Spring has SPRUNG

What a whirlwind spring has been for us!
I want to start by sharing about my weekend in Michigan with Joy! We set off for a seven hour drive Thursday after work. The time flew as we chatted and laughed the miles away into the night. For some reason, the drive back to Pittsburgh during the day was not nearly as stimulating, probably from a combination of tiredness and the reality that we had to go back to work the next day.
Joy has a small farm in rural Michigan and her parents are both veterinarians in the community. They have seven horses, many goats, pigs, chickens, a calf and a few cats and dogs. The baby goats were the cutest addition to the family. I was surprised by their temperaments, very relaxed and sociable, literally willing to fall asleep in your arms! We took advantage of some great weather to go for a ride with her brother, sister, mother and dogs! The ride lasted over an hour as we ventured though the windmills, sand pits and farm land nearby. I rode a charmingly grumpy appaloosa named Boyd as well as all the other horses! We all switched around throughout the ride! We also got to go check out her apartments for medical school in Grand Rapids on our way back to Pittsburgh! The farm land was absolutely gorgeous and all the green space was refreshing coming from the city life in Bloomfield. In between helping with chores, cooking and playing with the animals, we relaxed by the wood  burning fire, knitting, reading, chatting and playing the piano. This weekend was one of my favorite this year, surrounded by incredible nature, great people and relaxation!
Memorial Day Weekend was also a big one for us here in Pittsburgh. Our friends from Franciscorps, a sister program of ours based in Syracuse came to visit! They arrived late Friday night but spent Saturday with us seeing the classic spots like the Strip District (indoor/outdoor market), trying Primanti Brothers classic cheese steaks and walking around downtown to the Point State Park. The weather was perfect and we stopped at Dream Cream, an unconventional ice cream shop that helps fund Dreamers to achieve their ‘dreams’ or goals through fundraising with their own flavor of ice cream. The dreamers get a portion of profit and tips for their designated flavor in exchange for working a few shifts at the ice cream shop each week. Change A Heart will be participating with the flavor Fools Gold in June! We are all excited to start and figured we’d give them some business with our Syracuse friends. After a quick break, we all cooked out and hung out on the porch together and some went off to the local bar to dance later that night. Sunday we shared a massive brunch before Franciscorps set off back to Syracuse! I feel blessed to have shared a little of our life here with them, especially because they understand the experiences we are going through as full time post grad volunteers. They are an awesome group of people and we laughed a lot throughout the weekend!
Service has been consistent but never without its challenges! Working with people who are housing and treatment resistant on connecting them to their much needed medical care is an endless challenge. Finding access to an appropriate level of care for our clients is always an obstacle because they do not fit any specific category. They are often too sick for traditional mental health care, too mentally unstable for traditional medical care, not to mention the fact that our guys have failed physically and mentally in almost every other program, system or treatment plan they have experienced. In our housing model, we create flexible rules, we make compromises and we meet people where they are. Unfortunately, healthcare is not modeled after such a patient centered approach. In order for someone who is mentally and or physical decompensating to receive care, the decompensation needs to be literally emergent. They need to be having suicidal/homicidal tendency or experiencing a true medical emergency. There are significant barriers to being able to catch someone before they fall completely. Even with our excellent resource of primary care for our clients, there are many barriers to getting someone the attention they need when they are in our unique and vulnerable population. last week I had a client who was passed through the psych ER to the general crisis unit to the psychiatric crisis unit only to end up back home, without treatment and presenting with an inability to care for himself and significant cognitive deficit. He was not sick enough for one, too sick enough for another and the wrong kind of sick for another. Eventually we got him placed in a rehabilitation hospital, but not without leaping through numerous hoops, endless phone calls and unabashed pleading (mostly on my part) to take him in and give him the help he needs.
Another one of our guys who is untreated but presents with multiple active psychiatric issues had to go to the hospital for respiratory distress. After over a week in the hospital he was finally discharged yesterday, but the process of discharge was literally a drag. He was ‘supposed’ to be discharged the day before, but it was almost 4 and they still needed to run more tests. I talked the social worker into keeping him another night, worried that he’d be coming home with non of us case managers there to see him or help plan his discharge stuff. Thank GOD she agreed. I did not end up getting him until the next afternoon and subsequently spent the rest of my day finding doctors, making appointments and arranging medications with pharmacies. I left work feeling brain fried, wondering how anyone is able to deal with medical issues on their own. The fact that anyone would expect the chronically street homeless, addicted or mentally ill to be able to make sound health care decisions and maintain their own care is preposterous to me. I am a licensed nurse and still face barriers and confusion dealing with people’s discharge instructions. Between the numerous medical appointments, medication changes from inpatient as well as lifestyle changes like diet, limitation in physical activity and curbing their addictions, people are literally inundated with process and hoops to jump. To me, the biggest problem is that there is not enough time or funding allotted in legitimate discharge planning. Not everyone has income, steady food, a sound mind or loved ones to lean on when they face medical challenges or chronic disease management. Hospital care is focused on the present, on reactionary and defensive care. Even with its best efforts, the hospital care is focused on putting out fires, patching the here and now wounds with bandaids while the real issues fester below the surface. This is not a flaw of the skilled healthcare providers, nurses or anyone in particular but a plague of a health care system that is not focused on the patient, on sustainable wellness or prevention. I deeply admire the care that is provided by those in hospitals and I have no malice towards that crucial aspect of healthcare. What I dream for rather is a better system for their talents. More realistic staffing and increased integration of care and communication from inpatient to outpatient in order to curb the stagnancy of healthcare today.

The Power of Sisterhood

Sadly, it seems women religous are underappreciated, underrepresented and overly stereotyped in the United States. One of the unexpected blessings of this year has been the relationship our lay program has with the Sister of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities. These women are progressive, educated and dedicated to social justice. Each month or so we share dinner and prayer with these sisters and every time I walk away with lessons and laughs. I wish that someone would stand on a soapbox and exclaim to the world NUNS MATTER, THEY ARE SAVING THE WORLD!
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, who claim St. Marianne Cope as one of their own, is a congregation of more than 460 vowed women religious whose Franciscan spirit motivates them to continue God’s work and respond to God’s people wherever there is a need. The sisters serve in 12 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Africa and Peru. Many of these women have multiple secondary degrees. I know of at least one that is a lawyer, nurse and social worker. These women devote their lives to their community, service and prayer. Their vocation is not cloistered but the opposite, bringing them deep into the needs of the poor and the world of academia. If there is a need for a financial position at the hospital that used to be run by the nuns, a sister would be chosen to fill that role. If she hadnt been educated in that field, she would be given the proper education. Many of these women have had multiple successful professions throughout their lives, all for the benefit of the community they are serving. The nuns are advocates for social justice, for stewardship for creation and their God.
The Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love ran the Saint Charles Children’s Home in Rochester NH. I volunteered with this program for three years while at Saint Anselm. Much like the women who make up the SOSF, these women were tenacious, motivated and very down to earth, working with extremely vulnerable children and their adoptive and biological parents. I think of those women often, especially in my service with Operation Safety Net. They provided me with a view of service that promotes dignity, love and humor. I sorely miss my Friday afternoons spent playing outside, dancing while doing dishes and conversing with the most inspiring women I have ever experienced.
Not to mention my favorite Dominican Sr. Maureen Sullivan, the master of all things Vatican II! I know this has been an exciting time for her with the double canonization of two amazing popes recently! Her course on Vatican II was pivotal in my view of the Church and helped spark my own little fire in seeking a life of hope, service and social progress.
I cannot reiterate enough how much these women have affected my life. Though I do not feel a call to religous life, I have the deepest respect and appreciation for the incredible women I have met. Their faith is endless, love pure and motivation unparalleled.
This is my personal shoutout to all the women religious of the world. Thank you for all you do, for having the courage to fulfill your calling and make this world more full of love.

The business end of things..

Work is always interesting and dynamic, but I am grateful that the winter is over and the weight of its perils are off our shoulders. That being said, there is still a lot going on in our little world on the streets and programs of Pittsburgh. 

I have been navigating the process of kidney failure and dialysis with one of my clients as of late. Working with him through this process reminds me just how challenging it can be to navigate the health care system. He was attending multiple appointments in different places for weeks, in and out of the hospital with imbalanced electrolytes and dehydration all while trying to learn and implement a ‘renal diet’ and manage medications. It is a wonder to me how anyone does this alone. Thankfully now he is well set up and no longer completely drained by his dialysis treatments. The chronic illnesses of our clientele cannot be ignored. 

We have another resident on hospice for cancer and this experience is much more seamless than the dialysis one for us case managers. Not only have we worked with this hospice program before, but they happen to be incredible at their jobs. They are attentive, patient centered and laid back. It is a pleasure to work with them and finally feel like I can leave the side of our resident without worrying that he will be judged, misunderstood or offended by the care of medical professionals. My biggest qualm this year has been the maltreatment of the homeless in acute care settings. It nauseates me to see the judgement on the faces of pink clad residents, the eye rolls of triage nurses and the unmasked disgust of PCA’s who have to help someone get cleaned up. They are why we spend hours waiting in the ER, why I do not leave the side of my clients if they let me, why we bring people to hospital across town just because they will not treat the client like a rat in their kitchen. 

Tye Dye and BBQ

In celebration of the first real WARM day in Pittsburgh since, I DONT EVEN KNOW WHEN, we got together at Milgate for a cookout! Rachel’s family came along with our Edmond friends and we prepared some awesome dinner for everyone. Ben and I tye dyed for the first time this season while the charcoals warmed up. Lots of food, a soccer ball and some friends made for a great night! 

We will be moving from Milgate sometime this spring to a different house but I will be sad to leave our awesome back porch. 

It is hard to believe that this year is already on its home stretch, with only a few more months left. The crisis they call winter is over so life at OSN is much less stressful. Though the cold is gone, there is still a lot going on at TLA and within OSN. There is never a dull moment! I am enjoying my time as much as I can, trying to experience it all. I am looking forward to the coming weeks as we have visitors coming from Franciscorps, I am volunteering at the Pittsburgh Marathon and all the unexpected things that pop up in between!

I’ll go anywhere, West Virginia baby I don’t care

Our spring retreat was in the backwoods of West Virginia, right on the border of Kentucky. Our caravan made it through two states, an active coal mine and up a mountain to the Big Laurel Learning Center. Our director Kelly Caddy has a close relationship with the program which she first experienced on her own college mission trip years ago. Big Laurel is run by two nuns and an Americorps member. They provide sleep away summer camp programs for the local youth, afterschool tutoring and community outreach to the holler and the surrounding community. The nuns are older, but rugged and motivated as anyone I have met. They host mission trips to help run the campus, which sprawls about 2 miles with a retreat house, home for the sisters, two bunkhouses, a camp activity center, small barn and expansive gardens. Only the daffodils were in bloom at the time, but seeing any sign of life was fulfilling to me. This experience was unlike any other retreat, which is typically structured programming and quiet contemplation. I spent my day structured by meals and the small chores I was assigned to in addition to the big projects that needed to get done around the mountain. Joy and I fed the horses twice a day and I also helped an elderly man with special needs take his medication each afternoon.

Travel was mainly via Mule or ATV, time was fairly irrelevant (an unfamiliar but refreshing Franciscan value) and living was simple. Water conservation was crucial, as the sisters and Americorps Chris depend only on rain water for their supply. I showered only once on our stay. The vibe of Big Laurel brought back a lot of Road for Hope and Maine nostalgia.

Sarah and I ahd the ATV in the afternoon, so we took full advantage. First we visited with our elderly friend Phil and helped him with his eye drops and taking his pills. He was raised in that community and was taken under the care of the sisters when his mother passed away. They moved him to a small house nearby their home so they could be able to help him. He kept a clean house, loves pepsi and riding his ATV. He has paralysis on one side, but is able to walk, chop wood and function well with his ‘good side.’ he bragged to us about overcoming adversity as a kid, showing the kids that he could chop wood one handed after they teased him for his disabilities. I know its not respectful to call a grown man cute, but man he was adorable. 

Friday Night we went to a local dance at a community center in Kentucky. Blue grass,modern and classic country played from the open mic all night/ Some of the women at the hall taught us how to line dance. Beyond the electric slide I was lost, but it was a ton of fun to dance and spend time with our community. 

Saturday night we had a bonfire with the community near big laurel. The fire went for hours as we chatted, made tons of smores and reflected on our experience and where we are at in the program year.

This weekend flew by for all of us, but we left with laughs, memories and a sense of peace.