Friday, April 15, 2011

A Cautionary "Old Age" Tale, and Some Advice for New Nurses

I’ve had a bit of a rough day today with pain and all… my back aches, my left hip hurts. I’m getting my neurotomies on Tuesday so the end, for awhile at least, is on the horizon. I need to earn a little more money to see an ortho doc about my hip. I have three projects in various stages of readiness; two have tight deadlines that I won't meet if I can't sit at my desk.

So it’s been one of those days I have been reflecting on how I got here, all beat to shit. There are two reasons why I am such a physical mess today: horses and working as a nurse. One gave me pleasure, the other money and heartache.

I rode daily from fifth grade to my senior year in high school. I rode anything with a mane and tail that I could climb on. Several times that meant I climbed on something a bit rank and paid the price by hitting the pavement. But I wouldn’t change a thing, because horses kept me out of a lot of trouble and you truly do not know companionship with an animal until you have teamed with a horse. I miss contact with horses on a daily basis. I love my cats, I really do, but there is nothing like the challenge of an equine.

The second reason I am paying physically is from working as an RN in a small community hospital that enjoyed being understaffed. I suffered too many back injuries to count, doing work that should have been done by housekeeping or a nurse’s aid. Might I have put up with the pain longer had I been properly “engaged” in the job?

I remember a pair of days when I showed up to work and the other RN was an older woman, older than I am now, who worked v-e-r-y slowly and was usually better at passing medication all day. It was all she could do to keep up with the medication needs of anywhere between 10 and 24 patients. There was everything at that hospital—med/surg, OB & newborns, pediatrics, and a 4-bed ICU/CCU. As I recall there were no critical patients in that room those days. During the day shift an RN would be called upon to stay with a patient in post-anesthesia recovery, which was the ICU. Same location, slightly different duties.

One of us had to be charge nurse. I stepped up, but the director of nurses said “Rose is older than you, so she’s charge nurse.” So I passed pills, took care of a couple of post-op patients, and took care of a woman in labor while Rose sat on her duff and took “reports” from nurses’ aids. I did the work of two RNs that day. I didn’t even have time for lunch. Rose took hers. And both breaks.

The way that hospital was set up, all the meds nurse did was pass pills (scheduled and as needed) and make sure she charted what she had done on the medication record. IF she had time on her hands, she could volunteer to help where needed. Because Rose was so slow, that seldom happened. Because Rose was so slow, if I had a patient who needed a pain med, I’d get the chart, find out what I could give, go to the medication cart where Rose was no doubt hanging around, ask for the narcotic key and medicate the patient myself. Rose usually made patients wait awhile, because she didn’t want to wreck her train of thought.

Fifteen minutes before the shift was to end, there was a medical admission from the clinic next door—I believe the guy was a possible pancreatitis, because the doctor told me the patient was an alcoholic and to give him some Librium STAT to keep him in the bed. Rose should have taken that patient and prepared his nursing assessment, but she said, “I am busy charting and getting ready for report, you do it.” She wouldn’t even take the doctor’s call—I was called to the nurses’ station from another patient’s bedside to take the admission orders! Again, something Rose as charge should have done.

So when I claimed 2 hours of overtime that day the supervisors flipped. (I did not finish my paperwork and the paperwork of the new patient until 5 p.m., shift “over” at 3:30 AND I’d had no lunch break that day, because if I didn’t do it, no one on my shift would have!) I told them Rose had been utterly useless, that I had done the bulk of the work that day (easily verified by looking at the patient charts, I was flying!) and that I would NEVER be put in that situation again. “You either work me as charge, pay me that differential and I’ll run around and do the work while Rose plugs along passing her pills, or you will not expect me to work with Rose as the charge nurse EVER again.”

A month later I looked on the schedule, and lo and behold, there were two RNs scheduled for one anticipated slow day—me and Rose. There was a “C” by Rose’s name, which meant she would be charge nurse. I went to my immediate supervisor (the one who made the schedule) and said, “I told you that I will NOT work in that situation, and if you don’t fix it, I won’t show up. I will NOT do the work of two nurses because one is too slow!”

Their excuse for doing it again: “We want to engage Rose more.”

Mind you, she was retirement age then. I was in my late 20s or so, and had worked as an RN for six years at that hospital. I was the nurse who never refused a shift. I was the nurse physicians inquired about regarding my availability to take care of their laboring women or women who needed elective labor inductions. I was the nurse who would come in for the night shift and stay for the day shift, or work the p.m. shift and stay into the night shift to help.

And which nurse SHOULD they have tried harder to engage?

I did not work that shift. Well, I didn’t work it as it was… I was taken off the schedule for that day, but the place got busy and asked me to come into work, which I ALWAYS did. There was Rose, plugging along with her precious pill cart, where she needed to be. I delivered babies, covered ER, and had a great day with a nurse closer to my age who worked as charge twice a week.

So what is the moral? Don’t kill yourself doing your job, because 20 years later, no one cares. You have to care for yourself, NOW. Be careful, and make smart priorities. You will thank me in the end.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


You never know who you will trip over using Facebook. Today I reconnected with a classmate who I thought “had it all” in high school—ran with the A-group, was popular, and got good grades effortlessly. I’d seen her name in common with other friends I’d reconnected with, but because she was part of that A-list, I figured she would not at all be interested in connecting with me. She was never really nasty toward me; we simply went in different circles. I wanted to be where she was; to the very wise movie “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion,” sums up high school society and pecking order well: I was not part of the A-crowd, or the B-crowd, or the jocks, or the C-crowd/dorks.

One of my oldest friends was part of this A-list. I’ll call her Lee because her name is very unusual and if she’d ever Google herself, this would pop up! She and I met when we were four years old; we lived about 5 miles out of town within walking distance, perhaps a half-mile from each other. I remember one of our early play dates, playing with Barbie dolls and Breyer model horses. Lee and I took dance class lessons on Saturdays; her mom drove us into town because my mom didn’t drive at the time. A few years later, Lee would walk to my house on Saturday mornings to watch “The Beatles” cartoons, because her television wouldn’t get it. This was in the days before cable, before satellites. Because we lived in a canyon, television reception was limited, and her family didn’t have access to a high enough hill to place an antenna like my father had. Consequently, our television got two stations and hers only one. Take that, kids of today with hundreds of channels!

When Lee missed a month of first grade with a kidney infection, I had to face her scary teacher and get her homework every day on my way to the bus. I was released from my class five minutes early to pick up the homework, and then her mom would come over and pick it up, and give me stuff to take in the next morning. In fourth grade, when I was sick with both kinds of measles and missed the entire month of February, she did the same for me. When each of us finally got horses of our own, we rode all day every weekend, and would jump off the school bus at our respective stops, change into riding clothes, catch our horses and ride until dark.

But around 4th or 5th grade, Lee started hanging out exclusively with a bunch of girls who were simply the “it” crowd—wanna-be cheerleaders, girls who had high fashion clothes, girls who wore hairpieces, girls who were getting attention from the boys that you wanted to get attention from, girls who were getting breasts! We’d ride the school bus into town, and she and I would sit together several stops until one of the A-listers got on the bus. Then I had leprosy and she pretended not to know me at school at all.

And the people she ran with were, in hindsight, bitches. Probably the two worst were Penny and Ann. They started sprouting breasts before junior high. Penny in particular was very pretty, the youngest in her family, the treasure. And she expected to be treated like one. She was always picking verbal altercations with me, saying stuff like “So and so told me you were talking shit about me.” This continued from 4th grade all the way through high school.

Ann also had breasts and a waistline. In seventh grade her mother bought her a fall to wear in her hair. She wore an actual bra with cups. She and I should have been friends because we had the same knee problem—dislocating kneecaps. I remember it happening to her several times in physical education. I felt so bad for her, but she was such a bitch at other times, I stopped trying to be sympathetic or give her comfort when her kneecap dislocated.

There was a Cathy, like me. Her family lived down the street from my aunt, who lived in town. Her younger sister was one of my younger cousin’s best friends. No matter to Cathy, she was dismissive and treated me as a subhuman.

Paula was the daughter of a farmer, so because our fathers ran in the same circles, she was nicer to me. Same with Deanna; she lived on the same street as my aunt. Deanna had an older brother who was pretty cute, with longish blonde hair.

I’d read Deanna’s comments on friends’ Facebook pages. I knew who she was but did not reach out to her. I figured she still had the A-lister attitude toward me, though in adulthood, Stacey was nicer to me—our daughters were close in age—and Lee and I had carpooled our kids to a private school over an hour away for two years. And horrors of horrors, when I married, Ann had the guts to show up to my wedding uninvited. Her brother had been our best man, her parents were of course invited but I purposefully omitted her name on the envelope. At least she was nice to me on my wedding day, and was nice to me when her brother married a year or two later.

I’ve avoided class reunions because until ten years ago I did not think I measured up. I hadn’t finished a 4-year degree, and had kept in touch with few in my graduating class. I hated high school and wanted to distance myself from it.

I connected with Deanna today and learned that they HAD seen me throughout school, or at least she had, and remembered some specific things/incidents we had in common, most notably the recollections of a school play in 6th grade where I played the lead. Yes I was quite the actress.

She remembers me, as I was—a sarcastic, smart gal with strawberry blonde hair who didn’t have a boyfriend because I didn’t play stupid. And she shocked me when she told me she’d been on the periphery of that A-list, and it was only after she’d moved away to college that she realized what having a true friend was, and they apparently weren’t that.

Moral of this story: Isn’t it strange just how erroneous your perception of things can be?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Writing Inspiration

George again. He was a beautiful man. What is sad about this photo is the cigarette he always had in the 1960s—that is what killed him.

I’ve tripped over an excellent writing opportunity today and I need quick inspiration! It’s a pretty heavy-duty bit of writing that must be completed by May 1. So instead of staring at a blank computer screen or blank piece of paper, I decided to try an old technique from fifth grade. That was a long time ago, okay? Like 1966… so their “old stuff” works best for me, from Sgt. Pepper (summer of 1967 between fifth and sixth grade) and before that. The “new” stuff, except for a few songs, usually something by George, just wasn’t as inspirational for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because they weren’t as inspired anymore, at least until 1969’s Abbey Road, which was released when I was in 8th grade. I was old enough to be able to appreciate their music but a few years to fully participate, and by that I mean ever see them live. I have two friends who did just that, and I am so jealous, though it wasn’t about the music, hence the Beatles gave it up in August 1966, when I was still 9 years old.

I used to get much inspiration from listening to the Beatles music. I don’t know why. It clears my mind, points me in the right direction. I sing my heart out to the music and for some reason, what I need comes to me. Perhaps it’s a case of what
George Harrison said about songs—they are out there, you just have to find a way to grab them.

Tonight I found myself listening to their music but taking a conscious effort to hear George’s voice where I knew it should be, as he didn’t sing on every song. He had a distinctive nasally voice that didn’t fit every song. And yes, the inspiration came to me and I know exactly what I am going to write, but I have this overwhelming sadness remembering how I felt in late November 2001 when word got out George wasn’t doing well at all, and was about to lose his battle with cancer. And the day he died I simply could not hear any Beatles music or look at his image. Of course I bought all of the commemorative magazines but I stowed them away. It took me a good two or three years before I could hear a song with his voice somewhere in it and not get teary-eyed. And less than a month later, when my grandmother died of the same thing George did, I was still so empty over losing him that I could not properly mourn her.

Anyway, I write these few words to thank George for sending me inspiration, like he always did. Thank you for leaving the music you left… I have my lead and the angle I am going to take on a difficult bit of writing. You always come through for me.

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