Christmas Eve, 2012

I typically work on Christmas Eve and have done so for as long as I can remember in my nursing career. I don’t have kids, so I don’ t mind working the night that parents are playing Santa and hoping that they can get the bikes and various toys put together with a minimum of aggravation. I’ve spent all but the past 3 years working in adult ICUs – not a place most think of as having any sort of magical qualities.

You’ve never worked a Christmas Eve in an ICU. There is a magic in the air that is almost palpable.

Turning down the overhead lights was nothing new. We tried to simulate night time for our patients so that they could stay on some sort of normal circadian rhythm in their sedated hazes. Lights were off in the rooms…Now, add to that our Christmas decorations. We usually had lights on our tree, lights strung around the edges of the desks, anywhere we could put them that didn’t make the maintenance folks upset. Every radio station was playing Christmas music non-stop. We’d decide on a station (usually the only one our little radios could get to come in!) and turn the music up so it could be heard in the background of the various phones ringing, the pneumatic tube system sending labs off or delivering from Pharmacy, our talking – which we really did try to keep down as much as possible. In the patient rooms, unless there was a known religious reason to not do so, we found the Christmas music radio station on the TVs and put them on low enough to be heard over the sounds of the ventilators, the oxygen delivery systems, the beeping pumps, and the monitor alarms (but we could always hear those alarms, even in our sleep).

For that one night, it seemed that I gave less sedation, less pain medication. For that one night, it seemed that even the most critical patient in the unit was just a bit more stable. For that one night, even if the unit was full, it seemed that the workload wasn’t so bad. I’d sing along to the carols or classic songs I grew up listening to while I worked with my patients, bathing them, turning them, giving scheduled medications. Some of us would try to get the Google or NORAD Santa Tracker up on a few computers at the desks and I’d give my patients updates as to where Santa was throughout the shift, even if those updates were whispered into a sedated, ventilated patient’s ear.

I had hoped to be working in a Neuro ICU this Christmas Eve, but I’m still down in the PACU. That environment isn’t as magical to me because we, along with the OR crew, hope that no one gets the “gift” of emergency surgery tonight. While I never wished for any of my patients to be in the ICU over the holidays, the atmosphere is completely different from that of the PACU.

Still, I’ll bring in my Christmas coffee mug, some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to brew, and a couple of holiday-flavored creamers. I’ll make it as magical as I can…

…and maybe I’ll go up to the ICUs to see if that feeling still permeates the air on this special night.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Fast Forward

deploymentHard to believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving! The year seems to have flown by . . .

Tony was promoted to Sergeant while he was over in Iraq and, just a few short weeks ago, he passed his promotion boards for Staff Sergeant. He has to do some continuing education points before he gets his new rank pinned, but I’m proud of him anyway. He was dreading this board because he felt he hadn’t studied enough. He also went through Warrior Leadership Course within a couple of months of coming home from Iraq. For the past year, his battalion has been spending time out on the training ranges. Sometimes he’s gone for a couple of days, sometimes a couple of weeks – but usually he can come home for the weekend. For the past month, he’s been out at JRTC-Fort Polk, LA. How ironic is that? He spent two years there and swore he’d never go back because he didn’t like the post. We shared a few rueful laughs about this training before I sent him off. This stint at JRTC is for an upcoming deployment.

Afghanistan.

The one word that can make me physically sick to my stomach when I think about sending my husband there.

His multi-cam uniforms and matching equipment are in the extra bedroom. New boots. I can’t stand to look at any of it.

I know it’s irrational. I know this dreaded deployment was a possibility when I married him. I was secretly relieved and happy when his last deployment was only to Iraq.

But this is my husband. And that is Afghanistan.

I’ll suck it up and be the brave Army wife. I’ll be outwardly calm. I won’t watch any news programs. I’ll pray every night for him to come home to me, as well as for our guys throughout that country to come home safely to their families. I’ll try to not puke if my doorbell unexpectedly rings between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. I’ll try to not run to the kitchen window and look out at the front yard if I hear a car stop on our end of the block.

I’ll try.

This will be the longest deployment of my life.

Retreats at the Beach

We’ve been to two Strong Bonds marriage retreats in Hilton Head, SC that were sponsored by our brigade. The hotels were nice – can’t beat ocean-front rooms! The classes were good, and we had a lot of free time, which was even better. Still, I felt like we were on vacation and not putting to use what we’d learned.

When we had a weekend off with nice weather, I decided we needed to hit the beach on our own. Off to Jekyll Island we went, and when we got to the state park, we set the rules based on what we learned in our retreats. Then we walked on the beach for a few miles. I think this was probably the most productive, heart-felt talk we’ve had since before we got married. We finished off the day with dinner at a restaurant right on the beach and the food was great.

The retreats are a good thing. Doing it ourselves was even better.Image

The Adventures of Maximus

Maximus in one of his calmer moments.

Maximus, aka The Little Prince, managed to give me a huge scare yesterday. Seems that I should change his name to “Greased Lightning” or something along those lines. Max is a 15-month old Tabby who seems to think that he’s not only fearless, he should be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. . . well, at least until Mama Jeeks puts the kabosh on his acting up.

Apparently, while Tony was paying the pizza delivery man somewhere around 6pm yesterday, Maximus bolted out the front door unseen by Tony. The delivery guy didn’t say anything; after all, a lot of folks let their cats out, right? Can’t blame either one of them for Max’s boldness. Since I’ve been feeling sick (again!), I was doing what I do best when I’m ill: Sleeping. I woke up around 9pm, fed the cats, cleaned out the litter box, and flopped down on the couch in the attempt to do some homework for a degree that I truly don’t want – but that’s another story.

I guess it was about midnight that I noticed I was missing a cat. Jeeks had been prowling around the house, intermittently meowing and cocking her head as if listening for a response. I figured Max was asleep in one of his favorite hiding places. Jeeks wanted to play, Max wanted to sleep, so he didn’t meow back at her. When Jeeks kept prowling, I started following her trying to find her adopted kitten. CocoaLoco didn’t care much. She kept at her post next to my feet and ignored the increasingly nervous Tortie searching for her baby. When I got up, CocoaLoco went to her cat bed with a look of disgust on her face – I’m sure she didn’t miss Max at all since he likes to torment her.

By 2am, I’m about frantic. I’m outside on the front porch calling Max as loudly as I dared and trying to not wake up the neighbors. Nothing. I shake the treats bag. Nothing. Bare feet and all, I trot down the stone steps and go to the sidewalk, calling for him again with intermittent shakes of the treats bag.

Nothing.

Since it’s below freezing, I go back into the house to thaw out. I searched the house again, too. Every place I could possibly think of that a cat might hide in for some undisturbed sleep.

No Maximus.

By 5am, I’ve called, searched, walked the front of the house, checked the garage, and worked myself up into tears that I couldn’t find him. I also chastised myself for not realizing earlier in the evening that he was missing. He didn’t come racing like a galloping horse to the food bowl when I refilled them. That should’ve been my first clue that something wasn’t right. I tried laying down, thinking that as soon as it got light out, I’d go looking for him. He’s just a little cat…and it’s a very cold night….and he’s never been outside.

The Girls and Max are rescue cats. I adopted Jeeks back in 2004 from a group in Keller, TX. CocoaLoco got dropped off on my doorstep when I lived in Irving, TX. I told the maintenance guy in my then-apartment complex to bring the abandoned, half-starved, totally-frozen Meezer over to my place and I’d foster her. Well, I kept her. Maximus was given to me by a friend who no longer lives her on Fort Stewart. I got him when he was only about 2 months old, maybe 3 months. After spending a couple of days hissing at him, Jeeks decided to adopt the little ball of grey, black, and sprinkled brown fur that I called Maximus. Luckily, I spent the next year saying, “Max! Max! MAXIMUS! Stop that!” so he got accustomed to his name. My cats don’t go outside. Jeeks and Max will go out on the wooden balcony we have here. CocoaLoco has absolutely no desire to be out of the warm and comfy confines of this place….well, except when the downstairs was on fire and our place was filled with smoke….then she bolted right out the front door and never looked back. Luckily, I found her and was able to calm her down to get her home. She’s not a very trusting cat and when remembering how I found her, and the circumstances of how I managed to get her, I can’t blame her.

So, after waking Tony up with my crying, I told him Max was missing. Tony’s never had pets and he can’t understand my attachment to my cats. He thinks I joke when I say they’re my children, but I’m serious. Losing Max, and my not picking up on it hours before, was extremely upsetting to me. He said he never saw Max go out the front door and I believe that. Max can haul kitty-ass when he wants to, and our front porch light is out. Given that Max is mostly black and gray, he had the perfect camouflage to escape for a little adventure that he probably didn’t figure would last as long as it did…or be as cold as it was.

Unable to stop crying and deciding I wasn’t going to sleep until I found The Little Prince, I opened a window that looked into the backyard of the downstairs apartment. Calling out for Max again, I listened and then went to lay on the couch. It would be light soon, I’d go find him then. After a couple of minutes, I heard a distinct howling meow that I’ve only heard come from Max. That’s his “I’m lost, Mama! Come find me!” mehowl that he developed shortly after coming home with me and not being able to find his way around the apartment. When he’d mehowl, Jeeks would go find him and shepherd him to where ever she wanted him to go so that she could keep an eye on him or resume her nap. Racing to the window, I called his name a few more times. Each “MAX!” was met with his meow, and the occasional mehowl.

I ran into the bedroom, tossed on whatever clothes I could find (figuring it was in poor taste to go wandering the backyard in my PJs), and some shoes….and oh yeah, a coat. Hoping that I wouldn’t fall and break an ankle or leg, and that the neighbors wouldn’t think I was a prowler and call the MPs on me (nope, I didn’t grab my ID before racing out of the house), I went around back. The closer I got to him, the more he meowed before I finally located him. He had taken refuge 2 doors down on their patio under their grill cover. He was being stared down by that family’s cat, who was at their back door looking intently at the intruder on that cat’s property. Quietly opening the gate, I called for Max again and he came running. Scooping him up, I closed the gate and high-tailed it back for the front of the building before someone mistook me for a burglar and shot me.

Once inside, Max immediately demanded to be put down so that he could investigate the house and make sure nothing had changed while he was gone. Jeeks followed him around, squawking (yes, she does squawk) at him. I’m sure the conversation went something like this: “Where the hell were you? Don’t you know you had me and Chief Mama worried? We looked all over for you! You’re grounded!!” He then proceeded to scarf down almost a bowl’s worth of food, suck down half a bowl of water, and hit the litter box before deciding he’d had a long night and it was time to sleep. His favorite place to sleep is on Tony – his back, his feet, next to him if he can’t lay on him. But since he’d put me through the wringer, he curled up with me for a little bit. I vaguely remember him walking over me and settling down on Tony’s side of the bed.

Last night’s adventures have been forgotten by The Little Prince. He sat impatiently at the back door wanting me to open it so he could romp on the balcony. I told him no, that Mama Jeeks had grounded him and that was that. He spent most of the day tormenting Jeeks and CocoaLoco. As I write this, he and Jeeks are curled up on the couch. Max has her in a loose headlock, with his head resting on hers. Where’s the camera when you need it?

Let’s hope that this is the first and last installment of “The Adventures of Maximus”. My nerves can’t take another jail-break on his part.