Bringing the Art of Nursing to La Carpio, Costa Rica

As you may know, I had the opportunity and privilege this past spring break to serve the people of La Carpio through International Service Learning, as a part of Shorter University School of Nursing‘s Global & Community Health Practicum. Even having been on several international mission trips before, this experience changed the way I perceive poverty, healthcare, and my role as a nurse.

During the first day of clinics, we went door-to-door, surveying the population and giving appointment cards to those with acute illnesses that needed our care. This served multiple purposes. Primarily, it ensured that the patients that came to our clinics were in need of treatment and could be served by the resources we had on hand. We didn’t have the means to treat every condition, so by seeking out people that we could help the most, we avoided making promises of care that we couldn’t keep. Secondly, it served as a venue to provide therapeutic communication to even those who we could not treat. We spent the same amount of time with families that we could treat as we did with those that were beyond our scope of care.

That is not to say that choosing which patients to give appointments to came without a challenge. At first, that responsibility brought some intense anxiety. We were split into small teams and given complete independence in deciding who to give appointments to. I started to ask myself how I could be sure that I made the right decisions. I had to reconcile with my faith leaving a family’s house without having given an appointment to anyone. It became good practice in faith and trust. First, we had to trust in God’s guidance and sovereignty. Relying on the Holy Spirit took a lot of weight off of our shoulders and helped us realize that all we had to do was be obedient in His direction and trust Him to care for those that we were unable to. It also provided a great opportunity to trust the nursing judgement of ourselves and each other, which we will carry with us into our practice as future nurses.

We soon felt confident in the interviewing process, but the poverty we faced that day was impossible to ignore. Even though we prepared ourselves, what we saw changed us.

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(Photo credit: Travis Lugo, BSN Student)

Poverty plagues La Carpio unlike any city I’ve visited before, domestic or abroad. Two out of three residents ended up being Nicaraguan refugees. Some were there legally, but many didn’t have documentation, and therefor had little to no access to health care. The people who did have access to running water said that it was unreliable and sometimes unclean. Many of the adults had little to no education and therefor limited employment opportunities, if that. Their homes were built with whatever materials they could find, on steep, hilly terrain, and in the flood zone of a nearby river.

Yet, their joy and gratitude for what they had was often written all over their faces. They didn’t need us to feel sorry for them or give them “a better life.” They genuinely loved their life, and just needed our time and our genuine, loving care. Charity is something they could use, for sure, especially with regards to cleaner water, but that wasn’t the role God gave us there. We were there to give them holistic, patient-centered nursing care. We had to set aside our desires to provide them with every little thing we thought they needed, and accept the work God laid out for us. Through Him, we were making a difference despite their living situations remaining the same. The healthcare system only lets local doctors spend up to 10 minutes at a time with patients, and many doctors work without nurses. Taking the time to interview them and spending an hour evaluating them brought them more joy than we can know.

I had to continuously remind myself that I was making an impact on both their physical and spiritual health, despite not being part of my idea of a typical medical mission trip. At first it was a major struggle, because I didn’t get to spend hardly any time at all praying with patients or guiding their spiritual growth. During my service in Mexico, we prayed with every single patient, but in Costa Rica the focus was more on their concerns and well-being. While in Mexico, I saw up to a hundred patients a day, ISL’s program makes appointments with about 50 people, spread across three days and two clinic sites.

It was a contrast, for sure, with what I was secretly expecting, but perhaps not a bad contrast. I think both approaches could maybe learn from the other, but I grew an appreciation for ISL as the week progressed, because of the vast amount of time I was able to spend with each patient. I discovered issues my patients were dealing with that I would not have had time for in a fast-paced, high-volume clinic. Our thorough conversations were able to identify a patient whose history of sexual child abuse accounted for most of the presenting physical symptoms and a patient whose chief complaint turned out to be less serious than an existing condition that he had no idea about.

Even when the patient’s history had little to do with their presenting symptoms, the fact that we were interested in knowing about them brought them joy. They were excited to share their life and health with us. Their spirits were lifted by the amount of time being invested in them. We assured them with smiling faces that they were going to be taken care of today, and that is spiritual care. Even if I didn’t break open a Bible.

A healthcare role unique to the nurse is the opportunity (and responsibility, really) to strengthen a patient’s spirit. False hope does no good for a person, and I would never advocate that, but instilling genuine joy and a healthy hope for their future well-being works miracles. A nurse can make a patient feel like someone really cares about them and is willing to go beyond treating physical symptoms.

Although my father’s cancer diagnosis was absolutely terminal the day he found out (and deep down, we all knew it), his nurses kept his spirit up the whole time. When the doctors told us he wouldn’t make it past the weekend, he made it another month. And another month. Not because the nurses gave him the false hope that he would pull through, but they treated him like a real person. One asked him about his family and watched as his face lit up while he talked about us and showed pictures. Another used appropriate humor to get laughs out him. He not only got the best treatment available, but he was confident in the care he was receiving. The combined efforts of the doctors and nurses at Northside helped him believe he was in good hands. His body was actively destroying itself, but his spirit endured.

Solomon, one of the few men to ever be gifted by God with complete wisdom, said this about the importance of joy and spiritual care:

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
– Proverbs 17:22

We call this the art of nursing, and it can’t be taught by reading a book or listening to a lecture.

I chose Shorter University’s School of Nursing because of the commitment to integrating faith and profession. Our trip to Costa Rica confirmed I made the right decision. Seeing and caring for the people of La Carpio gave us a new compassion for our patients and a greater passion for our field of work.  We practiced nursing care through assessment and administering medication, but also the art of nursing through therapeutic communication and counseling. The local doctors working with ISL showed genuine interest and even eagerness in teaching us about what we encountered, and encouraged us in our own careers. Our translators, many of which were med students, proved to be a tremendous and irreplaceable aid to our work. All-in-all, it was incredible.

If I’m being honest, I went into this trip unsure of the impact I would make, but I have come out unable to ask for a better or more fruitful experience. If I ever came across another chance to work with ISL, I would definitely take it in a heartbeat!

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“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you'” – Luke 10:9

2015

2015 started out like any other year ought to:

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With a selfie (and a photobomb). Kaitlin and I watched the peach as it dropped with some friends, and snapped a photo when the new year came. 2015 began, and proved to be a year of adventure, change, and blessings.

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Two days later, on January 3rd, I visited my dad on his birthday. 2015 would be my first full year without him, and though he’d been gone for nearly a year at the time, I hadn’t really even really begun grieving. I have trouble allowing myself to do that, and though I made it a new years resolution to do so, it never really happened. It’ll remain a goal of mine for 2016.

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Soon afterwards, I marked an item off my bucket list: finally beating “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. That game is quite easily the greatest video game in its genre of all time, perhaps second only to “A Link to the Past.” Anyway, that’s enough geek for one post.

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Our family soon grew by a few hands when I (with the help and generosity of our friends at Cobblestone Crossing School of Horsemanship) was able to give Kaitlin a baby horse for Valentine’s Day. The two had quite an amazing bond, and raising a baby had always been a dream of Kaitlin’s. It’s amazing to see how far they have come in their relationship since then!

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The next day, she had her first lesson with him. We named him Koda Bear.

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Then, we set off for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for our Valentine’s Day retreat! Nothing beats a dinner at the Old Mill and a few days to just relax and have fun together.

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While I was there, I gave someone a fake parking ticket. They deserved it. To see more of my parking ticket victims, search the tag #parkingticketsfromzack on Instagram.

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It also snowed in February, and we made the best snowman in our history of snowman making together. It doesn’t snow often in Rome, GA, but you can tell it wasn’t our first rodeo.

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Meanwhile, as a middle school teacher, I discovered how fun writing tests could be. Also, I learned that middle school kids nowadays don’t know who Keanu Reeves is. They better watch out, though. That guy knows kung-fu.

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In March, I received my acceptance letter from Shorter University’s School of Nursing. I talked a whole lot more about my journey to making nursing my career in a blog post titled “Finding God’s Will. Needless to say, this marked a turning point in my life.

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We found this baby squirrel outside, after a neighborhood cat killed its mother. We nursed it back to help and was able to take it to a friend who rehabilitated it! As far as we know, it was released back into the wild a healthy squirrel.

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On April 21st, we celebrated 7 years of being a couple! It’s amazing when I think about being together that long. That’s over a fourth of our lifetime spent on this God-written love journey. I’m a lucky man.

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Four days later, my brother-in-law married his best friend (who happens to be the sister of one of my fraternity brothers from college. Small world!), and we (Kaitlin and I) got to be apart of the ceremony.

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Immediately afterwards, I broke my wrist in a fall at the church. Which was a big wake-up call for me, honestly. It was my second fracture in two years, and though my first was not due to my own actions, I still had to realize that I’m not invincible. Never having a serious injury as a child or adolescent, I never really had to think about the possibility of my actions leading to serious harm.

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For my birthday, Kaitlin took me geocaching and to a Braves game! She’s the best.

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I saw my little brother walk for his high school graduation. And now he’s in college. Life happens so fast! 1997 doesn’t seem too long ago, and I can vividly remember the day my father told me I was going to have another little brother.

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Kaitlin and I traveled to South Carolina to our friends wedding.

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I began working at Starbucks, solidifying my physiological dependence on caffeine, and introducing me to a phenomenal company and crew. I am lucky to work here.

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Also in June, I baked my last batch of bread for Rome, Ga’s Great Harvest Bread Company. The company was being sold and would no longer be a Great Harvest franchise. I never worked anywhere as long as I had worked at the bakery, and I owe a considerable amount of my growth as an employee and a person to my time there. Nothing compares to making bread from scratch, and I continue to do so in my home from time to time.

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On June 18th, our marriage turned four years old! We weren’t able to be together that day, but it was special nonetheless. Marriage has blessed my life more than anything I have experienced since receiving my salvation in 2008. God has taught me more about myself and about love through the covenant of marriage that I can put to words. I love this girl! I’m grateful I get to grow old and do life with her. Every moment is meaningful.

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Every July 4th, Kaitlin’s family tries to have a beach trip to their new retirement home in Yulee, Florida (about 15 minutes from Amelia Island).

Later in the summer, I took Kaitlin to Charleston for a birthday getaway trip, where we enjoyed restful time at the beach, explored Market Street, went on a sunset kayaking tour, and ate some amazing food. It was a fun-packed time, for sure!

When August hit and nursing school officially started, life began to change. Facial hair disappeared. Exams covered countless chapters of material. But I still enjoyed (and continue to) knowing I was on a path that God designed me for. In the end, I was working hard and studying not for myself, but for Him and for His people that I would soon be serving with a new set of skills.

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Awkward-faced lunch break selfies became the new thing.

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My mother turned 29 again! So I took this picture of her and my brother. He made that face on purpose.

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I received my white coat, which I never actually wear. I do love and appreciate the symbolism of it, though.

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We joined Kingdom Valenia at Going Caching 2015, a geocaching mega event.

We took a trip to see Amicalola Falls while the leaves were changing color. Gorgeous.

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All-nighters with notes spread all over our living room also became the new thing.

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Thanksgiving and Christmas brought family together. Not being able to see them much due to school and work made it extra-special this year.

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2015 ended the way it started: a selfie. We bought a selfie-stick and used it to take a family picture with all our animals for the Christmas card. It was a greater challenge than we expected, but we eventually got it. Sorta.

Send Me to Costa Rica!

Every year, the junior class of Shorter University’s School of Nursing travels internationally, where faculty and nursing students provide nursing care to an under-served population through free clinics.

Next year, during Spring Break, we are traveling to Costa Rica through a program called International Service Learning (ISL). To find out more about the goals and objectives of their nursing teams, click here. To learn more about their initiatives in Costa Rica, click here.

It will be run very similar to the way my team was when I served in Los Mochis, Mexico. It was during that trip that God called me not only to healthcare, but also to missions. I cannot wait to return to the mission field abroad with newly acquired nursing skills.

Each student is responsible for roughly $3,400 to cover airfare, food, transportation, lodging, materials, and tuiton. This adds up to approximately $75,000 for our entire 22 student team. If you are willing and able, please consider supporting my fellow classmates and me financially. What you may consider a small contribution could bring us even closer to our goal and allow us to take advantage of a great opportunity.

To donate via GoFundMe or check out our fundraising progress, visit our page by clicking here, or typing http://www.gofundme.com/SUNursingMissions in your address bar. If you’d prefer to donate using PayPal directly, click here, or click on my donate button in the sidebar to the right. Sponsor me for $15 or more and I’ll send you the t-shirt we designed for our supporters!

If you decide that you are not equipped to support in that way, that’s okay too! We desperately need your prayers as well. Please pray for our team as we prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually. Pray that in all things, we may serve in the name of Jesus Christ, and He will receive all the honor and glory.

Thank you so much!

 

“Heal the sick and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.'” – Jesus Christ (Luke 10:9)

 

Finding God’s Will

I like to journal as a means of communicating to God my prayers, my questions, my praises, and my frustrations. One question that I have asked God over and over is a classic: “What is Your will for My Life?” While reading through my journal, I came across this entry dated February 2nd, 2015:

Maybe I am asking the wrong questions. I ask You what Your will is for my life, but I already know that. Your will is for me to make Your name greatly known to the ends of the Earth and back. The real question I (maybe) should be asking is “what do I desire to do?” Not as a selfish question at all. Just as a way to ask myself what desire you placed in my heart. I can do Your will no matter what I do, but will I be serving with a divinely established passion for the work set before me? LORD, as I try to discern what to do, search my heart and get rid of any selfish motives or ideas. Show me the passion and desire that was given to me by you.

At the time, I had several equally appealing paths before me. I was finishing pre-requisites in my pursuit of a BSN. I was also a GACE certified middle grades teacher at the Montessori School of Rome, where I was pretty much promised a future in teaching if I desired. If I wasn’t torn enough, a friend of mine offered to sell me her business (a very successful business, of which I was very familiar with and could confidently run).

Three roads diverged in a Roman road.

As my journal entry illustrates, I stopped asking God what His will was and started searching within myself. God placed desire and joy in every one of us. The pursuit of joy is not a bad thing! We just have to place our ultimate joy in Him. It didn’t take very long for me to find out which road I was meant to take.

My desire to serve in healthcare started long ago, when I attended a medical mission trip to Mexico. At the time, I was studying as a pre-med major at Shorter College. Upon graduation, I applied for medical school. Two years in a row, I got to the interview stage, but was either rejected or wait-listed both times.

During my second interview cycle, my Dad was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. As I spent the last 8 months of his life in hospital rooms and, eventually, with hospice nurses at my parent’s home, I realized I might have been pursuing the wrong profession. Physicians are amazing, important, and I have the up-most respect for them, but I hardly ever saw one at the bedside in the hospital.

I did, however, spend a lot of time around nurses. It was the nurses that took care of my dad at the bedside, sometimes around-the-clock. It was a nurse that put a smile on his face when he needed one. It was a nurse that he called when he needed help or had a question about his treatment.

It was a nurse that asked him about his family in the recovery room and not only listened to his stories, but asked if she could come to his patient room to meet us. That moment helped him hold on more than she’ll ever know. She probably knew he wasn’t going to make it, but she treated him like a person who mattered. He lit up introducing her to us all, and showing her pictures. He had a good time, and he needed that.

Those experiences showed me the importance of the role the nurse plays, and that if I desired to be at the bedside, nursing was a profession I should consider. But I wasn’t ready to commit just yet. After my father died, I decided to take a year off to figure things out. I got a job teaching middle school students and became certified to teach math and science in Georgia.

Later, in the fall, my wife, inspired by a sermon by our pastor at West Rome*, asked herself (and later me): Why not now? If God might be leading me to a career in nursing, why not pursue it now?

Can I just take a moment to say that I am married to such a Godly woman, and I don’t feel I deserve her? She tends to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit than I am, and I’m grateful God let me have her as my wife and help-meet. It’s moments like these that help me realize what God meant when he said “its not good for man to be alone.”

Being a staff member at Shorter University, she used her free time to look into everything it would take for me to apply to their nursing program. As fate would have it, all the prerequisites I didn’t complete in my first bachelor’s degree were offered the following semester, could be registered in a schedule together, without conflicts, at times that still allowed me to keep my teaching job. If that’s not proof of a living God, I don’t know what is. She helped me register and I was enrolled as a pre-nursing major within a week.

Yet despite all this, I was still asking God a few months later what His will is for my life.

Really?

I think maybe we, as Christians, make that question too complicated. At times, I know I was even obsessed with knowing the answer. I don’t think it’s supposed to be so hard. Perhaps, God has already equipped each and every one of us with the knowledge, desire, and gifting to choose the road designed for us, if we’ll just see it for what it is.

Maybe you’re asking God the same question I did.

So, my question for you is this:

What desires has God placed in your heart? What do you love to do? What are your passions? What have you been through that gives you a venue or opportunity to serve people?

Chances are, the answers to those questions are the key to finding out what God would love for you to be a part of.

I know that certainly was the case for me. With God’s help, I can do just about anything I set my mind to, but it was important for me to ask myself what I like to do. God cares about what I like to do. God made me to like what I like to do.

I’m excited to be where God designed me to be. I love people, and I have a strong desire to serve them at the bedside. And even though nursing is certainly not always a glamorous profession, perhaps God saw me through some tough times so that I could help shine a light on others through theirs, using my story as a testimony of His goodness.

Whatever is ahead, I am ready and equipped.

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* Coincidentally, my Church’s mission statement is “Helping people find and follow God’s plan for their lives.”

See No Beard; Hear No Beard; Speak No Beard (Or, an Ode to My Beard [Or, This Goes Against Everything My Dad Taught Me])

I acquired facial hair at a fairly young age. My first bits of fuzz were bestowed upon me during elementary school. Most people don’t believe me, but it is true. The earliest photo I can find on my computer is from my 5th grade year, but it dates farther back than that:

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I’m the chubby one on the left. The dark spot on my chin is, in fact, hair. It was definitely irregularly shaped and the subject of much teasing in school, but was a part of me none-the-less. Some said it looked kinda like the shape of Florida, and I absolutely agree.

No matter how weird it may have looked (especially compared to all my baby-faced male peers), my dad always encouraged me to keep it. He said I should be proud of it, because it meant I was becoming a man. What a word for a father to call his son, let me tell you! Ten little redneck boys in school could have told me it was funny-looking, but my dad called me a man for it. That’s all that mattered to me! So I never completely shaved it.

It wasn’t until high school that the rest of the beard caught up with my little soul patch, and the era of the beard truly began. No matter where my life took me, my beard followed.

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When I went through some awkward emo phase in high school, my beard was there for me.

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When I graduated high school, so did my goatee.

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When I snapped my first selfie with Kaitlin (before we were even dating (and before selfies were even cool)), my beard was my perfect wing man.

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In the spring of 2010, while serving in Mexico on my first medical mission trip, my beard and I heard the LORD call me to serve in healthcare.

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When I was nervous about meeting with Kaitlin’s parents and pulling off a successful proposal, my beard saw me through it all.

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When some friends and I decided to start a new fraternity on campus, my beard told me to go for it. So I did. Pi Kappa Phi till I die, yo.

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After what seemed like an eternity of studying, all-nighters, and writing papers, I finally became a college graduate. A bearded college graduate.

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Not too long after that, my beard and I walked the aisle with this gorgeous woman.

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My beard traveled with me when Kaitlin and I went on our first international mission trip together, where we made many new friends.

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On my first day of teaching middle school, my beard helped me make an authoritative first impression on the students.

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As is customary in the Middle East, my beard helped me as I mourned the death of my father. I didn’t trim it for nearly half a year (and only because I got tired of wearing beard-nets at the Great Harvest). It got pretty crazy, to say the least.

In all things, my beard has been a constant in my life that I can count on.

Until now.

As a part of my clinical attire at Shorter’s nursing program, I am now required to be clean shaven for the first time in ages. It won’t be easy, but I will make it through. Growing and maintaining a beard is arguably one of the most spiritual and masculine experiences a male can embark on, and I look forward to picking up where I leave off.

So, here’s to you, beard. This is not a “goodbye”. It’s a “grow you later”.

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On the plus side, I got to scratch “monkey tail beard” off my bucket list.