“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
- REM, Closing Time
I began my career in nursing wanting to care for the world, just as I had been cared for. I left my career in nursing wanting to care for the carers, just as I hadn’t been cared for.
Let me take you on the physical, psychological, spiritual and systemic journey of why I created Heart Place for you.
The Physical Journey
1974. Right on time and packing 9lb 5oz, I was set up well for a healthy and contented start to life. That was until multiple viruses and infections highlighted a low immunity, leading to the detection of a heart murmur…
At 4 years old I woke up during my first cardiac procedure for a laryngeal spasm during which I was fully intubated.
At 8 years old I had open heart surgery, followed by a diagnosis of a hole in the heart aka: ASD Atrial Septal Defect. I would be left with a permanent scar.
At 12 I was diagnosed and medicated for Complex Partial, Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.
Several other admissions for infections and excess fluid around the heart took place.
My birthing experiences were both emergency caesarean sections.
At 42 I was admitted to the same hospital of my first cardiac procedure, awakening from general anaesthetic with severe PTSD.
The Psychological Journey
Trauma, piled on top of trauma interweaved with messages of being ‘broken’ or ‘needing repair’. When that trauma isn’t acknowledged, or dealt with, it will emerge – and when it does…it’s not pretty.
It started with that first trauma of waking up during surgery at 4 years old. A fully conscious state of confusion and fright in an unfamiliar, sterile room without my family.
Then there was the day I was diagnosed with ASD (congenital defect). The language of “you’re not whole” was continually reinforced over my entire childhood.
Between the ages of 4 and 8 I adopted a game of distraction - knowing open heart surgery was coming, but pretending it wasn’t. When the time came, I tried negotiation – why did I have to go back to that scary place? I feel well, I’m doing well at school and athletics… why?
The surgery prep was terrifying, I recall being put into a bath and having an enema sedative. After surgery I awoke to a tube in my mouth, and immense pain in my chest. The physical recovery would take a month before I was able to go home. The psychological recovery never happened.
I began adopting coping behaviours of perfectionism, people-pleasing, and busyness – all to suppress the memories and try to protect me from future scary events.
Not all the memories are bad. I remember visits by Sesame Street characters, the cards and presents
I got, wheel-chairing down to the dining room to watch ‘The Young Doctors’. And then there were the nurses. I viewed them as ‘angels’ because of the level of care they showed.
My surgery scar would become a source of embarrassment through my teens and early adulthood.
The emergency deliveries of both of my daughters triggered more PTSD. More trauma to pile on top of past trauma.
At 42, returning to the place of my first procedure, for another one I experienced PTSD that would bring me to my knees. My symptoms included agoraphobia, insomnia, and anorexia amongst others.
My medical notes read like a page in a medical book. I am not named or identified once. It’s the little things that can impact our healing journeys.
The Spiritual Journey
From my earliest memories, I’ve been connected to life in a way that others didn’t understand, and I felt afraid of.
Family bush walks became a frightening experience because wild mushrooms were speaking to me. I felt deeply for peas left in a pot because they would be ‘lonely’. I ‘sensed’ pregnancies before the mothers were even aware, and car accidents that occurred before being reported.
I freaked out regularly from hearing ‘spirit’ because I didn’t understand what was happening to know how to engage or use it to my advantage.
I suppressed the spiritual for decades.
The Systemic Journey
Starting right from university, we were never taught the importance of caring for ourselves or other carers to meet the huge demands of our roles. And the trauma which leads many of us down this career track is never identified or supported.
And this continued through my career, there were no relevant wrap around support options for carers in my position – and there still isn’t.
Across multiple industries, carers are viewed as weak, powerless martyrs. The victim card is played on the regular, over working is a status symbol, and guilt is leveraged to fill the roster. I never learnt how to put boundaries in place so that I wasn’t taken advantage of.
Many carers disempower themselves daily because of an imbedded belief that making difference in other people’s lives is akin to martyrdom. That old chestnut of “it’s a ‘calling’ first, a rewarded job second”.
Filling the Void
After many attempts to lobby the Government and DHBs with solutions based on my experience, and then receiving unsupportive replies, it became clear that I was going to have to be the change I wanted to see in the world.
And I got excited. Man, I got fired up. I created Heart Place.