Day 5; Moving Past Death

The mental aspect of this program is just as important as the physical aspect.  In fact, I have come to learn that DDPY is more than just a way to lose weight and tone my physical structure: it is a total transformation.  In the past when I have used this program, with good success until I allow the pink clouds to derail me, I always knew this but I never appreciated it or understood it to a level that it would keep me going and becoming the best Matthew Whitt I could be or achieve.  But perhaps the single best thing DDPY has done for me is to help my mental health. 

 
This past year I have worked in the COVID ICU units in San Antonio and other hot spots as we faced this pandemic.  As an RN in the ER, helicopter and ICU I have seen people die many times but this past year was different because many of these COVID patients lingered in the ICU, slowly deteriorating before dying.  This gave me weeks to months getting to know them and their families.  I built a rather personal relationship with many in their final days, weeks and months of their lives.   I built relationships with their families and friends.  These are things you are supposed to keep distant and professional as a nurse but, in the end, we are all human.  Day after day, week after week and month after month I came to work and had strong interactions with people during the most vulnerable times of their lives.  I prayed with many as they died.  I met their families in front of the hospital to give updates.  I spoke with them on the phone to tell them how their loved one's day or night went and what to expect.  Then I also called to tell them their loved one had died and what final words some of them had to say and wanted to express to their family because they could not be at the hospital due to the shutdowns.  

In the ICU we have either one patient or sometimes two depending on the difficult nature of their illness.  I had a patient with whom I had become familiar with on an intimate level.  She was 30 years old and came to the ICU simply because she was short of breath and the physician was concerned and wanted her to be monitored full-time.  She was COVID positive.  Everyday she got a little worse.  We talked often about many things in her life.  She told me how she had always wanted to have kids of her own and that she loved her nieces and nephews as if they were her own.  She talked about what she wanted to do when she got out of the hospital which included going with her sister and brother-in-law on camping trips with the family and taking up new hobbies.  But alas, on Thanksgiving Day and after two months of being her nurse, she passed away from COVID.  It was sad as I had gotten to know her family well during this time and on that same day her dad was transferred to the ICU for COVID.  After her death I was able to take him and be his nurse.  

He came in walking and talking and just like his daughter, I allowed myself to become close to him.  I think he just gave up his will to live after his daughter died because a month later, on Christmas night, he died from COVID.  It was hard on me but I couldn't imagine what his family was going through at the time.  I had been talking with them on the phone and meeting them in front of the hospital two to three times a day for the past 5 months.  

Then, on New Year's Eve, I was handed a note and gift basket from this wonderful family.  It was a personal two-page, handwritten note to me telling me thank you and expressing their love for me and what we were doing in the ICU.  This family, that suffered such catastrophic loss, took the time to express their love for me and to pray for me.  I couldn't hold back any more and just burst into tears.  In fact, as I write this, it is hard not to cry. 

I don't know of a harder time in my life.  I was a US Marine.  I've spent 20 years as a paramedic and RN.  I have seen the best and worst in humanity but this past year took a toll on me.  For the first time I suffered depression.  I lost 30 pounds in an unhealthy manner.  I became extremely fatigued to the point that when I wasn't on shift, I simply say around or stayed in bed.  I became an inactive father and a non-existent husband.  The Devil had a hold of me and I found myself not praying.  
 
I wasn't suicidal and I didn't want to harm myself but if this path continued I was afraid I could reach that point.  That is when I picked up my Bible and my wife Natalee and I began to pray.  Suddenly COVID cases started to decline, I found a new job as the charge nurse in the ER, and God led me back to DDPY. I'm not going to lie, it was tough at first.  In fact, it was a month before I started the DDPY program again but everyday from the moment I decided things needed to change, became a little better.

My time in the ICU had come to an end and in a month I was going to start working the ER again.  I decided to take that time and work on myself.  I began to talk with my pastors, church friends and other friends.  The first day was a struggle just to get out of bed and for the first few nights, I barely slept a wink.  I would wake up hot and sweaty then become cold and cover back up only to get hot again and throw the blanket off.  I had to force myself up everyday but bit by bit, moment by moment, I started to come around. 

I began to read Positively Unstoppable and suddenly motivation started to seep back into my veins.  I began to sleep better, which made getting up easier.  I began to accomplish one task at a time whether it was to remove an old tree stump in the yard or just clean up the house and fertilize the yard.  Then I became even more motivated and decided it was time to start taking care of my physical health.  It is now Day 5 of my DDPY and I am happy.  This sinking feeling of depression is gone and I feel good.  Not like a manic swing to good but a permanent swing to better that only healing provides. 

I am not saying this will be the case for everyone as many people with depression have a physiological imbalance that requires medical attention.  I just think mine was situational and before it became physiological, I was able to stop it because of the program. 

At any rate it is Day 5 and I have cleaned the back porch off and am building an area where I can work on our bicycles as we get ready for Simeon's birthday party tomorrow.  It should be fun.  Many of our friends, family and neighbors are going to line up in their cars which will be decorated and do a drive by parade for him as we watch from the front yard.  Then some close family will come to the house for a small get together and cake. 

I am so thankful that I will be here spiritually, physically and mentally.  Thank you to all of you that have been so encouraging and welcoming to me as I continue this never-ending journey!  
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Comments

  • Great post Matthew. Having been an RN in a hospital setting, and in a sub-acute rehab SNF, AND home care, I can agree with you that it is different when you get attached. When you see a patient for one, two, even 4 days, then they move on to somewhere/someone else's care, they're another person you helped in the course of your job. But when you have that person every working day for months, or in home care I'd see a patient 3-4 times a week for years, it's a very different relationship. The professional distance becomes impossible to maintain. I can't count at this point how many patient's wakes/funerals I've been to, but for some patients I needed that closure and fellowship of grief almost as much as the family. I have patients I still think about today that I stopped working with over ten years ago, they made a mark on my soul that I'm grateful for. It sounds like this family you cared for will be that way for you.

    That said, healer, heal thyself! The symptoms you described sound like every case of burnout I ever had. Continue to take the time you need for yourself. Don't feel selfish or guilty about it. You healing yourself will allow you to be more fully present in your wife, children's, friends, and patient's lives. You need your tank full before you can start doling out care to others. As nurses, we need to remember that a little more than most I think. It's natural for us to ignore our own needs to take care of the needs of others. When was the last time you held it for 4 hours before making it to the bathroom because someone needed something? Then the next something was needed? and the next? Then you realized how long it'd been and had to check if you'd put in a catheter because you forgot you had to go? Nurse problems...
  • It's wonderful that things are starting to align for you. Few of us will ever truly understand what the past year has been like for our frontline workers. Enjoy your birthday party; I'm grateful you will be "present" for the celebration.
  • Thank you for everything you've done for your patients. A friend of mine died of Covid a few days before Thanksgiving. When she was still well enough to update on fb, she would post about the nurses caring for her and how much she appreciated them. She had a favorite nurse and all her friends came to love him through her stories about him. I'm not far from San Antonio; maybe one day when this Covid mess is over, we can say hi and I can thank you on behalf of my friend. Take care <3
  • The hospital, patients and families are very lucky to have you. It's good to hear you are taking time for yourself. You have gave so much to others it sounds like you had nothing left. Self care is the most important thing but can be last on the list . You are an incredible man. Take care, Mark.
  • Good post man & thanks for checking in on me. I wrote a blog that goes into a lot more detail of where my head's at these last few days. I'm in a good place & it looks like you are too & that's awesome. I hope you enjoy the party for your munchkin!
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