Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's not about the chicken - my tribute to nurses.

I have not written here in a while, because I've been very busy. Whenever a writer doesn't really write much for a while, it always takes something that urgently needs to be said to put 'em back in the saddle, so to speak.  That time is now.

Recently, hosts of the View made a mockery of Miss Colorado, who is a nurse. This of course prompted the #NursesUnite trend on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites.  It also caused The View to lose a couple of it's financial sponsors and then the hosts of the show to issue a very bad apology.  Nurses everywhere were fired up, and rightly so.

I work with ER nurses, lots of them, and I have for nearly 8 years continuously. These women and men are among the hardest working people in America, and I'd bet nurses in the rest of the world would agree that they work very hard too.  Many of them are young when they enter the field, and I am sure they do not anticipate all that they will be confronted with throughout their careers.

How many of you go to work each day knowing that today you could experience something so haltingly awful that you'll never forget "the scene" for as long as you live? How many of you ever burst into tears weeks after an event has occurred because it took your brain that long to process the trauma and feel safe enough to really react to it?

Every single day that a nurse's feet hit the floor in her work place, she (or he) knows that there is no way to predict how that day will turn out.  What they'll see, who they'll meet, if anyone they're trying desperately to save will make it, or if the least sick patient will be the one who needs the most love and kindness.  Nurses see some of the most god-awful things and situations possible, and when they're in the midst of hurting or freaking out inside themselves, they still have to remain calm enough to soothe the family members, the patient, or each other.  Often times they go home to spouses, family or friends who don't get it either, so they must silently deal with what they've gone through as witness and care-giver mostly alone.  And even if they find someone who could possibly understand the story they need to tell, a federal law called HIPAA prevents them from discussing it.  They must lean on each other.  That's why it took mere hours for #NursesUnite to spread like wildfire.  They all have each others backs, and I do too.

I'd be willing to bet that any nurse who's worked in the field for long has something akin to a bit of PTSD for all she's seen and lived through.  Not all of the patients die, not all of them are critical, but all of them have a story, and nurses hear those stories, one by one, over and over. Sometimes patients are a real pleasure, but sometimes patients abuse nurses too.  Nurses experience the full range of human emotions, the highs and the lows, sometimes in just a 12 hour span. If you ever are in the care of a nurse, you can bet that you are not her only patient either.  Nurses work their tails off, day in and day out, not only to put food on their tables at home, but because of a higher calling that they felt obligated to perhaps from childhood on.  They care.  They love their fellow man.  They want the best for  you.

Most of the nurses I know are very intelligent people also and they have to be for what they do.  They must make split second decisions, and even perform instant calculations in their heads because their hands are full of medications, wires, tubing, supplies, or even the patient. Most of them also have legitimate hobbies which could also be alternative careers - they have to because they need an outlet to detract from the stress in their real jobs. Miss Colorado's monologue about being a nurse should never have been mocked.  Nursing in and of itself is a real talent.  Not everyone who tries can actually BE a nurse.  

What follows is a FICTIONAL story that I wrote last week as part of a basic fiction class I took through the  UCLA Writer's Program.  My instructor thought it was "amazing." It's my short nod to nurses, and I hope it gives you insight into what nurses do and who they are.  Maybe it'll even make it to someone at The View.


It's not about the chicken.

Clark could hear the sobs coming from the kitchen as soon as he approached the front door. He fumbled to get his keys right in his hands and dropped his work bag at the door. Loran was in the kitchen, sitting cross legged in the floor like a child, like she used to sit in the floor with their daughter who had moved out last year. There were pots and pans scattered, somewhere in between clean and dirty, along with sponges, the bar towels, a few forks, and there shining in her hands, a glimmering and silvery knife.
"Loran, honey what's the matter?"
When she looked up, he could see her blue eyes were swollen and red from an obvious fit of crying and hysterics. He'd only seen her this way a handful of times in their long years together. She was known for her even keel nature, and frankly, it had made her a good wife.
"Lucille Ball Featherpants is dead!" With that, she went right back to squalling.  Big heaving sobs that raked her body from her toes on up. Everything tense and tight and angry and full.
She'd had Lucille for three years, a good long time for a yard chicken, and Lucille had earned her name by having mostly black and white feathers.  Loran had loved watching the real Lucille Ball on her black and white television as a small child, and to this day replayed the shows on DVD whenever she needed to just relax and get into what she called her "blank stare" mode.
Then, with gritted teeth, "I told you to fix the damn hole!"
Clark felt his body recoil in a hot flash of surprise and defense.
"Loran what on Earth came through that hole! Where's Lucille? Where's the hen?"
Then sobs again, and "Who's going to have my coffee with me? Who's gonna chirp and talk to me in the mornings when I get home?"
She'd asked him to fix a tiny hole in their backyard fence a few weeks ago, but his back was still dreadfully sore and his doctor had told him to take it easy. "No unnecessary strain," he'd said with a grin, knowing he and Loran still had a very active sex life.
"Dammit why couldn't you fix the fence? Lucille never hurt anybody!"
Clark made himself sit on the floor with her and he straddled her from behind, wrapping his legs around her and curving himself around her to hold her, to let her feel him.
"I'm so sorry babe. How long have you been like this? How long have you been here on the floor?"
He knew she'd worked the night shift and gotten off somewhere around 7 if she was lucky.  But now it was nearly 1, and Loran wasn't asleep.  His plan to come home and crawl in bed with her for a quick lovemaking session had gone out the window now, but still, he was glad he'd come home.
As her body shook she just kept repeating over and over, "Lucille Ball Featherpants, I'm so sorry I love you."
Clark knew she was exhausted, and could only imagine how her shift must have gone the night before.  She had nearly 30 years in as an ER nurse and though she was tough as nails, everyone broke from it once and a while.
"Baby, what happened? You've been crying for hours! You need sleep, and water, and something to eat probably."
"I needed you to fix the damn fence Clark! Lucille needed you to fix the fence! It was a snake. A snake got her!"
Clark bear hugged her from behind. He grabbed her arms and her legs and he held her tight against him. "Loran this is not about the chicken!"
"This cannot possibly be about the chicken! What is it Loran? What is it that you've been holding inside for so long? What did you see? Who did you try to help? Did a child die in your arms? Did you see someone who was murdered or raped or abused? What Loran? What?"
She felt the urgency in his voice and whether he knew it or not he was yelling at her, right in her ear, yet suddenly she felt the sobbing stop, felt her mind return to present time and place. She felt the numbness in her behind from sitting on the hard floor. Her knees ached too, and her back was on fire from being hunched over for so long. She knew now that he was right. That it wasn't about the chicken. That it was about the skinny long legged 22 year old kid who'd been shot right in the heart only hours before, whom she couldn't save no matter how many bags of blood she'd poured into him. She knew too, that it was about the 4 year old little girl from last week who'd been raped since the age of 2 by her scumbag grandfather, now locked behind bars. But the little girl still couldn't get over bouts of severe constipation and urinary tract infections because she didn't want to pull her pants down even to use the bathroom. It probably too was about the homeless man who was so brilliant and confused that he was unable to function in life and came in the ER almost daily begging for food.
It was about all of these, and more.
Loran turned her body into his and whispered, "I know. I know."