Monday, March 28, 2016

Casey's Story - When I Met Courtney

Hey everyone! I hope you all had wonderful, relaxing and joy filled Easter's! Please take a moment to read this wonderful blog post written by my beautiful friend Casey.... you won't be disappointed!


Hello everyone! My name is Casey. I am proud to say that Courtney is one of my best friends. I was more than thrilled when she asked me to write for all of you. It is an honor. Thank you so much for the opportunity!

It’s probably easiest for me to start from the beginning, back to my second year of nursing when I met this loveable ball of joy. I often ask her, “Do you remember the first thing I ever said to you?” I commented on her new hairdo, as we sat outside the classroom that will forever be a sacred place to me. That’s when it all started. It might seem insignificant to some, but for me, this would always be the day that brought Courtney into my life.

In the beginning, I had little knowledge about Courtney’s condition and what it meant for her. I hoped she would be accepting of that. But I just kept thinking I was so lucky to have her as a friend. I also knew something was different about meeting her. It was unlike all the other awkward first encounters I had in nursing. Very early on, I knew our bond was special.

I want you all to stop and think for a moment. Can you recall a time your best friend in elementary school told you a secret and you weren’t allowed to tell anyone else? Parents thought it was so cute; all they could do was smile and laugh. But what they don’t know (and what I will probably never admit to them) is, they were pretty darn smart because they also realized something we didn’t as small children. They realized the bond of true friendship.

I remember the first time Courtney ever talked with me about Neurofibromatosis. I was so nervous, because I wanted to be caring and supportive, yet I knew so little about the condition. It was after a night of movies, and Court’s favorite, Frozen. We went upstairs to my room, and that’s when it just spilled out of me, like word vomit, “So, what is NF?” She was so good about explaining everything and much to my dismay; she was the one consoling me, as I was sure she had done with so many others who asked her the same question. She knew exactly what to say.

We ended up staying awake until 5 o’clock that morning. I just listened to her, as she shared every part of her NF journey with me. I was astonished by her strength. How she spoke with such kindness and grace about a topic that brought her face-to-face with situations no one her age should have to deal with. She may have NF, but she is not NF. And although she has experienced some extremely low points in her life, she has fought like a warrior to rise out of her darkness and become something beautiful. Yes, of course, I think my best friend is beautiful on the outside, but she also has a beautiful heart. A heart that is selfless, brave and passionate. I have never seen anything like it. This night was a night of exceptional revelations for me. I then flashed back to the day I met her and it became so clear! I realized in that moment just as my parents would have (in all their wisdom) all those years ago, that this was a true friendship.

From then on we were inseparable, us and our other amigo, Carlene. You know, I’ve never really been much for fate, but how awesome is it that all three of our names start with the same letter! It totally does not get any better than that J

Back to the story! The more Courtney shared with me about NF; the more I wanted to be involved. I remember another time; she had an MRI appointment booked. I know it sounds crazy, but when she texted asking for a ride I was so excited! I finally would have gotten to be a part of her journey and experience it alongside her. Rather than her telling another story, I would be there, and I would be part of it. Turns out, her mom was able to take her to the hospital and we met up afterwards. I was a little disappointed, but I recognized something. I am in a special position as one of her best friends, because although I was not there when she experienced her most significant struggles like Carlene was (who has been Courtney’s friend for 15 years), I know her now and I have seen just how beautifully she has overcome them.

Some of my best days this year were spent with Courtney, her mom Tracey, and Carlene at the inaugural Manitoba Neurofibromatosis (MBNF) Empowerment Symposium in Winnipeg. The event happened in October 2015, where as most of you know, Courtney was a keynote speaker!

There was much anticipation leading up to the event’s arrival, as Carlene and I surprised Courtney for her 21st birthday months earlier! We created an elaborate scavenger hunt and drove her all over Red Deer to find several clues. Where at the end of the hunt, she discovered we would be joining her. That was a pretty special day, but nothing topped the symposium. I was finally going to be part of her journey!

Courtney read us rough drafts of her speech, which were all amazing by the way. But her final copy was a surprise for us, as Carlene and myself both decided we wanted to hear it for the first time at the symposium, just as those in attendance would. I often thought about how great her speech would be, and the expectations I had were exceeded on so many levels! I can’t even begin to express to you how proud I felt, sitting in that front row, while she so confidently shared her story. And I was just so excited for her! She finally was able to accomplish what she always told me she wanted to: empowering others affected by NF and raising awareness of what it is like to live with this condition. After her speech was finished, I sat beside her in awe, as there was a line-up of people wanting to talk with her and say thank you for sharing her experiences. I tried my best to hide it, but I was crying. Tears of joy. Even while writing this post, I am tearing up! She touched so many people, again, with that heart of gold, I tell you. Myself included. Her courage and grace is simply astonishing. I tell her to this day how much of a hero she is to me, and as the humble individual she is, she always says, “no way.” But that’s what she is to me. She’s my best friend and my hero. There are not many people who can say they have accomplished what she has at her age.

But what I’ve learned from Courtney is, you don’t have to be famous and well known to be a hero. I am a hero every day that I put my scrubs on and go to work. That person who pulls their car to the side of the road to ensure the little old lady walking across the street, does so safely, is a hero. The person who stands up for themselves and what they believe in, against all odds is a hero. We are all heroes in our own way and we should be proud of that. Heroes also show humility. Courtney wanted to share her story, not to receive any form of recognition but to simply let others know, she has struggled as they have, she has felt pain and darkness, and she has risen. Risen above and become something beautiful. And you can too. An illness or any kind of suffering is part of who we are, but it is not what we are! We cannot choose but happens to us, but we can choose how we respond. It does take time, as it did with Courtney, but with bravery, self-acceptance and the support and love of others, we can accomplish more than we would ever know.  

I leave you with this. If you ever are so lucky as to find true friendship, as I have with Courtney, hang on to it so tightly, because I promise you, it will be the best thing you ever do!

- Casey

Monday, March 14, 2016

Changing Labels

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I am adamant about refraining from labeling people. I've been labeled in my past, with words such as "depressed", "anorexic", and "attention seeker". Those words, those labels were unjustified. Cruel assumptions that people made about me before even knowing who I am or learning about where I've come from.

I think one of the most significant encounters I've had with labels comes from one of my clinical rotations in nursing school. I remember clear as day going to get my patient research and looking at this patients chart. My jaw hit the floor. This individual had 12-14 medical conditions, was on 36 different medications and had a chart thicker than most of my textbooks. I gulped my anxiety down and sifted through this chart, hoping and praying that this wouldn't be the patient that would make me drop out of nursing school.

The next day during report, I listed off my patients to the other staff members and my peers and as I said this patients name, I head a few of the nurses laugh. I overheard their conversation and one of the nurses said:

"Wow. That poor student. That patient is so demented that they doesn't know up from down."

I was terrified. And I had this terrible image of someone lying in a half comatose state in bed, moaning. I built up all of these images in my head of what I was going to deal with and for a moment I was angry at my instructor for sticking me with this patient. All I kept thinking to myself was:

"What am I going to learn?!"

I swallowed my fears and walked into the patients room to do my morning assessment. They were sound asleep in bed, but it didn't take much to wake them up. When the patient opened their eyes I introduced myself and asked 3 key questions:

"What's you name? Where are you? What day/time is it?"

The patient looked at me, confused as they stated their name. I asked  if they knew where they were, and it took them a minute to figure it out. but after some time they accurately stated where they were. However, the patient had absolutely no idea what day it was, or even the year. I groaned as I took their vitals, and trudged out of the room to organize the incredible number of medications my patient needed with breakfast.

The day progressed, and I began to see another side of my patient that the nurses failed to mention. They were funny, quick witted and much more "with it" than I anticipated. At one point in time I had another one of my peers in the room to help me get the patient into their chair for lunch, and as I put the belt around their waist to help them stand up the patient looked at me with this fire in their eye as they said:

"You dirty little girl, trying to make me move and stuff!"

I laughed and realized that this patient was much more than a diagnosis of dementia. Sure they were confused about what time it was or what day it was, but to be fair half of the time I don't even know what day it is!

I stayed with this patient for the entire week, and with each passing day I saw their cognitive status improve. I listened to their stories about their childhood, learned about their children, their spouse who passed away years ago. Granted I don't know if these stories were true or figments of the patients imagination but I shook my head and scolded myself for judging this patient before even getting to know them.

I've been told by my instructors that there is going to be one patient in your career who is going to change the way you look at nursing. I firmly believe that this patient was the one for me. They taught me that patients are so much more than their admitting diagnosis, they are so much more than their file number and their history. Patients have a story, and if you take the time to listen or get to know them, you might just be surprised with what you see! I didn't see this patient as "demented", I saw this patient as someone who just needed a little extra attention, someone who needed to be heard.

When we label people, we cease to see their potential, all we see is the label we placed on them. We neglect to see their qualities, the things that make that person who they are. Labels negate success. Let me ask you, why do we label people? Is it to make ourselves feel better? Is it to hurt others, to segregate? Do we label people subconsciously, or is it a conscious action? Whatever the reason is, stand up with me and stop this growing epidemic. Follow the wise words of Gandhi and "Be the change you wish to see in the world"

- Court