Friday, January 6, 2017

New Year

There are certain things in my nursing career which frighten me more than others. Unfortunately, one of them definitely happened today. I was helping a patient stand up from her bed and walk to the bathroom even though she was worried she had developed stress incontinence after surgery. As her arms pushed off the bed and she reached for the walker, she suddenly exclaimed, "I am so sorry! I can't hold it anymore." My mind went into hyper-focus mode as I looked down at my leg standing just inches from, well, utter disaster. I've heard a lot of people talk about this past year as a disaster. So many losses, deaths, changes; a terrible year for the records. But then I have to stop and think about the year: all the changes, the setbacks, the achievements, where I was a year ago, how I've changed. And then I think about how it ended. I'm alive. I have wonderful friends. Supportive family. A career I absolutely love. Air to breathe. Water to drink. The list goes on. And I must admit, most of you could have a very similar list if you stopped to think about it. The heartaches have made us stronger. The pain has made us more sensitive, caring, and understanding. The times we felt so alone were the times we felt God closest. The only way to make 2017 the most amazing year yet is to stop focusing on things we can't change - stuff that doesn't matter, events out of our control - and decide right now to make this year count. Begin again. Let the past be the past and forge onward with new resolve. Experience new things, meet new people, change lives. Resolutions come and go so keep this year's simple: make it count. The year. Everything. The losses. The gains. The sunsets. Suddenly that big scary thing called a new year will simply turn into a paper giant, a mere joke intended to scare us into thinking it'll be terrible. Oh and my patient? At the look of utter terror on my face she explained, "Sorry, I like to joke around a lot." Then she laughed. And I didn't. But I realized that not everything is as scary as it seems. So happy New Year y'all!!! It's already turning out to be the best year ever.

Monday, September 26, 2016


In the beginning God created - you. You were without form and void of anything worth noting; and darkness enveloped you. Yet the Spirit of God was hovering over you. And then God said, "Let there be a fearfully and wonderfully created human being, formed in Our image." And it was so. And God looked at you, this work of art, His perfect masterpiece, and saw that everything He had made was good. You were made a priceless jewel.

Think that's impossible? Try reading Genesis 1 and tell me which is the greater miracle.

But maybe you think you've ruined the priceless jewel God has created. This past week I was pondering a word which has meant a great deal to me ever since I first learned about it: kintsukuroi. It is the art of taking broken pottery, melding it back together with gold lacquer, and creating a masterpiece even more valuable than the original. Because honestly, all of us desire to be wonderful and perfect. Dashing young knights and flawless princesses. A perfect world. A perfect life. No blemishes or mistakes to mar our happiness. Yet we never can seem to figure out how to attain such holiness. It's as if God has shown us a window through which we can view the glory to which He has called us and yet we put a backing on the glass and focus on the imperfections we see in the mirror. We try makeup. We try TV. We try porn. We try eating - or not eating. We divert our focus to things around us; earthly, vanishing, temporal ways to make ourselves beautiful and give us a sense of fulfillment. We travel, looking for purpose. In fact, we'll grab at any dying thing that promises to make us valuable.

But that's the beauty of kintsukuroi. It doesn't matter how broken you are. It doesn't matter how many glues or tapes or cords you've tried to fix yourself with. The more broken you are, the more beautiful you will become. If all else fails, the Potter will break you down to nothing so He can build you into everything He wants you to be. Think you've messed your entire life up by the choices you've made? Don't worry, you're not that powerful. You're simply the clay. The clay that God has destined as a centerpiece in His grand design.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


I JUST FLEW IN A PRIVATE LEARJET!!! I know, I couldn’t believe it either. It was the most incredible experience of my life. I’d never flown in one before so when I found out that one of my friends had an uncle who flew for Hess Jet, I asked if I could fly with him sometime. Well, it turns out he was making a trip to the Cayman Islands a couple of days ago and invited me along.  It was an Eclipse 500 (so technically not a Learjet, but close enough) with a cruise well over 300 miles per hour. We took off from the Chattanooga airport as the sun was just rising over the surrounding hills. I leaned back in the plush leather seat, propping my feet up as I watched the city lights fade beneath me in the morning sun. I was going to try and stay awake for the entire experience, but somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico my eyes drifted closed as the comfort of that luxurious jet enveloped me. I was awakened a couple hours later as we neared the private island where we were to pick up our passengers. The island was large yet I couldn’t see any runway. I asked Mr. Calyer, the pilot, where we were going to land and he started laughing. “Just you wait and see!”  He called in his approach on the radio and suddenly, one of the cliffs that were facing us began to open up, revealing a runway hidden inside. “Wow!” I thought. “I thought this was only in the movies.” I returned to my seat and prayed the pilot had as good an aim as William Tell. I looked out the window at the glistening ocean beneath. Beautiful music began emanating throughout the cabin as I leaned back in the seat. The music grew louder. I felt more and more drowsy. Suddenly, I was dreaming that I was back in my bed at home, with the alarm playing on my nightstand. “This is odd,” I thought. “Why would I go to sleep right before the most exciting landing in my aviation history?” I lay in bed contemplating on this most perplexing thought and hoping I’d wake up soon. I pinched myself. It hurt. I looked at my clock again and the word “work” seemed to be floating loosely around in my brain. Everything was so realistic; my fan, the room, the stuffed animals. “I’ve spent way too much time in that room I guess…” I desperately tried to wake up. Suddenly, I began to doubt whether I was dreaming or not. Reality seemed to be a loose concept as I struggled to understand what was happening. Oh dear. Perhaps the jet never happened. It was all just a dream…

I quickly got ready for work and then drove to the hospital. My dream had been so realistic that during the whole drive to the hospital, I kept remembering exact details from my flight. It literally felt like I had been on that jet. After getting report on my patients, I walked in to the first room. “Good evening, my name’s Seth and I’m going to be your nurse tonight! How ya doing?” I grinned good-naturedly as I walked over to the pt’s bedside. “I’m good! Did you know everything you learned in school is a lie?” Everything? Well now. I’m still paying off student loans so that bit of news was definitely not what I wanted to hear right now! First the jet was a lie, now all my schooling too? Am I dreaming again? I pinched myself just to be sure, causing nothing more than a second bruise to form. “I was not aware of that but I sure am appreciative of you for pointing it out to me.” Sometimes I become sarcastic no matter how hard I try not to be. “It’s true. What was the first thing you saw when you started Kindergarten?” “Well let me think for a minute. The couch. … My pajamas! … My mom?” “Oh you were homeschooled.” “Now that you mention it, that sure does sound familiar,” I laughed as I pulled out my stethoscope. “But you still had a globe,” she continued, “Did you know Satan invented that? The earth is flat.” I stopped right where I was. I’d heard these people existed, but I never thought I’d get to meet one in person. In my hospital even! Under my care no less!! “No way, is it really??” I gasped. “How do we keep from falling off?” “There’s an ice wall around the entire planet,” she seemed so confident I had to admire her spirit. “And what about the planes that have flown around the world?” “They were flying in a big circle.” “And Antarctica?” “It’s just the part of the ice wall the Masons want to tell us about.” “Hold on, the Masons are keeping this secret from us? That’s infuriating!!” “Yep, they’re in cahoots with the devil. They’re the ones that funded NASA.” “Right, because we never went to the moon.” “Exactly! It was all a film production. You can even see a Coke bottle sitting on the moon in the unedited video clip of Neil Armstrong.” “And Gus Grissom?” “He and the others were about to expose the whole program so NASA eliminated them. Every single astronaut that died did so because they were going to expose the lie. They were all 33 degree masons you know.” I was getting really excited by now.  Sometimes I have dull patients who talk about nothing more than Pokemon Go, other times I have combative patients, or angry patients, or sad patients, but never before in my life did I have a patient who had so much life-changing information to share!  I was riveted. “Do you believe in God?” she continued. “Yes ma’am I do!” “Well in the Bible, it says He uses the earth as His footstool. Can you imagine God standing on a beach ball?” We both laughed heartily; for different reasons I’m guessing. “And remember where God says the angels are holding back strife from the four corners of the earth? Where do you find corners on a globe?” There are times when I enter into a lively conversation and throw a different perspective into the train of thought, but clearly today was not one of those days. Today was a listening day. One assessment and 67 undiscovered truths later, I was ready to leave the room. “I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to you, young man!” she stated emphatically as I walked out the door. “I’ve enjoyed it too!” I wasn’t lying.

“Can you help me with one of my patients?” One of the other nurses met me in the hall. “Apparently she likes guys and she won’t do anything for me. I can’t get her to answer questions or take meds.” I walked in to the room. Immediately the patient perked up. “Well hello there young man! You look good tonight.” “Mmmmm, yes ma’am I do, thanks for noticing! But tonight’s not about me, it’s about you. Let’s get you some meds here.” “Oh of course.” I sighed. Tonight was just getting weirder. Was I still dreaming, perhaps? The nurse out in the hall caught my eye and began something which resembled a cackling seizure episode.

I walked in to another patient room to continue my rounds. A relative was sitting on the seat next to the bed. “Good evening!!” I said. “Well you look chipper tonight,” she said, not taking her eyes off the cellphone in her hands. “Well you look glum tonight,” I thought. But for all the times I say things and realize I shouldn’t have afterwards, I can thank the good Lord that He does have a check on my mouth every now and again. I told them all the reasons why I was chipper and why I was excited to be caring for them that evening. “You a believer?” Same tone. Same nonchalance. “Yes ma’am, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist.” “No way!” Her face immediately lit up and she looked up from her phone. “Have you heard of David Asscherick?” And so began a long story of how her and her husband had been invited to an Adventist church in their hometown when David Asscherick was speaking there.  He remembered them by name each evening when he saw them, which made a huge impact on them. When her husband unexpectedly died a few short days later, the church rallied to support her with welcoming arms. “I’m not Adventist yet, but I go to the church and believe everything they teach so far,” she finished. “I figured you were an Adventist. I could tell when you walked in the door. I’m sure a lot of people tell you how vibrant you are.” Whenever I was in the room, we spent the rest of the night talking about our faith and I shared my personal testimony with them.

Every night is different. I’m always meeting new people. Some make a huge impact on me while others I forget about a few weeks after they leave the floor. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming, other times I wish I was dreaming. I’ve gotten to pray with patients, talk with patients, laugh with them and cry with them. Yes there are the bedpans I’ve got to empty, the blood I must clean up after the AMS patients pull their IVs out, the vomit, the sickness, the drudgery of meds and diets and lab sticks. But at the end of the day, or night, I realize once again why God called me to nursing. I schedule 5 minutes during my first rounds - stethoscope down, computer off, my full attention on the patient - to have a heart-to-heart with them. Personally, I think it’s even more important than the meds I’m administering or the assessment I’m doing because we all want to be heard, understood, and cared for. I thank God that I was given the opportunity to do exactly that. This reality is far better than any dream I could hope for.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pursuing My Dream

Seth Sutherland, RN.  It seems almost surreal to add those last two letters to my name; those letters which have seemed to elude me for so long.

My journey started years ago when I decided to become a nurse.  I’ve always dreamed of doing mission aviation and I realized that medical experience is an essential skill to have in that sort of environment.  Becoming a doctor seemed like too much school for me, so I settled for becoming a nurse.  With that objective in mind, I enrolled at Southern Adventist University and became one of the many excited students ready to change the world right away.  But little did I know how many lessons God had in store for me over the next four and a half years, one of the most difficult being trust.

I guess I shouldn’t say I settled on nursing.  Actually, after I started driving ambulances at the age of 17 and hanging around medical people more, I realized just how much nursing fit me.  If you look at every profession there is in the medical field, none of them spend as much time with the patients as nurses do.  For me, that was the final straw in my decision to become a nurse; I love people and wanted to spend my life serving others.  Growing up, we hardly ever went to the doctors.  I can count on one hand the times I visited those horrid places called hospitals, and two of those visits simply were putting on and taking off a cast after I broke my wrist.  However, I was determined to not let my lack of real life experience hinder my learning.  The first semester was a breeze.  Being homeschooled definitely gave me an edge on the classes, especially in Comp 1 and 2.  I was accepted into the nursing program the very next semester and that’s when reality hit.

For me, learning how to be a nurse was like a child learning how to adult, an Englishman learning how to speak Khoisan, or a fish learning how to walk on land.  Even basic medical terminology was completely new to me.  Although the first half of that semester went well, the second half saw a dramatic decrease in my grades as I learned about something called pharmacology.  Again, I’m rather thankful I got water instead of Ibuprofen no matter how bad a headache I had, but the lack of medications in my life led to an atrocious knowledge deficit on such subjects.  Consequently, I became intimately aware of Southern’s passing grade of 78%.  Because I got a 76.7% test average that semester…

Christmas rolled slowly around and I felt like a total failure.  I’d never failed anything in my life (well, there was the time I hooked a stunt kite up to a sled and crashed into a tree, but I’m talking about major stuff here) and wasn’t sure how to deal with it.  My friends and family kept encouraging me that it was only a minor setback and I was still going to do well.  Consequently, that next semester found me sitting with the nursing class that used to be behind me.  I met a lot of cool new people and began to think things weren’t going to be that bad after all.  Near the end of level two though, I again began struggling with the tests and at one point nearly gave up.  I knew if I didn’t make the passing grade, I’d be kicked out of the program so I was going to just switch majors and take the easy way out.  Until I was in skills lab one day and the professor told a story and read Jeremiah 29:11 to the class.  To this day I can’t recall the story but I remember precisely how I got this overwhelming feeling that God was speaking directly through her.  The dream God had given me to become a nurse was as relevant then as it was when I first felt called to the medical field.  So I stuck that semester out, and the next as well.

But when my final grades came in after level 3, my test average was only 77%.  Due to the school’s policy, I was out of the program and would have to restart.  Failing only one semester away from graduation was heartbreaking.  Again, I questioned everything.  I didn’t know whether God was still calling me to be a nurse or not.  There was nothing more embarrassing then telling people I had failed a nursing class, again, and had to restart the program.  I went to the learning support center at our school and after working with me for a bit, the lady there told me I had ADD.  Although she couldn’t officially diagnose me, her entire job is working with students who have learning disabilities and she’s worked with many who are ADD and ADHD.  Suddenly things began to make sense.  The reason I can be so creative and sporadic, the reason I could feel completely at home in the clinical environment yet keep failing tests, became clear to me.  The nursing program is set up with computerized testing for every test, and about 15 minutes in to the tests, my brain would check out.  Unfortunately, most tests lasted anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.

Did I feel like I had a disability?  Not at all.  I just realized that computer tests and I did not get along.  But knowing why I was failing the tests didn’t ease the pain as I faced reality the next fall and began the long ordeal all over again.  If I were to document my spiritual journey during this entire process, space and time would fail me.  There were times I felt like a failure and didn’t feel like pursuing the dream anymore.  I told God that if He truly called me to nursing, He should have gotten me through sooner.  It was hard to see my friends move on and then graduate while I went back to “learning” how to program an IV pump.

But that summer was a huge life changer for me.  I was facing one of the most difficult setbacks in my life and felt unsure whether God had truly called me or whether I was just doing nursing because it was a stable career and a seemingly good choice.  I considered other options.  I thought about dropping out and joining the Coast Guard.  I thought about dropping out and doing a lot of things, actually.  I was at an all time spiritual low.  And that’s when God opened my eyes to 1 Kings 19 in a whole new light.  As I read the story of Elijah, I realized that I fall into the temptation of wanting only the big things from God.  I wanted to see the fire, the wind, the earthquake.  I wanted to get my nursing degree.  I wanted to blaze through college, finishing fast and strong.  But God reminded me that sometimes His ways are made known by His still, small voice alone.  When I felt like a failure, when my hopes were crushed, when the future seemed bleak and forlorn, God was still calling me to listen to His voice.  And so I listened.  And as I began to open my heart to hear His voice once again, I could hear Him calling.  My calling.  A reminder that He still wanted me to be a nurse.  He still wanted me to follow my dreams.  Slowly I began to trust His calling.  I realized I had been trying to conquer school on my own and not letting God have complete control of my life.  Later that summer, I felt strongly impressed to rededicate myself to God through baptism and consecrate my life to following the dreams God had given me, no matter what.  And I’ve never looked back since.

The next year went by swiftly as I started back through the nursing program.  But this time, my attitude was different.  Instead of viewing this as a setback, I viewed it as an opportunity to meet new people and teach fellow students what I’d already learned.  I loved every minute of it (except for when I had to take the tests of course) and met people who changed my life in so many positive ways.  Around this time I got an official diagnosis of ADD after passing (or failing?) the Quotient test used in diagnosis.  At least I now had an real excuse whenever people teased me for my random jokes or off topic thoughts.  I had one final blow however when I failed to make the passing benchmark to graduate last Fall.  Again, the feelings of failure were almost too overwhelming as I struggled with whether I was even capable of being a nurse.  But although I struggled with computer tests, I kept excelling in the real life clinical aspect.  And once again, I chose to claim God at His word.  I began to realize that God’s callings are His enablings.  He worked a miracle on my behalf and I was able to repeat the last semester and successfully graduate on May the 8th, 2016!  But graduation wasn’t as meaningful to me as the nurse pinning on May 7th.  For it was on that day that the dream God had given me, so many years before, got pinned on my life forever.  I wore my grandmother’s nursing pin as my friend and professor Dana Krause added my own SAU pin to the family’s nursing heritage.  I recited the nursing pledge with my fellow nursing graduates as we dedicated our lives to serving others.

After graduating from Southern’s nursing program, the last hurdle to face was the NCLEX.  I took the test on July 5 and passed it with no problems.  And that was the day that God reminded me once again to trust Him.  Though it takes years, trust Him.  Though my doubts are more numerous than the drops in the ocean, trust Him.  Though friends come and go, though sleep becomes a thing of the past, though everything seems bent on killing my dreams, trust Him.  My dreams don’t end with nursing.  Far from it!  My dream of flying airplanes is still a reality.  My dream of being a mission pilot in a third world country is just as real as ever.  My dream of changing the world, sharing my story, challenging perspectives, will never be abandoned.  And no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the challenges, I serve a God who created my dreams, who created me, and who created the universe.  My God can’t be stopped.

And He WILL fulfill your dreams as well!  So dream on. Proverbs 29:18
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