Twenty-five years ago I moved to the nation’s oldest city and started working in the intensive care unit at a small hospital located at the water’s edge. As a new employee, I was relegated to the night shift. Every morning, we would stop what we were doing and watch the sunrise over the bayfront. Sometimes we would see the dolphins playing or a manatee’s humped back as she swam by, enjoying the morning’s sunrise as much as we did. We would then turn back to our work, which most days wasn’t pretty. Men and women who choose nursing as a career usually have more of a calling than a choice. We are called to take care of people, and in doing so, we take care of not only patients but their families and friends. In doing this, we sometimes gave up time with our own families. People still get sick and need care on Christmas or Thanksgiving or when your baby is taking his first steps. Disease and illness know no boundaries and are not prejudiced against race, wealth, or religion. Disease happens, and we took care of it. We fought it with every inch of our souls. Nursing is not something easily turned off when you clock out at the end of your shift. All of us at one time or another had sleepless nights worrying about a patient or wondering if we had done everything we should have or could have done. We often found humor in the strangest circumstances and we would laugh until we cried. Sometimes we just cried. We dealt with death and dying more than we wanted to. Sometimes dying takes a long time and sometimes it comes much more quickly than anybody is ready for. We were there for both. We had a little superstition that was used long before any of us became nurses. When someone was in the dying process and nothing else could be done, we would quietly crack open the window to let the angels in. Even those who didn’t quite believe in angels knew it couldn’t hurt. ICU nursing was one of the hardest things I ever did, and it was also one of the best things I ever did. We saved many more lives than we lost, and we rejoiced in each one. We worked hard. We played hard. Sometimes we kept ourselves going with black coffee and saltines pilfered from the kitchen drawer. Sometimes we ate like gourmets. We were of many different ethnicities and would often have potluck dinners with a variety of foods from different countries. We would eat on the run, because each and every time we planned a party or a potluck dinner we would get a full-code from the ER or a drunk who wanted to pick a fight. When we could sit down to eat, we would talk about things that would spoil the appetite of the most stoic stomach. We learned to respect each other’s religion, ethnic background, and politics. We learned that despite the high-tech world of medicine, nothing works like good old-fashioned teamwork. We learned that we may not get a day off if help was needed. We learned to rub each other’s shoulders on a busy day. We learned that nursing and nursery rhymes have a lot in common: When days are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are horrid. We were there for one thing, and that was to take care of the health and well-being of our patients. Along the way, we learned to take care of each other. A new hospital was built, and we no longer had that lovely view. The city grew, the hospital grew, and we grew along with it by learning and changing as often as health care changes. Some of us embraced change, some of us did not. Last night, we had a reunion of these nurses, along with a few other members of the team. We are older and different and yet so much the same. We laughed a lot. We ate. We hugged. We remembered, together. I would recognize them anywhere and in any circumstance. I would trust each one of them with my life. I think that somebody, somewhere must have opened a window last night, because for a few hours, I was surrounded by angels.
Archive for February, 2012
My mother is one of those list people. You know the type: Grocery lists, shopping lists, and what-to-take-on-vacation lists. I could make a list of all the kinds of lists that can be made. Except I’m not a list person. Not yet, anyway. I have always prided myself on being able to remember what was needed at the grocery store, what my daughter needed for school activities, and what I needed to do for work. I was smart, organized, and listless. Not listless, but listLESS. Something happened, though, and it was something I had no control over. First, I turned 40. What seemed like just a year or so later I turned 50. It seems I’ve lost all concept of time, because I’m already a few years beyond that. They say that in the normal growth and development of children, an 18-month-old can remember three objects such as a ball, a set of keys, and a banana. Somehow, between age 40-something and now, I seem to have forgotten the banana, and now at 50-something I forget the banana and sometimes the keys. In my defense, my shopping days can be hectic. I need to stop for chicken feed. I need to pick up a few groceries. Do we need bananas? Should we stop for coffee? Where shall we go for lunch? I’m tired just thinking about the details. It’s strange that I can remember things that happened 30 years ago, but not that we are out of mustard. So occasionally, in the last few months, I have started making a grocery list. It is hard for an old Farm Woman to change her ways, so I am kind of weaning myself into the habit. Mom will be proud. I didn’t make a list a couple of weeks ago when I was heading into town for some errands and my husband asked me to pick something up for him. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what he had asked me to get, so I called him from the store. It’s a good thing that I have the phone numbers programmed into the cell phone, because I can’t remember those, either, but that’s another story. The funny thing was that he couldn’t remember what he had asked me to get and it took him another 30 minutes to call me back when he finally did think of what it was he needed. I think our daughter is going to have her hands full.
A dear friend told me recently that she once climbed up on the roof of her trailer to move the TV antenna just right so she could watch Elvis in his Live From Las Vegas show. In these ultra-modern times of satellites, digital cable, and watching TV or movies on our iPads we often forget how it used to be. At our house, we have satellite TV and a choice of 150 channels and still often complain that there’s nothing to watch. I grew up in the 1960′s and 1970′s in a small town, where we got two TV channels, CBS and NBC. The “newer” station called ABC came in only occasionally at our house, if all the planets were aligned and there were no clouds in the sky, and if you stood on one leg while holding the rabbit ears with your left hand. In the late 1960′s we had our own version of today’s popular Twilight vampire series, a daily gothic soap opera called Dark Shadows. EVERYONE was talking about it. EVERYONE was watching it. Everyone except me. My dad wouldn’t spring for a bigger TV antenna and thought that two channels were more than enough for anyone and besides, we should be doing our homework after school instead of watching vampires, however frightfully handsome they may be. I learned that if I covered the rabbit ears with tinfoil and clipped a clothes pin to one side, I could get a snowy glimpse of Barnabas Collins and Victoria Winters on the screen, and I only had to jiggle the clothes pin every once in a while. I think that Dark Shadows started out as black and white, but by the early 1970′s changed to color programming. It wouldn’t have mattered at our house any more than having more than two channels did. We were probably the last house on the block to get a color TV. We also didn’t have a remote. Can you imagine actually GETTING UP to change the channel? It really wasn’t that hard with only 2 1/2 channels to choose from, unless you had to turn the horizontal or vertical buttons, which sometimes stopped the lines from coming across the picture. Funny how those lines always came back once you sat down. Kids didn’t get to choose the channels much anyway, because we didn’t get to watch a lot of TV except for Saturday mornings, when it was all ours. I remember liking the more adventurous stuff like Sky King and Johnny Quest along with my favorite, The Monkees. My sister’s favorite was a large furry creature called H. R. Pufnstuf, with an inane theme song that I could probably sing word for word today. Even though Elvis has left the building, so to speak, you can find him on YouTube or Hulu along with H.R., The Monkees, and all of our old favorites. Best of all, I hear that there will be a Dark Shadows movie coming out soon. In living color. I may not be into vampires any more, but I am into nostalgia……and Johnny Depp.
Dad the Rooster is dead. At least that’s what I told everybody. I found him on the floor of the coop one morning a few weeks ago, looking like he just keeled over from his roost during the night. I grieved for him. I announced it on my Facebook page. I wrapped him carefully in a feed sack and placed him in the garbage can. Like it or not, sometimes being a Farm Woman means being an undertaker. Some people around this house think that I should just toss my chickens into the woods when they die and “something will take care of it.” No way. “Something” would probably be more wolves, coyotes, fox or other scary creatures around here, and we have plenty, thank you very much. Since I can’t dig a grave through a foot of snow and frozen ground, my dead chickens will get the most proper burial I can give them. Except that Dad the Rooster didn’t die, Christopher Columbus did.
The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Mark Twain
How did I get the two of them mixed up? Because I didn’t notice the dead rooster’s feet. The two of them looked pretty much the same, but Christopher Columbus had no toes. One cold winter’s night about three years ago, he escaped from the coop and flew into the woods. I tried everything to get him back inside. By everything, I mean tossing corn around, calling his name, and even clucking a little like a chicken. Nothing worked, especially the clucking part, I might add. I reluctantly gave up that night, thinking for sure he would be a goner. My son-in-law spotted him the next morning, high up in a tree and covered with frost. He thought that he had died there during the night, frozen to that limb, because the temperature had dropped to well below freezing.
It’s easier to stay out than to get out. Mark Twain
Christopher Columbus surprised us all by living, but he lost all his toes to frostbite. Most surprising of all was that he not only lived, he thrived. He ate like a gentleman, always offering food to the ladies first. He preened. He even balanced well on his roost without the toes that chickens need to hold on.
Mark Twain’s death was reported three different times; the first two were mistakes. I’m very happy that Dad the Rooster is alive and well and sitting next to his favorite wife Old Mum as we speak. Christopher Columbus, my adventurous little rooster, will be missed. I still have six roosters, and will probably have at least one more, come spring. I’m thinking of naming him Samuel Clemens.
Let us endeavor to live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry. Mark Twain