Nurse by Day, Painter by Night

Nurse by Day, Painter By Night

Recently I attended my first “Paint Nite”. One of my coworkers sent out a group text message in December with the idea of getting a group together and I’d been eager to try so I jumped at the opportunity.

The venue was a gym that happened to be a large enough to house a little pizza place in the lobby. That was a contradiction in itself, here we were stuffing our faces on pizza, calzone and alcoholic beverages while the gym members were pumping iron and sweating it out on a Friday night. I realized later it wasn’t the best place for a paint night. It was difficult for us painters to hear our hostess because we could also hear echoing sounds from the gym; weight lifters grunting, weights clinking into place and the hum of exercise machines.

I arrived early enough to observe the paint night hosts set up for the evening. There were three rows of long tables and chairs. Each table seat contained an easel with a canvas, a Styrofoam plate with a splat of yellow, blue, black, white, red and brown paint and an extra plate. Under each plate was a paper towel. The paintbrushes were passed out next. There was large fat brush, a medium brush and a skinny small brush. The last thing passed around was a cup of water that would be used for rinsing our brushes.

The tables filled quickly with guests greeting friends and ordering snacks and drinks in preparation for the event. Our Paint Nite Hostess gave everyone time to get settled, greeted the group and our Paint Nite was underway. We started by raising our glasses and repeating an oath that began with several sentences of, “I promise”. I promise not to get frustrated. I promise not to say my painting stinks etc. Our hostess discussed all of our supplies, the paints, the easel and canvas, the water and the brushes and it was time to raise our brush for the first stroke.

We were instructed to use our large brush to wet the canvas with water and then cover the canvas with white paint. The act of stroking the brush onto the canvas with paint for the first time gave me a feeling of exhilaration. At that moment I was nothing else but a painter and all of the worries of the outside world were nowhere to be found in my subconscious mind. The act of stroking the paintbrush from one end of the canvas to the other gave me a new found sense of freedom. Next it was time for blue. The hostess instructed us to paint several diagonal blue streaks onto the canvas and then brush white paint into it. This was our sky. Our hostess encouraged us to add our own flair to the painting by using different colors if we wanted to. I had to laugh at a girl sitting a few seats down. She said she didn’t know enough about painting and colors to deviate from the norm. I nodded my head in agreement. I experimented with a few different colors of the sky and my sky looked like a storm was coming so I tried to get it as close to the blue sky as I could and had some success.

It was time to rinse off our large brushes, dry the brush and dip the large brush into brown paint to paint the branches of the trees. I watched our hostess carefully as she demonstrated and then I watched my friend to my left, took a deep breath and stroked the canvas with brown paint to form branches. Ok I can do this. I didn’t care for this next part though. The hostess instructed us to put white paint on the top of the branches, which I did and it made my branches look washed out. I didn’t let it put a damper on my enthusiasm; I just made a mental note to deviate the next time I don’t agree with something.

With each new structure on the painting, I found myself becoming more comfortable, I was finding my groove. We mixed blue and yellow paint to make two different shades of green, a dark green and a light green. As we put the leaves on the trees, some of the painters used long strokes to paint the leaves. I remembered the scene in the movie Stepmom where Julia Robert’s character teaches the young girl to paint leaves on trees by spackling. I spackled my leaves giving them a fern like appearance. I was pleased with that. I also added random long green strokes to some of the branches to give it some variety.

The final component of the painting was the cardinal birds. The first bird was a nightmare. I realized that I should have worn my glasses because I had difficulty seeing the hostess with her painting to my left and at the other end of a long table. It was also becoming loud in the gym. My first bird turned out to look like a fat red sea horse. The hostess helped me adjust it but it made it worse and I seemed to lose understanding of when to use the two shades of red we had created by mixing red, yellow and white paint together. Inside I was nervous about messing up the second bird. I lived in Saint Louis, Missouri for nine years and grew to love the Saint Louis Cardinals. It took me several minutes to begin the second bird. I finally mustered up the courage to put my first stroke on the second bird. Miraculously my second bird came naturally and I ended up loving it. I added my finishing touches to the bird and the rest of the painting, wrote JAC 16 in the lower right hand and my first painting was complete. I was pleased.

Last year, at the recommendation of a mentor, I purchased a book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It is a twelve-week program designed for artists of all kinds to recover their creativity from a variety of blocks. One thing I have learned is that in order to enhance your preferred form of creativity, you must partake in different forms of creativity. Last summer I picked up my cross stitch again after a fourteen year hiatus. While on vacation, I cross stitched, read and stared at the lake. I felt my creativity creeping back in. That’s why this paint night was perfect for me as a writer. I have a new creative outlet to partake in. I’ve been curious about Paint Nite for over a year. I recently a purchased paint by number set from my craft store with the intention of trying a painting out if I didn’t get into Paint Nite soon. I look forward to the perfect week in “The Artist’s Way” that I can enhance my creativity by sitting down to paint. My biggest writing block is clutter. When my life becomes cluttered in several aspects, my creativity fades away. It is my goal for January to get rid of clutter, revisit “The Artist’s Way”, write and paint. It is doubtful that I’ll every become a Picasso but why not fill my writing room with my paintings?


Holiday Nursing

Holiday Nursing

Memorial Day Weekend 2009: I am standing at my front screen door on Friday afternoon watching my neighbors across the street pack their car. I see sleeping bags, tents, cooking supplies and coolers of food. Camping supplies. They are going camping. They are smiling. Of course they are smiling, they are about to go out of town on a holiday weekend. I, on the other hand am not smiling because I don’t have a holiday weekend. My three-day weekend will be spent working in an inner city Emergency Room because I am a nurse and that’s what I do. On top of it, this was my first summer back in school after 15 years. I was earning my BSN. Our vacation wasn’t until August and I had decided against the pool membership thinking it was too much money, when it really wasn’t and I should have just spent the money. So here I stood on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, getting ready to work my three twelve hour shifts in a row, do schoolwork and look at my husband, children and the rest of the world who was off this weekend. I was miserable.

The above scenario is what nurses experience year after year if they are at the bedside working in a hospital inpatient area or the Emergency Room. Their job is 24/7, weekends and holidays included. Typically in a hospital the six paid holidays of the year are Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Years Day. Sure they committed themselves to do this when they decided to become nurses but it doesn’t make it any easier when you want to be home with your family. It doesn’t make it any easier watching your loved ones at home for days at a time enjoying their holiday weekends. I try to put on a happy face but deep down inside I am grumpy a little and lash out when I feel someone isn’t being considerate to my melancholy feelings of working the holidays.

On the other side of it, we nurses are there on holidays for our patients because we chose to embark on a career of caring. We leave for work before sunrise and return home after sunset or we leave for work at sunset and return home at sunrise. We are there to watch the cardiac arrests role in the door and to tell the families we couldn’t save their loved one’s life. We are there to prep patients for the surgeries to get the cancer out of the body immediately knowing that this could be this person’s last holiday season. We are there to watch amateur drinkers puke their guts out in the ER because they’ve had too much to drink on New Years Eve. To them it’s an emergency. To us, it’s a pain in the ass. We are there to encourage a wife to accept her husband’s decision to die a week before Christmas because he’s tired of his cancer. We are there to watch child protective services take away a schizophrenic woman’s children the night before Thanksgiving because she refused to take them to a family homeless shelter for the night. We are there on Labor Day weekend when everyone else is outside in the sunshine cherishing the last moments of summer before the kids go back to school. We are there late on a Saturday night on July 4th, when the city hosts it’s yearly firework display and there’s a heavy metal concert going on at the stadium at the same time and people are coming into the ER drunk, angry and violent. We are there on Memorial Day weekend when everyone is off and excited for summer to come. We are there on Easter Sunday when everyone is dressed in their Sunday best and off to church and brunch. We are there on Valentines Day when we’d rather be on a date with the love of our lives. We are there on Superbowl Sunday hoping someone at home records the Superbowl because we aren’t sure we’ll be able to stay awake to watch the second half when we get home. We are there on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day thinking of our own parents and thanking our spouses for giving us our children. Our coworkers become family. We bring in food, enjoy each others company as we try to make the best of it until we can go home to our families. We risk our lives to drive to work in the rain, sleet and deep snow because if we call out we won’t get paid and we’ll screw our coworkers over.

We know how to shake off the sadness we see in our patient care everyday and especially on the holidays. It’s part of that exterior shell that starts to grow around our hearts during nursing school and hardens more and more as the years of nursing go on so the sadness can’t hurt as bad. We aren’t there to be verbally abused or to take on unnecessary nonsense at work during a holiday though. That part of the job truly crushes our spirits worse than watching sadness.

I transferred out of the Emergency Room three years ago to the Perioperative world. I smile every Friday when I leave work because I don’t have to be there on weekends anymore except for an on call Saturday shift three or four times per year. My department works Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and days before and after weekday holidays. Even then there’s turmoil. If you really want to piss off a veteran nurse, give a nurse with far less experience than you Christmas Eve off and don’t take into account that this baby nurse was off last year and the year before when you the old hag nurse were where else but at work.

The best thing about working holidays is the day after or the Monday after the holiday when the rest of the world has to return to work and school but you the nurse are there in your pajamas with your cup of coffee, smiling and waving to your family as they leave the house for the day. Bye bye now, see you later. You, the nurse won’t be going to work today. Instead you’ll take your coffee and go back up to bed with your dog.  Today is your holiday and aside from touching the lives of those you care for, this your reward for working the holidays. It’s one of my favorites.

Even though the holidays have ended, it’s still New Years weekend and nurses everywhere are at work, wishing they could be home. I wrote this today to honor all of my nurse sisters and brothers that have worked this holiday season and are at work right now to thank them for what they do.

A Year in Colors

I picture each year as a clock with colors. The year itself is written in the center of the clock. There are no other numbers. January is at twelve o’clock and the months go counter clockwise. Every year I look forward to each color and the time periods they represent and the possibilities they present.

January, February and March are bright yellow. Yellow represents the light of hope and dreams of the new year. The slate has been wiped clean and it is time to start anew. I don’t make New Years resolutions, I just make a list of things I want to do and I do them. If I find myself getting off course, I try again.

April, May and June are green signifying new life, growth, renewal and the season of Easter. Winter turns to spring as the ice begins to melt. Humans and animals emerge from hibernation, plagued with cabin fever from a long winter, eager to get outside. Green is everywhere. New grass grows and plants and flowers are in bloom adding color to dull branches of winter.

July, August and September are orange. These are longer days with suffocating summer heat, time spent out doors and colorful sunsets. I enjoy that feeling of freedom I get when I put on my favorite summer cloths, shorts, tank top and flip flops. My favorite part of orange is spending a long day on the water, soaking up sunshine, making mental notes of every detail, inhaling the smell of the water and being thankful that I am there.

October, November and December are blue gray and the darkest days in my year. There is a chill in the air as the sky darkens early. The colder it gets the more I smell people’s fireplaces when I walk my dog in the cold night air. I cook hearty meals and enjoy early pajama time when I can. I often feel like I’ve been hit by a train during this time period. My life becomes consumed with my children’s back to school and fall school activities. Fall flies by and pretty soon it is black Friday and the chaos of the holiday season begins. The quick transition between fall activities and the holidays is what makes this time dark for me. I often feel like I don’t have time to catch my breath before the ridiculousness of holiday shopping begins.The meaning of Christmas has blown out of proportion by retail stores and the emphasis on the birth Jesus Christ is lost.

My last blog post was on October 18, 2015 during the darkness of the blue gray time. Fall activities were going at full force and occupying several evenings of each week. My days at work were busy and we were swimming in my son’s college applications. Soon it was Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season. With each added responsibility, my mental clarity, creativity and desire to write deflated like a tired balloon days after a birthday party. I spent my downtime watching television and reading. This year wasn’t as bad as some though and I somehow managed to get through the holiday season without a temper tantrum.

In early December I attended a holiday brass concert at a local cathedral here in Baltimore. The music was moving and uplifting and the scent of the incense of the cathedral reminded me of the many Christmas Eves I spent in midnight mass when I was growing up. My heart was suddenly filled with the desire to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I was determined to attend this year and I did just that.

As I sat in the wooden pew, admired the decorated alter and waited for mass to begin, I thought of my grandmother. My grandmother cried every year during Christmas Eve mass because her own mother died of a massive heart attack while walking home in the snow after Christmas Eve midnight mass when my grandmother was only nine. Despite her own pain, my grandmother always managed to make Christmas special for us and I hoped that six Christmases after her own death she’d be proud to find me in church on Christmas Eve after a long absence.

I inhaled the familiar, comforting smells of incense of the Catholic Church. I pictured myself being present at the birth of Jesus Christ. I sang in celebration and listened carefully to the Priest’s sermon, savoring every word. It’s the best Christmas gift I’d ever given myself and it gave me the faith to believe all things are possible in the upcoming year.

I have no regrets of the year 2015. I’ve learned valuable lessons, tried new things and built a foundation for things I’d like to continue in 2016. Today, December 31, 2015 as the blue gray darkness of December fades into the bright yellow light of January 1, 2016, I’ll carry out my hopes and dreams of the new year by remembering what the angel said to Mary prior to Jesus’s birth, “Do not be afraid”.

Happy New Year.

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