Tag Archives: nurses

I grieve my father. I grieve his beloved country more.

My eighty-nine-year-old father died on January 5, five days after breaking his hip. He was scheduled for surgery January 3–delayed until his body cleared blood thinners—but worsening congestive heart failure declared itself early that morning. “I’ve had a good life,” Dad said, voice breaking after hearing that his body couldn’t tolerate surgery, that we’d keep him comfortable until his reunion with an army of family and friends in heaven.

My mom and I ordered his breakfast, our thoughts shifted from hoping he would make it through surgery without complications to anticipating the logistics of in-home hospice care. When the first of my siblings arrived, Dad told her, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 for his teenaged boxing prowess, we didn’t know whether those were fighting words or a reference to heaven. Fighting words, it turned out, when he mentioned his caregiver soon after: “Maria’s going to have a job.”

Dan Antonietti. A fighter until the end.
My dad, Dan Antonietti, wearing his favorite WW II Veteran cap.

The hospitalist switched him to oral morphine, which relieved Dad’s pain without the sedation of IV Dialudid. He had a glorious day: visiting with Mom and six of their eight children, talking and singing on the phone to grandchildren, and visiting with Maria.

A champion of veterans’ rights, he had planned to testify on their behalf twenty-three times at the Montana legislature this session. Now, instead of Mom being chauffeur and copilot as he navigated the Capitol halls with his walker, Dad dictated testimony from his hospital bed for her pinch-hitter appearance. He talked so fast, it took two of us to take notes.

“Madam Chair and all members of the State Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee:

For the record, my name is Catherine Antonietti, wife of Dan Antonietti, who is in the hospital and unable to attend this legislative session. He is a member of Post 1448 in Butte, Montana, which is a mile high and a mile deep and all the people are on the level.”

He grinned, then continued in his own words.

“I was the Legislative Chairman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the state and national levels.  I voted yes for all legislative bills for the last sixteen years and I continue to cast my vote for every veteran’s bill held in this legislature. I’m glad to see you all back. Thank you, Madam Chair. You’ve all been a big help and I am proud of all of you.”

I fought back tears at his tender words, thinking how proud I was of him. Laughter followed when he said he wanted a beer, then asked for ice cream instead. We told him he could have both. “Just ice cream,” he said. “The kind I like.”

Two sisters went on a grocery run, returning with a half-gallon of ‘Mocha Me Hoppy’ and beer—just in case. Dad had three servings of ice cream that afternoon and evening. He had a couple of bites the next morning, which turned out to be his final meal. He began a steady decline, transitioning from oral morphine to a continuous IV infusion by the time the hospice nurse and social worker arrived for a family consult the following morning.

They asked if we wanted to go to a conference room. Dad hadn’t talked or opened his eyes since the previous evening, but they reminded us hearing was the last to go. We said we wanted to stay.

The nurse listened to his heart and lungs, then said it might only be hours before he passed. She talked about end-of-life care and offered condolences. The social worker did too, lingering to take contact information for bereavement follow-up—offering thirteen months for any or all.

She suggested one-on-one goodbyes with Dad and, after she left, we exited the room so Mom could go first. All eight of us and one brother-in-law followed. Dad’s brow wrinkled in concentration. He didn’t open his eyes, but he moaned and moved his lips. I felt his words in my heart. He died peacefully eleven hours later.

As we reconvened the following morning to discuss funeral plans, Vice President Biden and Congress met to formally count electoral votes. That morning I read factual news, not fake, about fifty-plus ineligible Republican electors—ineligible because they didn’t live in their Congressional Districts, or because as elected officials, they were barred from being “dual office-holders.”

Days earlier, I had contacted numerous senators and representatives, urging them to object to electoral votes because of voter suppression, Russian interference, and because electors’ requests for a briefing on foreign interference had been denied. That morning, I called Montana’s three Members of Congress again, pressing for objections based on this new information.

I felt joyful driving to the mortuary. I imagined Dad and his fellow warriors working the Democratic Caucuses from above, particularly Senator Tester who had known and respected him for his veterans’ advocacy. I sang en route:

Papa Dan, you are the man, you’re up in heaven to take a stand to help change the history of our country. The country you loved and fought hard for, Donald Trump will be no more president-elect of this, our great country. Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

I knew my chorus of angels might be hypothetical, but I believed the Democrats would fight for justice. Constituents had urged objections for weeks. President Obama had imposed Russian sanctions. Fifty ineligible electors tipped the scale.

I checked my phone when we broke to look at caskets, certain that Colin Powell’s three electoral votes would multiply and he would be elected President. Premature I knew, because objections, debates, and subsequent votes would take time, but I checked again before we segued to our meeting at the cathedral.

An hour later, I read the devastating truth in a grocery store parking lot: not a single senator objected to the votes.

Dad emboldened me with the motto: “You can’t win if you don’t try.” Numbed by the Senate’s inertia, I didn’t cry until driving one hundred twenty miles the next day to pack for his funeral. Angry tears spilled down my cheeks. I cursed Democratic senators and told them about my dad.

He was a fighter. Not a quitter. His dad died when he was ten. Butte-tough, he was a fourteen-year-old featherweight champion. He would have excelled at other sports, too, but he had to work to help support his family.

He was a WW II Veteran. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945, but was honorably discharged after breaking his back in a car accident. Determined to serve his country, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1946 and served in the post-war occupation in Japan.

He was a Blackfeet Nation Indian Chief. Honored for his role in securing programs and funding for the Blackfeet people, he was adopted into the tribe in 1972 and given the name A-pi-na-ko Si–pis-to: “Morning Owl.”

He liked Bernie Sanders. Days before he died, he said to me, “I wanted to vote for Bernie but you said that would be a vote for Trump so I voted for Hillary.” He was heartsick that Hillary won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College.

He loved his country, and was proud of his legacy. Seventeen grandchildren. Five great-grandchildren. He wanted to make their world a better place.

But not one of you Senators put up a fight.

That morning, I talked with a lifelong friend. She said one good thing about Dad’s death was that he would not have to see Trump get inaugurated. We shared our hope that her eighty-six-year-old dad wouldn’t either. After nine months of hospice care, he died peacefully four days later.

On January 21, she, her daughter, and I marched in the Women’s March on Montana, carrying our special angels in our hearts. We toasted them afterward with my mom and sister—reveling in memories of two proud Americans and their lives well lived.

Weeks since we said goodbye to my dad, I miss him. I am grateful, too. Grateful that during his graveside military honors when Mom was presented a medal and the words, “On behalf of the President of the United States . . . ,” Barack Obama was President. I am grateful Dad is not here to watch Trump unravel the country he loved, the country he fought for. Most of all, I am grateful he is pain free and resting in peace. Continue reading “I grieve my father. I grieve his beloved country more.” »

Detours

My appendix ruptured three hundred fifty miles from home. That was not the plan. The plan was to spend two nights with my dear friend Shelly. Catch up. Reminisce. Write her obituary. On the cusp of her fifty-ninth birthday, Shell’s receiving in-home hospice care for a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.

Midnight before we said “goodnight,” we spent nine glorious hours looking at photo albums, talking, laughing, and crying. My pain started soon after. I searched “appendicitis”  and “acupressure abdominal pain” on my phone, grateful my pain was low and midline, not the right lower quadrant pain with rebound tenderness I remembered from my nursing school days and February of my boys’ eighth grade years—when appendicitis struck twice.

I worked the acupressure points on my shins and belly to no avail. The vomiting started at two-thirty. Shelly’s daughter Michelle drove me to an urgent care center that morning. “Food poisoning,” the doctor diagnosed. He said my pain wasn’t in the triangular area suspect for appendicitis, but if my symptoms got worse I could return for blood work and a scan. “How does that sound?” he asked.

“Sounds good,” I said.

My cousin Theresa picked me up. I waited in the car while she filled my prescription and bought ginger ale and sports drinks, then I took a dissolvable anti-nausea tablet en route to Shell’s to get my things. A hurried goodbye followed with a promise to return.

Seven hours later I was in the emergency room—at a different facility than that morning. Hours after Theresa delivered me to her home, her twenty-one-year-old son broke his pelvis in a motocross accident. He was in ER with his dad, awaiting admission. Theresa came home to pack an overnight bag and shuttle me to an ER. Made sense to go where she would be spending the night: between ICU, my room, and a waiting room as it turned out.

Ruptured appendix” was the diagnosis twenty-two hours after my pain began. I asked the surgeon if she thought it ruptured when I vomited in the ER waiting room and my pain shot from 7 to 10. To 15, had that been an option on the pain scale. She said appendixes often rupture at the onset in adults. Said too that adults’ pain can start midline and then migrate to the right. My pain was low, not around the navel like I’d read online. She said she’d try to remove my appendix laparoscopically but might have to open me up. I said I hoped she wouldn’t have to.

She didn’t. Rich bused over and drove me home thirty-seven hours after surgery. My drain came out two days later. That night I was again an ER admit, this time with vomiting, chills, and fever. “High-grade bowel obstruction and two pelvic abscesses” were my diagnoses: a ticket to a nasogastric tube, a laparotomy, and a weeklong hospital stay. Four times in five days I had to present my insurance card, grateful at each point for the Affordable Care Act and our insurance plan through Montana’s health insurance exchange.

Sunrise from St. Patrick Hospital room 513. May 2016
Sunrise from St. Patrick Hospital room 513
Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel from hospital window
Room with a view: Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel from 513

Would my outcome have been different had the urgent care doctor ordered blood work and a scan? Maybe. Had the first surgeon opened me up? Perhaps. “Probably” says my nurse friend Marj. In hindsight, both might have been better options but at the time, I was relieved by each assessment. Throughout my two hospitalizations and recovery periods, thoughts of Shelly—her courage, strength, and grace—put my journey into perspective. My surgeries were detours—the saddest part being I didn’t get to say “goodbye and good luck” to graduating seniors—but they paled compared to Shelly’s pancreatic cancer. To Matt’s broken pelvis. He’s recovering well from trauma surgery, but the abrupt ending to his motocross career was hard.

I know life is unpredictable. And every day’s a gift. So I changed my oil, filled my gas tank, and took another road trip. Shell and I had some writing to do.

Shelly & Karen. August 2016
Shelly & Karen. August 2016

Mindfulness

mind·ful·ness

(mīn(d)-fəl-nəs) n. the quality or state of being mindful; the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis
www.merriam-webster.com

gas-permeable contact lensesThe importance of being mindful hit home in a painful way a couple of months ago. The instant I put in my contact lens, I realized my mistake. Instead of applying wetting solution, I’d reapplied cleaning solution. The stuff that carries a bold printed warning: Not for use in the eye, cleaner could damage the eye.

I struggled to get my contact out.  I don’t know if the thoughts racing through my mind made my fingers less nimble, or if the soapy solution created more suction than usual on my gas permeable lens, but it took too long to pop it out. Fifteen seconds, give or take. Fifteen seconds, magnified tenfold.

To make matters worse, we were in Brazil. The nurse in me knew that I needed to rinse my eye for fifteen minutes. We’d been advised not to drink the tap water and, though no one had said anything about using it as an eye rinse—who would’ve thought—it didn’t seem like the best idea. But we were nearly out of bottled water, so I rinsed with tap. Two minutes, max. In part because rinsing made my eye hurt worse. In part, too, because I wondered if something in the “do-not-drink-the-water” might be equally damaging to my eye.

I asked my son Colin to look up “contact cleaner in eye” on the internet, unsure if I needed to scout for a place to have a Sunday morning eye exam. His sleuthing was reassuring, so I grabbed money and my pocket English-Portuguese dictionary and headed to a nearby pharmacy.

On the way, I heard someone calling my name, and was joined by two Daves, fellow Missoulians en route to the supermarket. Dave K. accompanied me to the pharmacy, his English-Portuguese phone app at the ready. The pharmacist, who didn’t speak English but who had bailed me out days earlier when I’d shown her the word nausea, nodded when, this time I pointed to eye drops. I hadn’t expected to find that in my little dictionary. But there it was.

After she handed me sulfacetamide drops—prescription medication in the U.S.—I tipped my hand above my eye and asked, “Água?” Reaching over the counter, she pointed to eight-ounce bottles of saline. Thinking that bottled water might hurt less, I paid for the eye drops, then Dave and I continued on to the neighboring supermarket—I to buy water, he to buy water and a snack for his teenaged son.

I did a second rinse with the bottled water when I returned to our apartment. It hurt as much as the first, so I kept it equally short. My eye had watered nonstop since its cleaning solution assault, so  I hoped my abbreviated rinse, coupled with the tears, would be adequate. I followed the rinse with eye drops, which I continued to use three or four times each day, even though inching that bottle toward my eyeball gave me the willies.

I wore my glasses for days; the swelling resolved; and, true to Colin’s internet research, I didn’t suffer permanent eye damage.

My take-home lesson? Be present.

Be present.I had a chance to practice on our way home when our Chicago flight was delayed. Our departure time changed three times as 9:47 a.m. morphed into 12:27 p.m.. I walked, had a bowl of chicken tortilla soup, and perused a display of self-improvement books. Summing up the lesson I learned the hard way in Salvador? A quote I discovered in Frank J. Kinslow’s Beyond Happiness: Finding and Fulfilling Your Deepest Desire, “The mind set firmly on the present is at rest.”

1974 Butte Central Classmates Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Antonietti. Then...

Forty Years Later

It is the time of year when many high school seniors are immersed in college applications. Some have ideas about what they want to pursue after graduation. Others do not.

As I worked my way through my final year of high school forty years ago, I knew I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a nurse. A Butte Central classmate, Janet Finn, was planning to study pre-med. Another classmate, Leah Joki, had plans to undertake a fifth year of high school in Belgium, then come back and become a film critic. None of us envisioned that, years later, we would be authors.

1974 Butte Central Classmates Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Antonietti.
1974 Butte Central Classmates Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Antonietti.

Last month, the three of us took a road trip back to our roots to read from our most recent works. We read at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives at noon and at the Finlen Hotel Copper Bowl Ballroom that evening.

Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Buley.
Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Buley.
MINING CHILDHOOD: GROWING UP IN BUTTE, 1900-1960; JUILLIARD TO JAIL; NANNY ON THE RUN.
MINING CHILDHOOD: GROWING UP IN BUTTE, 1900-1960; JUILLIARD TO JAIL; NANNY ON THE RUN.
Janet, Karen and Leah signing books at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.
Janet, Karen and Leah signing books at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

Our audiences were a mix of people we knew and people we didn’t; of folks with longtime Butte ties and relative newcomers. At our evening reading, a three-generation family whom we did not know sat in the front row. We learned that the grandmother had penned a memoir about growing up in China and the Philippines during WW II. The dad, a Golden Gloves boxer, had coached prison inmates in the sport. The mom had worked as a nurse at Saint Patrick Hospital in Missoula, and their daughters—one in college and one in high school—aspired to become an actor and a writer.

Years have passed since Janet, Leah and I were the ages of those girls, and our lives are different than what we had imagined they would be. Janet teaches in social work, women’s studies, and international development studies at the University of Montana. Leah received an MFA in acting from the University of Montana last spring. She recently wrote and performed her one-woman show, PRISON BOXING, at Missoula’s Downtown Dance Collective. I, after a long and fulfilling nursing career, am working as a library media assistant in a Missoula high school. We all have works in progress.

To the girls who were seated in the front row at the Copper Bowl Ballroom, best of luck as you pursue your dreams. To Leah and Janet, our high school English teachers would be proud.

"This is nothing like Butte,"

Nanny on the Run is Launched!

It’s a thrill to launch a new book into the world. As people gathered at Fact and Fiction prior to my debut reading of Nanny on the Run, I spotted a young boy standing near the back. After chatting with him for a few moments, he asked, “Are you the author?”

“I am,” I said.

The reverence in his voice reminded me of a conversation I had with a long-time friend. Both of us are nurses and avid readers. We both write, too, though my friend hasn’t yet shared her work. We’d asked each other, “Do you think you would’ve considered writing as a career if you would’ve met any authors when you were growing up?”

“I don’t know,” was our echoed reply.

Squeezing in book signings before the reading at Fact and Fiction
Squeezing in book signings before the reading at Fact and Fiction
Chatting with sisters Teresa and Helena
Chatting with sisters Teresa and Helena
Listening to Barbara Theroux's introduction
Listening to Barbara Theroux’s introduction
"This is nothing like Butte."
“This is nothing like Butte.”
A lively Q & A followed the reading
A lively Q & A followed the reading

I do know this. I’ve loved my mother’s nursing stories ever since I was a little girl. I’ve loved to read, too. And having become both a nurse and an author, I feel very fortunate. Very, even though I avoid adverbs whenever possible.

Shakespeare & Co. reading
Shakespeare & Co. reading

Following the Q & A at my Shakespeare & Company reading, a gentleman said, “You didn’t say anything about your nursing.”

So I obliged. While I was sharing a bit about my nursing career, the rest of the audience remained in their seats to listen. A couple who had wandered into the store during the Q & A stopped and took notice as I began my nurse talk.

I learned afterward that the woman was a nurse. Better yet, she wants to become a nursing instructor.

Signing Nurses on the Run
Signing Nurses on the Run

Nearly two weeks have passed since my second book reading. There are more on the horizon.  Last night at a barbeque, I chatted with friends and acquaintances and with people whom I’d never met. More than one said, “You published a novel?”

That question will never get old.

Nursing and Books

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. And for almost as long, I have been fascinated with the world of nursing. My mother sparked my interest with her stories when I was a young girl. Later, countless Cherry Ames books fueled my desire to become a nurse. As did my candy striping days. I felt important beyond measure when I walked past the bold-lettered sign at Saint James Hospital: NO VISITORS UNDER THE AGE OF SIXTEEN and knew that, though only fourteen, I had a job to do.

Fast forward to 2012. I’m an OB nurse, I would say. And a writer, I added in recent years.

The former has ended. The latter has not. Less than three weeks have passed since my exit interview for the nursing job I held for nearly twenty-one years. It felt bittersweet as I walked into Community Medical Center to offer parting words that day. Bittersweet, knowing I would be replacing the wonder of birth with the wonder of books.

I said goodbye to my old website this month, too, as library books and You Tube videos taught me about WordPress. Looking at the photos our older son, Eric, helped me stage for my website years ago induced pensive feelings. Those photos captured much of my and my mother’s essence. And though neither of us is practicing right now, we will always be nurses.

So I share the photo that graced my website for six years and helped garner stories for Nurses on the Run.

Karen Buley memorabilia

I share one of our alternates, too. It’s a poignant reminder of the boxes of childhood books my parents moved on my behalf. Not once, but twice.

Karen Buley memorabilia2