Monday, May 30, 2016

Being Politically Correct

I’m Asian. You can tell just by looking at me. My hair is black, my eyes are dark, and I’m kind of short.

I’m not denying it, but I’m also saying that I’m not your typical Asian.

Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, the answer is always Colorado. That’s where I’m from. I lived there my entire life, up until I left for college. Then I get awkward laughs, and they ask where I’m from.

Same question, but they expect a different answer.

If I repeat Colorado, they ask where my parents are from. Or they ask where my family is from.

Honestly, I have no idea how to ask this question in a way that sounds politically correct and not stupid. Asking someone why they don’t look white is always an awkward question, and one that could get you into trouble. I know I’ve skirted around the question too, when talking to someone who has an accent, and I’m trying to place it.

A few months ago, I had a patient ask me a version of the question that made me laugh. When I told her I was from Colorado, she laughed and asked “Where are your great grandparents from?”

Tricky question, considering that technically, the answer is Europe. Sweden, Switzerland, France… everywhere you wouldn’t expect from a little Asian girl. My mom was adopted, which means she didn’t come from her parents, or her grandparents.

Sometimes, I wish that we could just ask the question. What’s your heritage? You look exotic, what’s your ancestry?

But then, we start to sound like dog breeders.

Friday, May 27, 2016

CNAs: The Unsung Heroes

If you work in healthcare, especially in long term facilities, you get asked a lot when the doctor’s going to come. On the rehab side of our facility, the patients even ask why the doctor isn’t coming in to see them more often. They’ve got pain, they’ve got nausea, or whatever other symptom, and they want the doctor to come in and see them.

If the doctor’s there, they’re going to feel better.

I’ve read so many memes about how the 23 hours and 50 minutes the doctor doesn’t see the patient, the nurse is the one who takes care of them.

It’s true. We see the patient much more than a doctor. But you know who sees the patient even more than the nurse?

CNAs are the unsung heroes of healthcare. They really get the short end of the stick more often than not. They’re in there constantly, making sure the patient is able to pee, poop, and get cleaned up. They’re the ones who sit down to feed the patient, and who grab a drink or snack when they’re hungry. I may try to help them out, but I know that I’m not in there as much as the CNA.

As a nurse, I depend on my CNA for just about everything. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve grabbed a CNA and asked a question about a patient. Does their pee look darker than normal? Are they acting more tired than they did yesterday? Are they eating all of their food? Are they drinking any water? Any new behaviors? All of my assessments are supplemented by what the CNA sees. I love giving report to my CNAs, letting them know what to expect during the day. Letting them know whose urine I need, and who needs to poop. (Yes, I know, most of my work is focused on pee and poop.)

Just like a doctor should depend on his/her nurse for insight, so should the nurse depend on their CNAs. We’re a team, and if we can work together, we can provide much better care for our patients. Communication is the key.

And CNAs are my heroes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

World-building Through Phrases

Have you ever noticed that every group has a certain set of phrases? As a writer, I know what the terms ‘pantser,’ ‘beta read’ and ‘query’ mean. As a nurse, I’m familiar with terms like ‘wound vac,’ ‘IV-drip’ and ‘straight cath.’ But even when not talking about a profession, every place has their own terms too. Their own way of getting their thoughts across.

I’ve been working at my current facility for about six months now. When I first started, I heard the term ‘throat punch’ a lot. Whenever a nurse got frustrated, with a doctor, or with management, or a CNA, I heard the phrase ‘I just want to throat punch them.’ It was so foreign to me, and a phrase I’d never heard before. Besides, it sounded incredibly violent.

For months, I heard the phrase, from various nurses, and then from CNAs as they picked it up from nurses. To my surprise, I used the term myself a few weeks ago. It had seeped into my subconscious, until it was something that seemed almost natural to me.

 In my stories, I try to emulate the same thing. I think the author that showed this the best was Marissa Meyer, in her Lunar Chronicles. All I have to say is ‘Oh my stars,’ and any fan would immediately recognize the reference. Or in Divergent, everyone knows what a stiff is. It’s a term that’s part of a culture, one that everyone uses and knows.

That’s why it’s so important for me to find what phrases my characters use, and how it’s influenced by their culture. Not only does it give a fresh perspective, but it also helps to make the world feel real.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Illegal Immigrants

It’s no secret that I’ve had to deal with immigration. When I moved to Spain, I had to get a student visa, which included going out to California to deal with the Embassy.

After I started dating my hubby, we dealt with immigration going the other way. After we’d been dating a few months, I really wanted him to meet my family. We arranged for him to come over Christmas, and he applied for a visitor’s visa.

Everything went well, and he went in for his interview. No more than a few minutes later, he got the response.


We tried again over the summer, and same answer.


Finally, the next Christmas, we pulled out all the stops. My dad wrote a letter to the government, saying that my boyfriend was a personal guest, and that he would take responsibility for any of his actions.

Again, Denied.

Before he left the interview, my hubby asked the interviewer to please explain what he was doing wrong. Three times couldn’t be a mistake. He wasn’t on any lists, and he didn’t have a criminal record.

The interviewer was compassionate, and he let my hubby on a secret.

He wouldn’t ever get a visitor’s visa. He was poor, young, and a male from South America. Three strikes, which meant they couldn’t trust him to not stay illegally and work. Despite everything we’d done, to prove we were in a relationship, even though the plane tickets we’d bought were round trip. Those three little things kept him from meeting my family.

Is it any wonder why the immigration system seems broken? People who actually pay to enter are punished, and those who can’t afford it, or who don’t want to do it legally can find a way? Every time I hear about the illegal immigrants, I think about that experience. Maybe they were too frustrated, trying to do it legally, that they were forced into doing it illegally. Maybe, in trying to protect our borders, we’ve only made them weaker. If we could fix the gate, we might not need to monitor the wall so much.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Things My Patients Say

You know how kids say whatever's in their heads? I see so many Facebook posts from friends, reporting the hilarious thing that their kids said that day. They don't have a filter, and it creates funny situations.

I see the same thing with my patients. The elderly often are like children. I think it’s a combination of forgetfulness and just not caring about what people think anymore.

Here’s a few things I’ve heard over the years from my patients, because sometimes, it’s nothing but gold.

1.       I told one sweet lady, after checking her vital signs, “No change! Everything’s good!” She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Did someone take my pennies?” I wasn’t sure what to say, and I asked what she meant. With a gleam in her eye, she grins. “No change. Someone stole my pennies.”

2.       Another sweet lady, who’d been struggling through the night told me, right before I left the shift, “I don’t think I would have made the night without you.” Words like that are a lifeline for a nurse, especially when things get difficult.

3.       After listening to a patient complain about her care, she grabbed my hand, and asked, “You know why I tell you these things, right? Because you’re the only one who cares.” Sometimes it’s hard to show it, especially when I get busy, but I do try to stop to listen. Sometimes, that’s all they need.

4.       I took a pill into a woman who was half asleep one night. As I was leaving, she groggily asked me, “Do you know what I would do if I were young again?” I was curious. She’d lived much longer than me, and I was expecting some impart of wisdom. When I came closer, she announced, “I’d buy one of those newfangled pressure cookers.”

And of course, there’s plenty of comments about me, personally.

1.       “Are you here all night? And you’re Chinese? Oh, Japanese, interesting. Well, we’ll sure enjoy each other tonight.”

2.       “There’s my long haired beauty”

3.       “There’s my little Indian girl.” – Before anyone gets upset, he had Alzheimer’s, and he really, was a sweet man. It was his nickname for me, because he couldn’t remember my name.

4.       “Get out of here… Yoko!” To be fair, we were both struggling with her admission, mostly because the hospital had changed her medications so drastically she didn’t want to take any of the pills I was supposed to give her.

If any of you are nurses out there, I’d love to hear some of the things that your own patients have told you. As you learn quickly in the field, it’s better to laugh than it is to cry. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Be Specific

As a writer, I deal with words. As a reader, I deal with words. They’re part of me, and I’m very conscious about how I use them.

A few weeks ago, I had a patient that flipped my worldview upside down for a few seconds because of the way he interpreted my questions. Not because his answers were wrong, but because they were so vague that it was jarring.

I asked him everyday questions, ones that everyone I’ve ever asked hasn’t ever had a problem answering.

“How often are you in pain?”

His answer?

“Whenever I’m hurting.”

It’s a good answer, one that’s probably more correct than any other I’ve heard, but even so, it didn’t give me any information. Usually, I expect a response like "all the time" or "whenever I move."

“How long have you had that scab?”

“Ever since I got it.”

Every single one of his answers was like that. Vague, yet completely honest and correct. He wears his glasses when he can’t see, he’s been in the hospital since he went to the ER. Every single answer gave me no information whatsoever.

Then I started getting feedback on my first chapter of Commissioned. A few of my critiquers mentioned that it felt vague. Now, I know it’s not vague like my patient’s responses, but it makes me wonder. When I give bare descriptions, does it sound like that to the readers? Do they wish that I’d been more clear from the start?

What do I write?

The words that end up on the page.

Okay. Back to the drawing board. Chapter 1, here I come.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Familial Diversity

A Bolivian, an American and an Asian walk into a sushi bar.

I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not the beginning of a joke. My husband and I tend to turn heads, just because he’s Hispanic and I’m Asian. Once people get to know us, they don’t think twice, but we’re used to the double takes, the surprised looks.

I’m a Japanese American through adoption. All of my family is white, on both sides. My cousins and I have had a lot of fun times, asking people why they think we don’t look alike. Apparently having the tall, Nordic look doesn’t quite equal the Asian one. We’re very close to my cousins, especially the ones that live in town. A few months ago, my husband and I took one of my cousins to eat in a Sushi bar, because we’ve fallen in love with the place. The food is seriously to die for.

Our poor waiter didn’t even know what to do. One male, two females, and he didn’t know how we belonged together. We didn’t match, and we obviously didn’t have anything that linked us together, not that he could see.

Except we do. Family isn’t always going to look the same. There’s so many more instances of couples adopting babies of different races and interracial marriages. I think it’s wonderful. I’m the product of an interracial marriage, my mother is Japanese, my dad is white. My husband and I have an interracial marriage, and since we’ve been dealing with infertility, we’ve been hoping to adopt, and we don’t have a preference as to race.

I love having a diverse family, and I love being able to go out with them and confuse everyone that sees us.

Diversity isn’t about excluding any one race or gender. It’s about including and adding to the pot. It’s a beautiful thing.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Patients that Changed My Life: Billy

As a nurse, I have the chance to meet a lot of people from all walks of life. Some are fun, some are not so fun. Then there are those that change my life, and changed the kind of nurse I am. For privacy purposes, I won’t use real names, but I want to tell you their stories.

To read about previous patients, click here

I know I talk about this a lot, but I love working with Alzheimer patients. There’s something so special about them, especially when you can find a way to connect with them.

One of my patients, Billy, was a mechanical engineer. And he was a pretty impressive one at that. He’d gone to school at some Ivy League schools, and had his PhD, and had many, many patents out there. Unfortunately, as always happens with Alzheimer’s, his mind left him, and when I met him, he wasn’t the same man he once was.

That didn’t mean he stopped being himself. He liked to follow our maintenance men around and tell them what they were doing wrong. Sometimes during dinner, he would stare up at the ceiling, watching circuits the rest of us couldn’t see. As he became more confused, he became more vocal, yelling for help constantly.

One night, I was sitting with him, and he started screaming for help again. Every time we asked him what he needed, he didn’t know. Finally, I went into the maintenance closet, pulled out a screwdriver, and handed him that and a broken hole punch.

“Billy,” I said, once he took it in his hands, “I need you to fix this for me.”

And he set out to do just that. He spent hours on that thing, tinkering as he finally had a purpose. That was all he needed. He needed to feel useful again. He wanted to know that he wasn’t just sitting in a chair, watching life pass by.

It’s so easy to see behaviors, especially when they disrupt other people, as something that needs to be silenced. But more often than not, it’s a call for help. It’s a request for someone to see them, and to fulfil their need.

I hope that we’re all listening, instead of trying to silence them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Falling In Love

I love writing. I love all of the parts. The outlining and the planning is my favorite when I’m doing it. Then I write my first draft and that’s my favorite. And of course, I can’t forget revising and editing. That’s the best ever.

I know I’m very fortunate when it comes to writing and loving all of the parts. Editing doesn’t always give people warm fuzzies. But no matter which part of the writing process is your favorite or not, it’s always important to love what you write. I know that I’ll get a shiny new idea and get excited about it, but as I start to plan and outline, the excitement wanes. I’ve had that happen several times, and to be honest, those books doesn’t get edited. They don’t always get written.

I need to be in love with my story, and with my characters. I had a conversation with one of my writing partners recently about how writing is like falling in love. It’s easy to fall for those warm tingles and excited butterflies, but that’s just the first part. Writing is a relationship, you with the novel, from start to finish. From idea to revised and edited novel. If you aren’t’ in love, then you won’t be there for the long haul.

The good news is that there’s always a new idea, and the chance to fall in love again. Let’s be honest, I’m not very monogamous when it comes to my novels. So far I’ve written seven start to finish, and I’m in the process of planning two more. I hope to write them both by the end of the year.

I love the feeling when I’m reading through, revising, and I hit a passage or a scene that just makes me erupt with butterflies because it’s something that speaks to me. It’s what I want to read, which is why I write it.

I hope everyone can fall in love with their own writing.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Living With Another Culture

My first year in Spain I had two options. Either, I could live in a university apartment with six to eight other girls, or I could really ‘experience’ the culture and live with a Spanish family. Of course, I wanted the experience, and I figured I’d be able to learn the language much faster if I lived with a Spanish family.

For a year, I lived with the most eccentric Spanish lady I’ve ever met. She was seventy or eighty years old, with big coke glasses and a shuffling gait. She and her sister were seamstresses, and they made my life interesting.

I wasn’t allowed to eat with them. They would make me a meal separate, and sit and watch me, to make sure that I ate it all. There were times like I felt like Hansel and Gretel, especially when she made comments about how skinny I was. I ended up getting sick because of how much food she forced me to eat, and the doctor had to tell her to listen to me when I told her I couldn’t eat anything else.

We had separate bathrooms, one was specifically for me, but at night, their bathroom was too far away, and they used mine. Every morning, I had to flush the toilet after them, because they didn’t want to wake me up in the middle of the night. Also, they didn’t like the fact that I used scented soaps, and at least two or three times a month, my soap would disappear, and it would be replaced with homemade soap that smelled like lye.

She also controlled when we had hot water, and most of the time, I showered with freezing cold water because it wasn’t time to turn on the water heater. The water heater was controlled by flame, and I wasn’t allowed to touch it.

During religious holidays, if I didn’t get home early enough, I’d be locked out of the house until Midnight Mass was over.

This woman was different, and more often than not, we didn’t have the same world views. But we learned to live together. I’m sure I have plenty of eccentricities myself, ones that she didn’t understand. When I came back after Christmas break, she was overjoyed. Apparently I was the first student who actually stayed the entire year without requesting a transfer. Over spring break, on my trip to Germany, I bought her chocolate, because I knew she would like it.

Too often, I think we see other people’s differences and assume we can’t get along. We aren’t willing to adjust for someone else’s lifestyle, or their little quirks. But if we don’t, we’ll miss out on so many opportunities, and so many friendships. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Loneliness in Skilled Nursing

I work in Skilled Nursing, which is a fancy word for long term. Usually. Sometimes there will be short stay, someone who is only with us until they’ve recovered enough to go home on their own. I see a lot in Skilled Nursing. There are odd family dynamics when someone’s dying, or when they’re getting close. Family that once got along sometimes start fighting over money, over insurance, even over the best kind of care and stop speaking to each other.

Probably the saddest thing I see is the loneliness that’s so permanent in Skilled Nursing. I honestly can’t count the number of times one of my patients has asked me something along the lines of:
Can you stay a little longer? Can you just sit and talk to me?

It’s heartbreaking. Even more than that, it’s hard, knowing I would, if I could. I do when I can, but often, it’s nowhere near as much as they need or crave.

I have somewhere between fifteen to twenty patients in the evening. At night, I can have up to forty. To try and get everyone what they need, just the very basics, takes me running in and out of rooms. There’s not a whole lot of time for conversation. I do enjoy what little conversations I do have, but I know it’s not enough.

So many of us crave human interaction, that assurance that we aren’t alone. But for those in Skilled Nursing, their families are busy, which is understandable. Nurses and CNAs have fairly ridged schedules as to what needs to get done when. Even activities are scheduled.

There’s way too much time to sit alone in their room, with no one to talk to. There’s a TV for them to watch, but that doesn’t exactly substitute. It’s heartbreaking to see, and more often than not, when I can sneak into their rooms to talk, they have such fun stories. They’ve lived lives I can’t even fathom, and they want to share it before no one remembers them.

If ever you're lonely, visit a nursing home. Chances are, there's someone feeling exactly the same way. They crave friendship just as much as you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Becoming an Expert

As a writer, I get to research.

A lot.

Every single book I write means that I get to learn something new. I think that’s why I love writing so much. I get to learn about carpentry, about Wisconsin, about deep sea diving, about ancient Chinese acupuncture, about shoes called golden geese…

And about pirates.

Right now, this has been a little more than a fascination for me. Last year, for our anniversary, my husband and I decided to go to a museum exhibit all about pirates. I hadn’t really thought much about them, other than on speak like a pirate day, or when watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s just say that after we went, I had all sorts of plot bunnies hopping around. There were so many potential stories in the lives of the sailors, on ships, and especially concerning pirates.

My novel in November was highly influenced by pirates, though it did become my own interpretation. Of course, since I had pirates, I needed to have my characters on ships as well. I had to do a lot of research, and it felt like a lot more than normal. Ships are complicated, from the responsibilities to the directions. I knew nothing about it, and it was hard to keep straight. I kept copious notes in Scrivener so that I wouldn’t get lost. I bought books on piracy and ships.

I even get excited to meet pirates!

I honestly still feel like a novice, especially when writing intense scenes on the sea. I’m just making it up as I go. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time.

A few weeks ago, our writing group was supposed to have a ship and pirate expert come and talk to us. Unfortunately, we all got there, and the presenters didn’t show up. One let us know in advance, but the other was a no-show. We didn’t have anyone else, so I became our impromptu ‘pirate/ship’ expert. Let’s just say I didn’t feel like an expert. But the more I talked and read my notes, the more I realized that I absorbed a lot more than I knew.

I kind of know this stuff. Not enough to be an expert by any means, but I understand the culture, and I can at least hold my own.

This is why I love writing. I get to learn about things I never would have learned in the first place. Things that didn’t necessarily come up while I was in school.

I love learning. I love writing.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Americans on Display

Last week, I talked about clichés concerning race and culture. More often than not, a cliché is there because there is a basis for it. I get to see it from all sides because I’m an American who looks Asian.

When I was living in Spain, no one knew what I was. I was obviously not Hispanic (usually) though I spoke the language fluently. Most people couldn’t even tell I had an accent. I looked Asian, but I spoke English. Most of the time, that meant I could blend in, and no one assumed I spoke their language.

You know that American cliché? The one of the tourist who talks really loud, wears ridiculous clothes and assumes everyone speaks English?

They actually exist.

I had a friend dress up as an American tourist for Halloween once. He wore a very bright Hawaiian shirt, a large camera, and socks with sandals. It was hilarious. Until I saw someone dressed just like that in Madrid, right down to the socks and sandals. He had his wife with him, and at least three or four kids. I watched in a strange mix of fascination and horror as he shouted to his family, “Come on kids! They’ve got trains underground here!”

 In the metro, American speak as loud as they want, assuming that people don’t understand what they’re saying. To tell the truth, probably sixty percent of us did. English is a language that most other countries teach their children to speak. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking it, I can guarantee that most of them at least understand it.

My husband told me that most of the videogames he played were in English, and he had to figure out what they were saying so he could advance. He understood me when I thought no one spoke my language. My friends and I were at a bar in Sol (center of the city) and someone came up to us, and asked in broken English why so many Americans hung out in the bar.

It’s a little scary, to think of the impression that we make on other cultures without even realizing it. From TV shows to travelers, we’re everywhere, and on display. Sometimes, I wonder if we know how much other countries watch us.