Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 Years Is A Long Time!

In July of 2005, I stepped foot inside of Abbott Northwestern Hospital as an employee for the very first time. Looking back, I never could have predicted what a significant role that one single place would eventually play in my life. Within the walls of this institution, some of the most pivotal moments of my life have taken place. Its weird to think that a 2 block radius in heart of Minneapolis would be the stage where both these highs and lows would play out over the next 10 years.

Abbott Northwestern Hospital - Minneapolis, MN
My first position at ANW was as a Nursing Assistant on the Medical/Surgical/Neurological Intensive Care Unit. I worked on that unit for three years while I was in nursing school. It was while working on this unit that I got to know some of the most talented nurses in their specialty. One nurse in particular, Pam, became my mentor. I remember learning so much from her as she would patiently and colorfully explain her process of doing a dressing change, starting an IV, identifying heart rhythms and countless other medical procedures. She was encouraging, funny and very hard working. But the thing I admired most about Pam was her deep compassion and how she dealt with the families of her patients. I watched as many other nurses (who were no less technically good at what they do) brush families aside without much acknowledgment or consideration. I overheard phone calls to family that were rushed and curt. There is no exaggeration in using the word "Intensive" with this unit because it truly is an intense place to work and people are very, very ill. However, it always warmed my heart to see how Pam was SO caring and considerate of patients and their family. Even when she was incredibly busy, she made time to answer questions of family members and provide supportive reassurance. It is something I carry with me to this day and try emulate in my own nursing practice.

During the summer before my last year of nursing school, I applied for Clinical Nursing Internship at ANW. I was absolutely jazzed when I got news that I was accepted for a position on the Cardiac Surgical Intensive Care Unit. It was my plan at the time to pursue a career as an ICU nurse and I learned more than I ever imagined during my time there. It was the first time I did CPR on a human being and the first time I actively participated in a Code Blue. It was also my first taste of working 12 hour night shifts and I quickly learned that nonsense schedule was not for me! However, during the 3 months of my internship, I felt more like a nurse than ever before and the skills I learned have served me well during my career so far.

If someone would have told me that I'd end up working as a mental health nurse, I probably would have cried with laughter. However, during my last year of nursing school I found myself absolutely fascinated by the mental health lectures. Our nursing program did not have psych clinical rotations as part of our experience. So, being the true geek I am, I sought out additional clinical experience in mental health. My instructor was able to set it up for me to go in on my own time and do observation shift on an inpatient mental health unit. After that day, I knew I had found my groove. I was incredibly fortunate to be hired on as an RN at Abbott Northwestern in mental health right out of school. I've been working on the same unit for 7 years now and have not looked back!

In the spring of 2009, just 9 months after becoming an RN, I made the decision to pursue Gastric Bypass surgery. After doing a bunch of research and looking into different programs, the decision was a no-brainer after finding out that Abbott Northwestern's was one of the best. I had my surgery on the morning of April 15, 2009. A friend of mine who worked in surgery helped me select my surgical support team and I felt so much comfort in my decision to go under the knife at ANW. My surgery went incredibly smoothly and the nursing care I received afterward was exceptional. I felt very confident going into my surgery there and was not let down by any part of my experience.

In the fall of 2009, I met my first husband, Simon who happened to be born with a serious, chronic heart defect. I was actually quite relieved to learn that he went to Abbott Northwestern for all of his cardiac care. I had met several of his doctors during my internship back in 2007 and knew exactly what great hands he was in. Due to his heart complications, Simon was in the ER and admitted to the hospital at least 6 time during the first 8 months we were married. In the spring of 2011, he was admitted to the very Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where I did my internship just a few summers prior. He bounced between step-down units and the ICU for almost two weeks. However, he was on that ICU when I got the phone call saying he had gone into cardiac arrest. I knew the doctor who ran his Code Blue. I saw her walk out of his room just as I was arriving and I knew her well enough to know that it hadn't gone well. She was the one who told me that my husband didn't make it. Hearing those words from her, of course I was completely devastated. But I can tell you that there wasn't an inkling of a doubt in my mind that they did everything they could for him. My mind flashed back to the dozens of codes I had seen run by this particular doctor and I absolutely knew that he had gotten the best care possible.

I think of all the people I've met within these walls. I've made lifelong friends and have had to work with some of the most difficult people I've ever encountered. I've felt the amazing pride and exhilaration on days I've done great work. I've also left that place wondering why the hell I became a nurse in the first place. I have laughed and been amused beyond belief. I built my nursing career here and have grown into a person I feel proud to be. I've also had my life crumble before my eyes and felt devastation I've never known. Everything I've gone through there has molded me in a way that I could have never imagined possible. I am deeply grateful for my time here I would not trade the experiences that I have had within the walls of Abbott Northwestern Hospital for anything.

The timing of this report couldn't be more perfect. Just as I was finishing this blog post, a coworker of mine posted this news. Not only does it support my praise for ANW but it also speaks for itself:

U.S. News & World Report ranks Abbott Northwestern Hospital #1 in Twin Cities

MINNEAPOLIS 07/21/2015--Abbott Northwestern Hospital retained first place ranking for the Best Hospital in the Twin Cities and second best in Minnesota in the U.S. News & World Report's 2015-16 Best Hospital rankings released today.
In addition to the state and regional rankings, Abbott Northwestern Hospital also received national recognition in five specialty areas: Cardiology and Heart Surgery (#37); Geriatrics (#40); Gynecology (#10), Neurology and Neurosurgery (#46) and Orthopedics (#19). Fewer than three percent of the nearly 5,000 hospitals that were analyzed for Best Hospitals 2015-16 were nationally ranked in even one specialty.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Trouble - My Sixth Pole Solo

Last night, I did my sixth solo routine at our studio's showcase. The song I chose was "Trouble" by Lily Kershaw. I think this was an appropriate title, given I had a fair amount of it during this routine! Let me explain: You see, the ability to grip and hold onto the pole is absolutely fundamental to being able to do anything pole dance. It sounds simple and obvious, but as pole artists, we are FOREVER battling elements outside out control that determine our ability to grip. The temperature and humidity of the environment plays a huge role in the skin's ability to grip the pole. A person's body chemistry and response to the environment is also a huge factor. Some people's bodies don't sweat enough or they have very dry skin. Other people have the opposite problem, which makes it equally difficult to hang on. I happen to have this problem to a very annoying degree. From day one, I've been trying everything to manage my sweaty hands. It's frustrating as hell!

I've tried a wide variety of grip aids on the market. My collect has evolved into what I affectionately call my "Sticky Bag." On certain days, I don't need to use much grip aid but on some days, I could literally bathe in it without a single bit of benefit.

My "Sticky Bag"

I've been really lucky because I've had pretty good "sticky" days for all of the performances I've done up until this point. Unfortunately, my skin decided not to cooperate with me for last night's performance. My hands were really, really sweaty and no amount of grip aid was going to help it.

It is disappointing when you have been putting a lot of work into something only to have something outside of your control mess it up. I had a few things planned for my solo last night that didn't happen due to not being able to safely grip. I has a pretty kick-ass spin planned during the routine but as I was gearing up for it, I could just feel that I wouldn't be able to hold on. I did my best to pull it off into something else mid-execution. The same thing happened with my first trick combination. I had to switch it up mid-execution because I could feel myself slipping.

On the positive side, I was able to safely complete my routine which I feel makes it a success. I was able to go with the flow and not allow the grip issue to fluster me too much. Also, the parts that went as planned felt great! AND I was able to achieve my two goals which are to have fun and be in the moment. Here are practice videos of the spin and trick combination that didn't happen in addition to the full performance from the showcase:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Dance For Dad

When I told my dad that I was starting pole dance classes in the fall of 2013, he turned an especially interesting shade of red. The color nicely complemented the absolutely baffled look on his face. After explaining that I wasn't pursuing a new career venture but looking to try something completely new to get myself out of a funk, his faced changed to the very familiar look of mixed amusement/disbelief that said, "That's my Stefany: leave it to her to do something totally out of the ordinary!" It took some creative explaining for my conservative father, but once he understood what I was really up to with this whole pole dance thing, he was very supportive and encouraging.

He never saw me dance live but I did force him to watch videos of all my dance solos. "Wow, its really cool that you can do all stuff!" He would say, watching each time with the same apprehension and amazement. I kinda think he was secretly afraid of witnessing me move in a way that a dad would not want to see his daughter move. I always had to laugh because up until this point, my solos have been very subdued in terms of what you might expect a pole dance routine to look like. I think he finally got the picture, that pole dance is a giant umbrella that covers a wide variety of dance styles. Regardless, he was very supportive and proud of me. I actually think he secretly enjoyed seeing those videos and pictures.

Not long after my dad passed away this most recent November, I had the most vivid dream of him. I dreamed that I was at one of  my dance shows and that he was there to watch. I remember feeling really nervous because I wanted to make him proud. After the performance, my dad came rushing onto the stage. He was absolutely gushing about how great he thought I did. "Wow! I mean WOW!! That was incredible!! Gosh, it looks like so much fun to do all that stuff!!" And that is when he took a running leap at one of the poles, grabbed on and began swinging around in huge, wide circles. He had a look of pure joy on his face. I jumped in and we proceeded to have an absolute blast doing some doubles moves together. It was the most amazingly joyful and comforting dreams I've ever had.

The solo I did for this most recent show was inspired by that dream. I wanted to capture the feeling of being carefree and alive. The song I chose is Heavenly Day by Patti Griffin. Its about spending the most perfect day with someone and not having a care in the world. Its a beautiful song and felt it worked perfectly. Doing this routine: putting it together, reworking it, choosing spins and tricks as well as the emotion behind it and then finally performing it, was incredibly healing. For some reason, I cried a lot during the day before the show. It worried me because I wanted to dance with joyfulness and I was afraid I would just look sad. But when it came time to do it, I just thought about my dad and let the rest happen. I'm very happy with the way it went. Technically, I remembered all my moves and executed everything fairly well. I did have a minor equipment issue where I did a spin that got a bit too much pull for the particular pole I was using. It caused the bottom to move, but don't worry - I was aware of it and pretty proud of myself for not letting it get me flustered.

Maybe it is still a weird thing to do; choreographing a solo pole routine in memory of my dad. I guess I don't really care because I know he would understand it. I danced my heart out for my dad and believe I made him proud. And at the end of the day, that's all that truly matters.

Here is the final performance of the piece I created in memory of my dad:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Seven Years

When I picked up the phone to call the Emily Program just over seven years ago, I wasn't even sure I had an eating disorder. However, I was sure that I had absolutely horrible self esteem, out of control eating behaviors and no self worth to speak of. I was deeply depressed and lost. The only other thing I knew for certain was that I wanted things to be different - I didn't want to feel that way any more.

Little did I know, that phone call was the beginning of a journey that I could have never imagined. My initial testing and assessment revealed that I did, in fact have an eating disorder: Compulsive Overeating was the official diagnosis I received. Based on my assessment results and one on one meeting with their intake psychologist, I was matched up with a therapist that they felt would be the best fit for me. I'm not sure if they have professional psychics doing their match-ups but I've got to say that they absolutely nailed it when they assigned me to Kate.

Kate. How do I begin to describe this incredible woman? This may be a bit of an obscure reference, but if Jennifer Nettles from the band Sugarland and Eve Kilcher from the TV show, Alaska the Last Frontier had a love-child, that child would be Kate. Physically, I think they resemble her but even more so in personality and energy.

I liked Kate the moment I met her. She is just so real, down to earth and easy to talk to. She somehow manages to balance genuine sweetness and caring with being totally honest and upfront. She is the epitome of support and encouragement while also not being afraid to challenge me or call me out on my bullshit. In many ways, she almost feels like the big sister I always wanted.

I had the notion when I started therapy, that I would walk in, talk about what's wrong with me and then would be given a recipe for how to "fix" it. I thought we would go down a neat little check list and fix them all, one by one. Then, PRESTO-CHANGE-O; I'd be cured after a few months! Ha - was I ever in for a rude awakening. When Kate told me that the average time it takes for a person to recover from an eating disorder is seven years, I nearly fell out of my chair. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "Seven years?? SEVEN YEARS?! I don't have seven damn years - I need to get myself figured out like yesterday!" Coming to the harsh realization that therapy would be a messy, scary and unpredictable process felt incredibly overwhelming. The unknown was terrifying to me. I wanted a clearly defined map to show me the way in a "reasonable" amount of time. Instead, I found I had an incredible guide and mentor to walk with me on a long, bumpy, complicated and often scary path to re-connection with myself.

When I first met Kate, I wouldn't have known a healthy boundary if it jumped up and bit me in the ass. I believed that it was my responsibility to take care of everyone in my life - I took their problems upon myself and believed it was my responsibility to help solve them. I gave of myself constantly and completely. I was absolutely drained emotionally from it and while I was busy taking care of others, I had no idea how to care for myself. I grew up with the false belief that self-care was selfish and that boundaries were unimportant. Kate helped me define those boundaries, recognize when they were being violated and how to handle it. She believed in my ability to heal and become the person I've always wanted to be.

Kate has celebrated even my tiniest of successes and has seen me at my best: self assured, centered, completely grounded and full of confidence. She has also seen me in some of my darkest moments; when I wasn't even sure I was worthy of the air I breathed. She was there during the loss of my first husband, Simon, my father and other very significant losses. She has provided me with unwavering encouragement and incredible perspective. She always believed the best in me and has been a priceless anchor through so many storms: a beacon of hope guiding me through some very intense darkness.

Last month, I reached my seven year treatment anniversary. Kate and I spent time looking back at my journey, remarking at how far I've come. "Did you ever imagine that you could accomplish all the things you have and feel as good as you do?" She asked me. No. Never in seven million years. When I walked into my first appointment, I had no idea the amount of work I had ahead of me. It's probably a good thing because I might just have turned around and ran out the door. I also had no idea that the payoff for doing all that work would feel this amazing either. If I were to bump into myself from seven years ago, I don't think I'd even recognize her. I'm fundamentally and forever changed - there is no way I could go back to who I was before, even if I tried.

"So, how do you know when you have actually recovered from an eating disorder?" I asked Kate. While recovery is as individual as the person, she explained that it is being in a place where you are aware of your eating disorder in the context of your life. It is knowing that you will live the rest of your life with it but that it no longer controls or defines you. Recovery is learning how to manage your eating disorder in a healthy way. By that definition, I suppose I could consider myself in recovery. While I still have symptoms flare ups and times when my disorder is highly triggered, I know that I have the tools to manage it. It isn't always easy though. There are still times when I get completely knocked off center and I feel like I'm spinning in a whirlwind of disordered thinking and behavior. There are still moments when I still feel like a complete mess and utterly defeated. The difference is that now I have a deep sense of knowing; I KNOW who I am and how to take care of myself.

Starting therapy and sticking with it is absolutely the most precious gift I've ever given myself. Having Kate as my therapist is the most precious gift the Emily Program could have ever given me. She is kind, supportive and all around amazing. She came to both of my weddings, Simon's funeral and treated me to coffee when I graduated nursing school. While our sessions have often been raw, sad and anger filled; we've also laughed a lot as well as celebrated my successes along the way. She has shown me that I have the power to make my life better, to find happiness and love myself. I can't imagine taking this weird and rewarding journey with any other guide by my side and the amount of gratitude I feel is infinite. However, my journey doesn't end here. I may have achieved recovery by definition, but I feel like there is still a ton of work to do. I just want to keep becoming the best version of me possible. Because, you know what? It feels damn good.