Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Critique Partners

I know I’ve talked about this quite a bit, but I just want to talk about it a little more. I love my critique partners. They’re really just some of the most awesome people I work with.

Here’s the thing, I love what I write. On most days. There’s also the days where I think I’m writing just plain crap. On both kinds of days, I need someone to pull me to reality. I need someone to pull me off my pedestal and point out my shortcomings, or pull me out of my funk and help me see my strengths.

Writing is an art. It’s a very subjective medium, and at some point, there’s going to be someone who hates it. There’s going to be someone who loves it. To be honest, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I create the best kind of art that I possibly can. Most of the time, I’m so involved in my story and in my characters that I don’t necessarily see all of the flaws.

I’ve had some amazing critique partners over the years who have pointed out character inconsistencies, or plot holes or even just a lack of voice. Seeing my manuscript through someone else’s eyes is so absolutely essential and I appreciate them so much for putting in the time and effort.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because one of my critique partners, Valerie Bodden, posted something on Facebook that I absolutely loved. She commented on how she appreciated my critique and feedback because I get her book.

It’s true. There’s been many critique partners over the years, but not all of them have been long term. I need someone who can see the end goal. Someone who loves my story as much as me, and is willing to let me bounce my ideas off them.

So for all my critique partners, thank you! You’ve made me the writer I am today.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hello Kitty

Growing up, I never really dealt that much with Racism. People knew I was Asian, but they didn’t mention it that much, and they didn’t use a lot of stereotypes around me. Probably because I wasn’t raised as an Asian.

When I moved to Spain, all of a sudden, I was treated very differently. People came up to me on the metro and started speaking to me in an Asian language, and I would have no idea what they were saying. I earned the name “Chinita” among a lot of my friends because that’s how I looked to them. Like a little Chinese girl.

I think the most bizarre situation though, started a few months after I moved to Spain. I walked to school every day, and halfway there was a newspaper stand. The guy who worked there was very friendly and would wave to me, and often make odd and suggestive comments. After a few weeks, when obviously I wasn’t responding to his advances, he started yelling at me every time he passed.

“Hello Kitty! Hello Kitty!”

After our multiple interactions with one another, I knew that he didn’t speak English, but I think he’d figured out that I did. Except it didn’t feel like an English thing, it felt like him trying to get my attention by calling out the only thing he knew from Japanese culture.

I started taking a different route to school soon after that.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Never Enough

This week, I'm talking about Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things, a book about a nurse who was sued because a family member saw her performing her job and didn't understand what was happening. They saw what they thought was abuse and because they had already asked for her not to touch his son (because she was black), they thought she was hurting him on purpose.

On Wednesday, I talked about how this book made me think from a racial standpoint. Today, I want to talk about the nursing side of it. Ironically, this is the side that I'm more nervous talking about. Not because I don't have anything to say, but because I'm very cautious about what I say online about work. I'm very conscious about HIPPA, and about protecting the integrity and reputations of where I work and where I used to work.

Here's the thing, I've worked in multiple facilities, mostly long term, as a nurse and CNA. When people are sick, they're not themselves. I understand that. Patients are dealing with pain, dealing with a new diagnosis that has flipped their lives upside down, or with loss that they can't quite accept yet. In a way, it makes sense to lash out at the people taking care of you. They're right there, after all. But in many other ways, it doesn't make sense.

At least, not to me.

My typical workday consists of a twelve hour shift. I usually get to work half an hour early so that I can read up on charts. So that I can prepare myself and know the information necessary to properly take care of my patients. After my shift, I give report to the next nurse, so that they know what's changed, and to promote the best possible care for my patients. Some days, things get hectic. I might have to stay late to chart, or to finish my responsibilities. Maybe one of my patients had a sudden change in status right before I leave. Either way, my typical shift tends to be closer to thirteen and a half hours -- on a good day.

I'm there all the time. It may not seem like it, especially if I'm in someone else's room, but that doesn't mean I don't see what happens.

The problem is I'm only one person. Just one nurse, and even though most of the places I work have great support systems, a lot of the responsibility falls on me. I understand that and I accept it.

There are just too many days when I feel I'm not enough. With my knowledge, with the skills that I'm still perfecting, I'm still never exactly what my patients need. There's so many instances in my shift when I have to make a decision, when I have to choose between two patients who need me. Maybe it's more than two. I can't count the number of times I walk out of a room to see the entire hall lit up with call lights, and know that no matter how fast I work, no matter what I do, I won't get to them in the time that they want.

That's when it sometimes feels like it's too much. When I already know I'm doing everything I possibly can, it's hard to hear patients and families complain that I should be doing more. I'm not allowed to tell you what I'm already doing, or what the other patients need. There's no way for me to tell them that I have a patient next door that's going septic and might need more serious intervention in the next few minutes. Or a patient who's confused and jumping out of their bed, and I want to keep them from falling and getting seriously injured. I can't tell them about the patient who broke my heart because no matter what I do, I can't seem to control their pain. Or the patient who's detoxing from drugs and hasn't stopped screaming at me since I arrived on the floor.

Nurses carry a lot of what they experience in their hearts. I've seen it in so many coworkers. It's a taxing job, and there are times we snap. I know I have, though I've been fortunate that it's never been in a patient's room. There are moments when I have to leave the floor because I can't deal with it anymore. It's frustrating, and often not because of the patients but because of the situation.

My husband often tells me that either you cry or you laugh. He tells me that whenever I'm angry or annoyed. He says "Do you want me to cry or laugh?" That's how it is with nursing too. We have to get these emotions out. Often, it comes out in the form of jokes, in a way of relieving the pressure that we feel. It has nothing to do with what we're really thinking, it's a coping mechanism, one that helps us to be the best we can be with the circumstances around us.

I think the hardest part is knowing that often, the most memorable experiences are the bad. If a patient is upset with their care, it doesn't matter how much we've done for them. It's what more they wanted us to do. Often, I feel like I'm measured by my shortcomings, rather than by my actions.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Racism in Nursing

On Monday, I mentioned how I wanted to talk about Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things this week.

When I first started the book, I honestly thought it was from the 50's. The white supremist family felt off to me, because I don't deal with it on a regular basis. Ruth seemed to take offense with everything, and acted like people treated her differently because of her race.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realize that it still happens. I don't deal with the same kind of racism, just because I'm Asian, not black. Even so, I do deal with prejudice from my patients constantly. Not just my patients, but from my workplaces as well.

I honestly can't count the number of times that someone has said something that I've blown off. I heard them, and I always assumed that they didn't mean any harm by it. I've had patients call me the 'Little Chinese girl' and 'that Asian one,' and I even had one sweet patient call me his 'Little Indian' every single night. For me, it almost felt like a distinction. I am Asian, I'm not going to deny it. If they don't remember my name, then it's an easy way to describe me.

Then there's the ones who aren't quite so nice. I've been screamed out of a patient's room and as I left, her closing comment was "Get out of here... Yoko!" Which for me, didn't hold quite the same impact. I wasn't alive during the Beatles' time, and I have no idea if people actually hated Yoko Ono, or if it was the only Asian my patient knew. I've been called a Jap before, which, again, because I was exposed to very little racism growing up (I think in large part due to my parents), it doesn't sting the way I know it should.

I had one patient who was very sweet to me, but when I returned to work the next day, I was given all the same patients back -- except for her. Her family had stated that no Asians could take care of her. It wasn't put in the chart, I don't think, but it felt a little strange to me. She'd let me take care of her the night before, and I felt I had done a good job. Her family took me aside and told me that I didn't need to feel bad, because for some reason, seeing me gave the patient flashbacks to WWII.

Here's the thing. I never feel guilty. If someone has an issue with my race, or the way I look, I'm not going to apologize. I'm not going to assume that it's my fault. It's such an odd way to look at things, to think that the person who's receiving the prejudice might feel guilty.

Along with the obvious signs, there's also some odd things that have happened with some of the management that I've worked for. I remember very clearly arriving to work one night when a patient had been admitted. No one had started the admission, and they decided to give the patient to me. The reason? He didn't speak English. Which is fine. I speak Spanish, but it turned out the patient didn't speak Spanish, he spoke a very rare dialect from a South Asian country. He couldn't mime because he was blind, and it was assumed that I would have an easier time doing his admission.


Obviously because we're both Asian.

I'll admit, I joke about it a lot. I don't get offended. I tried, about a year ago, and it was exhausting. To assume that everyone has an ulterior motive, or to assume that everything that someone says is a jab at my race or said to be rude. My husband and I enjoy being different, and we accept that we are. I believe that's why, when I started Small Great Things, I was confused. I didn't see racism because I didn't focus on it, even though it's all around me.

I'm sure there's a fine line. I do need to recognize when it's inappropriate, but in the workplace, a lot of times, there's nothing I can say or do to change it. My patients... well, they still need care. In a day or two, I'll probably never see them again. Besides, I need them to like me, just so that I can get good reviews and avoid the situation that played out in small Great Things.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Small Great Things

This week, I want to try something new. In February, I started reading a book called Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. When I was in college, I read her book My Sister's Keeper, and I was quite fascinated.

My tastes tend toward fantasy and science fiction when I read or watch movies. I also like crime shows, like Bones and Criminal Minds. One thing that I don't tend to read or watch is anything medical related.

That's what I do on a regular basis. I've been a nurse for six years now, but even before that, I was a CNA and I was in nursing school. I know what it's like behind the scenes. I deal with death and sickness and on really difficult days, the whole spectrum of human emotions. I know what it's like to be talked down to -- by family members, by patients, even my coworkers at some point. I understand more than I want about the politics behind every decision made.

When I read, or when I'm watching a movie or TV, I want to escape. I want to leave the world that I know and enter a world that I don't.

When I read the description for Small Great Things, I was intrigued. It sounded like something I would be interested in, and after some recent misses in books, I wanted something I could connect with. I just didn't expect to connect quite so well. Small Great Things is a book about a nurse who is black and has to deal with prejudices of a family who is incredibly racist. At first, while I was reading, I thought the book was set in the 50's or 60's. Ruth speaks about racism in a way that made it feel real, that made it feel like it still happened. But then there were small references -- to Tiana from the Frog Princess, and even to Elsa from Frozen.

Suddenly, instead of reading an interesting book, I felt like I was reading about my life. I've been in her situation before. Not to that extreme, but I've been 'fired' by patients before -- just because of how I look. Because I'm not white. I've never stopped to think about what could have happened if an emergency had arisen like the one that Ruth faced.

I'm going to be honest, I had to stop reading. It was horrific to read, and mostly because I'm a nurse, I'm a minority, and I know exactly how she felt. I know what it's like to be treated like that by patients, and I've lived with the terror that maybe I didn't do enough, or that a family member would take me to court for something that I did. I didn't want to know how it ended. Good or bad, I knew that it could be me, and I didn't want to live it if I didn't have to. Maybe that's the coward's way out, but I'm okay with that.

But it made me think, which is exactly why Ms. Picoult wrote the book in the first place. It's supposed to make us reexamine our lives, and the society that we live in. So this week, I want to look at myself, at my race and at my profession, from the eyes of this book. I'd love to hear your comments, especially if you have stories to share as well.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Being a Patient

As a nurse, I deal with a lot of sick people. In fact, I don’t deal with people unless they’re sick or unless they have something going on with their body that they can’t control on their own. As a person though, I’m fairly healthy. I don’t tend to get sick very often, and when I do, it’s not bad enough that I feel the need to go to the doctor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about that, not by a long shot, but sometimes I wonder if it makes me less empathetic with my patients. I understand nausea, and I’ve dealt with it on a personal level, but other things – pain, broken bones, etc – I haven’t experienced, so I can’t exactly know what my patient’s feeling.

That’s not to say I don’t try. I know that pain is a very subjective thing. We have no right to tell someone when they are or are not having pain. Someone who never deals with pain might have a lower threshold than someone who has chronic pain. I understand that, and I try to put it into practice.

Last year, I had my first chance to be a patient in a long time. I had a UTI, and after several days not being able to pee, I finally went to the doctor. He gave me antibiotics, and I figured that was it.

Several days later, I ended up with a rash. It was one unlike I’ve ever experienced, and it covered every inch of my body. Behind my ears, between my fingers, on the bottom of my feet… it was excruciating. I tried ice packs and hydrocortisone cream, but nothing worked. I ended up going to the doctor again, and he gave me a steroid shot, and as much as I hoped it would work, it didn’t.
I still had to go to work. I wasn’t contagious, and I couldn’t find a good reason to call off. If I was going to be miserable and itchy at home, I might as well be miserable and itchy at work, right?

The only thing that helped was time. After a few days, the rash started to disappear, and the itching subsided. It was excruciating, and it was eye-opening to me as a nurse. We give meds and treatments, but they won’t always work. I understand the impatience when you just want it to stop hurting, or burning or itching, and nothing seems to work.

Unfortunately, time is the only key in some instances, and as well intentioned as we are as healthcare workers, sometimes, all we can do is empathize. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

No More Lonely

In February, I went to LTUE, which is a writer’s conference for science fiction and fantasy writers. It’s an amazing conference, but the best part is the human interaction.

For some reason, a lot of people think that writing needs to be a lonely thing. Sure, I have to sit and write the words on my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t interact with others.

Last year, when I went to LTUE, my writing partner and I were planning on going together, and we had someone ask if she could go with us. We ended up bonding through the experience, and now all three of us get together to write as often as we can.

This year, we had two of our friends from our writing group going, and they had a mutual friend who asked if she could join us. The best part about being with other writers at a conference is that you can be yourself. You can talk about the stuff that makes other peoples’ eyes gloss over. Plot and story structure? There’s actual classes on that. You can analyze your own with your friends and work out the kinks in your own story.

Writing is a private thing, and you always put a little bit of yourself in your writing, no matter what it is. When you share your writing with someone, you’re sharing a part of yourself. The other great thing is that they’re a natural support group. They know what you’re going through. Writing queries? Pitching to an agent? They know how nerve-wrecking that is. Finally figuring out your villain’s motivation? They know what kind of a breakthrough that can be.

I love my writing friends, the ones I’ve had for years, and the ones I’ve made recently. And I know that each one of them has influenced the kind of writer I am now.

Monday, March 6, 2017


Today, I want to talk about accents.

Hubby is still learning English, though he’s definitely picked up quite a bit. A few weeks ago, we were talking to my uncle about hubby’s difficulty finding an internship. (Side note: If any of you know if any electrical engineering internships, we’d love to hear about it!)

After talking to hubby for a while, my uncle said something we hadn’t actually thought about. He mentioned that hubby’s accent might still be too thick for people to understand. I don’t really notice his accent anymore, mostly because I live with him, and I have to communicate with him on a regular basis. But my little bro, who just moved into town, still has to have him repeat some of his words.

Then there’s the whole issue with rice. Hubby loves rice, but whenever he orders a side of rice, he inevitably gets a side of fries.

Every single time.

I’ve been thinking about accents a lot because of it. When I first started taking Spanish in high school, my dad came home from a parent-teacher night looking a little concerned. He didn’t say anything until near the end of the year, when he heard me practicing Spanish.

My dad knows Spanish, and he served a Spanish-speaking mission for our church. He heard my Spanish teacher talking, and he was worried I would pick up her accent, which was, admittedly, quite bad. He was right to be worried. There’s a tongue twister that I learned from her, and even though I lived in Spain two years, and learned Spanish from hubby, if I recite it, her accent comes out.

It annoys hubby so much that he’s asked that I stop saying it. It’s not that I don’t know how to say it correctly, but it was ingrained into my mind, and it’s muscle memory at this point.

Which means that right now, hubby and I need to work on his English accent. We need to make sure that his muscle memory is one that people can understand. It’s not a question of whether or not he can speak the language. It’s a question of whether they can understand him.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sleep Deprived

Earlier this week, I mentioned that things had gotten a little crazy.

One of those things that got me all out-of-wack was my work schedule. I’m a nurse, which means that I work 12-hour shifts, three days a week. Plus, I live about forty minutes away from where I work, so added to arriving early to read charts and prepare myself for my shift, and finishing my shift at the end of the day, my shifts end up being close to fifteen hours.

Before working at my current job, I’ve worked night shifts, mostly because it’s hard for a nurse to start a new job and get a day shift. People like working days more than nights, which I guess makes sense. I’ve never had an issue with working nights, mostly because I hate mornings.

Waking up early in the morning makes me want to cry. Actually, it has made me cry on multiple occasions.

I love working night shift because it lets me live on less sleep. I don’t know how it works, but I can survive on five hours of sleep when I work night shift. I have to have at least seven hours of sleep when I work day shift. I don’t know why, but it just works that way.

When I started my current job, I let my boss know that I wanted to work nights. He was okay with that, except he wanted me to get to know the doctors, which mean that the last eight months I’ve been working what is called ‘mixed shifts.’ Basically, I work two months of night shift and then a month of day before doing it all over again.
February was my month of days.

It’s interesting how sleep deprived healthcare workers really are. We work long hours. When there’s not enough people, we pick up shifts. We work overtime and we work weekends and holidays. If we have something during that day or that night, then we just go without sleep.

It’s almost natural for me to go without sleep, at least until my body gets mad at me and forces me to collapse.

But that doesn’t happen… often.

When I was in junior high, my sister did a science fair project where she had people go 24 hours without food and then 24 hours without sleep and then take a math test and see where they failed. Every single person required sleep over food. Every single person except for the nurse. She did much better, even while sleep deprived.

I don’t know how it works, or where we learn it, but we know how to do our jobs when we’re half asleep.

I’m proud to be part of that profession. I’m proud to be able to repress my own needs to be able to care of my patients’ needs. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Writing Conferences

Last month, I had the chance to attend LTUE, which stands for Life the Universe and Everything Symposium. It’s a writing conference, and whenever I try and describe it to anyone, they say it sounds like comic con for writers.

That’s probably true. I don’t know, I’ve never been to comic con.

Last year I attended the same conference for the first time, and it was my first conference ever. There were so many classes, and I was so excited, that I planned my day down to the minute. Which classes I was going to attend, and I didn’t plan for a single break. I was going to make the most out of the conference.

It was a great experience, but by the end I was absolutely exhausted.

This year, I had a different goal. I wanted to get what I needed. If there was a class that I needed, I would go to it, but if there wasn’t one that jumped out at me, then I didn’t go to one that I didn’t want to go. I spent my time interacting with other people. On attending critique groups. On actually working on my own writing.

I got to meet and talk with so many writers. I ate dinner with friends. I loved spending time with my friends, and exchanging information after.

Writing conferences can be whatever you make it. As I talk to others who attend other conferences: Storytellers, WIFYR, etc, it sounds like you get whatever you put into it. If you’re willing to put yourself into it, and if you’re willing to make an effort, then you gain so much. I learned a lot last year, but this year, I experienced a lot. I made lasting friendships and I became a better writer.

And in the end, isn’t that the whole purpose of a writers conference?