusted me to the point of almost gagging. Yet at the same time I felt happiness that someone—someone—was actually wiping the drool off of his face.

It was at this moment that I remember having some clarity as I looked into Ogden’s eyes. They were still, as blue and clear as they must have been when he himself was 10 years old. The sparkle of them! His eyes were the place where I could see into his youth, his personhood, and sense his soul. It was my first encounter with compassion for an elderly person, for this aging condition, about which I remained ignorant.

Witnessing his eyes, seeing the “Ogden” in him, awoke something in my growing mind as much as it stirred my sentiments. I was confused about this new ‘knowing’ I suddenly gained. But even at 10 I remember the sense that I was on to something. He was afraid of me too, as he suffered from dementia. He was in and out, though parts of his mental abilities were fully intact. The nurse, who stood there between us, my mother, my teacher, was the buffer between Ogden and the world that grew confusing to him. She was also connecting my heart and compassion to him, and to my future career. She was doing the work that nurses do…

Nurses are the angels who are the acting buffer in people’s lives, who reveal compassion and love, and understanding of life’s most real and most common and most extreme situations. The reality of being human with drool, snot and shit


We don’t have intercourse …

Story #3
Of course her name was Mary, everyone it seems has the name of Mary over 90…
this was her fourth admission for the same thing, back again for a UTI. IV antibiotics, the big guns, she is febrile and shaking like a leaf, worried about sepsis seeping in like a thief in the night, especially with the elderly.
So as I am assessing and examining her I am asking her questions … “Mary, do you wipe front to back? “ she replied “well of course I do, doesn’t everybody ?” I then ask “ Mary do you and your husband still have intercourse?” Trying to find out the cause for Mary’s recurrent UTI’s …. she says “ hold on a minute” and in her very cute stooped posture, walking ever so astutely towards the door where her husband (who is also in his 90’s) is standing on the other side waiting for me to finish her assessment. She opens the door and with a very loud voice (as they are both deaf as doornails) “Frank ?? Fraaaaannnnk? Do we still have intercourse?”
Well Upon hearing this question Frank becomes so angry ! His fists clenched and his face has turned beet red… veins popping out of his forehead …. his reply “Mary ! How many times do I have to tell you ? We have Blue Cross, Blue Sheild!”
Mary then shuts the door on him turns around to look at me “ohhh I always forget” … in her exasperated tone and expression she says as she is walking back towards me “ no we don’t have intercourse, we have Blue cross Blue Sheild”
I peed my pants


Tears are our prayers

He wore a “Ruddy” complexion with bloodshot eyes, his hands were so tremulous, shaking so fiercely that I expected to feel a breeze. It was a futile attempt to hide, there was just nothing he could do but admit it … with down trodden eyes, and a hopeless despair that I could “feel” his shame… as if shame is tangible, an emotion that could be cut through with a knife. If only I could … for I would, because it’s so painful… for both of us to bear … trying to capture and then to harness some kind of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Encouraging the tears that fell from his soul, explaining they were his prayers, that he was making more room for the torrential storm of guilty, somnolent rage that is devouring him. It’s all that can be done, the only way through is through it … to feel the pain of the loss of what he loved truly as I watched the realization on his bewildered, abandoned face, I knew then he knew that what he loved so much is precisely what ails him.



Breaking the chain of shame

It’s always twelve steps forward thirteen steps back …. the intertwining relationship that the see saw ride of depression,anxiety and general well being of the mind in our fellow humans suffering with these ailments…

no one is immune … Life is hard, beautiful, mysterious, glorious and grueling for all of us … we don’t get a choice of what’s handed to us … we have to accept it all

In this realm of social media we all are guilty of hiding under our veils desperately, passionately revealing what we can about “what is good” in our lives

My epiphany of late, is the fact that it doesn’t do anyone justice to just share what’s good … as it is indeed in the sharing of what isn’t good in our lives that connects us as fellow human beings … the sharing that we should do with one another that helps to alleviate the burden of shame in our lives … it’s how we can love one another better …

for it’s the shame that paralyzes us

In this sick spiraling down viciousness of our society with sex abuse, addiction, depression, rape, violence and hate

It is in the admitting to ourselves and eachother that there is no reason to be ashamed as all of these “diseases” are a part of what it is to live in the world…

like I said none of us are immune.

The healing comes with truth and honesty to rise above the affliction of what ails us “shame”



Funny nurse story # 1

He’s a respected, prominent, almost elegant if you will, speaking with an exquisite English accent, always dressed to the nines. At 90 something years old, I have often thought while caring for him, wow they just don’t make em like this anymore ! A real class act, a gentleman of the finest caliber.
When asking him how he is feeling, his chipper response “well I’m tip top young lady”
He is on dialysis, and comes for his treatments three days a week, always with some English undertone of “properness”
Now at Dialysis, we nurses and technicians have to “suit up” (thank you so much centers for Medicaid and Medicare) long, white, treacherous, water and blood resistant gowns that are HOT, I mean, HOT and it’s hot for your average health professional … however, I am not your average health professional … I am a registered nurse in menopause (ugh, women never get a break)
So I am putting on this HOT gown with my face mask and shield over my face, (I’m sweating just thinking about it) I program his machine, take his vital signs… and we are conversing this whole while… I now attempt, and I say attempt because I am getting HOT
Like beads of perspiration are beginning to develop on my forehead, and I can feel my core temp starting to rise … I know it’s coming, but I am hopeful I can cannulate two 15 g needles into this lovely gentleman’s fistula in his arm and start his treatment before melting completely … He senses my “uncomfortableness as I am literally blowing into my scrub top and fanning myself … now you can imagine anyone would ask seeing this going on as I am holding a needle in my hand that is going to be stuck into their arm … “ are you alright dear?”
My response is “I’m Hot”
I bend down and assess his arm /fistula
And I begin … and the slightest trickle of a beaded drop of perspiration sides down and actually drips off my nose !! This is when I put the needle down and start taking off my clothes the gown is off ! Poof! The mask is off! The shield is off ! As I’m frantically panting and sweating pulling off all my garb, this lovely 90 something year old gentleman says
“Wow! I haven’t made a woman sweat like that in 30 years! Thank you so much Bonnalyn, I feel like a real man again !”
So glad my menopause came in handy
Simply precious
We are still laughing about it


Sometimes shit is funny..

Who is at your bedside ?

Story # 2… sometimes shit is funny … but only in retrospect

It was just another ordinary day, I woke up (thank God) I overslept and was rushing (as usual) I had to stop at dunkin (cause this is a priority in a nurse’s life of course) I needed to get that caffeine coursing through my veins before I started my work day.
I arrived at 0705 not too shabby
The room was set up and machines were ready … I worked in the hospital then…
I was working with the most amazing PCA we will call him for perseverance of identity’s sake, ummmmm Frank … Frank is this amazing human, very boisterous, robust and quite flamboyantly feminine, with a very theatrical nature. He started the day singing broadway show tunes (of course I joined in)
We expressed gratitude as we only had one patient for our first shift.

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Sometimes shit is funny..

Story # 2… sometimes shit is funny … but only in retrospect

It was just another ordinary day, I woke up (thank God) I overslept and was rushing (as usual) I had to stop at dunkin (cause this is a priority in a nurse’s life of course) I needed to get that caffeine coursing through my veins before I started my work day.
I arrived at 0705 not too shabby
The room was set up and machines were ready … I worked in the hospital then…
I was working with the most amazing PCA we will call him for perseverance of identity’s sake, ummmmm Frank … Frank is this amazing human, very boisterous, robust and quite flamboyantly feminine, with a very theatrical nature. He started the day singing broadway show tunes (of course I joined in)
We expressed gratitude as we only had one patient for our first shift.
She “came down” in her bed, as dialysis patients needed to be dialyized in their beds, she was as they say alert and oriented, vital signs stable etc etc …
it was a lovely morning and all was well …. that is of course until it wasn’t … that’s how it is in a nurse’s day … never say the “Q” word and count your blessings… remembering to say Hail Mary’s at the coming of a full moon.
After being on the dialysis machine for approximately an hour, she stated she had to go to the bathroom, her blood pressure was a bit on the low side and I was concerned to let her get up to go … she said “number two” (sometimes when someone says they have to poop, it is usually because their bp is low and best not to get up as that will only make it even lower.)
In any event, “Frank” did what I asked him to do and put the patient on the bedpan
This is when it gets hairy
Really hairy
The patient did what we call “vageling down”
Ahhhh yes , the dreaded valsalva maneuver ( please my peeps don’t hold your breath when you poo!) it was a disaster as she coded and lost a pulse … sirens going off ! Adrenaline rushing … call a code ! I said as I rinsed blood and started cpr compressions…
Frank, has taken the bed pan out from under the patients bum and it was like clock work, a second nature kind of thing, working together and knowing what to do … one and two and three counting compressions with ambu bag in place, securely covering nose and mouth … as “Frank” bagging the patient (giving oxygen to her )inadvertently stepped into the bedpan that he had, in his haste (to start life saving treatments )… unlucky for all of us … he had a freaking HUGE foot … it got stuck … he then at this point begins to panic … “ Bonnalyn the fucking bedpan is stuck on my foot!”
He says, as he continues to bag the patient
He doesn’t want to let go of the ambu bag so he proceeds to shake his foot all about trying to get it off … this is not good … this is sooooo not good as the bedpan is full of shit … not the kind of lumpy, formed good shit, the kind of liquid, smelly, runny shit that splatters …. EVERYWHERE… and I mean everywhere … I scream as I continue cpr on this dear soul …” stop shaking your foot!”
But he can’t … his adrenaline is too far gone … in the zone still squeezing the bag
So I continue and he continues shaking the bed pan on his foot … until there is no shit left in the bed pan because it’s on the walls, it’s in the bed, it’s on my face and hair … I can’t stop what I’m doing because my patient still has no pulse … it’s bizarre and I just give in to it and accept I have shit on my face ( it’s just shit right, washes off with soap and water right ?)
Meanwhile, another nurse in the other room comes flying in to see what’s going on …. she slips on the shit on the floor … literally sliding across the room, smacking her head into the cabinet …. by this time the code team arrives and it is but for a split second… the room is completely silent … as they storm into the room and bear witness to this atrocious site … the looks of awe and bewilderment on their faces I shall never forget … but ahhhhh it was at that moment we got a pulse !!
We were all so happy that the “shit” just didn’t matter …
so the moral of this story is clear
My friends … Don’t let shit bother you
If ya gotta pulse… all is good
(But don’t forget your coffee at the beginning of the day… just sayin)