Superheroes (Nurses) Week 2017

I know a few things about nurses. I am one, after all, but my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, a number of cousins – all nurses, as well.

Can I chalk up my 25 plus years in nursing to genetics? Maybe, but the superhero cape swayed me more than anything, and then there’s the powers that come with it.

Oh, don’t kid yourself. Nurses definitely have superpowers. Although I’ve personally assisted in resuscitating patients in the hospital setting, as most of us have, I once watched my mother revive someone in public. Full on – CPR on the ground – at a public event, and it worked! I was 20-years old at the time, and the cape she’d apparently been wearing for years became magically visible to me in that moment. I loved the color of the thing and the way it flowed out behind her without needing even a hint of a breeze. I wanted it. Not hers, specifically. I wanted my own.

But the superpowers don’t stop there. It’s 12 hour shifts – day in and night out – on our feet, often without a break. It’s dealing with people who are vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability as anger. It’s putting up with – dare I say it – physician’s egos and screaming rants when things don’t go their way. It’s risking our own wellbeing and safety by handling volatile and abusive patients and family members. And it’s one shit load of loss. 

Old, young, newborns. We’ve transported them all to the morgue and have had to wander back out into society at the end of our shift and function with some semblance of normalcy. 

The average person has no earthly idea what it’s like in the trenches of a nursing career, regardless of how many medical dramas they watch on TV. Each real life drama touches our hearts and souls in ways that profoundly affect our lives until the end of time. And each of us carries a handful of patients with us wherever we go – the ones that touched us the deepest before they passed. They’re our constant companions. I have five. My mother had four.

So do nurses deserve a week? Hell, yes they do. They deserve a week of recognition and a lifetime of gratitude and respect. 

I left the bedside seven years ago to work in healthcare leadership development, but I’m incapable of leaving those 20 years of active nursing behind me. At times the accumulation of witnessed loss can be suffocating, even to this day, but I have no regrets at having been part of such an immensely rewarding community of people. 

Hug a nurse this week, and let them know that although you can’t fully comprehend what life is like in their shoes, you care. Caring, after all, is the very fabric of superhero capes. Expressing it will make one visible on you, too.

HAPPY NURSES WEEK to all of the fabulous men and women I’ve had the privilege of working with at the bedside. And HUGS to those who have cared for me and my loved ones throughout our lives and eventually through to death. Each act, whether profound or simple, has not gone unnoticed. Not in the least.

NURSES ROCK!!

 

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Does Public Speaking Scare The S%@# Out Of You?

You know the feeling – palms drenched, knees shaking, mouth so dry your lips stick to your teeth. Public speaking is the one thing that a large majority of us fear more than death. Actual DEATH!

In 2007 I journeyed from life as an ICU nurse to a job requiring weekly presentations. The night before my first “performance” literally left me tossing, turning and imagining every worst case scenario known to womankind. Amazingly, I survived, and I now speak to crowds of several hundred on a regular basis.

Did a few things get learned along the way? You betcha, and because I frequently get asked for tips after people watch my TEDx Talk, I’m going to bullet point some them for you here.

 
To get us started, however, let’s revisit the age-old expression, “Practice makes perfect.” It’s true, yes, but I’m not talking about the practice of getting up in front of people. I’m talking about practicing before you get up in front of people. That is my single most important piece of advice, although I’ll give you a lot more than just that.

  • Practice over and over and over again, especially with new material. Practice always, and until your speech looks unrehearsed. Present to your dog, cat, canary or family member, but especially to your mirror. Practice makes your speech appear seamless and prepares you for possible slip-ups. It will also let you know what areas you need to work on and where to anticipate questions or comments. This one act is invaluable to success.
  • Take a deep breath before you begin. Did you know that people tend to take only shallow, ineffective breaths when they’re nervous? Oxygenate and rejuvenate!
  • When organizing content, follow this rule: tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction), tell them (body of the speech) and tell them what you’ve told them (summarize).
  • Address “housekeeping” items before you start to keep yourself from getting distracted – cell phones on vibrate, no laptops, etc.
  • DO NOT read PowerPoint slides to your audience. You’ll lose them at the “Objectives” screen. Instead, list bullet points and talk around them. They can read.
  • Watch out for filler words such as “um,” “ah,” “so,” and “like.” If you, like, use a word habitually in, like, conversation, it’s, like, going to, like, show up in your, like, presentation. This will guarantee to distract your audience to the point where they could care less about your intended message. You want your presentation to be conversational, but . . .
  • Have someone tape you. Trust me, this is the best way to see all potential distractions, from filler words to annoying movements that distract.
  • Accept feedback! Don’t allow yourself to get defensive when someone suggests ways to improve. In my early speaking career, someone told me to stop playing with my hair, and I had no idea I even did that! Although secretly perturbed, I ditched the habit.
  • Water! If it’s a long presentation, keep some nearby, and don’t feel self-conscious about stopping to drink. It beats having that dry, hacking cough come out of nowhere.
  • Make eye contact with as many members of your audience as you can. Concentrating on just a few can make them feel uncomfortable.
  • If you’re asked a question, and you don’t know the answer, admit it and promise to get back to them. You’ll gain respect and a reputation for being genuine.
  • Use humor to lighten the mood, but resist using scripted jokes. Let your humor flow naturally, like it would in conversation.
  • Remember – they don’t know what they don’t know, so your audience won’t notice if it’s not a perfect presentation. And it’s okay to slip up. Just acknowledge it and move on.
  • If your neck turns red when you speak, don’t wear a scooped or V-neck.
  • This one might sound crazy, but if you’re super new at speaking, petroleum jelly on your teeth can keep those dreaded dry lips from sticking to your teeth.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be lighthearted and willing to let go of perfection.
  • Expose yourself to opportunities. Joining a community club, such as Toastmasters, can really accelerate your skill level.

In summary, public speaking can be the ultimate outside-of-the-box experience, which can only lead to strides in personal and professional growth. And make no mistake, those who do it well were once where you are now. By implementing the above tips, you can minimize anxiety and actually even have some fun with it. Yes, fun! When you truly connect with an audience, you gain just as much, if not more, than they do.

Practice + Practice – Perfectionism = Positively Entertaining

 

 

 

 

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The Anniversary Of My Last Drink

One year ago today, I had my last drink. Me. The girl who loved all things wine. Why? Because my relationship with it became dysfunctional.

Like any great love affair that turns toxic, it was an insidious shift. For one thing, we’d started spending far too much time together, causing me to lose all sense of self and wonder how my dreams had taken a backseat. For another, most of that time had morphed into the clandestine variety, sneaking away – just the two of us – to avoid judgement or repercussion. All-in-all, grape – the friend who had accompanied most of my good times and bad – became controlling, and it was literally causing me pain. You know, the pounding variety that pulsates between temples leaving its victims couch-bound on perfectly good weekends.

Was the break-up an easy one? No, not at all. It came with all of the usual fanfare: tears, longing, loss. I don’t fit in with some of wine’s friends anymore, making them somehow feel uncomfortable in a way I hadn’t expected. And then there’s having to really experience emotion without something there to take the edge off, whether facing the loss of loved ones or simply having an awful day. But, oh the rewards.

There is that three or four month mark after a break-up when the dust begins to settle and you start to breathe again. Then there’s a phase of rediscovering the person you’d been before the dysfunction ever started. And finally comes the glorious rebirth of someone that you didn’t even know you had the strength to become. Well, I’m breathing again, my friends. Big alveoli expanding breaths of joy.

A little over a year ago, a friend whom I have the utmost respect for, posted a blog about quitting drinking. I didn’t know she’d quit or that she’d felt the need to, but that post planted a life changing seed. It then got watered by someone I hadn’t seen since high school who confessed that he’d given up alcohol, followed by, “I have no idea why I just told you that.” I knew exactly why. It was something I needed to hear.

Sometimes we don’t find the courage to escape a bad relationship without stories of those who’ve gone before us. For that reason, I’m sharing.

A great many people can be an acquaintance of alcohol’s and never give it a second thought. They manage to see each other on occasion and even have a few laughs. Others, however, commit to the relationship almost unaware and then start to feel that there’s no way out. I’m here to tell you that it’s doable, and that “fulfilling” would be a gross understatement when describing my life without it.

Quitting drinking is one of my all-time top life decisions. Do I miss it? Sometimes, but rarely. And again, like a toxic lover, seeing it may give rise to temptation and longing, but nothing is ever worth going back.

And by damn, you can find love again. Sobriety is now my knight in shining armor.

If alcohol coerced you down the aisle at some point, you’re not alone. Think annulment. Consider divorce. There is a thing called Google, and there are resources.

And THANK YOU to the people who inspired me to have the best anniversary of my life. This girl has no regrets.

 

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One Hell Of A Year

It was the best of years; it was the worst of years. Okay, so that was hardly an original thought, but the perfect summation of 2016, nonetheless.

I sit here on the second day of the new year reflecting back on both immense joy and intense sorrow. And how it all flew by as quick as it did, while delivering such a wallop, I’ll never know.

The joy? Plenty of it, including my ongoing work on The Matthews & McGuire Show, getting within weeks of completing the final edit on my second novel and quitting drinking (more on this in a future blog). But I also knocked three big things off my bucket list:

The sorrow? I lost an aunt, an uncle, two cousins and, worst of all, my beloved mother who suffered a massive stroke on the very day of her 60th wedding anniversary. Years have gone by without losing a soul in our family, but the celestial train pulled into the station and refused to leave until every last seat got filled. Many of my friends had loved ones climb aboard that beast of a machine, as well, leading to a permanent heart based bond in grief and support.

So what has two days of reflection on that 12 month roller coaster ride brought me? Gratitude. Yes, gratitude, because that’s what I choose to focus on.

Don’t get me wrong. I have moments yet when I’m overwhelmed by the losses and have to retreat into my cave made of bed sheets, but I’m grateful that I had as much time on the planet with these people as I did and that we got to share so much. Besides, my mother would kick my ass if I didn’t recognize my blessings amidst the mayhem, and nothing reminds us to live quite like death. Believe me, I’ve received that message blastingly loud and clear.

I’m also grateful for the above mentioned highs that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that it would be a major struggle to crawl back in. Each new adventure prepares us to take on the next, and I’m primed for the new year.

I wish each of you a fun filled, goal-centric, limit breaking, love induced and rockus 2017. Regardless of what it delivers, let’s take one step at a time, one day at a time, and one glorious opportunity to grow at its ever lovin’ time.

 

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Derailed . . .

There’s a steady course that I’ve been running for years. One that’s well marked and comforting, for the most part, although its surface has varied over time and presented unexpected challenges. Branches have fallen and blocked my path; weather has turned nasty, requiring an added dose of determination. Even my gear has worn and needed replacing, at times. But all along, I’ve remained fully supported and confident, regardless of terrain.

Recently, however, a hand, a big one, came out of nowhere and knocked me completely off course. My feet stumbled from the trail, and I rolled into thick brush before spiraling down a cavernous ravine. After a massive tree broke my fall, I stood bloodied and bruised and assessed the situation to find it dismal.

The path where I knew I could withstand anything is no longer visible. The woods around me are dense with the thickest of foliage hiding a wealth of unknowns. It’s dusk, and I’m hearing noises that scare the shit out of me.

It’s going to take every ounce of bravery I possess to find my way – not to the trail where I ran before, as that’s gone forever – but to a new one, where I pray I’ll find sunshine again and perhaps even moments of heartfelt joy.

That’s what it feels like to be derailed.

That’s what it’s like to lose a mother.

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