Maria has a large circle of loyal friends, and this is because she is such a giving and loving person to everyone she meets.
She has a zany side to her character, loving to laugh or cry, depending on which is closest to her mood at the time! Music is a major focus in her life, and something she can always depend on. You'll see how important it is in her story.
Some of us know her story, but many don't. It's one of those that you hear about, and immediately start wondering what you would do in a similar situation. Then you look at her accomplishments and her attitude to life as she still copes every day with the aftermath of loss and injury. At that point you feel total admiration.
I now give you Maria. Well, actually I'm only temporarily lending her to you. Like many others who love her, I need her in my life.
Maria - I had it all...
The year was 1999 and I was 37 years old. I had been happily married since 1987 and just as happy in my work as a nurse since 1983. On this sunny day in June, as I headed out to work, I petted my loving Black Labrador, Alvin, and told my husband, Geoff, that I loved him. I expected to be running a bit late for dinner, as I was planning to take my beloved Momma in for her colonoscopy the next day.
Have you ever watched a movie where an ordinary situation turned horribly wrong in a matter of seconds?
This same, sunny June day, a former male nurse woke up and packed a backpack with a loaded gun, a hammer, handcuffs, rope and some illicit drugs to sustain him.
He drove to the same hospital he had been fired from in April and proceeded to walk directly into my office. I was sitting at my desk with one of the older managers. We were talking and startled to see him burst into the room.
As I stood up, he immediately fired four shots around my body... into my chest, my wrists and my foot.
Endurance & Hope
When you think about it, that's almost two days. I willed myself to stay awake. I was stubborn.
I was angry, even though I was experiencing pain like I have never felt since. The pain reminded me I was alive. The pain reminded me of the importance of silence. The pain grounded me to my reality.
Besides my helpless friend, Carol, pain was the only friend I had during these long hours -- as ironic as that may seem.
I could feel priorities in my mind forever shifting. I have never had the same sense of urgency about time, so very relative in the grand scheme of things and so very out of my control. I learned to watch and listen as though my life depended on it -- as, in fact, it did.
These in-the-moment survival skills were automatic and instinctive. My behavior during this time was quite different from my usual personality style. I inherently knew that any display of emotion or pain that I was experiencing would result in further harm to me or potential injury to Carol.
I called upon my inner calm and reserve. I really had no other choice. I thought of my family, my pets and the freedom that I knew waited on the other side of the locked door. I sang inside my own head. I talked myself through the hours. I imagined the voices of powerful women in my life; they were encouraging and supporting me as well.
I was whisked away from the scene quickly and expertly by the medic-angels known as PennSTAR. The gunman is serving a life sentence in prison, asking himself a life-time of questions.
I found myself for the first time confined to a hospital bed. I felt loss and despair in every pore of my body. I didn't recognize myself physically from the bandages, injuries and IV tubes. I experienced physical, emotional and spiritual pain -- realizing minimal relief from the pills the nurses offered me. I was totally dependent on others for most of my needs and this felt foreign. I felt shame, depression, anger and sadness -- asking my husband to limit my visitors to my mother and sister for several months. I could not imagine ever returning to a job where I would be responsible for hiring and firing staff - feeling overwhelmed at the very thought of working with people.
I felt like a completely different person after 46 hours of torture. And, to make a long story short, I was.
My friend, Vicki Warner, asked me if I would write a story on a loss I experienced and I readily agreed. You see in 2014, fifteen years after my great loss, I clearly see the many gains I have made. As such, I would like the gains to overpower the losses in my story to you.
I have never been at the top of my career as a Nurse Executive since 1999. Today, however, I have the honor of teaching some of the finest nurses in a RN-to-BSN program on the subject of Nursing Management and Leadership. I serve as a role model and take pride in using all my skills as a Nurse Executive in grooming the future of my profession. And, I always incorporate Workplace Violence actively in my lesson plans, using myself as an example to raise awareness and enhance the power of our intuition / instincts.
In 1998, I walked / hiked over 1000 miles at least six of seven days a week. I know this physical stamina helped my body survive those long 46-hours and the grueling recovery for years after. In healing, I developed a keen appreciation of the mind-body-spirit connection. I learned that while working on my mind and spirit, my body caught up and became stronger as well. Now, 15 years later, I have three sources of stamina to draw from. I share this with my nurses in the Holistic Health course I teach as well.
Through time, patience and a wise therapist, my self-confidence returned to where it had been. I am not responsible for someone else's actions. I did not cause the death of a friend. While that sounds easy, it was really hard to convince myself...! And 15 years later, it sounds illogical that I entertained these thoughts. But, I convinced myself for the longest time otherwise...
A gift from this trauma is profound understanding with others. There is no right or wrong where feelings are concerned. There are no quick answers. Sometimes it will not be okay but it will go on.
I think twice about my freedom all the time. I treasure my ability to make choices in life. I will never take my independence for granted. If anyone refers to the incident of 1999, I bring us back to the here-and-now, and how fortunate we are to have our health and freedom.
So, in the end, the most powerful lesson I have learned from a life-altering event filled with much loss is:
We are each the Captain of our lives. While life events, even people, take us off course here and there, we possess the inner strength and ability to rebound, reaching the destination we are meant for... at our pace.
At this point of my journey, I feel blessed and most fortunate to have survived and thrived from incredible loss. When I think about the incident in June of 1999, I have a range of feelings.
I will always be angered and disbelieving that Carol's life was taken senselessly and this nurse had no other recourse than this illogical, tragic act that resulted in a permanent loss of his freedom.
I give thanks every day, on the other hand, that my life was spared. Giving back and showing gratitude whenever possible were an ongoing part of my recovery and healing -- this has now become a lifestyle for me in my teaching, speaking and writing opportunities.
I have reclaimed my life. I am stronger than ever. In May of this year, I independently climbed into PennSTAR and saw the view from sitting up.
Today 15-years later, I believe I can fly...!