Am I Patient Enough to be a Nurse?

This first “Writing About Me” prompt is also taken from the 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writing Grotto (although they also have a 642 Things to Write About Me workbook that’s sitting blank on my shelf…). I’ve always thought James Lipton’s version of the Proust Questionnaire is a good conversation starter (and a good first date ice breaker), and while many of my answers to the questions have changed over the years, the consistent one has been what profession other than my own I would like to attempt.

So here I’ve attempted what I think a day as a nurse would have looked like for me. This entry has been inspired by Adam Kay’s books.

At the beginning of my career, I preferred nights, thinking I’d found a way around getting up early. What I didn’t know was that getting out of bed and going to work would never get easier no matter what time I set my alarm for. 

When my phone goes off at 6:30 p.m. on a January evening, it might as well be morning time that I still struggle to get out of bed. After a shower and a cup of tea, I’m out the door and on the road. With my days and nights fully reversed, nothing feels weird about having an egg sandwich and hash browns at my desk at 8:15 p.m. before seeing my first patient. 

Scanning my emails shows nothing that can’t wait until the end of my shift in 12 hours’ time, so I pop some gum in and go see my first patient. A 19-year-old female on an IV drip after alcohol poisoning.

“Home for winter break?” I ask her. The sooner I get her talking, the sooner I can empty the bed for the next person. Her notes show she’s been here since the morning, with BAC of 0.21, responsiveness sporadic. 

“Yes. I met with my friends from high school before I go back this weekend,” she says quietly. She’s rubbing her head, and I see goosebumps on her arms.

“I see. Well, let me get you another blanket while you wait for someone to pick you up.”

“My dad went home to get me some clothes and said he’d be back.”

“That’s fine. But please, take better care when you get back to school,” I say. I know full well this advice has a 50% success rate.

I make my way to the next room. 8-year-old male with a likely broken wrist. Waiting for results of X-rays, given kids’ Tylenol for pain half an hour earlier. Mom is sitting with him on the bed playing on an iPad when I poke my head in. 

“Hi, my name is Vanessa and I’m taking over for Nurse Ryan. Anything I can get for you guys while you wait?” I never understood nurses who insist of being addressed a certain way. We all got our certification (we wouldn’t be seeing patients without it) and letters besides RN are meaningless for people outside the profession. They only care about doctors versus nurses.

“Do you know how long the results will take?” Mom asks.

“Says here he went in an hour ago, and they’re not too busy back there so it shouldn’t take much longer.” I have no way of knowing if that’s true or not as I haven’t been back to Radiology yet, but what Mom doesn’t know…

“I’m hungry,” the patient says.

“I’ll get you some crackers, or a sandwich since you probably haven’t had dinner.”

His face lights up just as Mom says, “Nothing with gluten, if it’s possible.” Of course.

With a smile and a nod, I go to the next room. 20-year-old female with abdominal pain. Pregnancy test negative, waiting to go for a PET scan for appendicitis. And so I’ve found my favorite for the night.

“Hi there. How are you feeling?” She’s alone, shivering and with tear streaks down her face. 

“I’m just waiting.”

“Let’s get you a blanket. Are you here with anyone?”

“No. I’m from out of state,” she says and sniffs.

“I just started my shift, so please ring that button when you need anything or have any questions, okay?” I made a decision early on in my training that I wouldn’t use pet names for patients. No one takes a twenty-something nurse seriously when she addresses patients by “honey” or “sweetie.”

The triage nurse brings in a brand new patient into an empty room, so my introductions have to stop while I assess him. The man is walking with a limp and there’s some blood trickling down the bad leg. I make a point to mention to triage to at least offer wheelchairs. His face is ashen and his hands are trembling, and a young girl follows behind him carrying a coat. I introduce myself but he looks at the girl instead of at me and doesn’t respond.

“My dad doesn’t speak English,” she says. 

She interprets as I go about asking what happened and checking his chart. The girl keeps an even tone as she rattles off in English then what sounds like Farsi, but the patient sounds agitated and grimaces in between sentences. Once I confirm there aren’t any allergies, I hook up an IV and run to get a bag and painkillers. I leave them to wait for the doctor, hanging his chart in its place next to the door, and grab a few blankets, a sandwich and drink. I could have checked our gluten-free fridge on a slower day, but Broken Wrist’s chart didn’t show any allergies that Mom stated when they came in.

I already lose track of how long I’ve been away from the first set of patients when I give Broken Wrist his sandwich and the doctor is with him. He’s a little teary-eyed as the doctor examines his wrist gingerly, and I know she’s looking to set it in place when she glances at me with the food – she’s had people throw up on her before when she resets broken bones.

“Give this to him when I’m bandaging him up after the doctor is done,” I whisper in Mom’s ear. “To distract him.” She’s so focused on her little boy that she doesn’t notice the sandwich is full of gluten and the drink is an off-brand soda.

I drop off the spare blankets, making a point to make a loud noise as I walk into Alcohol Poisoning’s room. She perks up and whimpers as I drape the blanket on top of her. When I go see Potential Appendicitis, she has her arms around her stomach and is sniffling and grimacing.

When I make my way back to check on Bloody Limp, he’s calmed down a bit and the daughter is on her phone. I make a mental note to go to Radiology to see how far away Appendicitis is from being seen, then get to work on cleaning up the cut on this patient’s leg before the doctor comes in. 

I’m barely an hour and a half in, but I wish I could tell my younger self that there is visibly no difference between a day and a night shift as far as getting out of bed goes. Or as far as looking forward to the weekend, except my “weekend” is Tuesday to Thursday this week. Now where did my pen go…

Character Wearing Something Red

I’ve had the workbook 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto for a few years, but I’ve only filled in a few entries. Some of the prompts require more in-depth writing and a bit more muscle, but there are a few interesting ones that I’ll be pulling my writing prompts from. The book doesn’t have page numbers or a table of contents, but that made it exciting to have, that I’d have so much freedom with these prompts that I can pick whatever format, voice, story, characters, etc. and just go with it. But that also made it intimidating – where do I even start?

For my first entry here, I picked “What a character wearing something red is thinking.”

Happy reading! I look forward to your feedback.

Shallow focus photography of red leafed tree
Photo by Daniel Kim on Unsplash

Red lipstick to match the red dress. Or is this too red? Or is my dress too red? Is this even a first-date dress?

I’m already running behind, and the rest of my wardrobe is either athleisure or jeans. Except for that section in the closet full of lingerie that I haven’t touched in two years… What about lingerie, jeans and a blazer? I’m pretty sure I saw an Instagram post with a woman wearing something like that. If I was going to go back into that section of the closet, today would be a good day for it.

The red dress goes. Lucky that I picked out the shoes last night, otherwise I’d be leaving a whole hour late.

My first date with Linda was at a karaoke bar, a desperate attempt to get the beautiful blond woman to give me the time of day. She always said I was the only person who vehemently said she was blonde, and everyone else said she had light brown hair. But her hair was what attracted me to her immediately, the way it was brown when she turned one way, but had a clear blond tinge when she looked at you.

And when she looked at you… it was all over. Her hair looked the way I always wanted mine to look, wavy, messy and full of volume, but not greasy. She wore combat boots a year or two ahead of everyone else because of her obsession with British Vogue and their fashion blog. She would often pair the combat boots with a leather jacket, fitted but loose, and yet she never looked like a biker.

So, when she said that she’d go out with me only if we went to a karaoke bar, I would have crawled there if I could find out more about her. She could have been straight and out to lead me on and break my heart, but I did not care.

That was the last first date I went on, and I would gladly relive the embarrassment of singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” twice, off key and sober, rather than go out for a drink with Kasey.

Kasey with a K. From her name alone, I knew we wouldn’t have that much in common, but I needed to rip the bandaid off, and Kasey is pretty enough. Linda said that she had been given the Spanish word for “beautiful” as a name, so she would remember that every time she didn’t feel like putting in any effort into her appearance.

Linda was “linda” in more than just her appearance. She had a very loud voice and a laugh that startled children, but she was so tender, soft and kind. I never deluded myself into thinking she never had an unkind word to say about anyone (she always had choice words for bad drivers), but she was always kind with those she loved.

We got married two years after the karaoke first date, and she died three years after. Uterine cancer. A woman who didn’t want kids gets the option taken away and dies for good measure. And she took half my life with her.

What must Kasey have to offer? Will she giggle at my terrible dad jokes? Will she eat the olive from my martinis? Will she cry at ASPCA commercials but laugh hysterically at videos of babies getting scared by loud noises?

With my hand on the front doorknob, I think how bad it’d look on me if I told Kasey now I couldn’t make it, provide some generic excuse. Maybe I’m stuck at work. But she knows I’m a freelance writer – how many emergencies would I have?

But I think of Linda as I open the door and take a step out. Red was her favorite color, so she’ll be with me all night, hopefully whispering her rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer” in my ear.

My name is Vanessa and I’m a writer. Based outside Washington, D.C., I started this blog to carve out a space for my writing, to find what my niche is. Most of what you’ll read include writing exercises, doodles and some snippets of the novel I’ve been working on for a few years. Feel free to leave feedback, a question, a challenge, a suggestion…

You’ll get a sense of who I am, what I like and what I do through my writing (I hope), as that’s what my goal was in starting this: to get to know who I am as a writer and what space I fill. As I work that out, I would also love to contribute to your blog, write content for you or help out with your marketing content.

Finally, feel free to share these musings with whomever you think may find them valuable. I’m looking for my “writing tribe,” and if you’d like to stick around, I’d love to have you! I’m on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Whatever brought you, thank you for coming!

-Vanessa R.