The Baby Whisperers

My mother did a good job of not letting her day job come home with her. Considering her patients (and after reading her thoughts below) that takes a strength I’m not sure many people possess.

***

The Baby Whisperers

By: Mickey McGuire

I have a love-hate relationship with my chosen nursing profession. Since 1978, I have been a nurse in varying capacities and a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) nurse since 1987. I have observed and experienced much anguish, grief, joy, relief, and complete elation caring for other human beings as they have faced minor or life-threatening illnesses or circumstances. Needless to say, this is a profession which has given me countless rewards for my efforts in providing care and comfort to the sick.

It has also been the profession which has completely sucked the life out of me on many occasions.

NICU nurses are a rare breed. I have not met a NICU nurse on this planet who genuinely does not love babies. This is not an area for any nurse who cannot deal with difficult people, specifically the parents. Let’s face it- who wants to hear a baby cry for twelve hours or have a parent question everything that you do? In their minds, their baby is the sickest and demands the most attention in any unit. The number one problem in the NICU is the lack of control for the parents. Everything in their carefully planned pregnancy has just gone out the window with their baby being admitted to an intensive care setting, and I, as the NICU nurse, represent the failure of their dream.

Believe it, when an infant is admitted into a NICU, he or she needs the intervention. Something has gone terribly wrong with their transition away from their mother’s body- whether it is simple transitional support for the term infant with what we call a “whiff of oxygen,” prematurity that requires support until they can sustain their bodily functions on their own, or a life-threatening congenital defect that requires surgery. For all the thousands of births that occur, 90% require no presence of a NICU team. We as NICU nurses deal with the other 10% every day.

Yesterday, I had a father hug me twice- once when he arrived and once again before he left. He wanted to make sure I knew how much he appreciated my words on the first day of his baby’s admission- my reassurance and my no-nonsense approach. I have cultivated my no-nonsense manner mostly as a survival tactic in the trenches- high adrenaline environments, time to cut through the bullshit. Tell them what they need to know in the simplest terms possible; they barely hear the first sentence anyway. Be assured you will have to repeat the same things over and over. Lastly, I am not going to let you hold your baby until he or she is stable- get over it. It seems I have morphed into this sixty year old grandmother NICU nurse who does not intimidate easily.

Recently, a father accused a coworker of “not caring about their baby,” and “only doing this because of the paycheck.” I can tell you there are much calmer and more sane ways to get a paycheck. There are numerous occupations available to make a salary larger than a nurse’s. By the way, he didn’t have that attitude the next day when I cared for his baby. The timing was right for him to talk about his feelings, and I let him. Comprehending their lack of control, that was a perfect example of parents’ saying nasty things in the heat of the moment.

In the past few months, I have seen two babies born who had died in utero and could not be resuscitated. I was part of that NICU team who attended the deliveries and helped run the codes. There are no words that suffice explaining the heartbreak in these situations. I was not the nurse or physician who had to tell the parents their baby could not be brought back. Everyone applauded what an outstanding job the team did, but that praise felt hollow connected to the outcome of the parents holding their dead baby. Do I internalize it? Of course I do, but not as much as twenty years ago. With age and experience came a protective wall for my psyche.

“The baby whisperers-” that is who we are. We are the ones who can calm a crying baby with a whisper in their ear- a little Sweetease and a pacifier doesn’t hurt either. We are the eyes on the babies twenty-four hours a day and the advocates for the infant to the neonatologists when a change has occurred that requires their inspection. We are the advocates for the baby when their parents want to pluck them 24/7 thinking that heals them. They need rest and quiet, not constant patting and going googoo- gaga over them. It is a delicate balance to speak for the baby and avoid offending the parents. They sometimes get angry, and, generally do, no matter how nice you are as the bedside nurse.

We are the advocates for those dreaded drug withdrawal babies, which I might add, are increasing weekly at alarming numbers even at centers with upper middle class clientele. There have been very few weeks where we have been blessed with the absence of that particular infant population. These are the babies who may cry nonstop for twelve hours. They may vomit and poop at every feeding and jerk uncontrollably until they are wrapped in our signature NICU nurse “burrito” fashion. Their parents are always a pain in the ass. They are the most magnificent manipulators in the world of nursing. If you want a course in manipulating people and the system, sit back and watch an addictive parent at work. Being a nurse to a withdrawing baby is probably the second worst scenario to deal with, second to a dying baby. Many times we have been accused of trying to keep babies against the parents’ wishes. I can assure you- I do not want to keep your crying, irritable offspring one moment longer than I need to!! Those are the days when self-medicating upon arrival to home is generally necessary- addictive behavior facilitating more addictive behavior to the health care professional. An occupational hazard, some of the worst addicts are nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists- whether it is alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes.

I will probably hang up my nursing hat for good in the next five years. Long gone are the actual days when we wore nursing hats- how hideous! Long gone are the days of wearing white uniforms and white shoes- white+blood never a good thing. That path of where the “ways cross” in 1974 led to a nursing career which has spanned almost forty years.

Would I encourage others to become a nurse? Absolutely! There is no other profession where you will feel the connection with humanity on such a visceral level.

Would I discourage others from becoming a nurse? Yes. You must realize as a nurse you will feel depleted and raw and drained and sad and happy and elated and burned out and frustrated and angry and sick and kind and compassionate and bullied and intimidated and incompetent and efficient. You will become all of these things.

When my grandson Logan was born, I helped my son and daughter-in-law adjust to new parenthood for a few days. One particular trying night during a breastfeeding attempt and Logan becoming increasingly frustrated, I took him out of his mother’s arms and calmed him, put him to her breast, and he nursed. She said, “What are you, the baby whisperer?”

Yes, that is exactly what I am.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

Ode to Azaleas

Sometimes we forget that our parents were once teenagers as well. Everything always seems like it could only ever happen to you personally… but we all struggle with the same things.

***

Ode to Azaleas

By: Mickey McGuire

February is supposed to be the month for lovers. Even though this is now March, I wrote this as a special tribute to all those young couples out there grappling with the intricacies of modern relationships. However complicated the relationship is, it still boils down to that famous line in the movie Notting Hill by Julia Roberts to Hugh Grant:

“I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.”

By the beginning of seventh grade, I was a towering 5′ 10” with a size 11 foot. In a classroom of boys who were at most five foot nothing, I had virtually no prospects for any of those boys I had grown up with showing any romantic interest whatsoever… unless they wanted to stand on a stool to give me my first kiss.

Sometime during the fall of that school year, a new boy moved into our community and joined our class. He was ruggedly handsome for a seventh grader, blond with blue eyes, soft-spoken, and TALL- probably six foot. I cannot pinpoint in my memory when I realized he was interested in me. I had a peculiar feeling before Christmas break he was actually staring at me and smiling once in a while. All that break I was giddy with excitement of the remote possibility there was a boy who actually liked ME, not the other girls in the class.

Once we returned to school after break, it was obvious the interest was a reality- we were a “couple.” My first real crush would last all of the remainder of seventh and all of eighth grade. The definition of being a “couple” was quite different in 1969- 1970 than it is today. Our relationship consisted of looks, smiles, occasional hand-holding, sitting near each other, and passing notes. Even putting his arm around my shoulders on the bus was met with stern looks from our teacher.

One spring morning I walked into class to my desk and found a gift so unexpected that I still tear up thinking about the sweetness of the gesture. There on my desk lay a huge bouquet of the most beautiful pink and white variegated azaleas, still dewy and fresh from just being picked from his mother’s bushes. Thinking back on that moment, I realized then I might be special- worthy of his attention as well as others with bouquets and promises and happiness and romance.

I did not marry my first crush. He wasn’t even the boy who would give me my first kiss behind the piano at our eighth-grade dance. His father left his family for a younger woman sometime during eighth grade. After that, he just wasn’t the same. Of the four children, I think he suffered the most from the desertion and added responsibility being the oldest. He would eventually drop out of school, get in trouble with the law related to drugs, and wander aimlessly from one relative or part-time job to another. Occasionally, our paths would cross throughout my high school years; we would date a few times, and then he would disappear again.

I have thought of him often and wondered if he found happiness. Through the grapevine, I heard a few years ago he attended his grandmother’s funeral in our hometown. He had married and had five children as well as a whole slew of grandchildren. I was happy for him- such fond memories of our summer afternoons together in my living room listening to 45s on my stereo- “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” “Layla,” the Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, Chad and Jeremy-a sweet boy who would eventually figure things out- always kind, polite, nonjudgmental, never a mean word.

Yes, he eventually did kiss me right there dancing to those 45s.

I wished him well then and now. I wonder if that 14-year-old boy knew how special his gift would be that spring morning- a bouquet of dew-filled azaleas for his 13-year-old sweetheart. That morning she understood sweetness and spontaneity between a boy and girl and a promise of potential happiness in the future.

That giant of a girl would find her mate years later in college, have three children and a happy life. But that morning, the gift of those azaleas would be her first and most special memory of young love- that simple gift of flowers representative of innocence, simplicity, tenderness, and acceptance.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

AP World History And Waffles

There are times when I think about what my friends and I got away with in high school. And then there are some of my mother’s stories about her students. This might be my favorite.

***

AP World History and Waffles

By: Mickey McGuire

I became a RN in 1978 at the age of twenty-one- my first major career path. By the time I reached my forties, I had practiced nursing more than twenty years, a major portion in the pediatric/neonatal field. Needless to say, I was burned out with the profession by then and had been contemplating a career change for some time.

The direction to take- the next fork in my life path- manifested itself in a dream. Never underestimate the power of dreams. Sometimes when you simply put the intent out there, the universe answers. In the dream, I saw myself as a social studies teacher in front of a classroom. When I woke up, it was crystal clear what I needed to do. I spent the next three years as a forty- something nerd getting my B. A. degree in history and social sciences.

My first job was teaching high school government to seniors and world history to sophomores later my preps would include several electives as well. By my fifth year of teaching, I was assigned an AP World History course, the most difficult to teach and prepare. I was determined to teach it perfectly and give these students their best chance for passing the AP exam. This teaching  intensity proved to ultimately be my undoing, and the reason this story is logged into those hysterical teaching days never forgotten by me or any of the teachers on my hall.

***

“Those words- AP and waffles- are two words that you probably would not expect to see in the same sentence. I know that I’ve been remiss in my blog writing, but as Millie explained in her blog, we’ve been BUSY!! (Millie is my best friend and reading specialist at our school. There was a time we both wrote education blogs.)

So, I have to tell you the story that happened just today. This week has been horrendous- so much to do- absolute brain overload. All teachers know that saturation point; your brain cannot deal with one more detail (Grades due next week, recommendations, meetings, parent conferences, daily schedule changes, writing a curriculum audit, planning a mock trial for my Practical Law classes, and actually teaching). I planned my lesson for AP World History 6th period, wrote and structured my notes, copied two readings for a group activity to conclude with, and was ready to go when they arrived. They all filed in, talking and chattering away, and reluctant to settle down.

I said my famous line:  “Today is a day I am not in the mood for any crap!”

Instant silence!

Wow, relieved, I began. A few minutes into the warm-up, I heard the first “beep.”

I looked around, told him/her to turn off their watch, and continued. I explained the pros and cons of the design of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan by a map. I launched into the stages of Spanish conquest. Suddenly again, I heard another “beep.”

I turned around and said to turn off that phone or watch, please. The kids sat there with blank looks on their faces, and no one offered any explanation. I plowed on, completely in the zone- asking questions, students answering correctly, everything great.

“Beep.”

I ignored it this time.

Finished with notes, I distributed the readings and gave instructions. Everyone was reading, making notes, and preparing to report on their findings on the treatment of Native Americans in Latin America.

“Beep.”

I could not figure out where that noise was coming from!

Now here I must mention that I let the kids eat in class anyway. They are always munching on cookies or sandwiches. I don’t pay attention to what they’re eating. As I’m sitting at my desk getting ready for the next stage of the group activity, one of the students comes to me and puts a waffle and syrup on my desk!!!

“There’s your waffle, Mrs. McGuire,” he said.

Now I’m generally fairly observant of my surroundings, but I have to say, I was oblivious to the waffle-making going on. As I finally looked closely toward the back of the room, what did I see but a waffle station! I had missed all the tell-tale signs: the waffle iron, the Bisquick mix, cooking oil, syrup, as well as the uncharacteristic, consistent silence during the lesson. I also missed the waffles being passed around as each one finished cooking. I also missed smelling the waffles cooking and the sweet smell of syrup. Thank goodness, this was the AP students and waffle-making, not sex or drugs in the back of the room!

Oh, by the way, it was a perfect waffle!”

***

Teaching proved to be the hardest job I ever had but also the most rewarding. Unfortunately, I did not realize that perhaps going through the mood swings of menopause and herding teenagers might just be too much for even the most sane. After eight years, I decided to leave the teaching profession before I was completely sucked dry emotionally.

People ask me even now why would I give up the salary of nursing for the pitiful pay our educators earn in this country. My response stands: I had the wonderful opportunity to realize two dreams in my life, being both a nurse and a teacher.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

My Mother: The Horse Diver

Another month, and a little more insight to my own family’s past. I only wish that I had an actual picture of my grandmother to show along with the following…

***

My Mother: The Horse Diver

By: Mickey McGuire

 

My mother was the best cook who ever lived. I also knew her to be the most critical person whom I have ever known, and, in her later years, one of the most fearful and paranoid. On her good days, she liked to laugh and joke. She loved to fish- both salt and fresh water; she was the first to drop her line and the last to leave. She wrote short stories, poetry, and a book about life in the Okefenokee Swamp.

She tried to be a good mother- nurturer to me she was not. In all fairness though, I saw her warm and fuzzy side as a grandmother to my children. Although our relationship was complicated at best, I never doubted her desire to see me succeed at a level which surpassed hers.

On the days her demons rose to the surface, she drank vodka- sometimes a weekend binge a month, other times many months would pass without any drinking. The realization of her drinking for the day assaulted my nose and sensibilities as soon as I opened the door in the afternoon after school- Momma asleep/passed out in the bed and the rest of the house a cold vacuum where sadness and pain lived.

I never saw her take a leisurely walk or do any form of formal exercise. Does pulling a wagon with fishing equipment count? She smoked two packs of Kent cigarettes a day, ate fried Southern food on a regular basis, drank off and on her whole life, and still lived to be 79.

That was the mother I knew. Married already for twenty years, my parents adopted me in their forties. I was the baby who would surely fill that void in my mother’s life.

***

But there was another person I never knew. Families have their share of stories and legends, and my mother had a crazy one- she was a horse diver in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the summer of 1933 when she was seventeen. At that time, the diving show on the Atlantic City Steel Pier had been in existence since 1928. The horse diving show had been the creation of William “Doc” Carver in the 1880s. Originally a traveling diving show, it had become the primary attraction of many carnival acts on the Boardwalk.

 

horse-diving

 

This was a show not for the faint of heart or spirit. A pretty girl sat on the back of a huge horse and dove 40-60 feet into a 12 foot pool. That depth was just enough for the horse to reach the bottom of the tank and push-off to swim to the surface. Different horses dove four times a day, seven days a week for the price of a one dollar admission to see this remarkable feat- definitely meeting the criteria of an extreme sport by the standards of that time. Divers made $50- $125 per week, a fortune compared to the normal $15 per week in a department store.

How would a seventeen year old girl from Waycross, Georgia, ever be a horse diver in Atlantic City, New Jersey, you might ask? That summer my mother had gone to stay with her older brother and his wife in New Jersey, a place where my uncle had found better job opportunities as a welder in the shipyards. My mother’s cousin Marie was already a temporary diver for the show. The star diver Sonora Webster Carver- also a Waycross girl- had been blinded on one of the dives in 1931, and, according to her autobiography, had needed rehabilitation and time to learn Braille. So the summer of 1933 could have very well been a period of transition where many different divers were used in the shows. According to Sonora’s sister Arnette French in the autobiography A Girl and Five Brave Horses, “If you rounded all the riders up, we’d fill Convention Hall- we were the stars of the Boardwalk.”

circa 1955: A diving horse and her rider disappearing in to a swimming pool with a splash. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A diving horse and her rider disappearing in to a swimming pool with a splash. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

According to Momma and Sonora Carver’s autobiography, you had “to keep your head tucked to one side, so that when the horse raised his head as he jumped up at the bottom of the pool, you wouldn’t get smacked in the face.” That would have been the least of my worries. How would you have the nerve to jump on the back of that gigantic animal and then jump off a stand 40-60 feet in the air into 12 feet of water? What about being thrown off or kicked in the head under water? There were documented bloody noses, black eyes, broken cheekbones, collarbones, and teeth. Amazingly, no diver fatalities ever occurred. Sonora Carver’s blindness was the worst of the injuries, and she continued to dive despite her blindness for many years.

***

How does one person meet adversity and thrive despite it while another is haunted by her/his demons?  How did my mother evolve from having this courageous spirit and complete recklessness of youth to being beaten down from the disappointments in her life? If she could be a horse diver, she could have accomplished anything. I do believe life is about choices and consequences. She could have taken that job with Western Union and had her own career. She could have moved to a big city. She could have divorced my father. She chose to stay in the marriage, to live in the small town, and be a housewife. The life she chose would eventually lead to her becoming my mother, all the good and the bad of it. She was the mother I was supposed to have. I am who I am because of it.

I wish we could have had a different relationship… but we did not.

Instead of thinking about what might have been, I love to think about my mother dressed in that sequined bathing suit, waiting for that nearly one ton animal to reach the top of the ramp- her red hair flying- fearless and carefree- her future ahead with so much promise.

 

Credits: Carver, Sonora. A Girl and Five Brave Horses. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2016.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

Where the “Ways Cross”

For so many of us, we wonder about our lives, constantly looking to our pasts and the past of our family. Anything to glean some knowledge about our potential future. Today, I’m excited to take a look back with my mother as she gazes back.

***

I grew up in the Deep South in a railroad town forty miles north of the Georgia/Florida line- Waycross, a small town with a population less than twenty thousand. Peculiar name, but, originally, it was called “Old Nine” and then “Tebeauville” until 1935 when the leaders of the community decided to change the name to reflect more of the town’s true identity. This sleepy town was the “cross-way” of the railroad lines traveling through the state of Georgia, and, at the time of the name change, these group of business men thought a new name was needed to identify the junction of the existing Savannah railroad line and the new rail line which connected Brunswick and Albany. Legend has it that they toyed with the idea of Eastcross and Northcross, but finally settled on Waycross, probably over breakfast at the local diner. Waycross is also the point of intersection of five major highways in southeast Georgia, and it is the only town with direct access to the beginning of the Okefenokee Swamp, its claim to fame.

railroad-crossing

I lived the quintessential Southern life. To me, growing up Southern meant drinking sweet tea the color of the Satilla River, sitting on the front porch watching it rain during a thunderstorm, and then smashing the air pockets in the dirt road with my bare feet after the downpour was over. Summer started June 1st after school ended the last day of May, and shoes were forgotten until school resumed the last week in August. Even now I can outlast any of the tenderfoots in my family on hot beach sand. Nights meant mosquitoes, fireflies, air so thick you could cut it with a knife, trying to sleep with a window fan and praying for any breeze-however faint- and the sound of the trains over at the Rice Yard. I spent many days in July shelling peas and butter beans out of our garden in big tin dishpans on my lap. Once that last bean spilled out of its shell into the pan, it was hallelujah until the next round was picked.

Although I was the only child of a critical mother and an angry father, for the most part, my childhood was sweet and kind. I raced grasshoppers with the neighbors, caught dragonflies off the clothesline, and caught tadpoles out of the ditches with my cousin Robert. My Aunt Lucille would actually let him keep his tadpoles in a pan on their back porch, and we would watch them grow into frogs and hop away. I had the same best friend throughout childhood and teenage years, including crushes on boys and many nights with her at her aunt’s skating rink. I learned how to fish in the swamp ditches with a cane pole at about three and could throw a child’s rod and reel at about four. Our vacations every year consisted of a week fishing at Harriet’s Bluff in Kingsland, Georgia, a fish camp on Crooked River, and Saturday day trips to fish off the salt water pier at Fernandina Beach. ( I can still out fish anyone in our family.) On Labor Day weekend, we drove to the Smoky Mountains to visit my father’s oldest brother at his cabin.  I had an Aunt Dot, that aunt who loved to laugh and have a good time- also the aunt who introduced me to flying, the symphony, and the finer things in life. We weren’t rich, but we always had good food and nice clothes. My parents expected me to always do my best, and the measure of character according to my Daddy was whether that man was willing to work.

alligator

Although I have lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia for more than twenty years now, I still think of Georgia as my true home. Just the mention of “Southernness” and living in Waycross evokes deep feelings of nostalgia. When someone teases me about my Southern accent, I just smile- they never knew what they missed. I will always be a swamp girl.

map_of_waycross_ga

When I think about it, where the “Ways Cross” is a metaphor for my life, as it is for humans trying to navigate this shaky path of life. We all face forks in the road, a new path which has to be embraced, a change in our circumstances. In my own life, each decade had its share of upheavals and stability:

My tumultuous twenties as I figured out relationships, marriage, and motherhood.

Thirties a blur as a raised three children.

Forties when I completely flipped and went back to school for another degree and changed careers.

And now fifties where there has been much reflection and floundering as I figured out my identity apart from being a wife and mother.

This upcoming January I will experience my 60th year on this earth-sobering to say the least. Funny thing is, if you talk to ANY sixty year old person, they do not see themselves as an old person. We still feel the same on the inside; it is only when we look in the mirror we realize Old Man Time continued to march on.

So as the big 6-0 fast approaches, here I am again at another junction where the “Ways Cross.” What do I do with the rest of my life? I know I am much wiser than that seventeen year old who left for the big city of Atlanta to attend nursing school in 1974- the first fork in the road. It is my hope with this blog I will entertain some of you youngsters with stories about my life and the people in it- some funny, some sad, and some completely absurd- as I came to each crossing and navigated through. Other blogs will be reflections concerning life and my ponderings as I face the future me.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.