Balancing Reality

After a long weekend in the hospital, I’m back to reality.  Reality in this case is the paper my group is STILL writing for my stats class.  Remember the ill-fated (literally) trip to Virginia when I was lost for a week?  Yup, the work continues.

This is the first paper I’ve ever worked on for publication, and the process is daunting and, quite frankly, scary.  There are set sections that have to be written, like the Literature Review, Methods, and Results sections.  We each picked individual topics to contribute for the literature review, so that is pretty well wrapped up.  Now we just have Methods and Results to do.

On paper, it looks doable.  And I have lots of paper.  I have the APA Manual.  I have a paper my professor wrote and published to use as guidance.  I have my notes for class.  Plenty of paper.

In reality, this is way beyond my skill level.  I’m just not there.  For perhaps the first time in my life, an assignment has me scared stiff.  I have nothing to say.  Nothing to write.  Nothing to contribute.

As I procrastinate by switching between Facebook and a multitude of Pandora stations, it occurred to me that I’ve been so consumed by Coronavirus and my work at the hospital that I don’t feel like I can engage in anything else.  I just left a place where life and death hang in a delicate balance.  Patients are lying in hospital beds fighting to recover from what ails them.  Doctors and nurses are drawing from all of their education and training to make the best decisions to help the patients get better.

It makes my education and what I’m working on now seem insignificant.

I have to keep reminding myself that reality is multidimensional.  Our lives have many aspects to them, and we have to attend to them all.  My life happens at the hospital for 32 waking hours each week.  That leaves lots of open hours for the other aspects of my life: my family, my well-being, and yes, even my seemingly-insignificant education.  If I allow myself to focus on one to the detriment of the others, then my life falls out of balance.

So as I try to set goals for myself for this week, my top goal is to find a better balance.  In the hours and days I have before I go back to the hospital for my next set of shifts, I need to balance my time between the rest of my reality.  For my classmates.  For my family.  For myself.

Normalcy

I vacuumed the chapel last night, just like I have most every Saturday night since I started this job.

We have a janitorial crew at the hospital, of course, and they vacuum the chapel during the week.  But sometimes the chapel shows its use by Saturday evenings.  I chose that as the night I would step in and help because it is the night before our public interdenominational service and our Sunday Mass.

For the last few weeks, however, those services have not been open to the public.  Like so much of society, we are contributing to social distancing by broadcasting the services live throughout the hospital without having a congregation present in the chapel, as are most churches in America right now.

So why did I vacuum the chapel?  If no one will be there to participate in services, if no one is likely to look down and notice the cleanliness of the carpet, why do it?

Normalcy.

I need the routine of doing what I always do on Saturday nights, even if no one else sees it.  I need to go about my regular customs insofar as possible.  I need to do it for God.  I need to do it for the one or two people who will be in the chapel.  I need to do it for me.

As a society, we have given up a lot in the last few weeks.  We have given up our favorite restaurants.  We have given up our favorite meeting places.  We have given up time with friends.  Some have even given up jobs.

Our way of life has been disrupted.  Our sense of normalcy is thrown off.

At times like this, routines can be important.  Not everyone needs routines, by any means.  But for those of us who do, trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy can be important.  It bolsters our spirits.  It helps us persevere.

Many of us know 1 Corinthians 13 as The Love Chapter.  It is frequently read at weddings, and is one of the more quoted New Testament passages.  One of the things it says love does is persevere.  “(Love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Persevering is an act of love.  It is a way to show we love others, ourselves, and even God.  Persevering can show trust, hope, and protection.

So persevere toward normalcy if you need to.  Look at it as an act of love.

I’m not ready.

If I had a mantra, this would likely be it.  I feel like I say this phrase more than just about any other.

I’m not ready for: This move.  This new job.  This next step.  This change.

At the moment, I’m not ready for my girls to keep growing up.  Emma and Sofia have shared a room for the last seven years.  That ended last night.  We’ve decided as a family that it is time for them to split up, for a number of reasons.  Last week I bought the paint for Emma’s new room, which is the room the girls have slept in since moving to Fort Wayne.  We ordered a couple of new pieces of furniture for each girl (thank you, Wayfair!).  Yesterday we moved everything out of both the sleeping room and the toy room, and we put back together what is now Sofia’s room.  Today we are painting Emma’s room, since no one wanted to live full time in a bubblegum pink room.

This is a hard step for me.  It means no more listening to the girls giggle together at night as they stave off sleep.  It means no more going in to pray and sing with them together at night.  It means we have a teenager with her own room to be moody in when she needs it.  It means a bedroom with a ten year-old who has never slept alone for more than a few days when her roommate was sick.

I haven’t been ready at any stage of the girls’ growing phases.  Potty training.  Giving up pacifiers.  School.  Birthdays.  I guess this really isn’t like any other phase.  We’ve gotten through the others, so we’ll get through this as well.

I hope the girls will remain close through this transition.  I hope they will still spend time together.  I hope they will remain the best friends that they are now.  And Lord, I hope they will clean their rooms after they play!

 

Ghost Town

It was my first thought as I drove through the main parking lot on my way in to work: “This place looks like a ghost town.”  I had never seen the parking lot so empty.  Where there normally would have been an easy 75 vehicles, there were maybe 20.  Maybe.

As I rounded down in the emergency department a short time later, one of the registration workers echoed my same words.  “Isn’t this place like a ghost town?” Carlos asked.  I very much agreed.

We have implemented very strict visitor restrictions at the hospital.  As in, visitors are restricted.  Pediatric patients can have both parents, birthing mothers can have one visitor, and patients who are actively dying may be allowed a few.  That’s it.

They’ve taken all of the tables and chairs out of the cafeteria.  All non-emergency surgeries are cancelled.  Stanchions at all of the entrances prohibit people from actually entering the hospital.

It’s weird to walk my normal paths through the hospital and not see people.  There should be families congregating in the surgery waiting room as they anxiously await news of a loved one.  There should be individuals walking the hallways on their way to see a patient in ICU.  The cafeteria should have coworkers taking midnight breaks together.

Instead it’s a ghost town.

But it’s my ghost town.

I love this hospital as much now as when I started working full-time here nearly two years ago.  I might even love it more.  I love the work that happens.  I love the healing.  I love the second chances that so many experience.  I love the people who serve here in so many capacities.

Am I scared of the unknown?  Of course.  COVID-19 is very real, and it is very present here.  I am taking necessary precautions, just like all of my coworkers.  But just like most of my coworkers, what we do here far outweighs the fear.

I read my Bible in the chapel for a while.  A very timely passage came to me from Joshua.  Just after Moses died, the Lord said to Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people….”

We don’t know how this pandemic will turn out.  We have no way of knowing how many will or will not contract it, nor how many will or will not succumb to it.  But we have a promise from God that he will be with us, no matter what.

For all of you, and especially for my healthcare friends, be strong and courageous.  You are not alone.

Cleaning

I’m not someone who loves to clean.  I do it as an obligation most of the time, even around my own house.  I clean when it needs to be done, but sometimes I wait as long as seems prudent.

It’s different at the hospital.  The night chaplains have a list of chores we should do around the hospital and within the office, and they are broken down into nightly and weekly categories.  We clean the tables and counters nightly.  I vacuum the chapel on Saturday nights and the office on Sunday nights.  It’s routine.

The hospital is, admittedly, a little scary these days.  We made the news over the weekend because we have a confirmed case of COVID-19.  Everyone is taking extra precautions.  We are looking out not only for ourselves but for our patients and the general public right now.

I decided to take some time to prayer-clean the office this evening.  I vacuumed earlier than usual, then donned some gloves and got to work.

I cleaned the office entry.  I wiped down the door handles, the light switches, the thermostat, the badge reader, and the arms of the chairs in the waiting area.  I prayed for Dawn, for our volunteers who are getting a break, and for anyone who might need to come to the office.

I cleaned the main conference room.  I wiped down the same things as the entry, plus the tables where people eat their lunches and the expo markers for the wipe board.  I prayed for the lunches that would be shared there and the ideas Patrick and others would put on the board.

I cleaned the door handles in the main hallway.  I prayed for Lydia, Patrick, Cassie, Chris, Amy, Erica, and Molly.

I cleaned our two kitchens.  I wiped for the doors of the refrigerators, the drawer handles, the toaster, and all the buttons on all of the coffee makers.  I prayed for Kent, Jon, and Michael, who are frequently found making coffee.

I cleaned the work room.  I wiped down the copy/fax machine, and shredder, and all the of doors and handles of all of the cabinets.  I cleaned the badge readers just outside the room and prayed for our PRN’s and community chaplains who frequent that area — for Dan, Brian, Jana, Bob, Rich, Chris, and Mark.

I cleaned the main chaplain office space.  I wiped down the chairs and chair arms, the desk spaces, the computer keyboards and mice, the phones, and the drawer handles for each work area.  I cleaned the label maker, all the cabinets, and even the canister of disinfecting wipes.  I prayed for Will, Susie, Father James, and Dave.

I cleaned the auxiliary conference room.  I wiped down the tables and chairs, and I prayed for our palliative care neighbors who use that space in the mornings for their meetings.  I prayed for our chaplains at Randallia who come over for our monthly meetings — for Barry, Dianna, and Fred.

I cleaned until I couldn’t think of anything else to clean.  I felt gross but accomplished afterwards.

When it comes to contagious illnesses like we are facing right now, we all have a responsibility to do what we can.  For many people right now, that means staying out of public and keeping yourself and your family healthy.  Those of us in healthcare don’t have that option.  We have an obligation to be there for the sick and injured regardless of what they have.  Masks, gloves, and gowns will be worn and precautions will be taken, but who knows if it will be enough.  We are relying on one another to stay safe these days.

Wherever you are out there, be safe and smart.  And pray for those who are on the frontlines, as well as the staff supporting them from the inside.

Type A

Today is the first time I have felt like writing in a few days.  I went to the doctor Saturday morning with the assumption they would say I had a cold or maybe an upper respiratory infection.  Wrong.  I have Influenza A.

If I seem like I’m making a big deal out of that, it’s partly because I work at a hospital where influenza is always a big deal.  Also, to my knowledge, I’ve never had actual influenza before.  My mom may correct me on that one, but at least not in my adult life I haven’t.

I asked the doctor if influenza A or B is the worse one.  She said A, of course.  I even had a flu shot, I told her.  Mandatory for all Parkview coworkers, right?  She told me I was in the majority this year, that most people who have the flu had their shot as well.  Oh well.  At least it isn’t just me.

I wrote on Facebook that I have influenza A, and the comments did not disappoint.

One person said they did not realize that a week in a stats class could have that effect.

Someone else pointed out that with my grades, I would get flu A.

My sister said it was consistent with my Type A personality.  She’s not wrong.

Y’all don’t realize it, but my blood type is A+.  So there.  A’s run in my blood.

I’ve basically been a prisoner in my own bedroom since Saturday.  Admittedly, that is not the worst place to be a prisoner.  And I’m more like on house arrest, I guess.  I can leave the room to get coffee if I need to.

Part of my forced confinement is because I’m a really, really bad parent who did not get her daughters the flu vaccine this year.  Oops.  Not getting an A on parenting this term.  So I’m supposed to keep my distance from them for a safe while.  Michael is calling the doctor today to see what we are supposed to do about them, so I’ll leave the room after I know.

Until then, stats homework with Bluie.  I still have to chase that A.

 

 

Found

I write tonight from home, which is a huge relief after not only a long week but also a long day of driving.

I took my professor up on his offer to not do class today. I felt worse physically and did not want to get everyone else sick. I did stop by to say goodbye, and my classmates prayed over me and my journey.

The return trip was harder than the initial one. I didn’t take Bob’s Road this time, but it was still stressful. I drove through rain, sleet, and snow, and that was just West Virginia. I had to find a gas station in the dark in The Middle of Nowhere, Ohio, and put 7 pounds of air into a tire that was low. And I had to keep myself from falling asleep, which I’m going to blame on my cold.

Despite the setbacks, I found my way home. I found giggly girls, barking dogs, and a husband with open arms. I found filtered water, food I didn’t have to go out to buy, and a pillow that cradles my head perfectly.

As my head rests in that pillow, I think back over what else I found this week.

At the beginning of the week, our professor asked us each why we were there. We gave pragmatic answers (his term) about being there to get better at statistics so we can do well on our dissertations when the time comes. Something along those lines. He challenged us to leave the class different at the end of the week than we were at the beginning.

I found a group of women who bonded quickly despite our very different backgrounds. There were only four total of us in the class, so we had to work together. I came to appreciate each woman for the unique gifts and perspectives she contributed to the group. We built a good thing, and I hope we will stay in touch after the class.

I found that I can participate in something without being the best. Part of our grade is based on our classroom participation, and there was nowhere to hide in such a small class. I can’t tell you what the difference is between Pearson’s r and Cronbach’s alpha, but I can tell you when something is statistically significant or not. I couldn’t do that at the beginning of the week.

And I found that I am looking forward to writing a paper on a topic that never interested me before this week, but that I have come to appreciate due to all the time we spent talking about it.

And I found that I still do not like hot tea.

I found little things. I know they are little, and I’m fine with that. Little things matter too.

Lost in the Fog

The man in the elevator smiled at me.  “It doesn’t instill much confidence that you are taking the tissue box with you.”

I was leaving for class, and I was in fact taking the tissues from my hotel bathroom.  I have a raging cold and knew I would need them.

“I don’t imagine it does,” I replied with my own smile, “but I’m hoping it will convince people to leave me alone today.”

Involuntary wince.  That did not come out like I meant for it to.  Or maybe it did, but I didn’t mean to say it aloud.  Whatever the case, the words were out there.  The elevator stopped, the door opened, and I exited sheepishly without another offensive word to the man who was just making polite conversation.

There was a decided fog in our classroom today.  Part of it was definitely me and the germs I was coughing everywhere.  I’ve been excused from class tomorrow by the professor, by the way.  He said it twice.

The remainder of the fog was something indelible.  Maybe it was because it is a statistics class.  Maybe because it was the fourth day of class.  Maybe there was some other reason.  But I wasn’t the only person who had trouble concentrating.

We have definitely hit a rough patch with our work.  I am extremely thankful that we are doing so much of it as a group, because I would not be able to get through most of it on my own.   We worked on regression and correlation models today.  We made a table.  Then we were told we used some wrong data and needed to do it again.

Tears were shed.  Not mine.  Well I did shed a few, but it was largely due to a well-timed coughing fit.

Fog does that.  It obscures what’s around us.  Makes it hard to see the data.  Makes it hard to see what is important.  It leads to frustration and tears.  The good news is that usually the sun comes out and burns up the fog.  In our case, the sun was our teaching assistant Chris who came in and redirected us.

Tomorrow is a new day.  There will be new frustrations.  I start the trip back to Indiana, so I’ll probably end up back on Bob’s Road again.  Hopefully my cold will be better and the trip will be smooth.

But tonight I’ll nurse my cold with a milkshake and watch the sun go down over the mountains.  With no fog.

 

Lost in the Data

 

Today was my first day of class without tears.  Monday I cried because I called Michael on a break and the frustration broke through.  Tuesday I cried because the other students seemed to understand a concept that thoroughly eluded me.  And if you know me, you know I do NOT like not understanding things.

Even without the absence of tears, today was still better.  We started working on the format and structure for the paper we are going to write as a class and submit for publication later in the semester.  We were talking process.  We were talking writing.  We were well within my element.

This is easily the biggest project I have ever worked on.  The professor has a large amount of data he collected last year, and we are going to sort through to look for a few specific variables and analyze how they interact with one another.  I do not feel confident in that part, but I can probably work through it.  We have about 100 articles we need to all read for our literature review.  The paper has to be compiled and written.  I’ve already been nominated for that part.

As we looked through the data and ran graphs today, I noticed some of the data didn’t look right.  There was a particular variable where some information just didn’t make sense.  A group I knew to be a minority was the decided majority in this information, and I could not account for why.  I tried running the model another couple of times and decided that it was not user error.

When the professor returned to class, we asked him where the data came from, thinking that could account for the huge minority.  He told us, and I told him my concern about the variable not being right.  As he listened, his face changed.  He said he had suspected that something was off in the data, but he seemed surprised that I had found what it was.

It turns out I found a bot.  People got paid to take the survey that generated this data, and someone (or multiple someones) had created bots to automatically take the survey and get the person paid for it.  It’s kind of like a spam generator or a robo-call generator.

What that means is that we (but mostly the professor) had to then sift through the data to figure out how to account for the bot answers.  The bots incorrectly answered a few other questions that were designed to weed out things of that nature, but they were still missed.  He taught us how to use those decoy questions to sift through the data and whittle it down.  Interestingly, as we got rid of the bad information, the strength of correlations for some of our other variables increased.

What I got out of this was threefold.

First, I’m better at stats than I give myself credit for.  Or at least I’m better at analyzing data.

Second, I had to get lost in the data (which is a quick journey for me) in order to find my place.  I may not have a good head for what the numbers mean, but I can visually discern when things are wrong.  In the world of statistics, that is my place.  I had to lose myself to find myself.

Third, and more importantly, the professor knew this data forward and backward, but it took a fresh set of eyes and an unsettled instinct to call attention to something that was wrong.  We do this in life.  We know the situations we are in, and we know the situations around us.  Sometimes things make sense to us that fail to make sense to others, and perhaps for good reason.  Someone calling attention to an inconsistency may not feel comfortable, but it is sometimes necessary.

Tomorrow in class we will get back into the data, and my moment of brilliance will be over.  Someone else will take the spotlight for their contribution, and everyone will smile and congratulate that person.  But I’ll hang onto my newfound confidence and go forward knowing that being lost in the data is not the worst place to be.

Lost on Campus

Yep, I got lost.  I put into my map app what building I wanted to go to, and as soon as I arrived on campus my phone said I was there.  I was not, in fact, there.

I ended up parking as far as logistically possible from the library where my class was held.  I asked no less than three people how to get where I was going.  None of them laughed in my face, but they all looked surprised.  I was that far away.  Luckily I left my hotel 45 minutes prior to class just in case that happened, so I still managed to make it to class with 10 minutes to spare.  I showed up disheveled and out of breath, but still on time.

“Stupid” is a good description of how I felt.  I had tried to prepare for getting to campus and I had a contingency plan for if I got lost.  That plan was basically leave early and with a good attitude, but it was still a plan.  I made it, right?

My statistics professor kind of talked about that during class today.  He talked a bit about probability and how everyday we are right more often than we are wrong.  He knew about my parking debacle and used it as an example.  I still made it to class, ergo I was more right than wrong.

It’s an interesting concept.  I tend to be a perfectionist, as many of you know, and that it one of the few areas of life I see in black and white.  I am either right or I am wrong.  I have excelled or failed.  No in between.  So the idea that I can be more right or more wrong sits uneasily with me.  Still, probabilisitically, I am right more often than I am wrong.  That is what I got out of class today.

I will be better prepared for tomorrow.  I went outside and scoped out what road runs past the library, and I made a note of it as I left campus.  Tomorrow I have a better idea of where I am going.  I am not going to rule out the option that I may still get lost again, but in terms of probability, I should be right more than wrong.