My first efforts at blogging were on My Space in 2007; in 2008 I moved over to Google’s BlogSpot because I liked its features better; and then I started posting on Open Salon almost a year ago. Now I maintain two blog sites.
The impetus for blogging has primarily been to share my perspective and experiences providing palliative and end-of-life care as a nurse practitioner, as well as to convey the effect of doing this work on my own psyche. My initial intention was simply to post whatever I wrote to both blog sites, hoping to increase my readership and engagement in the discussion. Both of my blogs are called Risa’s Pieces, and both bear my full name.
But more and more, I am using my BlogSpot space to blog about palliative care and the OS blog to report on my life’s journey. I have found a community of precious comrades working in and blogging about palliative care who primarily visit me at theBlogSpot site; and too, I have found a community of wonderful blogging friends at OS that are interested and supportive regarding my day-to-day struggle of living. I didn’t used to think there was a need for this compartmentalization—ideally the paths would intertwine, certainly they still intersect. But without a work life in palliative care, it felt as if I had lost my calling and had little to say, other than to share my disquieting journey through unemployment and job seeking. I even changed my bio on the OS blog to say: not sure what this blog is about anymore.
I am writing today to say that I am determined to continue to write about palliative care and at the same time I feel the need to write about my personal journey. So I intend to continue to blog about palliative care—in the broadest possible sense—at BlogSpot and flesh out my personal stuff on OS. It is too defeating to think that without working in the field I suddenly have nothing to say. I want to write about palliative care even if I have to make a metaphor of it in order to stay the course.
I am beginning to think I may not be able to continue to work in the field I so love. Yesterday I told a friend that I might take a part time job with Planned Parenthood because I can’t find a job in hospice or palliative care in Seattle. She asked if staying in Seattle was more important to me than staying in palliative care, since certainly there are opportunities outside of Seattle. I said, “I don’t want to leave palliative care, but I just can’t imagine picking up my life and moving it again right now.” As she knew, I sold my home and left a job, family and friends on the East Coast, to take a job out here, which ended after only 15 months. Besides, I have come to really love this area. She could understand my weariness in that regard, and the conversation went on to other things. But it gave me pause.
Before my third and most recent job rejection, I wrote to one friend: It might be better if I didn’t pursue death so aggressively. But I am hopeful for the hospice gig.
After the let down, I sent this note to another friend: Well I didn’t get the hospice job, and I am applying for a part time gig at Planned Parenthood. Gee, I thought I had a calling to end-of-life care. I guess I wasn’t listening right. I’m supposed to be sticking my hands inside women’s vaginae. What do I know???
Let’s be clear, I have a long history with women’s health and experienced great passion for it during the early years following Roe v Wade, 1973. I had a world of personal experience by the time I was twenty—an illegal abortion at 18, a home birth (well actually a birth in a bare hotel room in Kabul, Afghanistan at 19, but that, as they say, is another story), STDs, patronizing gynecologists. A proud moment for me was, after a doctor refused to remove an IUD that I felt was dangerous to me, I yanked the damn thing out myself. Later, I learned how lesbians were treated within the health care system.
Women’s health was my first health movement experience. In fact, my career path is only understandable if you follow the politics. Growing up in a liberal Jewish home, I engaged in civil rights and anti-war activism in my teens, but it took a women’s movement to create space for women’s contributions to those causes. More than that, it took a women’s health movement to uncover how women’s bodies define our sphere and to begin to unshackle women’s potential from our biology. The women’s health movement incorporated a gay and lesbian health movement, which in turn laid the groundwork for the vibrant spectrum of AIDS activism in the 90s. It was taking care of people with HIV/AIDS that led me to understand palliative care, we had no good treatments, suffering was enormous, young men and women were dying, and health care providers either turned their backs or rolled up our sleeves and tried to figure out how to be of help.
Dealing with death became my own personal struggle. And it was this landscape and history of health movements going back many decades that gave impetus and meaning to the incipient palliative care movement in the US today.
I think I still have things to say about death and dying, about the health care system that complicates and despoils these ordinary, universal experiences. I still have stories to tell, connections to make visible. I should not allow myself to be silenced simply because I don’t have a job in the field. Writing is its own work.
At the same time, there is so much more than death for me to think about, to study, to interact with, and to write about.