I write this the morning of my second Spiral Path series. I am tired. I am burnt out….but now I am ready to begin. I am ready to heal…to enter the path of a medicine woman.
I have worked in the Western Medicine realm for eight years. I have resuscitated people’s hearts back to life with CPR, reversed heroin overdoses, administered thousands of vaccines, cured a child’s inner ear infection with Amoxicillin, and dressed a newly amputated leg. There is some satisfaction in working with this medicine and with the chronically and acutely ill. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that I wanted more. More for myself. More to give to others. To be touched and to heal on a deeper level.
Let me start from the beginning.
My maternal grandmother, Norah, was a midwife. She was pure Irish, but traveled to Africa as a young woman to work and deliver babies in the bush. She worked with medicine men there. My mom tells me stories of this now….those were the questions I never asked when Nanny was alive. I don’t know her stories. What I do know is how deeply nurturing and calm she was. I can only imagine how she was as a nurse to a pregnant mother. She always smelled of Rose Water and musk. Her voice was so soft and graceful. She was a healer. I know this now. As a child, I felt safe around her. Protected. Loved.
My mom was a nurse as well. She worked with many patient populations, but most of her stories were traumatic ones from her days in the Emergency Room. Growing up in England, I remember as a child visiting her patients at the nursing home she managed. They had cats and would feed us cookies. I remember the way it smelled. I remember my mom working nights and sleeping all day Sunday. Those were our special days with Dad. He would usually take us to the park and for bike rides while mom rested. My mom carries the same nurturing as Nanny. She is a protector and a wise woman.
My interest in medicine began at the age of seven. I knew whole heartedly that I would work in Medicine. I wanted to be a doctor. My favorite show was ER, and I still can feel how influential that show was for me as a little girl. I wanted the rush, the thrill, the excitement, and the knowledge. I declared my career in my elementary school yearbook. That was my focus throughout school. I was a high-honors student on the path to success. When I entered college, I started as pre-med student. Halfway through, something changed. I didn’t want to be in school until I was 32, and I certainly could’t afford to pay for it either. My pre-med advisor suggested I think about nursing school. From there I could become a Nurse Practitioner, who prescribe and diagnose, just like doctors, minus the years of education and thousands of dollars of student debt..although I have plenty of student loan debt still. So I did. I entered an accelerated nursing program and within 11 months I was a registered nurse. I was thrilled. I love nursing. It is a really special profession. We have the honor to be present for life entering and exiting this world.
I worked in cardiology for many years. My patients were very sick. I have seen a lot of death and the dying process. It was at the bedside that I truly began to understand what it means to be a healer. It isn’t the medicine we push or the IV fluids we hang. It is being able to see and hear what your patient is saying, what they need, what will help them feel good. From opening the blind so the sun can shine down on them, to calling their spouse so they can talk to them at four am, to holding their hand when they are confused and afraid, and cleaning up their deceased body before their family members come to say their goodbyes.
In 2010, i went to Ghana, West Africa to volunteer as a nurse for five weeks. It was here that I saw the core and soul of nursing, the core of working with a community and family as a whole. Doctors would prey out loud before a surgery. Mother’s would dress up and bring their one week old newborn to a particular tree in the community where we would weigh their babies. This was a celebration for the community, because so often the babies would not survive. At the hospitals, there was no cafeteria or linen service. The patient’s family would come every day with home cooked meals, and they would all gather in the courtyard to wash their loved ones bed sheets. Many of our patients visited a local Fetish Priest. She was a medicine woman. She wore face paint and was secluded in a hut in the community. I visited her once. I was told to bring liquor as a gift for the spirits. She frightened me. The way she looked into my eyes. The unknown. I didn’t understand her. I didn’t know if I was being blessed or cursed. But I was very intrigued.
Five years ago, I finished my Masters and became a Nurse Practitioner. It was certainly an accomplishment, but after I completed school and took my boards, I didn’t want to start work right away. Looking back, I don’t know if this is telling of an avoidance of my career…or perhaps I was simply eager to travel and escape the land of books and all-nighters. Or both. I traveled as for two years as a traveling nurse. Tucked into this time was my yoga teacher training in Bali, Indonesia. Bali is often referred to as the “morning of the world.” What a beautiful place. When I think back to my time there, I am often reminded of the strong sense of ritual. Every morning the women would place offerings on their front steps. Flowers, biscuits, incense. Every day. The island smelled sacred.
Over the past three years I have been teaching yoga. This is what I love. This feels like the healing path. I can deeply connect with my students. I can take my time. I can breathe. So often in Western medicine, it feels as if we have to sacrifice ourselves in order to serve others. I remember 12 hour shifts where I barely had time to use the restroom. Halfway through my lunch, a patient’s family member was at the nurse’s station with questions about her mom. Having to choose my vacation days a year in advance, and even then it wasn’t a guarantee. Your value is measured by patient surveys (we all know only angry patients fill out surveys), how many patient visits you have had in a hour, and how many flu vaccines you administered this season.
I want more. I want more for myself. I need to deeply heal myself. Give myself time. I want to get outside. I want to come back to my intuition and put aside vital signs and EKGs. I want to learn from the greatest teacher and healer, our Mother Earth. I want to be barefoot. I want to hear what the animals have to say and let the moon guide me.
I am grateful for my path thus far. I am grateful for all of the people I have learned from and for every single patient I have taken care of. I know I will eventually find a way to incorporate all of my healing modalities together. Or perhaps not.
But here I am now. Beginning the Spiral Path. With a beautiful community of loving and trusting women and healers, and I am ready to begin.
Photo Credit: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography + Michelle Lake Photography