Pandemic: Living with a Nurse

I was awakened by the sound of the garage door opening this morning as I lay in bed…

This sound meant my husband was home from his night shift as a critical care nurse. 

I laid there sleepily wondering how his night went. I knew he would be in the garage for a few minutes before he opened the door to come into the house.

The garage is where he puts his scrubs in a plastic bag to be washed. Then he removes his shoes and does his best to disinfect them, placing them on a shelf. He leaves his wallet and his keys there, too. Then disinfects his phone before coming in the house and heading straight to the shower.

We have never been germaphobes. I’ve never been that worried before about what microbes he may bring home from the hospital. “Just wash your hands and throw your scrubs in the hamper,” I’d say. No big deal. They’d get washed eventually.

But last night he worked in the COVID unit of his ICU. And all of this began to feel more real. And just… weird. 

As I leaned in for a normal greeting, he backed away. 

I protested: “Christian, it’s gonna be ok. You had on PPE and you’ve showered and you are clean now. I’m not overly worried about it,” I said.

“This is all new and serious,” he said. “Our hospital has done an excellent job preparing in the midst of this crisis, but no protective system is perfect, Meg.” 

There was a part of me that wanted to sigh deeply and say, “You are overreacting. It’s fine, just come sit by me.” But something stopped me. For one, that’s just not a healthy way to respond to someone – dismissing their concerns. But also… I wasn’t there at the hospital.

I was at home in our safe house trying to make children sleep in their own beds so I could watch “The Morning Show” on Apple TV. I am aware of the seriousness going on in the world around me and have my fair share of anxious moments about it. But I am also more consumed with potty training that toddler boy and figuring out how on earth to “homeschool” the girls and keep these kids preoccupied and healthy. Truth be told, the coronavirus can sometimes feel more like this mythical creature rather than a real threat.

He was in the COVID-ICU unit where care is given specifically to presumptive and positive COVID-19 cases. He is learning new systems and protocols… looking into the eyes of fear-filled patients who ask him questions with the desperation that a sick child would ask a parent. But these weren’t children. They were frightened adults who were alone and he was the only direct human interaction they had. No family or visitors allowed.

He used to be a pastor. Looking people who are hurting in the eyes is not foreign to him. But this is different. It’s like a collision of spiritual and physical. And it’s… weird? Real? Raw? I don’t even know what word to use.

He’s also the one, between us, that understands disease and contagion and the science stuff. I trust his perspective. 

This afternoon, as he prepares for another night shift, and I make the kids tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches… thinking existentially about a poem I wrote about songbirds… my Enneagram 4 thoughts are interrupted by this realization:

I don’t get it.

I’m not dumb or unable to educate myself on what is going on in the world of this pandemic. But I don’t fully get it because I am not there staring it in the face. And thankfully, so far, it has not infected anyone that I love.

It is staring me in the face through the eyes of my tired husband, though. 

My longtime friend (and editor) Rachael said, “We are experiencing the same collective threat but our circumstances and personalities are making it so we are all experiencing it differently. I think telling your personal perspective on the situation might help others realize how different this is for everyone.”

As a nation… as a world… we are experiencing this together. It is shocking and dramatic and life-changing. 

This is traumatic. 

This is a collective grief. 

And, as with any grief, there are layers. And it comes in waves. 

And we all find ourselves in different spaces. 

Loss is everywhere, affecting us all in one way or another. 

It is important for us to have perspective, yes. But it is also important to not compare our specific grief to others. And it’s important to listen. Listen to people’s experiences. There is no better time than now to practice empathy and care and love for humanity. 

Comparative suffering is dangerous. Empathy is not finite. When we practice empathy, we create more empathy. The exhausted ER doctor doesn’t benefit more if you reserve your empathy only for her and ignore your feelings or withhold empathy from someone lower on the “suffering scale.” Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy, the healing that results affects all of us. – Brené Brown

So before I become impatient at the idea of my husband being nervous to be close to me and our kids after being around sick people… before I’m tempted to compare who is under more stress, him at work or me at home 24/7 with the kids, I need to look at his eyes, see his grief, and hear him.

It is important to trust the accounts of people who are on the “front lines.” 

My husband does not work in a metropolitan healthcare system. His experience is from a regional healthcare system in the south. He feels they are prepared, as much as possible in the current environment, and he has been very impressed with the leadership of his unit. But all things considered… this is a pandemic. Not a normal day at the office.  

I am not suggesting that we live in a state of panic and fear. That’s not productive. Nor am I suggesting we trust every article shared on Facebook. But I am suggesting that we listen to the people we trust who know and experience things that we do not.

So in a few hours, when he heads back to work, I’m going to listen to him. And I’m going to pray for him. And I’m going to look him directly in the eyes and hope that the care and support our family gives him can be supernaturally transferred, through all that life saving PPE, and be felt by the patients with whom he interacts. And I’m going to trust him when he says this is serious and real.

And I’m gonna remember to give myself grace so I can give others grace, too. Because this is all a lot. 

And I’m gonna stay home. 

God, have mercy.

Megan Baxter is a regular contributor on The Oddfellow. In addition to her writing ventures, she also is part of the women’s ministry team at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville, Ark. She has a degree in Family Psychology from Williams Baptist University, and lives in Batesville with her husband, Christian, and their children.

The Group Text

I have these three friends. We couldn’t be more different. For the past three years, we have had a constant group text.

If millennials and whatever we are calling the youth of today are the most connected generation ever… why is there such an uprise in loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide?

We have all heard about the research that tells us social media and communication via our mobile devices is a significant cause of this
loneliness epidemic.

I’m not about to disagree with that data. The negative is there… but is there positive?

A study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction suggested it is how we use technology and social media that
creates feelings of loneliness, not the media in and of itself.

Linda Kaye, PhD, looked at how our phones and social media/group messages affect social functioning in a positive way. (Kaye is a senior psychology lecturer at Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom.)

Her research found, “feeling close to the people in a group chat created sense of belonging.”

I wholeheartedly agree with what this study is suggesting: it is how we use technology that creates a sense of loneliness or a sense of connectedness.

The Group Text

I have these three friends…

We couldn’t be more different. Yet we are all the same. For the past three years, we four have had a constant group text. One that has quite literally been visited almost every day since its origin.

We are all in our early 30’s.
We are all married.
We all have children.
We all love the same coffee shop, The Pinto.
We all listen to the same podcast, Armchair Expert.
Some of us like rap
And some of us hate it…
Some of us love stormy days and dark emotions
And some of us like sunshine and people.
We all believe in Jesus…most of the time.
And when we don’t, it’s ok. We remind each other that truth resurrects itself.

These people make space for me and all my big feelings and emotions.

This past summer I was at a family reunion for my husband’s family. I had been having some social anxiety issues and just kinda wanted to go

Don’t get me wrong, these people are lovely and fun and easy to talk to. It was me… not them.

My husband and I were sitting talking to a relative. Her life sounded cool and exciting and I began to feel self-conscious like I had no interesting antidotes to give her. I am currently a stay at home mom. And sometimes the story I tell myself is that my daily life is boring.

My husband knew I was feeling anxious, so in an effort to help, he mentioned something or other about how I have had this ongoing group text for a few years and how it gives me life.

A group text? How lame. I was embarrassed. Christian… come on…come up with something else to make me sound more interesting… I don’t know how I got myself out of that conversation, but I am sure it was awkward.

As I reflect on that moment, I wish I could go back and tell my anxious self to press on… And expound!

If I have found something in my life that makes me feel connected to other people —- in a place and time where loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide are on the rise —- I should be proud of that experience.

I should tell of friends who walk through darkness with me, who engage me in difficult conversations and ideas.

I should tell of the hope they offer me, and of how we have been able to celebrate with one another and mourn with one another.

I should tell of how we press on and communicate and forgive one another when things get weird.

And of the serendipitous timing of our intermingling.

How It Started

The four people in the group text don’t hang out every day and are rarely all together at the exact same time. The text group started because one of us was moving away to another state. At that time, we all knew each other but we were not all close or necessarily in the same friend group. The friend that was moving was our main connector. We were her people. So she created a group text for herself to stay connected to her people.

How About You?

Do you feel unconnected? Do you feel lonely? Do you feel like all the noise is out to get you?! I so often do.

So I say to myself first and then to you: take responsibility for yourself. Do you hate me now? It’s HARD to stop blaming and start owning. It’s 2020 now. The future is here. And we are faced with the reality that technology/social media is an integral part of even our friendships. We are all learning how to integrate this into our lives.

We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. – Richard Rohr

I will tell you right now that the people who I have seen make complete turn arounds from toxic patterns and behavior to healthy patterns and behavior have been people who started with that simple hard thing: taking responsibility for themselves.

AA step one: “Admit you have a problem.” That is taking ownership. If you go to therapy, any good therapist will help you to start taking the
reigns of yourself. Even scripture says self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

Of all the awkward people in your house or job there is only one whom you can improve very much. – CS Lewis

Do not mis-hear me: If you have been hurt or abused by the hands of another, that IS NOT your fault. I’ve heard it said that trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.

To Summarize

Can our phones be a source of unhealth in our lives? Absolutely. We can become addicted to it in very toxic ways. It is all in how we use it. And
how we use it is solely up to us.

So… I exhort you… go find those safe people. BE that safe person. Start a group text. And let us allow truth to redeem us and this technology
that so easily entangles us.

(Disclaimer: This story focuses on three close friends of mine. But the people in my life who I would categorize as healing friends goes way beyond just these three. I see all of you. And you know who you are, and I love you.)

Megan Baxter is a regular contributor on The Oddfellow. In addition to her writing ventures, she also is part of the women’s ministry team at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville, Ark. She has a degree in Family Psychology from Williams Baptist University, and lives in Batesville with her husband, Christian, and their children.

High School Sweethearts & The Driveway That Led Me Home

This evening, like countless evenings before, I drive away from my parents’ house, the house of my youth. The house that built me. 

I drive in and out on this concrete multiple times per week. This is not surprising as I live in the same town where I grew up, and visit my parents’ house maybe more often than they prefer…

Life is funny. Not the comedic kind of funny, but more like the one that aches deep, down in your soul. 

This driveway on Rosa Street always welcomes me. No matter my condition, I am never shut out. 

And it always lets me go when I am ready, never holds me back. 

I was 6 years old when we moved into this house and drove down that slope of a driveway for the first time. 

It is the place where I watched my dad and big brother light fireworks on many ‘a 4th of July;  the place my sisters, friends, and I rode bikes and played family neighborhood softball games in the summer… where I accidentally knocked out Bonnie Tucker’s tooth during my turn at bat. 

This is the driveway I rode down on a skateboard because my big brother dared me to do it, and that gracious concrete drive caught me when I fell off said skateboard. 

(It is becoming increasingly clear that I should not be allowed to swing baseball bats or ride skateboards.)

This is the driveway where we gathered to have family pictures when I was 13.  My older, teenage brother, in the height of his rebellious ways, dyed his hair orange to spite my mom and her desire to have a nice family picture. 

This same driveway welcomed my brother and me home later that night, engulfed by trauma and grief, after our dear friend died tragically at age 15.

I learned to drive here. 

When I was 16, my now husband kissed me for the first time at the bottom of this driveway.

This is where he and I backed out in a convertible wearing a tuxedo and backless white dress as we headed to the Batesville High School Prom circa 2003. 

And this is the driveway that held my nervous heart steady as I headed out to college in my black Grand Am.

I hurried home to this driveway when that high school sweetheart and I broke up in college. And it is where we drove home later that year for Thanksgiving break, hand in hand, reconciled. 

My first panic attack ended in this driveway as an ambulance pulled in behind us because I was sure I was having a heart attack. 

This is the driveway my high school sweetheart and I drove our tackily-decorated car – with cake and condoms – after our wedding, to retrieve a suitcase left at my parents’ house. 

(Cake and condom décor happen when you get married at 21 and college boys decorate the getaway car. So classy.) 

And it was here where two nuns dug through our backseat to help us find our keys so we could drive off to our honeymoon suite. 

(That was fun to write!)

This driveway has welcomed my kids to their Docky and Gigi’s house since 2009. 

And this is the driveway that took me in at 31 when everything else came crashing down around me. 

Tonight is mundane. It is the usual.  I drive out of this driveway with my 3 kids in tow. We lament of their daddy’s work schedule and how we miss him. We pass by the high school and one of the girls says, “That’s where you and daddy met, right?”

They then want me to tell them again of when I first saw that high school sweetheart boy. 

So I tell them about missing the first day of 11th grade, and how I was kinda relieved because I never did like the first day of anything. When 3:00 rolled around, my two dear friends swiftly drove to my house – down this driveway – and came in my front door to tell me of “the new boy who was perfect for me”. He was cute and kind and believed in Jesus and liked to sing. Plus, he wasn’t super tall- and neither was I. “Ya’ll have so much in common,” they said. 

He and I, we had chemistry class together. I hated chemistry…I loved that class. 

We became friends. Then we became sweethearts. 

We were only 16.

And now we are 34, with lives much different than we dreamed and hearts more fractured than we ever imagined. 

When everything blew up around us, we separated. 

My heart was broken. His heart was broken.

I think we thought it could never be made right.  

But there’s something very very special about high school sweethearts: they know each other in a way that can’t be known if you didn’t experience high school and youth together. 

There is a lot of research that discusses the pitfalls of getting married young and statistics of how high school loves are pretty much predestined to fail. Because…you aren’t really who you are when you’re a teenager. 

That’s true. And I don’t disagree with the statistics…

But in some ways, I would argue, that I was the purest form of myself as a teenager. And he got to see and know that part of me. And I him. 

Life will surely and absolutely change you. Some ways that are good, some ways not so good. 

But he and I, we know each other. We grew up together. We have seen and experienced so many versions of ourselves together.  

When the darkness came…. And the proverbial locust ate away a few years… I was still able to look at him with knowing. 

I was faced with the reality of my ability and choice to walk away. I wanted so badly to forget what I knew. But with good counsel and truth I began to see him again, in his purest form. I saw that 16-year-old boy. If I had only known him for a year or so before we got married and had kids, I would have been tempted to believe that I never truly knew him. 

Tonight…as our children simultaneously beam and act grossed out by the story of our young love, (total fakers, they love it!) I realize that those 16-year-old versions of ourselves are what beckoned us home again. He knew me. And I knew him.  So we met at the truth of who we were and who we are and who we hoped to be. 

And tonight I remember when I packed up that little red car… with our girls in the back and our boy in my belly… and slowly but surely started backing out. The driveway that always brought me home… was leading me home.