Interviews Voices

Weathering storms with a kind heart

Andrea is an amazing human who I am lucky to have had as a friend since high school. She is my sister Eira’s best friend, and has always shown such kindness and positivity toward me. She is also a nurse and recently mentioned to me that the pandemic has felt like dark clouds. So I wanted to interview her for this issue!

A: Hi Danny, how are you doing?

D: Hi Andrea! I am so happy to see you!

A: I’m very happy to see you too. How’ve you been?

D: Oof!

A: Oof?

D: It has been so tough, but I am feeling better now.

A: Oh good, yeah, Eira told me you were having a tough week last week. So I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m glad you’re feeling better now.

D: Thank you for that.

A: Of course!

D: So I wanted to interview you for the next issue of Leo in Bloom because I am so eager to know more about your work and how empathy is important to it.

A: Thank you so much for wanting to interview me – I feel so honored to be a part of this! Leo in Bloom is so cool, Danny. I just want to say, you’re doing such a good job. It’s wonderful reading your essays!

D: Wow, I am so thrilled to hear it!

A: So, you were asking me about my job and empathy and how they go together, hand-in-hand. Absolutely, being a nurse – you can’t do it if you don’t have empathy for your patients. It helps you just go day-to-day. It’s a hard job in itself, but once you put yourself in your patients’ shoes and realize it’s hard for them, too, it really makes me want to do better and be a better nurse for them, because I can only imagine how hard it is to be the patient.

D: And can you tell me a bit about why you became a nurse.

A: Oh man. I probably tried to ignore it for a very long time. My mom, as you know, is a nurse, and so I think I was just trying really hard to not do the same thing as her. But really, I guess it’s in the blood. I did this internship after college in healthcare, because I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to take my degree, and being around a lot of nurses, getting to see what they actually really did, I loved it.

It’s taking the best parts of healthcare – the science aspect, the treatments, the diagnosis, those skills, but then also the social perspective, getting to be actually taking care of patients, getting to know them, not just on a diagnosis level but actually getting to know the patient as a person, because as the nurse you’re at the bedside, you’re with them the whole time. So it’s a nice way of combining everything that I liked in one job, so I fell in love with it.

I guess my mom was right, I should’ve just listened to her from the beginning and gone right into nursing! But it’s better this way. It was nice getting to go back to school a little older and more mature. It was a better route for me in the end.

D: Amazing! I love that you found your own journey to nursing.

A: I do, too! It’s been quite the journey, and I’m very happy that I’m doing it. It’s a good job. I’ve been very blessed in many ways with this career, so I’m very happy.

D: How do you maintain kind energy in such a demanding job?

A: It’s not easy! I mean, it’s very difficult. There’s a lot of “behavioral” patients, so it’s a lot of me just taking deep breaths. I think the easiest way to do it is you have to remind yourself that they’re in a hospital, their routine at home is so different from what we’re doing here in the hospital, and then just kind of taking a step back reminding yourself that this is hard for them. So, just being patient and recognizing those difficulties for the patient – it’s one of those things you just have to be able to do. It’s a lot of patience.

I do think a big thing that I have to remember is that it is a job, so making sure you don’t take it home with you. Do all of the things you need to do outside of work so you’re not burdened at home as well. It’s just making sure that you have a good work-life balance so that it’s not overwhelming. It can get very stressful. Especially, obviously, during the pandemic it was very stressful, and not having all the outside stuff and usual activities to kind of destress with was really hard. But, you know, you find your ways to just relax and be calm so that at work, you’re okay.

D: Wow, I am so full of admiration for you and your work.

A: Aww, thank you! I admire you, Danny. This is amazing. This journey that you’ve taken this entire past year is just mind-blowing. So, I admire you and your work!

D: Wheee! Admiration buddies!

A: You’re right, we’re the best! Everyone should admire us, I agree!

D: Absolutely! You mentioned last time we spoke that it felt like the pandemic rain clouds were easing up. Can you describe the storm and how it feels now?

A: So, yes, I am so thankful our COVID numbers in the hospital have gone down quite dramatically. All of our units are back to their normal function, which is great. So basically, during the pandemic, when it was the heaviest, it was very stressful – you could feel it in the hospital – you would walk in and you could just sense this anxiety, this stress, because we were full, we kept having patients in the emergency department and we didn’t have room for them in the hospital. We had patients coming into the hospital, not a lot of room for them, so we had to make do with what we had.

And our staffing was challenging – our staffing was low. Especially during the holidays, already the staffing is low because people spend time with their families, and on top of that people were getting sick during the pandemic when we were peaking in California around that time. So, it was just not fun times! I picked up a bunch of extra shifts. I just remember just working all of January, and it was hard in the hospital.

Fortunately, in my unit – oncology – we didn’t actually get COVID patients on our floor, but during that time of course we had outbreaks. It was really hard for us not to have them, when we had staff members coming in and out, and it was just hard to see that happen when our unit would have an outbreak. It was just really stressful. I don’t even know – that time was kind of a blur to me. I think I was just trying to do my job and just hope that everybody was going to be okay.

I felt really bad for patients that were there, too. That was also another thing. It wasn’t just the stress of taking care of pretty sick patients, but it was also dealing with the emotional aspect of it, too. You had family who couldn’t see their loved ones that were dying in the hospital. All we’re doing is Zooming them in, and it’s just never the same. It was very devastating for a lot of people. And then you add that into the mental status of a lot of people – you know, anxiety – everybody was feeling anxious and stressed, and so that on top of trying to take care of patients who are extra anxious and stressed… it was very dark days.

But now, it’s so much better. We’re starting to feel more back in our routine. Things are lining up because of the vaccine, we have more “normal things” going on. I mean, apart from COVID, my hospital is kind of going through its issues right now; we were attacked by a ransomware attack. So all of our electronic systems are down, so it’s like we got hit by COVID, we were about to get better, and now the dark days are coming again with this cyber attack. But I think it’s getting better, so hopefully – I think – we’re almost back to normal. I’ve just been paper charting for… a month.

D: Oh my goodness, Andrea! That [pandemic experience] sounds so dark, indeed. How was it to be among the first to be vaccinated?

A: It was very nice! I was very, very excited to be able to be vaccinated. I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous at first, but ultimately, I had to tell myself that I trust science, I trust medicine, I know this is going to be the safest thing for everybody. So, I was happy to get it when it was offered to us. And fortunately, I didn’t really get too bad side effects – I got sick on the second one, but not so bad.

Once I was fully vaccinated, it did provide a sense of liberation – I felt a lot safer. I could finally see my extended family – once we were all fully vaccinated, we were finally able to see each other, and I looked at them like, “I haven’t seen you in a year!” and we’re used to seeing them almost every month or so. So, it did feel so nice.

D: Awesome! And how do you feel about things opening up?

A: Oh I’m so excited about it! Just so excited for things to open up. It’s nice to be able to be out and see people, friends, family that I hadn’t seen in a long time. And I just felt so bad for businesses, too. I knew this was really hard especially for local businesses. The fact that we can open up and they actually are able to breathe again and feel a sense of relief that they made it through and that things are gonna be ok, I’m just excited about that.

There is a little apprehension, of course, you know – I don’t know what’s going to happen once everything opens up. Will COVID come back? Will something else happen? Who knows. Hopefully it won’t. I think San Diego’s doing a pretty good job at getting people vaccinated, so hopefully we’ll be okay. And we’re lucky we’re in San Diego with so much ability to do outdoor activities, so I think we’re a lot safer than some other places in that regard.

But I think it will be exciting! I’m just excited. Aren’t you guys excited? Things are going to open up… there’s always a little fear, but hopefully we’re all excited? We get to do things, Danny!

D: I’m super excited!

A: Yeah! What is one of the things you want to do?

D: Have sushi dinner with you!

A: Oh my gosh, I am so excited. Yay!

D: It was one of the things I really missed.

A: I agree. I really missed your family’s sushi dinners.

D: You might recall that I wrote, “Stay safe, Andrea. Let’s have sushi dinner” as my big breakthrough in communication with Tara [near the beginning of the pandemic last year].  I was so very worried about you and just wanted you to be safe!

A: Aww, thank you. That’s so sweet of you. I do recall that! I was very happy when I learned that I was one of the first topics you talked about when you were learning to S2C with Tara, I was kinda gloating about it to people…

D: Totally gloat-worthy!

A: I agree. You are very gloat-worthy, Danny!

D: So next question: In your work, what has taught you the most?

A: Don’t know how to phrase this, but… I mean, obviously I already talked about the importance of having patience, but I think more specific to what I do: because my specialization is oncology, and I think just because of that population, you deal with patients or people who just get thrown this crazy diagnosis where there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen with them. Just based off of their lives, I really just do think the things that they’ve taught me is just live every moment as best as you can with the people you love the most and just try to be present in the moment and just really be there for people that you love.

Because you never know what’s going to happen. One day you’re healthy, and the next moment you could get a diagnosis that you’re going to die in a year or two. So I think just because of them and just seeing what’s gone on with them, it’s just really helped me value what I do have and try to be there for that and take advantage of that when I can, because it’s true: it could go away so quickly in a flash.

That alone that they’ve taught me is something that I’ll always take with me – it’s something that, you know, you think about, “Oh, yeah, I will be appreciative of the people that I have, or I will do that thing with that one person” but you never do it. Now, I’m just like, no, you need to do it. If you’re going to say you’re going to do it, do it. Because you don’t know – it might be gone, really quickly. My patients have taught me a lot about valuing friendships and time.

D: Wow, I love that! It is so profound and important. I think you are one of the most genuinely kind and friendly people I have ever met! Where do you get such positive energy, and can I buy some?

A: Haha! Danny, I will just give you my positivity, don’t even worry, it’s for free, I’ll radiate it toward you! I have no idea why I’m such a positive person. Honestly, I don’t know. I admit that there are times when I’m not very positive, because of course you can’t always be positive all the time. But I generally try to be.

I think for me, it’s easier for me to be happier and try to see the better picture than to be upset about something. Being upset and focusing on that is much more draining on my life than just being happy and being okay with things. And me just trying to make my life easier, I think I just tend to go in that direction.

I don’t know if it’s that my mom is a happy-go-lucky person, if it’s because I’m like a happy Filipina person, I don’t know where it comes from. But just in life, I find it so much easier to be happy and not try to make things negative. It’s always just been natural for me to go in that direction.

D: Wow, that is so wise! And I am so inspired by that.

A: Oh thank you. Danny, you’re pretty positive, too, though!

D: I try. But it is difficult at times and you make it look easy.

A: Thank you, Danny. I know, being positive all the time is hard, and obviously I know we can’t always be positive. But I think we find ways to try to look at the brighter side, try to find ways to put a positive spin on things. We can do it.

D: Absolutely! Final question: How has your view of me changed since I gained fluency through spelling?

A: Oh my gosh. I mean, I didn’t even know that you can do all the things that you’ve been doing [since becoming fluent]. I’ve known you for such a long time, right – I’ve been friends with Eira for, what, 20-something years. And I’ve always loved you, Danny; we’ve been able to hang out in that time, but we’ve never been able to really talk. Being able to communicate now has opened my eyes to all the complexities of what you actually think. It’s just amazing. You’re such an amazing writer, it’s so amazing to see how creative you are.

I think it’s great. A lot of people would see your diagnosis, they would see “autism,” and they would just automatically assume all these things, but you’re breaking those assumptions, those perceptions. Good for you!

D: Yay me!

A: You’re very talented, my friend.

D: Shucks!

A: I have a question for you, Danny. So what’s next for you? You’re doing all the essays, poetry writing, what’s your next thing you want to get into?

D: Ooh! What a huge question. And I am going to give a huge answer! I want to help the world and have great adventures along the way.

A: Ooh I’m very excited to see all this happen for you, Danny, because I know it’s going to come true. And now that you’re writing, it’s going to be so fun to read and hear about it.

D: I am so excited! And a bit nervous. But also so thrilled that it seems possible now.

A: Yay! Yes, it is possible. You can do it! Where are you going to travel first?

D: Ooh… we are discussing this now!

A: Well I’m very excited to hear about where you decide to go. It’ll be an amazing adventure.

D: Thank you! And thank you so much for your time and friendship!

A: You’re very welcome, Danny, I loved doing this. Thank you for your friendship and time!

D: Bye Andrea!

A: Bye Danny!

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