Nurses: stuck between patient’s needs and doctor’s demands.

i am sitting next to my husband’s hospital bed watching his nurse try to take care of him. He’s being treated for cancer with Brachytherapy and must in the hospital for two days. Since his arrival yesterday, his pain has been awful. The nurses desperately paged various doctors to authorize more medication, but they could only decrease the pain, not stop it. 

Today his day nurse has been doing the same thing. 

The Resident came and went. A Nurse Practitioner came and went. Promises were made. Meds were increased a little. The Pain Management Team was supposed to be here over an hour ago. The nurse keeps calling. And in between calls she takes care of him. I can see the frustration on her face. 

I don’t know who to yell at, so I keep asking the nurse when the doctor will come. “15 minutes,” she says. The doctor doesn’t come. She pages again. “15 minutes,” she tells me again. He doesn’t come. After an hour I stop asking. She’s as upset as I am.

Nursing must be one of the hardest jobs on the planet. They take care of frightened people in pain while dealing with frightened family members and disappearing doctors. They must answer questions they don’t have the answers to and handle angry outbursts when the doctor doesn’t show up. And if they make a mistake, they could create more suffering for their patients.

Nurses work in the mine field between the needs of their patients and the demands of the doctors.

Throw in hospital regulations and redundant paperwork and it’s a miracle your nurse doesn’t go crazy. Maybe she does, but it’s part of her training to hide it well.

Thank you nurses at UCSF Mission Bay. Thank you nurses everywhere.

If you think your memoir doesn’t need a plot, you’re making a big mistake.

Memoir is a story about someone’s life, right? Sure, if you want it to be boring.

A good memoir is not just a series of events shared chronologically. It is a tale with heroes, villains, conflict, subtext, and a great plot to keep the pages turning. Writing events down chronologically might be fine for a history book or genealogy, but if you want to engage your readers, you need to think about action. One event in a life has a direct impact on the next event. Everything you do effects the people around you and how your life develops.

A scene is action. Plot is a series of actions. When you outline your memoir, think about the actions that shaped your life and made you who you are.

Perhaps you were born in Cleveland, then you moved to LA when you were 10. Those are facts, and you might want to mention them briefly as backstory. Unless Cleveland essentially shaped who you are, or the move created a lot of conflict, none of that matters to your plot, and especially not to your reader. Mention it, and then get back to the story.

Or lets say you longed to get back to Cleveland and hated LA and your story is about moving back to where you feel you belong. Then be sure and add in every detail about Cleveland and why it meant so much to you.

Think about the person you know who comes to all the parties and becomes the center of attention because she tells the best stories. People listen attentively as this person weaves a story about something probably mundane, like a trip to the grocery store. It’s the way she tells how she went to the market for a quart of milk. What is she doing that makes her trips to get milk sound so much more interesting than your trips to the store?

Or what about the elderly uncle who knows everything about family history, but instead of just boring you with facts and names, he makes you feel like you know the people he remembers? What makes his stories about people who died before you were born so captivating?

It all goes back to knowing what your book is about. If you know that, you can create a strong plot that will make readers want to know more about you. Don’t make the mistake of sticking to a linear format. Writing a memoir is more than creating a calendar, it is writing about the meaning of life.

Friday Night Writes

There’s a group on Twitter called Write Club (#writeclub), organized by Friday Night Writes (@FridayNightWrites). It’s helped me get a lot of writing done. There’s something about sitting at your computer writing in a room all alone while knowing that across the “Twitterverse” others are doing the exact same thing. It feels good, like your writing group is a thousand people and instead of critiquing each other’s work, you’re working together and cheering each other on. Write! Keep going! Get your word count up! You can do it! The writing sprints are 30 minutes long with a 10 minute break during which we “put down our pens” and report our word count. Of course it’s the honor system, because there’s no way to know if the guy reporting 800 words is telling the truth. He could be. I once did a writing sprint that produced over 700 words in 30 minutes. Not sure how many were actually any good, though. If your lounging in your PJ’s some Friday night with nothing to do but watch reruns of “Friends”, hop over to Twitter and get some writing in. A cocktail while you write is highly recommended. In fact, I wonder if it would be fun to take my laptop to the bar with WiFi on a Friday night and write while drinking a martini? Who wants to join me?

Alice Barker sees herself dance and makes me cry.

Distractify posted a story about 102 year old Alice Barker, a dancer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930’s and 1940’s, who saw herself dancing for the first time. The films show a beautiful, strong, vibrant young black woman dancing with a big smile on her face. Alice today is a frail, tiny woman who lives in a nursing home and is shown in bed. But her smile is the same.

While watching the video of Alice watching herself dance, I thought of the years and the life that happened between then and now. There she is at 20, so thrilled to dance she seems to fly. And here is is today. Alice’s body can’t dance anymore, but Alice’s hands can.

I cried.

Here is the link to this beautiful story.

http://distractify.com/Deborah-Gross/dont-mean-a-thing-if-it-aint-got-that-swing/

How do I start writing a memoir?

Recently I was asked if I had any pointers for starting a memoir. As a matter of fact I do. 

First, you need to know what your book is about. I’m not being snarky. It is vitally important that you know from page one what your book’s purpose is. The book shouldn’t just be about you. Your story needs to resonate with total strangers. Your story is about something bigger than you; you are simply the catalyst for the story. 

Think of your favorite memoirs. Why are they a favorite? Could you understand the writer’s struggle? Identify with it? Did you care about the writer and cheer for her? 

That’s what you want to happen with your own memoir; your story needs to capture the imagination of people you don’t know. How do you do that?

Write what your book is about. It might be easier to write a description in the third person instead of writing about yourself. Use several pages to write down all your ideas, then work toward narrowing it down to only a paragraph. When you understand what your book is really about, then you can imagine who your reader is and why that person will care about your story. Describe her needs and hopes. 

As you write your memoir you will re-read this exercise to help you stay on track. Your memoir is you personal story, but that story will have greater meaning for your readers. If you write something that doesn’t reflect what the book is about, cut. But don’t make things up! Readers want honesty. Vulnerability. Blood. 

Fiction is so much easier to write. 

cancer 

My husband was diagnosed with cancer two months ago. From the moment he told me “I have cancer,” nothing that had happened before mattered. Not a single argument, moment of pain, or disappointment, had any power. All that mattered was that he get well.

And he did.

Last week he had surgery to remove the tumor. I sat beside his bed and held his hand, feeling how small and frightened he had become. My strong, Viking sized man held on to me as if his life depended on it. And I knew I would never let go. 

Love brings ammunition. We join together, set up our walls, dig our trenches, and then hurl bombs at each other without understanding what we’re doing. Everything we’ve been taught since childhood gets thrown on the battlefield; you have to watch for trip wires. The battle will continue until you learn that the person you love can never make you whole. Healing is your job.

My husband slowly heals. The cancer is gone, but his body is scarred. We are both holding our breath to see what happens now. 

The only thing I know is that I love him with all my heart. I will do my best for him, even if I don’t know what to do.  

I hate Chihuahuas. So I got one.

Chihuahuas are snippy, arrogant, loud, spastic, mean dogs. All they do is lounge on laps and bite people. But I fell in love with a little dog at the pound and was amazed when I discovered she was a Chihuahua.

We had mourned our Boxer dog for several months and felt ready for a new puppy. This time we decided to get a smaller dog so our daughter, who has special needs, could have a friend and help care for the puppy. My husband and I went to the pound and took a fluffy, funny, terrier type dog for a walk, but the dog wouldn’t stop barking. Deciding against a dog who never shut-up, we found two bouncy, playful, long legged dogs in a pen. One of them seemed sweeter than the other, so we took her out for a walk. The poor girl was so timid she didn’t know how to walk and insisted on being held the entire time we were outside. I wasn’t sure about this dog, but there was something about her that encouraged me to give her a try. The pound thought she was a terrier mix with “some Chihuahua.”

We adopted her and two days later I brought her to the vet for a check up. “What kind of dog is she?” I asked.

“She’s a Deer Chihuahua,” the veterinarian said.

“A what?” Did she actually say my new dog was a Chihuahua?

Deer Chihuahua. Image from the Central California SPCA

A Deer Chihuahua is a larger type of Chihuahua with long, deer like legs, long face and large ear. They are considered closer to the original size of the breed, even though they’re not as popular as the tiny, Tea Cup or Apple Headed Chihuahuas. In fact, Deer Legged are not allowed in dog shows or wanted by breeders. The Deer Chihuahua is the sweeter of the breed, with friendly, playful dispositions and boundless energy.

My friends think it’s hysterical I own a Chihuahua. I can’t help but laugh too. Me, lover of Boxers and other large breeds, scoffer of tiny dogs in purses and anything else Paris Hilton does, owns a Chihuahua. My daughter is delighted, and even my husband who dreams of owning a Great Dane is enraptured with our cuddly, goofy puppy. We named her Novella.

Novella is about 1 years old, but already has had a litter. She was a stray the pound picked up and from the looks of her, she probably escaped a “puppy mill.” Animal Shelters are full of Chihuahuas because people think they’re adorable little dolls, but when those dolls pee in the house or nip someone’s fingers they get dumped. Because Novella is the long legged Chihuahua and not the tiny type of her breed, she was probably not wanted by whoever bred her.

Happily, she’s settled in and no longer thinks she’s a lap dog. She’s a typical puppy, who right now is trying to eat the swing. Gotta go. There’s a torn up seat cushion flying across my yard.

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