THE POWERLESSNESS PODCAST: I’m a Believer

 

“I’m Chaplain Michael Jaques, a chaplain in the Army Reserve and at the Veterans Administration. Today we are continuing our interview series discussing the issue of powerlessness and how people are able to resolve those feelings.

In this post, you’ll meet Mr. Rick Ross, a nurse, R.N. at the Woody Williams VA Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia. He works with the palliative care team, has 30 years’ experience in nursing in various contexts, and is a U.S. Army veteran.”

 

PODCAST AUDIO

 

Chaplain Jaques

Good morning, Mr. Rick.

 

Rick Ross

Good morning, sir. How are you doing today?

 

Chaplain Jaques

Doing pretty well. I wanted to ask you about an experience and example of a time which you experienced feelings of powerlessness and I appreciate you taking time to out of your busy schedule to discuss this with me.

 

Rick Ross

It’s no problem. Powerlessness is a, to me, a frequent emotional upheaval that we have to experience as earthlings, so to speak, and that’s one of those things that I have experienced many of times in different aspects of my life as well. For example, as a new recruit, I remember the first time feeling pretty powerless when they woke us up about three o’clock in the morning, which was unusual, and they got us all downstairs in formation and told us we were going to war.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Oh, my goodness.

 

Rick Ross

So, we, you know, there was a lot of crying and a lot of people, you know, trying to get out of the service and, you know, I’m the only child thing and, you know, some miraculous people popped up, conscientious objectors, and all this other stuff and I’m just thinking to myself, I mean, because I didn’t want to say anything out loud but I just said, “That’s just my luck. I joined the army at the wrong time.” Come to find out, you know, because they told us that we were going to war and it was in a place I’d never heard of. Well, it just so happens that we actually did go there but they didn’t take us. They had used that as kind of a training thing. It was a little island called Grenada and, you know, a lot of people did end up going there, not us because we were still in training, but, you know, they were telling everybody that they were extending our basic training for 13 weeks of combat training and, you know, just all kinds of stuff and we had to take classes all day long on Russian weapons and uniforms and vehicle identification and all these other stuff before they told us that we weren’t actually going.

So, you know, it was kind of enlightening. I mean, that was a feeling of powerlessness and, you know, and, as far as dealing with it, I mean, I just did what I normally do, which is internalize it, and it worked out that time. I have learned that any time that I feel this powerless thing come on, whether it is something in real life, as far as regular life goes or in my nursing career, if I let it overwhelm me, I can’t think my way out of it, so to speak. I freeze up, you know? I guess that, you know, boils down to the fight or flight and I choose to fight most of the time and the only way I can fight is to think clearly and try to slow things down, you know, in my brain and try to work up a feasible plan out.

Now, there’s been other times that I felt powerless, like in nursing when I first finished LPN school and I went to my first duty assignment. We talked about kids and, you know, we did pediatrics a very little bit but when I got to my first duty station, it was in the Madigan Army Medical Center and we had a kid in there who had a tracheostomy and she was tiny. She was probably maybe eight, six to eight months old, you know, on and off the ventilator and stuff like that and I had never taken care of sick kids before. She coded one day and, oh, wow, I didn’t know what to do. You know, it’s like, thank goodness I was still in training, you know? So, the girl that was training me, you know, did most everything. I just stepped back and let her do. But, from that point on, you know, I’ll tell you what, homeboy really researched some pediatrics and I, eventually, after I got out of the service, I went into pediatric intensive care unit. So, I never wanted to be put in that position again. You know what I mean? So, I gained experience that way, you know, because I’ve always done adult intensive care up to that point and, so, it kind of pushed me to expand my horizons. So, that’s kind of the way that I’ve always dealt with the powerless situation.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Yeah. Well, I can only imagine being in a pediatric center and dealing with the kids and the parents. A lot of times you have the idea there’s, you know, you wish you had a magic wand and could make everything okay. You know? The parents are at the bedside and they’re not able to do anything and you just want to make everything okay. When I was doing the research as a pastor, as a chaplain, a lot of the articles that I found were nurses and how they dealt with powerlessness and the idea of the divine was the common thread in those articles. Did you have any experience in how God fits into all of this?

 

Rick Ross

Well, at the time, believe it or not, during all that period, I respected people’s wishes when it came to that kind of stuff but I didn’t believe myself. I was agnostic and atheist at that point in my life. Partially, you know, it was due to some of those heinous things that I saw with kids, you know, from shaken baby to outright physical and sexual abuse, you know. But I kind of owe it to my second ex-wife, you know, she was a believer and I was not and she was able to explain to me, you know, different aspects of her belief system and that, you know, here I was kind of blaming God for not stepping up for these children when God was. It’s just that, unfortunately, man has this ability to make choices on his own and has his free will to do these heinous acts and, for the time being, God’s gonna, you know, letting us pretty much do we want to do as human beings.

So, later on, I started, you know, going to church and believing and, unfortunately, I had gone away from the pediatrics, but, you know, I have, you know, with being in palliative care now, if somebody asked me to pray, I pray with them. You know? I don’t hesitate, you know, to involve spirituality because, after all, there’s a couple of books that I read regularly that tell me that there is only one who has all power and that one is God. So, that means I have none unless I pray to him and he gives me power.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Ah. There is a recognition that he may give you some power, some ability, but ultimately it’s him and you see these suffering’s, these bad things, and you wonder, “God, why aren’t you doing anything” and you want to step in and put yourself in the place of God and do something.

 

Rick Ross

Mm hmm. And I couldn’t. I mean, you know, we can do little things. I mean, we can give people medicines. We can hold their hand. We can pray with them. We can ease their comfort those ways. But, ultimately, if your number’s up, your number’s up. I mean, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting seen here at the Woody Williams VA Medical Center or you’re getting seen at the Cleveland Clinic. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. I mean, if you’re going to survive, it is God’s will for you to survive. You will survive. But if it’s your day to go home, ain’t nobody on this earth can keep you here no matter how hard they try.

 

Chaplain Jaques

There’s about 100% chance, either way. If God wants you to stay, 100% chance. If he wants you to go home, 100% chance.

 

Rick Ross

Yeah.

 

Chaplain Jaques

And you work in the palliative care now where, ultimately, everybody that you see is on a journey towards …

 

Rick Ross

Ending their journey. Yeah. They’re coming to a close.

 

Chaplain Jaques

They’re coming to a close in their journey.

 

Rick Ross

I’m okay with that. I mean, I don’t know, to me, it shows growth. I’ve made some growth over the years, you know, from this person who would tell the patient that “you’re not going to die on my shift” and I did everything in my capabilities to keep them alive during my shift to it’s okay to let go.

 

Chaplain Jaques

How did you get there?

 

Rick Ross

Only through God.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Accepting your finiteness, you know, and you say holding the patient’s hand, praying with the patient, being with the patient … Do you see those as valuable?

 

Rick Ross

Indispensable.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Indispensable?

 

Rick Ross

Yeah. Because we’re human, we don’t want to be alone. We don’t want to suffer. We don’t want to be in pain and just doing those things give you an emotional lift to ease those things.

 

Chaplain Jaques

God has put you in that place, giving you those things that you can do along with him and journeying with the patient, the veteran, God’s son, daughter, child. Whoa. Amazing. And you’re almost at the end of your career, you’ve got a couple more years.

 

Rick Ross

About 10 years, yeah.

 

Chaplain Jaques

About ten years?

 

Rick Ross

Yeah. I started young. I started at 18.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Whoa, and you’re not ever going to end or stop. You’re going to keep on going.

 

Rick Ross

Unless he has another plan. I’m open to any suggestions. You know, there’s no, you know. Yeah, I get up every morning and pray on my knees and I ask God to direct my thinking, my words, and my actions. You know, I know I try to take over throughout the day and I try to realize when I do and say another prayer for his will be done, not mine. That’s the only way to cope.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Yeah. How grateful for your second ex-wife who got you to that, who had a part in getting you to …

 

Rick Ross

I owe her a lot. I mean, she’s moved on and, of course, I’ve moved on, but I owe her a lot of gratitude and I tell everybody, you know, I do. I mean, you know, I give her that credit because she’s the one who opened my eyes. Otherwise, God knows what I would be doing now. Probably not nursing, though. I’d probably be in jail or something.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Whoa. So, she really, you know, everybody has power. Everybody has a limit to their power. I’ve got two thoughts. If you don’t recognize the limits to your power then you are destroyed by your power. If you try to take on the role of God, you just destroy yourself and that’s what would have happened.

 

Rick Ross

I nearly did.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Nearly did.

 

Rick Ross

Without question. Nearly did.

 

Chaplain Jaques

And then you were able to recognize your finiteness and, something else interesting that you said, after being in the pediatric at the Army hospital you were overwhelmed and you got out and you said, “I’m going to get my skill set so high that I’ll never be in that position again.” But no matter your skill set, there’s still going to be places where you’re powerless.

 

Rick Ross

Yes. And I experienced that, many times, because I was a transport nurse, too. So, I would have to go to these smaller hospitals, try to stabilize the child, and then take them to either back to our hospital where, you know, we could work on them but, initially, we only had eight beds, but they expanded to ten beds. No. Initially we had six beds, that’s right, and we expanded four more beds to ten beds. So, a lot of time before we expanded, we would be full here in Huntington and we would have to take that child to Charleston or, if we were lucky, sometimes it was Lexington, sometimes Cincinnati, Columbus, Morgantown. I even flew a kid one time to Jacksonville, Florida from here. Ashland let us use and convert one of their planes and …

 

Chaplain Jaques

That was a haul to go all the way down there.

 

Rick Ross

Yeah. The kid needed open heart surgery.

 

Chaplain Jaques

And those were the times that you saw that …

 

Rick Ross

Even with all the knowledge that I had worked so hard to get, it still wasn’t enough.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Still wasn’t enough.

 

Rick Ross

And I saw some true miracles, too. I mean, one was a girl I’ll never forget. She was probably, she was 10 or 11, and she had she developed cancer and the cancer had gotten so bad that even in her pleural fluid where she needed it around her chest or lungs, cancer was there and, basically, they told them, the parents, that there’s nothing else we can do. But they kept on fighting and they did some serious praying and that girl walked out of the hospital.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Whoa. When there was no chance?

 

Rick Ross

Yeah. So, I mean, you know, thank goodness I had transitioned by that point and, you know, I was a believer at that time and I just to see that miracle. I mean, where, in the past, I would just call it a fluke.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Mm hmm. But you can see if God wants it, there’s a 100% chance that he’s gonna …

 

Rick Ross

Exactly. She’s healthy, has already graduated college. I mean, that was the benefit of working in pediatrics. I got to see a lot of kids grow up and they would actually come and visit me and seek me out to talk to me and tell me how they were doing.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Because of what you did?

 

Rick Ross

Because I took care of them in their sickest point.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Oh, my goodness.

 

Rick Ross

Yeah, it was very rewarding in that aspect.

 

Chaplain Jaques

Yeah. How special. Yeah. Oh, my goodness. Well, I thank you so much for taking time. I see on your computer you have about five or seven screens open, so I’ll stop here and thank you again. No problem. And I really appreciate it any time.

OK, thanks.

Bye.

 

 

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