At the Center: Fire In Unexpected Places

At the Center, we have volunteers. In the summer is when you see the teenagers. Any other time, it’s typically the older folks. They are generally cheerful, and I feel like the day is improved because they are there.

Around the lunch time hour, the volunteers load up a big cart full of snacks, beverages, and small sack lunches to pass around. All of these things are free for patients.

Now, I understand that nutrition is important when fighting the Big C. I’ve heard of a wide array of diets. All raw foods. Veggies Only. Fish Only. Gluten-free. Etc. At the Center, we didn’t really offer any of those things. It’s snack chips, cookies, Coke, Juice…pretty much a 4th graders absolute dream of a snack cache. Yeah, you could argue that offering these things are counter-intuitive. We can’t really offer fresh fruits or veggies because it would all go to rot before it would get eaten. Gluten-free or the like are just plain gross and the patients want nothing to do with them. My general philosophy is this: if the only thing you can eat and manage to keep down is a bag of Doritos, eat as many of them as you like. Even shitty food is better than no food at all.

We also found out that when we switched over to name brand snacks and soda, patients didn’t seem to mind waiting as much. Coke Classic has magical properties!

A volunteer of ours, a diminutive man with white hair, was pushing the lunch cart around when he happened upon the room I was working in. I stopped whatever it was I was doing to allow him to peddle his wares. My patient perused the offerings and immediately laid into the poor guy about “giving crap to cancer patients”. The tirade lasted a good 2-3 minutes, all about the lack of fresh fruits, and the amount of preservatives and blah, blah, blah. I interjected when I could. It wasn’t like this volunteer was personally responsible for our snack purchases. Finally, the old guy just shrugged.

“I don’t care,” he said, preparing to move his cart to the next room. The patient snorted. I froze. You can always tell when a fight is going to erupt. “I really don’t care.” He repeated.

“You don’t care??” The patient was incredulous. “I’m sure all the people here fighting cancer care!”

Shit. How was I going to diffuse this???

“Well,” the volunteer replied, in his soft-spoke voice, “I have cancer. I still don’t care.”

With that, he moved on. The patient didn’t utter another peep.

It wasn’t until almost a year after I transferred to the center that I discovered that many of our adult volunteers are or were cancer patients themselves. Some were survivors, some were still getting treated. All just wanted an opportunity to give back. I have also discovered, and have warned people about, is that you never fuck around with a cancer patient/survivor. They have been baptized by fire, and no amount of bad shit that has happened in your life will ever, ever compare to what they have endured. They fight with everything they have because they have everything to lose. Mere words cannot describe the amount of respect I have for them. So, because they fight, I also fight.

To be honest, I didn’t even mind the patient having a nutritional axe to grind. It shows a fire in her belly, and a willingness to fight.

And that, is half the battle.


At the Center: Riding the Short Bus

Life working at The Center has been great. Other than a few minor hiccups, I’m really coming to know what it is to actually like being a nurse and enjoy my work. For the first time, my likes far outnumber my dislikes.

One of which, being the bus situation.

At ACME Hospital, I got to enjoy covered parking. Which was great when the weather was horrible, and it probably extended the life of my car. At The Clinic, I have to park in an uncovered community lot, and take a shuttle the rest of the way. During my little bus rides, I’ve observed the subtle nuances of the drivers.

The Panty Melter: His bus smells like the aftershave he puts on every morning. Boarding his bus, you notice the manly smell, then you notice the smooth R&B playing over the speakers. Luther, Barry, Al, Marvin…all crooning their “make sweet, sweet love to you” tunes. The next thing you notice that the estrogen level is higher. The women are shifting in their seats, glassy-eyed, quiet, and breathing heavily, almost panting. By the time the shuttle reaches The Clinic, the temperature on the bus has risen exponentially. The windows might be steamed up. Any man who rides this bus looks bewildered and confused. The Panty Melter smiles knowingly from the driver’s seat. It’s okay. He’ll get you there one way or another.

Excited to Be Here: He LOVES driving the bus. He LOVES driving the bus over curbs, sidewalks, and almost into other cars. Getting you to your destination is the most important thing, everyone else can piss off. Everyone likes Excited, his excitement is contagious. When you get to your final destination, you are excited, too (not Panty Melter excited). Excited loves to talk to his passengers, and his passengers have collectively decided they want to take Excited home to meet their families.

The Bus Nazi: He scowls at you when you get on his bus. How dare you not be at the bus stop when he gets there! Instead, you made him wait. Except for that one time he kept driving even though he saw you walking towards the bus stop. You 15 minutes late for work because you had to wait for the next bus. Hah hah! That was a great morning!! He seldom smiles, even when you wish him good morning, good day, thank you. Passengers goose step on and off the bus, paying homage to Bus Nazi so he doesn’t drive them to the bad part of town and leave them there. I don’t know why Bus Nazi is so mad. Maybe he’s jealous of the Panty Melter.

The Flash: This guy drives so fast that you time travel. Who knew those buses could go that fast! However, you are still 10 minutes late to clock in.

Irie Man: This guy runs on island time. Everything is okay! Everyone is smiling. Happy steel drum music is coming from the speakers. It’s like the drink and drown tour from your vacation, all that is missing is your rum punch! You’ll get to work eventually, but peace be the journey!


Nurse Follies: Getting Out

I’m getting the hell out.

Not completely out of nursing, just out of floor nursing. The time has come to move on and do something different.

I’ve read the stories of veteran nurses getting away from the bedside in droves. I now understand why. At first, I couldn’t articulate my reasons. I just hated my job. Every night before a shift, I would whine to Log about not wanting to go in. I’d come home, exhausted, and filled with stories of horrible patient antics and other dumb things. Occasionally, I’d have a good night. But those stories were grossly disproportionate to the bad ones.

Then, I read this blog entry, and it summed up part of my nurse-fatigue perfectly. I stopped caring, I became jaded. I would cringe whenever people would gush about my profession and refer to me as an “angel” for doing what I do.

The face of nursing is changing with the times. It’s less and less about helping people, and more about money. I was happy to do my job and let someone else worry about the financial aspect. I never looked at a patient and thought about how their hospital bill was going to be paid. Everyone got cared for equally from me, from the homeless guy to the VIP in the room next door. (As a side note, I hate the idea of labeling a patient a VIP as it implies I’m supposed to give them preferential care. Screw that!) But now, nurses are being included in the financial stuff. We need to keep track of cost, and charges, and budget. On top of that, the mountains of charting with have to do. And toss in the actual patient care we do, just to get a giant “Fuck you, I’m going to sue your ass!” whenever we don’t give them what they want (usually narcotics).

The other night, I was actually able to sit down with a patient and have a conversation. A little old guy who was lonely and didn’t have a lot of people in his life. He talked about his life, his fears, his routine, the family he had created in the places he regularly visited. At the end, he thanked me just for taking the time to sit and listen. This human connection is what my job has been missing, and it’s now the time to get it back.

I’m done with floor nursing. I’ve been doing it for so long, that I feel like I don’t have anything to prove. I’ve “hacked it” long enough. I’m tired of being an ambiguous cog in the healthcare machine. I need to do something that has meaning for me and the person I am helping. I’m tired. I’m tired of patients being ungrateful. Tired of the drug-seekers. Tired of always being subtly reminded that I am easily replaceable. Tired of being pissed on. Tired of being pissed off. Tired of shortages and ambivalence. Tired of seeing self-destructive people over and over again. Tired of watching patients rot from the inside out because family members don’t know how to let go. And I am tired of being a party to all of it.

So, I’m going to a clinic. It will be easier in some ways, and challenging in others. I’m sure my horrible patient stories will be few and far between, and I am okay with that. Sure, this decision may be narcissistic and selfish, but at the end of the day, I have to do what is going to make me happy. I have peace with this decision, and that tells me it’s the right thing to do.