Kelly Britt Davis works in a rural health care facility in Blue River, Oregon. After navigating the first six months months of Covid, the clinic burned to the ground in the Holiday Farm Fire, a wild fire that consumed 175,000 acres and more than 500 structures at the end of Labor Day weekend.
Our interview started by talking about the wild fire and moved on to address issues mental health, addiction, loss and recovery.
At 15:10 during our interview, a hummingbird landed on Kelly’s microphone and she said, “That’s my mom.”
Fair warning, that Kelly talks openly about her past challenges with mental health and the times she tried to take her own life. If you struggle as well, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
“I’m still living sometimes in a fight or flight mode. We’re still not working in the best situation. We’re still working without walls. Seeing patients and you know, not the best conditions, but we’re still serving the people up here. The fires happened September 7th. We didn’t have internet until January.
So we were working at the clinic or at the quilt shop with a cell tower that would sometimes work. Sometimes not work,. No phones, all the phone lines were dead. So if someone’s living out really far, they couldn’t call 9-1-1.
So it became people just going to people’s houses, knocking on doors, seeing if they’re okay. Neighbors coming to us saying I haven’t seen so and so for like a week, can we go do a welfare check? No way for them to get their medications, no way to get mail. We didn’t have mail up here until December. The world was different.
I would say one of my saving graces was that my husband had lived through natural disasters and lived through a war and been to countries where this was a reality. He gave me a sense of security, knowing this is how we do it. It took some of my fear away.
You just kind of go into this stoic mode and you just have to move forward. It’s crazy. Unhealthy, while you’re doing it. You realize you’re going 24/7.
But it totally cracks. My diet was beef jerky, red bull and whiskey. After we would do all our stuff, then you get everybody around who’s going through it and that’s just how you end your night. Next morning, wake up, gotta go. Getting through whatever you can. I’ve never experienced anything like that. But it also had a sense of purpose. I was able to be there for people. That’s huge.
There’s a level of comfort that people don’t even recognize until you’re pulled out of it. Like the comfort of just being able to wake up in the morning and have electricity. Not having to go into the creek and get buckets of water just to flush your toilet. It goes from having to not having in an instant and then recognizing, we had it really good. I get emotional when I think back on it.
You can’t always be like superwoman and do it all. You have to recognize your limitations and how to put boundaries up when you’re helping others. Because you’re not doing a service to others if then you’re starting to be broken down. You need to have that balance.
Self-care is hard for people in healthcare. I hear that a lot. You’re able to focus on other people’s issues. And so it’s easy to separate, and just kind of forget about your own. Sometimes it almost like other people have it worse, you know? So you kind of compare yourself, but then that gets you into really unhealthy situations. “
“I did a lot of hospice work and I spent time with people in their final days, final weeks up to their passing. It’s a very powerful thing to experience that moment. It sounds morbid, but it’s not morbid. I mean, it’s beautiful. We’re born and we die. We all die.
And our bodies change, our bodies change color in the final stages. I started to get used to checking feet, checking fingers, checking people’s color and checking signs to almost know when death is going to come. It’s interesting. You have family coming you, saying, ‘is she almost gone?’ You know what’s going on, but you don’t have the answers.
It’s been interesting to see the different times that people have passed. And majority of the people, once the families left was the times that they were able to let go. They needed that space.
Having my mother go through hospice, I thought I was ready, but it was a completely different experience.
Their hearing is what goes last and that’s something I always tell people. They still hear you. They still know.
I’ve gone through the stages where I had to help clean the body, wait for the mortuary to come, put the body in the bag, zipper it up.
I had one guy, I told him, ‘I’m with you Jack. Don’t worry.’ His name was Jack. ‘I’m gonna be with you. Don’t worry. Don’t worry’. Right till the end. ‘I’m gonna make sure you look great.’
And then he passed and I had a friend come in. This is at a nursing facility and my friend played harmonica for him. And then they came in and I made sure he had his plaid shirt on. You do certain things, but there’s something special. That was one of my favorite jobs was to do that kind of work.
I’ll tell you something really funny. I don’t know if it’s funny, but it was my first experience. I worked as an activities director and I loved to listen to people’s stories. One woman was passing. She was in hospice in the saddest nursing facility I’ve ever worked at. Conditions that nobody should live through. It was a job and I had it and I tried to do everything I could to pick up other people’s slack. You know, treat people with dignity. We dealt with a lot of people who had been living on the streets at the end of their life and they needed skilled nursing.
This woman’s wish was to have a passage from the Bible read to her in her last stage. My boss said, ‘Can you go in there and read to her? This is her wish.’ The family had called and the family’s not going to come visit because they’re somewhere else. But they’re really hoping someone can go in there and read her this passage. And I’m like, ‘Oh, of course, I’ll go in.”
I open up the Bible. She’s this Catholic woman and she passes and do you think she would ever think this tiny redhead Jewish girl from Brooklyn is reading her this passage as she passes away? It was one of those moments. It was kind of surreal.”
“In New York, I was working on trying to be a fashion stylist doing wardrobe work. Working in photo shoots and I was up all night. My sister produced and was up all night. I also was bartending and waiting tables. You’re doing basically everything for free so you could get that book to get more work
My buddy Steve was the bartender and he needed an assistant on Conan. I mean, you find your jobs wherever. Right? Sure. I was like, of course I’ll do it. No problem. So he took me in and I was 25, 26. He hired me as a cue card girl. It was a contracted job. The cue card department worked in different shows. So I worked for Conan and then I would run upstairs and help out at SNL. And then I also did the RuPaul show at VH1. It was a wild experience. I was young. I was vulnerable and impressionable and single for the first time in 10 years. I was stoked for when the bands would come there because I would be able to watch these bands rehearse front and center.
Jane’s Addiction. Ben Harper. Puff Daddy.
I was lost in my own world and I was crazy. I mean, I would literally leave SNL, go and bartend downtown at New Music Cafe on Bleecker Street. I would have to be there at 10 30 and then I’d bartend until like 3:30 and then we’d go clubbing til five and then I’d work the next day. My life got really hectic and crazy and I ended up recognizing that I couldn’t handle it. I developed a pretty bad drug problem, which is really easy in that industry. I’m not using that as an excuse, but using that in the sense of like a really weird world and you’re immersed in it. You’re working with people and they’re either using or they’re in rehab.
It was extremely normalized. For me it was a lifestyle. I worked so much, it was my energy drink. It was horrible to say, but I had to keep going. Until I literally crashed. And that didn’t look good. I crashed and woke up three days later after being strung out on heroin. I said, ‘I have a really bad problem. I need some support here.’
And I called my dad that next day and I said, ‘Dad, I’m messed up. Like I need help. Like, I don’t know what else to do, but call you.’ He said, ‘Get on a train and go up to your sister, get out of the city. Get up, get out.’
New York kind of spit me out, but looking back, it was the best thing that could have ever happened because I did take care of myself. I did get the help. I stopped using drugs. I realized I needed to do something really good with myself and work to help others. Cuz that that’s what helped me.
We always say that we’re human. We feel. We hurt. We cry. We laugh. And that’s what you want. That’s the gift that you need.”
-Have you ever needed to adopt the sort of stoic mode that Kelly talks about?
-When have you felt a sense of purpose?
-Can you remember a time when you had to recognize your own limitations?
-Have you been with someone in the final moments of their life?
-Has a loved one been in hospice care?
-What small kindness have you done for someone you didn’t know?
-Have you ever hit rock bottom? How did you find help? Who was there for you?