Do Not Disturb

My day started with the frantic ringing of the doorbell followed by heavy pounding on the front door.  I’d heard something like thunder earlier that had set the dogs into a frenzy, but when I looked outside to see the retina scarring bright sky, with no smell of wildfire smoke in the air, I decided it must have been a sonic boom and I put myself back to bed.

I work nights.  This means I clock in at 7pm and make a mad dash for the door at 7:30am.  I’m an ER nurse.  We do math.  We do very important math.  At 6:55am, I need to know the difference between a 1:1,000 and 1:10,000 strength dose of meds and know whether to push 0.4mL per kg or 0.04 mL per kg.  Lives literally depend on it.  An over tired caregiver, on her 23rd hour of wakefulness, makes mistakes.  So I stay up late the night before I work — and I sleep in as late as I can the day I cover a night shift.

But not today.  Nope.  Someone was pounding on my door at 7:42am and thinking there must have been some sort of terrible emergency – or a UPS wine delivery (my driver knows to wake me up for those signatures!), I answered the door.  A hot air balloon had landed behind our gated, “No Trespassing” fence and there was a walkie-talkie dude standing in front of me wanting to know how to get through the fence to retrieve the hot air balloon and passengers.

That was the loud noise I’d heard.  It was the operator pumping more gas into the flame to keep the balloon afloat — only to land in an unkempt pasture of juniper trees, sagebrush and very dry wild grasses with no water access.  What could possibly go wrong landing a giant fireball on dry land surrounded by kindling in the midst of high 90 degree temp days?

Field burning, Culver, Oregon
Believe it or not, this is a controlled burn. It out to give you a reference point for the fires deemed “uncontrolled”


About once every 2-3 years, a neighbor has set something ablaze that has resulted in a 911 call to the local fire department.  We’ve kept the fires away from our house but a few of those times, it’s been pure luck or answered prayers when the wind miraculously switched directions and spared us.

I unwillingly traded in my last 6 hours of sleep for a post-balloon landing fire watch.  We are custodians of 160 acres, crops, farm animals and wildlife.  We don’t get to pick the days, or time of the day, that we are responsible for what happens on the farm.  Things happen and we rise to the occasion, grit our teeth, and deal with it.  That’s farm ownership.

It was about this moment I looked out to find the new, oversized kiddie pool in a lump.  Walking out to assess the pool, I nearly rolled my ankle in a mole hole.  Didn’t I just fill in all of the mole holes?  Dang.  It was fresh.  Rodents.

Easy Up, Easier Down Pool

Lawn Rodent Damage

The lawn was covered in brown colored dry spots.  Water skips?   Nope.  Mushrooms wouldn’t be growing without water.  Insects.  More specifically, grubs and grub kill.

Lawn Insect Damage

I passed the new cherry tree and hesitated momentarily to take a closer look.  What the …?  More insects.  Nearly every leaf was riveted with multiple holes.

Caterpillar Damage

I gazed across the garden.  A few days earlier, my newly planted sprouts were taken down to mere stems by the local bunny population.  All of them.  I had replanted veggies I’d picked up at local nurseries the day earlier and had attempted to spray them with deer and rabbit repellent the night before, but the liquid was too thick for the sprayer and the only thing that got inundated with the vomit-decomp smelling fluid was my hands.  It had been 12-15 hours and the smell still lingered on both hands.  If it’s bad enough to gag an ER nurse, you know it’s really disgusting.

It was.

Garden Boxes
A second planting of the garden boxes…

I found the hole in the pool and repaired it.  I sprayed the cherry tree with fruit tree and environmentalist approved insecticide.  I put the deer/rabbit repellent into a watering can and watered my tender garden transplants – gagging along the way.  I put a hit out on the mole, filled in all but 1 hole and reseeded the bare spots.  I sifted grub killer through gloved fingers over the lawn’s dead spots.  I watered.  I got the pool filter set up and functioning.  And I got it all done with just enough time left over to hop in the shower and get myself to work on time.

I passed my husband on the way out the door and told him that the farm was trying to kill me, it was time to sell and buy a condo that came with a maintenance crew.  He laughed.

I’ve been awake just over 26 hours now, I had coworkers double check my math before dosing patients so nobody died and I returned home to garden boxes full of plants and an inflated pool.  I’ll be asleep as soon as the eggs are collected from the chickens (or they eat them) and the cheat grass sticker is removed from the dog’s ear.

It’s already a better day than yesterday – or was that today?

Night shift nurse


Not All Sunsets and Fine Wine

My house plants are wilted and begging for water, laundry is piled waist high, clutter has overtaken every flat surface available, the refrigerator is home to new species of funk never meant to be edible and if I don’t remember to order contacts tomorrow, I will soon be walking around without the gift of sight.  

My immune system is fighting valiantly to overcome the last viral assault launched my direction by a patient that actually PULLED DOWN HER MASK, turned towards me and coughed.  (Yep. Turns out “mask wearing” is a special skill not all are qualified for).  My body knows when to call uncle and retreat into a mini coma, which is how I’ve spent the last few days. You know I’m sick when my husband seeks refuge in the guest room and sends the dog in to sleep next to me.  It’s the equivalent of sending a parakeet in with the miners down the mine shaft.  “If the dog’s okay, she’s okay.”

I picked up too many shifts this month and these are the consequences. Everything is dirty, undone, dying or neglected.  Life has been shrunk down to a world that can be summed up in 3 words: work, sleep, repeat. Every minute is accounted for, every moment assigned.

Yet — in the midst of the chaos, there is a level of validation that helps me find my smile.  There’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that I can still keep up with the big dogs at work.  I may not eat, sleep and dream emergency nursing like I once did – but I haven’t lost my touch, either.

And in an odd way, it’s nice to know that things fall apart at home without me.  The dogs forget their manners, the goats lose their ever livin’ minds, the chickens nearly starve to death (they won’t come out of hiding even to eat for fear of running into a half-crazed goat) and my husband is counting down the days until he gets his wife (and clean laundry) back.  It’s proof that, in some small way, my existence really does make a difference — and that’s enough for me.

To the rest of you nightshift working, family raising, full time nurses out there: You are ahhhh – mazing!!!  I promise to never judge your messy house, empty frig, the fact you fell asleep during your child’s last dance recital or that time you wore two different shoes to work.

In all honesty, I hide from the goats, too.  If they see me, they start screaming at me to come play with them and don’t stop until I do.  Goats are acutely alert and freakishly smart.  They know I put my eye contacts in every day and keep an eye through the window so they know when to start yelling for attention — yes, EVERY single day.


A New Roost

The best things in life rarely come easy.  There is something about the struggle that embeds meaning, grips our soul and connects us to the parts of life we value most.  Marriage.  Children.  Careers.  None of it is easy but most of us can’t imagine our lives without them.

Life has taught me to surround myself with goodness and beauty.  It keeps me alive and feeds my spirit.  I anchor it with truth.  Without the truth, nothing is real, so I cling to it as if it just might be the single thread holding us all together.  These are the goals I aspire to. This is how I want my life to be carved.  Simple.  Real.  Beautiful.  Full of goodness.  Full of love.

I’m not petitioning for sainthood and I don’t always live up to my own expectations.  I don’t claim to be perfect.  There are days that I don’t even feel ‘good enough.’ We all fall down.  We all have bad days, myself included.  I make mistakes, too.  It happens.  It just means that we can be better or do better next time.  Most of us are able to rise above, endure and find ways to recenter ourselves.  We recalibrate.  We start over.  We pull each other towards goodness. We move on.  We grow into better humans.

I haven’t been writing as much lately because I have been very busy with a new job.  I transferred from the first hospital that launched my nursing career to one that is a lot bigger and a little closer.  The truth is, leaving my old job was heartbreaking.  Things had changed to the point that I had begun questioning why I had ever become a nurse in the first place.  I know.  The enormity of that statement is not lost on me.  It was a very big deal.  I needed to recenter myself.  I needed to seek out goodness and a place that supported the ideals that I believe in.  I needed to let go of what once was so I could reach out and find what I needed.

I’m not going to lie, it was terrifying.  I’d been in one place for 7 years and they were the hardest but best 7 years of my adult life.  All established nurses know that nursing school teaches you to pass the boards – all real nursing skills come from “Boots (ah, Danskos rather) on the Ground” action.  Understanding the pathophysiology of multiple disease processes is swell but it doesn’t really teach you what you need to do when a doc orders a STAT dose of lasix at midnight on a demented patient with Sundowner’s who is suppose to be on full bed rest.

Nursing school doesn’t prep you for specialty areas, like emergency nursing.  You learn all of that from your endearing coworkers and supervisors who build your skills and support you like you have your own personal education and cheerleading squad.  Leaving meant letting go, jumping the nest, flying the coop.  Walking away from all of those genuinely wonderful people and that amazing team was one of the hardest, scariest things I’ve done.  I still can’t talk about it without my eyes filling up with tears.  (Crap, tear wipe. Sniff.)

Ok.  Deep breath.  The point of my story is that I did it and it was a great decision.  I love my job again.  I love showing up.  I love being a nurse.  I love working around ER medicine and ER patients.  I love my new coworkers and manager.  It’s still a hard job.  It’s still scary sometimes.  It’s suppose to be.  It’s often what we do or don’t do that means the difference between someone living and someone dying.  We all take that very seriously and it’s that purposeful teamwork that I love most.  I enjoy learning new skills from other nurses that do things a different way.  It feels good to dust off these Danskos and spread my wings a little.  It feels so good and I love it so much, in fact, that I’m picking up many more shifts than usual.  I’ve been working just shy of what a full time position would be which is why I’ve been so busy.  I believe those hours will decrease as open shifts become less available in the next few weeks but for now, I’m a little worker bee.

This also means I have a pile of unfinished projects, my house is a wreck, laundry is backed up and all of the hilarious stories I have to share are protected by HIPPA laws and will never get to leave my own head.  Bummer.  There are some good ones!  Did I mention I love my job?!