Speaking to Seattle’s Future Nurses? Yup. 100%.

Last May, about a month before our lives would change drastically due to a mostly forgotten essay that went viral (before I even had a blog site), I wrote the following and posted it on FaceBook. It is almost six months later, and we are in Eastern Washington, preparing to speak again for another group of nursing students.
bursting with excitement at the prospect of getting to spend the morning tomorrow with a large classroom full of individuals who want to learn how to not only care for the body of a patient, but for their mind, heart and soul…especially when those patients may be homeless, struggling with addiction or unable to speak English. Perhaps their religious faith or sexual orientation are very different from what is deemed “normal” in the hospital’s local community; do they not still deserve the same excellent care that is boasted about in all the hospital’s advertising materials? So, if you’d like to know what Rob and I are up to, feel free to read on. Thanks for taking the time!

I have to be up in four hours, in order to get to Seattle University on time for a 7:30 am class. Rob and I have been invited to speak, this week and next, to two groups of first year nursing students, on the topic of respect and dignity for every patient.

Part of our intro goes something like this…

You have chosen a career that has incredible meaning and huge potential to impact the lives of not just your patients, but the families of your patients, as well.

We tell them, through our story, how that impact can be for harm or for healing, depending on how they wield it. We share a bit about the painful scorn, glaring neglect and blatant discrimination Ryan experienced at two different hospitals where we were with Ryan in the ICU. But our focus is on the GOOD stuff – the endless acts and words of kindness, respect and genuine compassion that we received from the medical team at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle during our 17 day stay there.

Each time we prepare to speak to a group of nursing students, I have trouble sleeping the night before. Typically something goes wrong to cause us to be unable to get into bed, or, like last time and again tonight, I received a “random” extremely disturbing phone call or message from one of Ryan’s old friends – friends that are still, tragically, using drugs. For those of my friends who believe in God – and Satan – it seems obvious where these come from. But for those of my friends who don’t believe in a personal God, much less the devil, I’m okay with you saying it is just bad luck. Even bad karma. I respect your beliefs; I have amazing friends, and I am grateful that you respect mine! But whatever the case, for the 24 hours before we go do this presentation, it always seems like all hell breaks loose in an effort to keep us from speaking.

Perhaps that is because our story illustrates exactly what Jesus taught when He told us to love the least of these…when He modeled treating those society despised with the utmost respect…when He broke commandments by healing those who were suffering on the Sabbath. As one of our doctors at Harborview said, “Didn’t Jesus hang out with prostitutes and sinners??” Yup. 100%. And who did He spend the most time calling out?? You got it. The “good people” of the day…those super religious folks that were always – ARE always – harping about who is doing what wrong. And sadly it typically doesn’t involve much self-reflection.
Rob and Ryan - Day 4 at Harborview

Perhaps it is because our story challenges our listeners to put aside their fears, judgments, prejudices and biases to see the SOUL of their patients. We encourage them to do what our team of nurses did – they looked beyond the outward condition to Ryan’s story. They didn’t judge him by his addiction, the number of times he had already overdosed, the horrific condition he was in, his sexual orientation or the fact that he no longer owned anything of value other than a few items of clothing, a lot of well-read books and memorabilia from childhood. The Bible has a LOT to say about our human tendency to judge others by their outward appearance, and God’s constancy in looking only at our hearts. And He sees – and loves – EVERYONE. No exceptions. Not even those religious folks He was so often calling out.

Or maybe it is because we can’t tell the story of our 17 days in Harborview without recounting at least a few of the many wonders we witnessed there. Our story wouldn’t make sense without telling about the day Ryan was being transferred to the hospice to die and then…he wasn’t. The next six days, and the way that the hospital lovingly cared for Ryan, and for our family, while we experienced things nobody could explain was…well, as one of Ryan’s doctors said, “Even the most staunch atheists around here are using the word MIRACLE.”

As many times as we’ve presented this story…as many times as we’ve read it through and vividly remembered each moment as it is retold, Rob and I never stop marveling. It always brings us to tears, and leaves us in awe of our good God who proved His love for Ryan by giving us all unexpected time to spend together, and an invaluable chance to say good-bye.

If you’ve never heard the story, you ought to come sometime and sit in the back, behind all those super smart nursing students, and listen. I am, and have always been, prone to doubt. But when we tell our story, even my doubts go out the window (and that is really saying something, especially these days!).

I am reminded of how personal, powerful and passionate God was toward us in those 17 days.

Or if you know a group of nursing students or people in other caring professions who could use a real-life example of how they can change the lives of a family forever (even if their loved one doesn’t survive), by the dignity, respect, compassion and kindness they show in their words and their actions, let us know. For us, getting to share both about the painful things we went through, and the gloriously precious days provided for us by Harborview (with a bit of help from God) is all about healing and redemption. It binds our wounds, and makes our grief a little easier to bear, knowing that maybe even a few other families will receive the kind of extraordinary treatment we did when they experience the worst trauma of their lives.

At the very least, you’ll learn why, in our opinion, there is NO WHERE else to go but Harborview if you have a serious medical emergency in the Pacific Northwest. But no, we don’t get referral bonuses, nor do they even know we tell all sorts of people about how amazing they are!

But most of all, we tell Ryan’s story because Ryan matters to us. Because we will never stop honoring him and all that he taught us in both life and in death, as long as we have the voices to do so. Because we adore our beautiful boy…just because he breathes…and even when he does not.

Yup. 100%.*

*To know the enormous significance of those two words…you’ll have to listen to our story. We’ll be sharing it on January 10th at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Chicago – Join us there!

19 thoughts on “Speaking to Seattle’s Future Nurses? Yup. 100%.

  1. Colleen A. Kane

    Will be praying for a blessed day !!!! You both amaze me, can’t wait to meet in January ……….

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Reply
  2. Cheri Simpson

    Praying for peace and rest through the night. I know that you and Rob will be a blessing to each of these nursing students. Thank you so much for allowing God to use you to minister to so many hurting families through the tremendous loss that you have endured.

    Reply
  3. Rhonda

    I’ve been a nurse for 20 years. I’ve worked in different settings – a pediatric convalescent center where children who were born with severe abnormalities and children who were in accidents yet were medically stable, go to live until they die or turn 21. I’ve worked in patient’s homes 1-1 for 18 years. All different types of scenarios. But I have never judged a patient for how they became a patient or who they were attracted to or slept with. Never. I’ve only met a few who did judge. They became nurses for the wrong reason. And I encouraged families to bar them from their family member’s room. I have refused unfit nurses to care for my father in the hospital. It’s my right and his. And yours. You do not have to accept someone’s inappropriate behavior. Medicine – whether liquid, pill or emotion, knows no prejudice

    Reply
  4. Debra

    I hope your story improves the lives of other LGBT families as well as non family members- stop prejudice and judgement and love unconditionally…

    Your son life is not in vain- He speaks as you for the community

    Reply
  5. robjosephrobertson

    I love you so much Linda! I love it when you write. You continue to capture so much of our journey in ways that are beautiful and it soothes my fear that I might forget things that have passed so quickly.
    I am madly in love with you and am so grateful to be on this journey with you!
    Your man forever,
    Rob

    Reply
    1. dogtorbill

      Hi Rob and Linda,
      I so enjoy reading your words, speaking with you, basking in your love.
      I’d love to buy you a beer @ GCN.
      Much Love,
      Bill
      dogtorbill.wordpress.com

      Reply
  6. Ron Meyer

    Linda, I was so happy to see your post ‘pop up’ in my E-mail. I was wondering what you two were up to these days,,, but I should have known it would be something that would answer such a great need. As a gay man, I face the prospect that the doctor, nurse, or other health care provider may not treat me as well as others due to my sexual orientation. This is something that we, gay people, have to be vigilant of at all times, in medical situations, social situations, professional situations, and the list goes on.
    The list of groups of people who you could educate are endless. I am very happy to hear that you have chosen the medical profession, however, I hope that you are also concentrating on the ‘religious’ organizations who, quite frankly, despise gay people.
    I am of the belief that churches who preach hate and condemnation towards gay people are the ROOT of the problem. The ‘Christian right” educates and influences the opinions of so many,,, and some of them grow up to be doctors and nurses!
    Thank you so much for all that you do. Your son is certainly in a better place then any of us. The story of his life and his struggle will surely make a difference. You, his parents are his voice now, and you are touching lives with his story every day.
    God bless you both.
    Ron

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Ron, I couldn’t agree more…the place we MOST need to be heard is in conservative Christian circles. Please be praying for us – we’ll be speaking to a very conservative audience at a forum hosted by Biola Queer Underground on November 24th…and we did an interview recently with a conservative talk radio show (it hasn’t been aired yet).

      Bless you for reminding us that this is a VERY real issue for LGBT people when they are hospitalized…we never knew how much of the scorn, disdain and neglect Ryan experienced (and we observed firsthand) was because he was gay and how much was because of his addiction, but I am not sure it matters. We are just thankful that we’ve had the opportunity to volunteer by speaking at two different nursing programs, and are praying that God will bless and multiply our efforts. Much love to you, Ron!

      Reply
  7. Mama G

    Linda, wishing you and Rob much luck with your speeches.
    Can I just throw something ‘out there’? When you say that usually before you do something like this, something happens? I agree, I don’t think it’s anything to do with God, or Satan for that matter. I don’t think it’s ‘bad’ karma either. I’d say it was simply a sign. A sign that you really should be doing this? I think that’s how I’d take it in your shoes. Of course, I could never know that, but to me it would be a reason to definitely go ahead, that there are still people here that need you to do this on their behalf… the phone calls are merely reminders of that fact? A ‘night before reminder’ of ‘why’ (not that you’d ever need one!) before you go into the meetings. Just a shame it can’t be coupled with a good night’s sleep. I know it will all go swimmingly for you x

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Speaking to Seattle’s Future Nurses? Yup. 100%. | temporary

  9. Tammy

    Dear Linda,
    Once again your eloquence amazes me. Although the outcome is very tragic, I am glad you all had the years you did together. I am always amazed when heart break such as yours is turned onto a reason to rejoice and share. As a mother of three as well as a nursing student not so long ago, (and a Dtr who is currently one), I can tell you, the crowd you have picked is one that will treasure your message. There are a few moments in nursing school that will always remain in my mind. As a nurse there are many more. We cherish being a part of people’s lived both for the highlights and the crisis. Thanks you for continuing to share your story. As you know, any given day may hold a crisis (which I also learned in a round about way at Harborview) but that same day may be a blessing simply because of the impact you have on someone else.
    Although I live in the NJ/NY metro area, my sister lives in the Seattle area. I am hoping next time I get to see her I am lucky enough to catch you during a presentation. I think she and I would both be better people for it.
    Please continue to make a difference I the lives of other, often unknown people. Few have that ability. You have risen to the occasion in grand style.
    May you get as many blessings as you have given.
    Tammy Caniano

    Reply
  10. dsaxsma

    Thank you for your wonderful blog posts. They are a blessing to me, and many others. I am a nurse, and worked in hospice for a number of years. I took care of a young man that was SO similar to your precious son, Ryan. I almost feel like I knew him, too. His age and background were almost identical. He even looked like your son. He was on a vent for a drug overdose. The hospice I worked for wrote “stories” about each patient, in order to honor their life. I wrote this young man’s story for staff and family to keep. I apologize for the harsh treatment you received at some of the medical facilities. It is not the norm for the people I work with, but sadly, I know it exists. I’m also the mom of a gay son, so I know how those types of things can hurt. God bless you in your work. You are in my prayers.

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      dsaxsma – WOW…what an enormous gift you gave to that family! Bless you for what you do…especially as the mom of a gay son, who can love other did as you would want your child to be loved!

      Reply
  11. Wondering

    He wasn’t your gay son. He was your son.
    I can’t tell if you really learned anything.
    If he is damned will you choose the god who damned him or will you join him in hell?

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      God didn’t damn our son, Wondering. Our God is a God of love. And of course, he wasn’t defined by his sexuality. But in telling our story, we do hope to help others whose kids identify as LGBTQ. It is sad that you don’t think we’ve learned anything…I disagree with you.

      Reply

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