“ALL WHO ARE WEARY….” by Anne Stewart Helton

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

He seemed always weary back then. He worked so hard and out of necessity he mostly had a middle of the night, sometimes in dangerous neighborhoods, sometimes freezing cold or rainy, newspaper route!!

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So many men and women work and labor at several jobs just to make ends meet. My man did and still does at times. I think God must love the Worker. Every Man. Every Woman. There are many references to work throughout the Bible. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians, 3:23. We easily forget those words of Wisdom sometimes. I remember the Nuns would tell us in Catholic School when we had some hard work to do “offer it up to God”Yea….right Sister! We would think. But, you know what? It is true.

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It’s Labor Day weekend and when I watched my hubby taking a well deserved nap yesterday, at almost 72 years old now, I couldn’t help but remember the years and years he fell asleep for short spurts after his middle of the night paper routes or long shifts of loading trucks or studying homework in night school or worrying about keeping his appraisal business going for those who depended on him. He was never hesitant to work and would help people complete a task or buy something for them without being asked. He never complained about it, he just did it. Just as his Father had done, his Grandfather had done and on and on back to his Cherokee roots. Just like all good workers, I see his determination to finish a job well done and I see it now in our own children’s bloodline and now our grandchildren. Even in their play, creative endeavors, or parenting, they do their work well and completely. My son-in-law Larry even “works” on Fathers Day cooking barbecue for Priests to show appreciation to them for working as earthly spiritual Fathers!

While out walking this Sunday morning, the day before Labor Day, I stopped to talk to this smiling worker. He was getting his job done before the day heated up. We laughed about the weather and then he asked if I knew anyone who needed their yards mowed. Oh, how my Dad would have loved that!

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My husbands’ own Father would “work” while reading the morning paper. He would make notes about what needed to be done for the day or plan projects. I remember when little “Baby Jessica” fell into a well over 20 years ago and my father-in-law read the story in the Houston Chronicle. He was so upset and then designed an entire method, with drawings, on how to retrieve the little one from the well. He “worked” in spirit right alongside those rescuers. He beamed with pride too, cried and cheered when they retrieved her life filled body. My Mother always worked in the home like many Moms and she raised ten children. I remember that she always had one toddler on her hip while pouring milk into a baby bottle with her other hand. That’s how MY Mom got tennis elbow!!

It’s not to say that some people don’t work hard now but the respect for labor, for work, seems different. It’s probably just the normal changes of time but somehow it seems to be tied more to the money involved or the fame or recognition achieved. Somehow the web of need and appreciation for all types of workers has lost it’s luster and the desire to be recognized has surpassed the desire to just do a good job. Can some jobs just be done right, just for the good of doing them right? My Dad always said if we didn’t have any work to do or we were finished with our work, then “pick up a broom and quietly sweep the floor”…and we did! WE didn’t expect a Blue Ribbon for just doing our job!

One of our favorite Worker men in our area is Luis. We get our newspaper from him sometimes but mostly we just visit. Even with an obvious right-sided mobility issue, he works hard on his extra job mainly for his family, he is there in all kinds of weather only to then catch the bus to his full-time job at a grocery store. He always proclaims gratefulness and something positive about the day. We are blessed when our stop light allows us to visit with Luis.

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When I walk our neighborhood I often watch the rough work of yard men or utility workers, the constable patrol police officers, the mothers gathering their children and the Teachers getting to class on time. I marvel at all of their consistency and planning. They always have the right cars, backpacks, tools, water jugs, lunches, hats and gloves for protection and they pace themselves. Smart workers! But I am always especially indebted to the Mail Carriers. I really love the mail carriers…I bake them cookies, I give them ice tea, I talk life with them.

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Being a Community Health Nurse I recognize the importance of the mail carriers as it seems to me they are the last vestige of real community workers who knit neighborhoods together. They always know what’s going on, they know who is moving, divorcing, multiplying, hurting, indebted, struggling or rejoicing. They do welfare checks on people without being heroic or videoing themselves for social media and they watch for “bad guys” circling our streets. I love the mail men and my husband was even one for a while years ago. Mail carriers take daily long walks and have to watch their backs for dogs but my smart hubby mailman carried dog biscuits with him to make friends with any errant Fidos. Such a great idea! But one day a huge, sneaky, bully German shepherd jumped over the top of a fence and bit him in the back, with blood pouring down his back, he chased him down but then couldn’t hurt him, realizing he was just doing his job too. But you know what?…that dog never bothered him again!!

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I especially think and say a prayer for the hard workers when I hear a Police or Fire siren in the middle of the night, and then I think about the Physician, Preacher or Rabbi who will be called into action after that siren, often saying a little prayer for them too. I try to give a little smile of thanks when I see the workers gathering shopping baskets left afar in grocery store parking lots, to the wait staff in restaurants cleaning up after messy eaters in restaurants, to nursing attendants pushing gurneys of suffering people in hospitals, to shopping mall sales people trying to smile at the complaining customer, to brave people driving heavy trucks around goofy texting drivers and I pray for those skilled pilots flying planes overhead full of anxious travelers. I feel thankful that we still have workers who want to do a good job and get us all through our everyday lives, especially those who work 24/7 and don’t have Labor Day off. It’s the everyday people, going to work, everyday, doing their job without earthly glory who keep our society healthy. Work is tied to our self-esteem and our purpose in life and without purpose it is difficult to have good self-esteem. It’s really pretty simple!

So, when you drink your coffee and read your newspaper this Labor Day, realize that Labor Day is more than the political season or Labor Day Sales thus, ….

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….tip your hat to the Worker at all levels of labor. Tip your hat to yourself. We are all in this together folks. We should all have each others backs. So, let’s do our work and labor as Sister taught years ago and “offer it all up to God“. Then at the end of a very long day, we will hear, as is described in the amplified Bible: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little, I will put you in charge of many things; share in the joy of your master.’ “ Mathew 25:21.

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“I’m your Nurse, I Will Hold Your Hand” by Anne Stewart Helton

“I know you are in there, I know you hear me. I’m your Nurse and I will hold your hand through this.” I whispered to the pale, puffy, 50 something middle-aged man in obvious pain as he tried to breathe. Our eyes met briefly and the connection was verified.

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It had been a cold, busy early ’80’s January night when the traffic fought me as I attempted to get to my Intensive Care Unit (ICU) shift on time. Got my Stethoscope. Got my scissors and pens. Got my midnight lunch, and even kept my own blood pressure cuff tucked away in my car!

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We actually wore nursing caps back then so I pinned mine on and was ready to hit the hospital floor running. There were no iPhones, so I had my little black spiral calendar tablet in my lab coat pocket for phone numbers, notes and basic apothecary formulas for prescriptions. We calculated everything ourselves over 30 years ago and even mixed most Intravenous (IV) medications. It was a world of stand on your feet, run and go, lift and turn, senses assaulting, brain calculating, empathy draining, relentless shift of work. And. I. loved. it.

I could feel my heart beating faster and my adrenaline flowing as I rushed to the 3rd floor Intensive Care Unit (ICU)  for a 12 hour shift. I loved the science and the art of Nursing and loved wearing my mostly new University of Texas Nursing School pin with the little star attached to represent Houston and I couldn’t wait to meet the new patients admitted to the hospital in need of care.

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Most of our patients were admitted in pain and shock from the Emergency Room or directly from life saving surgery for Post Operative Intensive Care but some were also more long-term intensive care patients and thus their families and histories were well-known to staff. The ICU Staff functioned as a family of sorts, albeit at times dysfunctional!! But we all worked as a Team to make sick people healthy again.

I went into the nightly cave of ICU where the secrets of wires, beeps and instruments were stored, where the codes for medicinal mixes were housed and where private phone numbers to reach physicians in the middle of the night were guarded. At that time ICU’s were mostly off-limits for families and thus a primordial bond was created between patients and staff. We were their lifelines and we earnestly absorbed our duty deep into our persona. We often became the “keeper of the keys”. However, Registered Nurses were also known to frequently sneak husbands, wives, parents and children into ICU’s to hug patients far beyond any established hospital visiting time rules.

This would be one of those nights for me.

My recently admitted Mr. Man Patient lay on his back, exposed to me, arms flayed as if on a cross and he was connected to tubing leading to bottled fluids in order to bring his heart rate down, his blood pressure up, his pain level down and his consciousness up. We had him on a roller coaster to keep him alive after he had suffered a major myocardial infarction, MI, or heart attack that had effectively killed most of his heart muscle. His mid- sized, only 58-year-old body had been found by his teenage son on the floor of their garage when his son came home from school. Mr. Man Patient had been cleaning the garage all by himself, which was after he had mowed his yard and cleaned out the gutters around the house. And all of it was done while sneaking a cigarette in between chores. Yes, a classic Type A!

His son was horrified and tried to shake his dad awake, then remembered his minimal Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) skills and he went into gear… He knew his Dad had major heart problems already and did manage to get him breathing again. So, he held on to his father as the Ambulance crew arrived and brought him eventually to our waiting arms.

After receiving my report from the RN on the shift before me, I reviewed my guys’ chart and did my usual nursing assessment. I introduced myself but did not get a response so I stroked my patients’ shoulder, gently watching him stir just a bit. I could feel the beads of perspiration and recognized he was still reacting to his terrible MI.

Vital signs: check.

IV fluids: check.

Skin turgor and color: check.

Consciousness: ? Consciousness: ? No, he was not responding to my voice or touch except to moan a bit.

I looked out through the glass window by his bed and saw a fifty something, lovely woman with caring, terrified eyes looking straight at me. I knew it was his wife without being introduced. She pleaded with me and words were not necessary. Just as suddenly, a Staff member drew the curtain and she could no longer be seen. Now I had a family face in my head and could see more depth into my patient. It always made it harder. I knew from report that the Cardiologist did not expect him to survive and that this was a classic widow maker type heart attack. We didn’t always rush folks to the Cardiac Catheterization lab back then, in fact most places didn’t have one.

I continued with the physician orders for the shift and as I went in and out of his room, mostly staying in, and I tried to pray every time I was next to him…out loud. “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” I patted his hand and rubbed his shoulders between the necessary technical tasks. My stomach told me I was hungry but for some reason I didn’t feel like leaving him for a night shift lunch break, so I sipped on coffee. When I was holding his hand for an IV check I noticed he still had on his scratched, thin gold wedding band. Usually we try to get those removed in the emergency room but his was still there. He stirred and moaned as I felt the ring. So, I tried to rub it and turn it more to arouse him. He moaned louder and seemed to try to talk. I moved his oxygen mask a little and I said “I know you’re in there.” He opened his eyes a little. “I know you hear me.”

I continued to turn his wedding ring and he mouthed to me “my wife”.  I said, “Yes, Your wife is here”.

He shook his head “No” and I said “Yes, she is right outside.” He seemed a bit agitated and then mouthed “My ring”. It hit me…“You want your wife to have your ring?” He squeezed my hand and our eyes met in the connected way that one can only have when one person is pleading for help while the other person finds a way to help. “Please” he said. I patted his hand and said “Okay”.

I quickly got up and walked out of his room and there she was, still standing behind the curtain, she hadn’t moved and she was holding his jacket and burying her face in it. She was crying and taking deep breaths, she seemed to be trying to smell him on his jacket. It was gut wrenching. I placed my arm around her and guided her into his room, to his bedside. She fell over him and he tried to hold her. I knew it was stressing him but he had so little time. He stroked her hair and said “I will love you forever. Take my ring.” Her eyes widened with fear as she saw all the tubes and wires and I said “I’ll help you.”

In a moment of time that seemed like a wedding, with chime-like music of a heart monitor and the percussion of oxygen and a suction machine, I took his ring off and she held out her 3rd finger, left hand and I placed it on. She cried and he smiled. They kissed and he closed his eyes. He was tired.

As I ushered her out and hugged her, soon afterwards his heart monitor went off again and his last Code started. The CPR team worked extra, extra hard to bring back this man and I saw briefly his wife holding her teenage son in her arms as the Staff drew the curtain one last time to his room.

When the Head Physician called the Code and pronounced him dead and the expert Team left the room, as his Nurse, it was my honored privilege to clean him up a bit and bring his wife and son in to see him and to say goodbye. I felt his Spirit still in the room, his desire not to leave and I could sense his love and persistent connection to his little family on earth. As I disconnected the IV lines and wiped the markings of the CPR Code from his body and combed his hair, I rubbed his cooling, ring less left hand and whispered to my patient on this cold January night: “I know you’re in here…I know you hear me. You were a good husband to her; Godspeed my patient…Godspeed. I will say prayers for your family and I may ask you to spiritually hold my hand some day too…”

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“Sizzlin’, Summer, Sun” by Anne Stewart Helton

The jazzy, buzzing, Spring June Bugs have stopped jumping in town and the cicadas are screeching.

It is Summertime. It is Texas.  And. It. Is. Hot.

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As it is written in Ecclesiastes 3- “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens” but every year when the seasonal calendar turns over to Summer, it seems we forget we live in Texas and we are surprised. Its’ like a light switch is turned on and overnight the temperature soars: 92-95-98-then the century mark countdown begins! Old-timers start reflecting on the hotter days of yesteryear, spouting copious stories that usually begin with, “You think this is Hot?? Well, we didn’t have air-conditioning in the summer of_____ (take your pick)”! I have to admit I remember talking about those old days too. As a child, we ate dripping popsicles on the porch, never stayed inside and opened our windows at night, yes, in Houston, Texas of all places. We left the Attic fan on all night long to allow a breeze through the windows until Dad would get up and turn it off to save electricity. Of course, we turned it back on and then the fan wars would begin only to have Mom settle it with Dad. We won!

I remember the perspiration on our pillows and hearing the sounds of the night through our screened windows and sometimes sneaking out to play with neighbors to run through lightning bug filled yards. Yes, in Summer, the Winter and Spring creatures step aside for the dragonflies whizzing by as Sunflowers stretch high while Texas cooks. As the Bible says there is a time for all Seasons, but it also says in Psalms 104:19 “He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.” So, we often say okay Sun, it’s HOT, you can go down a little now.

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Y’all need to know, that in Texas when we say HOT we mean devil-type-pitch-fork waving heat! We are known to say “Oh, it’s just the humidity that gets you” but that’s just to compete with our Nevada or Arizona compadres who have the oven type dry heat. But hot is hot . Our Texas heat is the all encompassing overall mirage of waves of heat soaring from concrete that make 98 degrees seem like you are in a desert and should have buzzards circling overhead. We are frequently proud and boastful to pretend Summer doesn’t bother us, after all we are tough Texans, but it is common to see families sneaking away for weeks to Colorado or Cozumel to escape the heat. They may say they are going on vacation but we know what is really going on.

We adapt and change our schedules in Summer….running or walking in early mornings or late evenings, avoiding crowded freeways filled with road-rage-squared drivers waving hot fists in the air and we LOVE our air-conditioning. After all, we did build the world famous, air-conditioned Houston Astrodome before it was fashionable to have indoor stadiums.  The Summer heat also is known to trigger bucket loads of rain drop surprise showers that fill up our bayous and creeks. The thunderstorms leave us with flooded roadways, overgrown elephant ear ditches and hoards of people hungry, whelp producing, skin itching, west nile and zika carrying virus mosquitoes! So, we spray ourselves like safari explorers before we go outside and we zap mosquitoes with every type of mosquito repellent or spray systems invented, most of which work like snake oil! Oh, and we have more snakes after the flooding rains and we even have heat-crazy alligators walking out of ditches and Rivers onto golf courses and into the roads! We also have three species of Copperhead snakes in Texas that show up in groups in the summer.

Yep, one has to be tough to survive Texas summers.

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We learn Wisdom from these tough Texas Summer seasons. The June bugs teach us that what lies dormant in the ground as a grub all year has Hope and can emerge with joy and dancing. The little seed of the sunflowers show us how Patience grows with Faith into Glory from the Summer rains. The elephant ear filled waterways and bayous help slow and “still” the water down to feed the dragonflies, turtles, birds, frogs and even snakes, which are kept in balance by the alligators!! A large population of cicadas can be deafening but soothing as they sing us to sleep at night but beware…a flock of cicadas can be a meal and dessert all in one for Copperhead snakes. So be careful where you walk barefoot when you hear the cicadas screeching. The snakes of Summer teach us caution. Did you know that some Copperhead snakes have a little bit of a greenish-yellow color on the tip of their tail resembling a caterpillar? They coil up and stick their tail up, wiggling it to lure a frog or lizard, then they strike and gobble up their prey. It’s funny, this resembles the song “Smiling Faces” to me, where some people will lure us with fake smiles, pats on the back or pretty words only to strike and devour us too! Yes, the Copperhead snake teaches us caution, as everything may not always be what it seems!  As far as the mosquitoes???  Really Noah, you had to pick two of them too?  Well, I guess we can be grateful that they feed the birds, but as for a benefit to people?….all I can say is at least mosquitoes make us go inside, into our beloved air-conditioning!!

We will weather through this Summer season too and we will enjoy our steaming 4th of July fireworks, wave our wilted Flags, watch neighborhood parades and perspire at bar-b-ques. We will lie down on floats in swimming pools or close to sprinkler heads in our yards, if necessary. We will drive to Galveston Beaches or the Hill Country lakes and Rivers for cooling breezes and water sports. We will watch our flowers and gardens turn brown and scorch and we will watch and wait for possible Hurricanes that eventually may form in the bath-tub like heated water of the Gulf of Mexico. We will get through this Season with our own stories of the Summer of 2016 with a lesson of gratefulness that we have the Seasons, the weather, the creatures and the memories to carry in our hearts to pass on to others in our own stories that may start with: “You think you’re hot now?? Why, in 2016, our summer was…..(take your pick)!!”

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