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This is not just a t-shirt. Still Kickin is a vibe. And there are heroes behind these words.
Still Kickin is building a braver, more supportive world. One shirt, one person, one workout at a time.

Go to Still Kickin on the web and you can read about how this 501(c)(3) non-profit organization started with a tee shirt.  This is not a, "been there, done that, got the tee shirt" reflection.  This is a reflection inspired by Still Kickin founder, Nora McInerny Purmort, who gave the talk, "I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING" at THE COLLECTIVE, a LAB pop-up event at Loring Social in Minneapolis, this weekend.

Nora's talk was an account of how she became a widow, wrote a book, and started a non-profit in one year.  Her candor and delivery style is witty, honest, and refreshing.  After hearing her speak on this one occasion, I'm already pre-ordering her book, It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too) and I'm marking my calendar for her book launch party on May 24.

There was a message Nora illuminated in her talk that really resonated with me and the nurse pal who invited me to the event. The message felt akin to the privilege of being a nurse or a caregiver who comes into peoples' lives when they are going through a crisis.  "You can fall through space and strangers can catch you," Nora said.

Nora tells about the backstory and the future of 'Still Kickin' in her talks and on her website. These words were displayed on the vintage tee shirt her husband was wearing the day he had a seizure that lead to three years in treatment for brain cancer.  The rest of the story is a compelling account of how people they know were joined by strangers from the internet in fundraising activities that exceeded their needs.  And now Nora revisits that catch she eluded to by facilitating the same kind of efforts for Still Kickin Heroeseach month.

This is where that message about strangers catching strangers resonates with caregiving professions...and wow, that's a humbling part of the job.  We're the ones who might meet you for the first time when you show up in our emergency department, when you come back to our unit after an emergent surgery, or when your child is diagnosed with a condition that will change their course and yours.  And we go from zero-to-sixty with you.  You are a stranger, but we do what we can to catch you. And here's the thing, you catch us, too.

You amaze us with your willingness to let us into such private, guarded, uncharted moments in your life.  You catch us by showing resilience, or maybe by exuding strength in honest tears, and by moving on with diagnoses that are hard to live with while we are simply trying to support you.  We catch each other in some of our most personal and professional moments of vulnerability, and that's where the healing relationship begins.

As a nurse, I see the context of tragedy in the immediate moment of diagnoses, in the acute care phase of an illness, and in maintaining necessary boundaries to protect patient and professional privacy. Our relationship ends with discharge, but we don't stop caring about patient and family outcomes at that juncture.  We are privileged to walk part of the path with you but we don't ever see (in full color) the layers outside the walls of the clinical environment where we meet.

But there are universal truths in what patients and families have to say about what they are going through when illness strikes.  And just like a patient/family panel is always my favorite part of conferences or continuing education offerings, I took so much away from reading accounts springing from Still Kickin heroes, like Scott Serene's on thisdaddys_blog authored before his death.  I'm profoundly moved by the universal truths I can read into the experience of a patient I don't know because of what I've seen people endure on our leg of the journey together.

This post is dedicated to patients and families I have and have not known, to caregivers like my friend Ashley who recognize the value of getting to talks like Nora's to stay inspired in the work we do as nurses and humans, and to the Still Kickin vibe.

I love hearing from readers.  Please comment here, on Facebook, or reach out to me at: natalie@thereflectivenurse.com to reflect and connect. 

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Mary Mueller, BSN, RN, enjoys a daily meditation practice that she carries with her in her travels and in her 40 year career as a pediatric nurse.
Mary Mueller, BSN, RN, enjoys a daily meditation practice that she carries with her in her travels and in her 40 year career as a pediatric nurse.

I recently got a gentle order from my doctor to look into Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as an approach to help overcome some of the health issues I’ve been facing this year: severe asthma exacerbations, migraines, and GI distress. My physician extolled the virtues of reducing stress in relationship to boosting the immune system, being more in touch with the warning signs our bodies give us when we are getting ill, and being more in touch with ourselves to in fact heed those warning signs when they come -- instead of pushing through to the point of illness. I know of two dear friends and nurse colleagues who have done the 8-week MBSR training, and of course I reached out and shared my MBSR prescription with both of them. One of those women is Mary Mueller, a nurse mentor and colleague I’ve known since before I knew I wanted to be a nurse! When I told Mary I was going back to school to become a nurse, she generously gifted me the stethoscope she used in nursing school and a starched white nurse hat.

When I told Mary I was planning to enroll in an 8-week online Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, she generously gifted me the following insights:

“Before taking the Mindfulness class by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I had some experience with meditation through Yoga. I noticed how calm and peaceful I felt even after 5 minutes of laying on the floor on my Yoga mat. I also had difficulty dealing with the stresses in my life. I am a reader, loved reading self-help books, read so many books about meditation, Buddhism, ways to look at my life in a healthier way. I visited some Meditation Centers in the Twin Cities, took a meditation class at one. It was difficult to motivate myself to have a formal practice at home or use the meditation in my daily life. I saw this class listed in the Wellness Center at Penny George Institute of Health and Healing and decided to give it a try, especially since it came with Nursing CEUs and I used MNA money to pay for the class.

It truly made a huge difference in my life. The course made me really understand what meditation is, and how to create a daily practice. For me, meditation is becoming aware of how I was reacting to all the stresses and experiences in my life. Here's a list of most important realizations:
• I have learned how to love accept and be kind to myself. To be aware that I already have everything I need inside of me to be happy and content with me and the life I have created.
• I am not my thoughts, my thoughts come and go and I can let them go, go on to another thought and while I am sitting meditating I can give myself permission to sit with a thought, look at it say " oh that's an interesting thought", then go on to the next thought. I do not have to jump up and fix or react to the thought. I can observe it, be with it, and know that it is only a thought.
• I can be in the moment, then when my "monkey mind" starts off on a worry, rumination of past mistakes, regrets, future worries, anxious thought, i can notice what my mind is doing, and change my habit of staying with that anxiety or worry. It is a habit. I can let it rest, visit it another day, and go back to being in the moment, meditate on the breath, another thought, an object I see, or a sound I hear. Then when my mind wanders again I can recognize it happening, kindly say, "oh my monkey mind got me again," then each time it happens I am kind to myself, bringing the thoughts back into the moment, and continue on. I don't need to criticize myself, beat myself up. I can give loving kindness to me as I do with others.
• There are many people around me who struggle with the same sufferings and anxieties, we can all support each other, this life is about connecting to all around us, we are all in the same boat. We can accept and honor each other in this journey. We all want happiness, we all have basic goodness, and we all want to be free from suffering. We are in this together. This is comforting and calming. Meditation is not just about me sitting on my cushion. It’s about me taking care of myself with the intention of then being able to care for others. I think about that intention every time I meditate and it is very comforting.
Meditation has allowed me to accept myself as I am, and to take care of myself FIRST and then be kind and genuine to others. I am by no means perfect, I still have days where I get depressed, anxious, overwhelmed. Some days I do not know why I am even sitting there meditating, I do not understand in many ways why this works. But I see myself getting back on track more quickly and feeling more joy and appreciation and gratitude for all that is good in my life. We do not need to be perfect, just able to love and be loved. And be aware of all around us.”

When I asked Mary how mindfulness and meditation practices have affected her nursing practice, she offered this:
“Oh my gosh, meditation and mindfulness have greatly impacted my nursing care. I've learned how to take care of myself so I can genuinely care of others. I am more focused throughout the day. Nursing is all about thinking of others, what do they need now, what will they need when they are sent home, how do they feel, how can I help them relieve their pain. If I am mindful and aware of my needs away from work, I can be more mindful at work. If I am compassionate and kind, less judgmental to myself, I know then how to be that way with others. It's like I am practicing the art and science of caring for myself. Then, I can practice care on others. If I notice my thoughts, my feelings, and my responses to stresses, I can notice them in my patients and families and respond more effectively.

I have a formal meditation practice for 20-30 minutes a day. During that 20 minutes, I notice, I observe, I am aware of what is happening in my mind, my feelings, and my thoughts. I pause, I listen, I look, I hear. I then am able to notice and be aware of what goes on throughout the rest of the day. I have more tools in my box to cope with the stresses and chaos in life, both at work and at home. I have a more balanced life. To be a nurse, the balance is necessary.”

Mary's caption: I'm pictured here (right) with my very long time friend. We met in nursing school, 44 years ago. She is now a Nurse Practitioner with many degrees including one in Alternative Health and Healing. She lives in NYC, we talk all the time, about life, health and meditation. This picture is the two of us at my daughter's wedding, on the sandy beach where the wedding ceremony took place. It was lovely.
Mary's caption: I'm pictured here (right) with my very long time friend. We met in nursing school, 44 years ago. She is now a Nurse Practitioner with many degrees including one in Alternative Health and Healing. She lives in NYC, we talk all the time, about life, health and meditation. This picture is the two of us at my daughter's wedding, on the sandy beach where the wedding ceremony took place. It was lovely.

Editor’s note: Mary Mueller, BSN, RN, graduated with a BSN in nursing from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1976. She has been a pediatric nurse for 40 years at the time of this publication. Mary spent all but one year of her nursing career in a hospital setting. Her one-year break from hospital nursing was in 1978, when she was a VISTA Volunteer (domestic Peace Corp) in South Texas working with children of Migrant Farm workers. Mary has worked at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota for 27 years. She started in the Special Care Nursery/NICU, migrated to the Float Team for 14 years, and is presently working in the Surgery Center at Children's/Minneapolis. Mary has been married for 34 years to her best friend and soulmate, Terry Dussault. Their family consists of three adult daughters; Emily, and husband Tanner, Lauren, and husband Chris, and their youngest, Carolyn, is a senior in college. Mary clearly lives the breadth and depth of her life and I am so grateful for the rich and insightful reflections she shared in the above guest blog post.

I love hearing from readers.  Share your comments here, on Facebook, or reach out to me at: natalie@thereflectivenurse.com

Gut check selfie.
Gut-check selfie.  Listening for bowel sounds in the lower left quadrant on post-op day one...been there, done that.

Admit it.  If you're a nurse, you've probably busted your stethoscope out to listen to your kid, your spouse...and maybe even yourself?  I recently caught myself - and caught up with myself in the same moment.

Here's the backstory.  I've logged more time as a patient than as a nurse in the last six months, to include a surprise cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) on April 1 - no foolin'.  Last week at my post-hospital follow-up appointment, my Primary Care Provider suggested I seek out a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program for its scientifically proven benefits for others who have struggled with the chronic issues I've been wrestling: asthma, migraines, and GI distress.  I'm committed to a nursing practice that starts with self care, so the notion of tapping into an internal resource to help heal what's ailing (among countless other benefits) had immediate appeal.  Add to that, two friends and nurse colleagues I hold in high regard have taken MBSR training and offer rave reviews...stay tuned for a guest post later this week!

There are upwards of 700 venues to take MBSR, worldwide.  Fluidity in time, cost, and flexibility are paramount for my participation at this juncture.  After a little surfing, I've landed on an online venue that is modeled after the University of Massachusetts Medical School's program founded by Jon-Kabat-Zinn, generously offered at no cost by a proclaimed, fully certified MBSR instructor.  Thank you, Dave Potter at Palouse Mindfulness for sharing this gift!
Foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing?  Pulling this title forward on my bookshelf among other activities to get in the mindfulness mood this week.  Note, this is not required text for the MBSR training.
I've started printing my MBSR Manual and reacquainting myself with the study of mindfulness this week - to include dusting off a book in my home library that I bought some 22 years ago, Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, referenced founder of The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine's Stress Reduction Clinic, the place of origin of MBSR.
Care to join me on this 8-week online training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction? 

The price is right (free!) and you can access the course content and practices from anywhere.  This is my first foray into creating a discussion group around a topic that matters to me personally and professionally.  I'd love some company (and accountability) for the ride!

You can follow the highlighted links above to the free online course offering or seek out a venue or offering that resonates with you.  As I mentioned, there are upward of 700 venues, many offering live, instructor lead content and many offering CEUs (with potential for reimbursement for those who have education dollars to spend).

I plan to start my 8-week course this coming Sunday, April 17.  I'm told to account for about 30 minutes of practice per day during the two-month training, and to include a little extra time for watching video resources provided on 'day one' of each new week in the program.

Feel free to comment here, on the Facebook post, or email me at: natalie@thereflectivenurse.com to jump into the MBSR dialogue at any time over the next couple months!  I'll be creating a Facebook group to log weekly progress and anecdotal findings along this 8-week path to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.  Please reach out in any of the aforementioned routes to connect and request an invitation to the group.

Caregiver stress is real.  We can easily lose sight of self-care as we dole it out to others.  Hindsight, my tenacity in pushing through some of my own health issues to keep caring for others escalated matters to a state of health that was sub-par to the outcomes I aspire to deliver others.  As a nurse mentor recently reminded me, "You can't pour from and empty cup.  Take care of yourself first."

I think that nurses and caregivers of all kinds get very good at operating with our gas lights on.  Join me for this opportunity to fill the tank and to stop running on fumes.  Here's to starting best practice with our own self-care!

Natalie

PS: You need not be a nurse to join this dialogue or MBSR training!