A young nurses’s Christmas

I would rather eat nails than try to put together a holiday schedule for a group of crabby nurses….

Those of you who work traditional non-shift work type jobs may have never considered this, but hospitals must stay open 24-7/365. And someone has to work each and every one of those shifts.

Even Christmas day.

The scheduling requests can start rolling in on the nurse managers desk in the beginning of October. Of course who got what, is based on seniority, timing of request, what holidays you previously worked and so on.

So when the schedule was posted for December that year, it was an immediate flurry of activity as though a farmer had just spread corn outside a chicken house.

This did not affect me much. I was staffed through our in house agency. I was “float pool” so I got to pick and choose shifts, based on the needs. I didn’t join the hen party around the newly posted schedule.

Later that shift I found one of my co-workers in the bathroom crying. She tried to wave me off but I got some cheap scratchy tissues and demanded she tell me what was wrong.

Tabitha was only a couple of years older than me. We were just kids really, but our lives were on different tracks. Tabby was already married and had three young children. I was not, and still enjoying being my parent’s spoiled “baby girl”.  Tabby’s husband had walked out on her three months ago and this was going to be her first Christmas as a single mother. And because she had used all her PTO and sick time during this crisis, she was scheduled to work 7-3 on Christmas day.

It was her first Christmas alone, she had no family in town to help her and three young children.

I sat there in horror as she cried.

And before I could even think, I hear the words fall right of my mouth, “I’ll cover your shift for you Christmas day.”

Tabby looked at me with her brown eyes as big as saucers. “what?”

“You heard me, I’ll take your shift. You need to be home with your kiddo’s. I don’t have any kids. I can work.”

She finally stopped crying and we wondered if the Nurse Manager would allow us to make the trade. We trudged down the hall to her office and it was a done deal, except I got roped into pulling a double since I was the house “good Samaritan” and another single mom who was scheduled 3-11 had asked off too. I groaned, but I was now trapped I had to do it. Tabby’s relief and joy were almost enough to make me not feel so sick to my stomach.

Christmas Day was sacred at our house. It was my parents favorite holiday. We had traditions! Rituals! We sat up half the night to call family members across the world to wish them Merry Christmas in their time zones.  Now I had ruined Christmas for my own family. I avoided my parents like the plague for several days.

When I finally went over to my parents house, my mom took one look at me and said, “what have you done?” When I confessed my crime of ruining Christmas and why I did it.  my parents just smiled.  I was not disowned.  “We will be fine.” my dad said, “We can bring you dinner to the hospital.” My mom added.

Christmas morning arrived to find me getting report in the conference room with the night shift who could not wait to get out of there and the day shift who did not want to be here. But there were patients to care for and only the sickest of the sick had not been discharged for the holiday.

At around eleven AM my mother called and wanted to know if it was okay for them to head my way with food. I thought it was a little early but they were driving forty minutes across town to the hospital where I worked so I told her to come on. I still had one patient to get ready for the day and I thought I had plenty of time. This elderly lady had been with us for days. She had come out of the Cardiac Care Unit to our telemetry floor after a massive heart attack. She was very weak and still having irregularities on the monitor and remained on strict bedrest. She begged me to help her put on her own pretty robe over her hospital gown. I smiled and ran her IV lines through the sleeves and combed her hair. Her family had not been to see her since she got out of the unit. I shook my head thinking of that and got her lipstick out at her request. I prayed that her family would show up today. Or at least call her! This sweet lady thanked me profusely for getting her dressed and said with a voice full of hope, “I’m sure my son will be here soon!” I hoped she was right. I could not imagine her disappointment if no one showed up.

I left her room feeling sad again and heard a clatter coming down the hall. I looked up and what to my wondering eyes did appear but my father!  Wearing a Santa hat and pushing a cart loaded down with food! I laughed and laughed and thought of the little Tupperware dish I had envisioned. I should have known better! My mother was giggling and appeared to be his designer elf in  her perfectly matched silk outfit and shoes. She had adorned her perfectly set hair with a poinsettia flower for this occasion. And of course her nail polish and lipstick matched that poinsettia perfectly!

I could not stop laughing and directed them to our nurses conference room. What had been a chamber of doom just a few hours ago was transformed now into a holiday buffet of joy as my mother spread out a table cloth and set up dessert’s while my father prepared to carve an entire turkey.

My Dad was in his element carving the bird expertly for a crowd of adoring nurses and I noticed my mother had disappeared. I slipped out to find her.

In my elderly patients room I found my mom. She was sitting on the side of the bed holding the hand of a lonely old woman. She had a basket with her full of little crocheted stockings she had made and stuffed with nice soap and matching lotions she was giving out along with a dose of her Christmas love and joy.

My mom had experienced several major illness’ during her life and knew all to well how sick you had to be to get stuck in the hospital on Christmas.

My elderly patient had a death grip on my mother’s hand and would not let go. My mom sat there patiently, quietly reassuring her that it was ok.

Finally the elder said, “But who are you and why did you come see me?”

My mom smiled and said, “My daughter is your nurse today. She told me you would enjoy a visit. My name is Connie.”

“You did a good job with that girl.”

My mother kept smiling and her face just beamed with pride.

I slipped away because I was afraid to spoil this moment for them, plus I was about to cry. My heart was full of conflicting emotions: joy at feeling loved and appreciated, anger at this poor ladies absentee family, sorrow for her loneliness, pride that the stranger bringing her such comfort was my own dear sweet mother…My mother, whose life dream was to be a nurse, but she never got the opportunity to go to college or nurses training. My mother, who had glowed during my graduation and cried through my nurses pinning ceremony.

I wandered back towards the conference room towards laughter and wonderful aroma’s of food when I noticed my charge nurse sitting alone manning the desk. “Marge, go fix a plate and enjoy my crazy parents! I’ll watch the desk for a minute” Marge bolted. I sat down. I didn’t think a single call light would go off. Not with the well dressed elf of joy out there spreading her light and magic around.

I sat there listening to the laughter and my favorite line from the Grinch popped into my head, “Perhaps Christmas does not come from a store, perhaps Christmas is a little bit more…”

And perhaps Christmas is more than family traditions, or even special meals.

Perhaps Christmas is bringing the Joy of the Season to who ever needs it most and where ever they are.

 

I dedicate this post to my Mom and Dad,  Edgar and Connie Haase. There are nurses from MMC, who still remember you and the joy you brought to us and our patients as we worked on Christmas Day.

 

 

 

Life, Death and Chickenpox.

chickenpoxChickenpox under a microscope.

We don’t see chickenpox much anymore, thanks to the varicella vaccine. Chickenpox is highly contagious, airborne and can also spread through contact with infected blisters before they crust over. For most patients it is an itchy annoyance. For other’s, chickenpox is anything but…

When I was a child my older brother brought home the pox. My mom quarantined him to bed with his door shut until he was on the downside of his very high fevers. Then she sighed and told me to take him his dinner tray and “rub his arms and get it over with.” My brother  got very angry when I told him I had been instructed to rub his rash, but we complied and sure enough, in three days I had chickenpox too.

For me, it was just the itchy rash and not being allowed to play outside. The death penalty for a kid who played outside, all day, everyday. A very serious annoyance.

For a patient I received out of the Intensive Care Unit to my Med-Surg ward in 1990 it was far more.

In my shift report I was receiving a patient who was being discharged from ICU to our unit with a diagnosis of Chickenpox! This patient was a 32 year-old male who had been in the unit for three weeks on a ventilator.

The lesions in his lungs had finally cleared up, he was off the vent and breathing on his own, but still very weak and in need of supportive nursing care and medications.

I got him settled in to his room, checked that IV site was fine, marked when it would need a site rotation, put his fluids back on a pump all the while chatting with this nice young man.

I was absolutely shocked to find out that he had simply gone to work one day and a co-worker with a sick kid had brought that child to work with her instead of calling out sick.

You guessed it, the kid had chickenpox and this young man never had. Varicella is much worse in an adult than in kids and this man soon had varicella lesions not just in his mouth, but in his lungs, got pneumonia and almost died. The three weeks in ICU and ventilator support had saved his life.

Well, nurses talk. And this good-looking young man who was almost killed by an inconsiderate co-worker was the talk of our nurses station. Unless you work in orthopedic/sports medicine having  attractive young men as patients is the exception, not the norm, and we went wild spoiling him during his stay on our floor.

I might know of a few nurses who snuck down the stairs to the pediatric ward to “swipe” ice cream sandwiches out of the freezer for him! But I admit to NOTHING!

We talked. And we judged. How DARE this woman take a kid with an infectious disease to work with her? didn’t she KNOW she may have KILLED someone? How could she have been so STUPID? Or was she just an IDIOT?

We absolutely trashed this woman not a one of us knew.

I regret those foolish words now. As an older woman who now has children I feel terrible for that unknown woman. Now I know what it’s like to be put in an impossible situations.

Why did she take that sick kid to work?

Is it possible that she was a single mother who had been told that one more call-out would cost her job?

Is it possible that her paycheck was the only thing standing between her kids and hunger or homelessness?

Is it possible that she didn’t know her child was still infectious?

Is it possible she simply had no idea how serious chickenpox could actually be? After all, her kid just had an itchy annoying rash.

And it is highly unlikely that as a co-worker she was unaware of what had happened as a result of her bad decision. She had to know how sick this man was after he was hospitalized and missed well over a month of work. I can not imagine her personal guilt and self-condemnation.

It is possible that the boss made the connection between her child and her co-worker and she paid consequences for that action.

And it is possible that other co-workers treated her in person, the same way a floor of nurses did, with judgment and condemnation.

Now interestingly enough, this young man never did. I was changing out his IV one afternoon and asked him if he was angry at this woman. I was expecting a juicy rant but what I got was, “No, why? It was not her fault. How was she supposed to know I had never had chickenpox? Sh*t happens!”

That was all he had to say about the matter.

As I’ve grown over the years from a know-it-all 20 year old, into a woman, a mother, a person who has had to choose between very bad options I remember that nice young man and his attitude.

Yes, STUFF HAPPENS! And it happens to everyone, all the time. Sometimes there is no good choice, sometimes the actions of other people will determine a bad road you get to drive no matter how much you try to steer towards an exit.

But we get to choose our attitude and words. We get to choose to either blame and condemn or not. We get to choose to wallow in misery or “blow it off” with a phrase as this man did.

And I believe this young man’s refusal to give in to blame and bitterness, to shrug off a brush with death and laugh and say, “Sh*t happens!” is why he survived and recovered.

And not just for this situation. I guarantee you that man has survived and thrived! And he probably continues to set a good example for those around him of a positive attitude and good choices.

 

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.    Matthew 5:7

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.           Mathew 6:14

Are nurses co-dependents?

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Yep, friends and sports fans, that IS me! Circa 1989. When I finally found my graduation picture after a move, my now teenaged children screamed with laughter. As for me, I look at this young lady, so full of excitement for her new career, and my mind plays memories as my heart fills with wonder and joy.

My childhood was full of stuffed animals covered in band aids, Barbie took great care of Ken, who had red sharpie wounds all over his belly from falling out of the Pink Winnebago. The neighborhood kids knew if you got a cut or some sort of wound we run to Alana’s mom, who had a spectacular fist aid kit and magic, cool soft hands that healed. My father would encourage me to “be a doctor!” But no, I wanted to take care of people…

So after this cap was pinned to my head and I finally was able to wear ***drum roll*** WHITE HOSE I was finally a graduate nurse, at my first job in a large major medical center and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I started with two of my classmates and on our orientation day we paraded around the floor with the assistant nurse manager who was a large, very imposing woman with a deep voice, a bald spot on her scalp from years of pinning a cap to her head and her white uniform glowed and shimmered.

She had just shown us the narcotic closet, explained how we were to count off keys and drugs at each shift change and the penalties for any discrepancy’s found. I was all agog and thrilled with my new heavy responsibility when she locked the closet door, turned, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Remember, all good nurses are codependent.”

I smiled and nodded as I thought, “Well I have no idea what that is, but I am going to look it up and be the best one EVER!”

I have laughed a lot over this memory. The definition of codependent is “a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enable another person.” ( short version)  Hmmmm…… When you are sick, dying, recovering from surgery or major illness don’t you want a supportive helper? An enabler towards wellness? An advocate for your care?  A magical, cool soft hand to hold yours or soothe you with a touch? I do.

While I am the first to admit that in my personal life codependency was an out of control fire that helped burn a marriage to the ground in the flames of another’s addiction, at work it served me well. I was able to pour my heart and soul into the care of my patients within acceptable boundaries of a professional relationship. At home I had no such boundaries to tell me when to stop, when my helpfulness had turned into manipulation. Or when it was my own pride that refused to surrender or submit.  At home I was unable to see that I was sick too, until the illness’ present had become terminal.

So yes, I do believe good nurses are codependent and brilliant, smart cookies with good hearts and healthy boundaries!

For me, it all goes back to the original textbook on life and my “nurse verse”:

“The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for ME.”        Matthew 25:40 NIV