Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Preparedness, parades, and the sacred axe.

My brother suggested that the axe that chopped my head may turn out to be extraordinary. His email to me:

It has all the trappings of a sacred object. It belonged to a deceased and legendary figure. It traveled a great distance. It had a period of obscurity (blanket wrapped, in the car). Its discovery had dramatic consequences. If the same series of events occurred in a Sicilian village, they'd be on the next boat to Rome.
We're glad you are ok. Please understand that blood HAD to be spilled. That's the way these things work. It's nothing personal.

Seamus and I were in the Dogwood Parade, a big annual event here in C'ville. I have to wonder about parades. All in the name of "fun" we and thousands of other people endured almost unendurable inconvenience. First there was the traffic jam. We were in the left lane because a left turn was necessary, and I knew that and had taken my place at the end of the line in the left lane and patiently crawled forward. Meanwhile, loads of cars whizzed past us on the right and then cut into the left lane near the top of the line. This type of behavior is infuriating. And I'm not talking about a few cars here and there. I'm talking about two huge tour buses, a host of vans from a local military academy, and just about every other car in the right lane as well. Almost no one wanted to go straight, but they all wanted to cut in front of me. All this frustration because a parade is supposed to be "fun." How is this fun? Eventually, I gave up on ever getting anywhere near the point where I could turn, got into the right lane, zoomed away and, miraculously, found city street parking only a few blocks from the parade staging area.

Then there was the long, hot wait for it to be our turn to march. MrMcP and his group would be riding bikes and when the parade started, a woman who was sort of in charge of us shrilled, "Get your bikes ready! Everybody get on your bikes and be ready!" All the kids stood straddling their bikes and it was more than an hour before it was our turn to march. And it was so hot. Here's Mr. McP and me, waiting.

I told him he'd always remember the day he was in the Dogwood Parade and he said, "I'll remember the pain." I amused myself by thinking snarky thoughts about some of the parade groups that passed us, and longed for a laptop, so I could have done bitchy commentary in real time.

How 'bout that swine flu? Here in Charlottesville, there's a pandemic flu preparedness committee that for two years has been sending out notices with our water bills or our kids' report cards, to stock up on food and water in case of a flu pandemic.

Yesterday evening, I was out grocery shopping and I noticed that the shelves were eerily bare of the sorts of foods that people might think it sensible to stock up on in case of a pandemic. There wasn't a single box of Cheerios left on the shelf. I thought maybe I should buy a few things to augment the secret food stash I keep under my bed. I started that stash last summer when food prices were really high and I thought I would soon need a wheelbarrow of cash to buy my kids breakfast. I bought a large can of yams (for vitamin A) and an extra jar of spaghetti sauce (for vitamin C). At home, I rooted under the bed and found a single grocery bag which contained one jar of peanut butter and three cans of salmon. That's it? I could have sworn I'd hidden some crackers to spread the peanut butter on. Mr. McP commented that he thought there'd been some beans under the bed, but then I remembered that I'd taken the beans for some reason. What can I say. It must have been an emergency.

Jon is in Santa Fe on a work-related outing. I sure wish I could escape to a fabulous mountaintop retreat in beautiful Santa Fe and get paid for it, so I was a bit cross when Jon called home and sounded miserable and complained of feeling tired. I told him that if he couldn't handle the jet lag between Virginia and Santa Fe, what was he going to do when we went to Rome? Later, he called me back to say that his problem is altitude sickness.
Me: Oh, so it's a good thing you aren't smoking while you're on this retreat.
Jon: I'm smoking right now.
Me: But you said you wouldn't and you need the oxygen!
Jon: I'm just smoking three cigarettes a day.
Me: Your sats are probably in the 80s right now.
Jon: Three-four cigarettes a day. Five, max. It doesn't matter. They gave me chlorophyll.
Me: So your body is able to make energy from the sun now?
Jon: I think I'm losing the connection.

Later, he texted me: "POOH POOH ON YOUR ALTITUDE SICKNESS. I'M GOING TO JUMP THE WALL AND GET SOME MEAT AND BEER." The Zen Buddhist retreat center that is housing him serves only vegetarian meals and there is no alcohol. I'm astonished that the kale-eating crowd he's hanging with hasn't shunned him for smoking. He must be sneaking out to the woods to do it.

This is what I want: I want Isaac Mizrahi to come to my house and help me get dressed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Axe wound to the head, or, The two-martini Sunday

It was the wasp's fault. I was driving, about one mile from my house when I noticed a wasp in my car. This was not one of those blundering, garden-friendly wasps that generally mind their own business. This was a scary hornet-type wasp; large, with aggressive yellow stripes. It was flying straight toward me and all I could think of was an accident that happened here in Charlottesville, about ten years ago, in which a driver freaked out over an insect and lost control of her car and crashed into another car and killed its occupants. I didn't want to lose control of my car and kill anybody, but I also did not want to get stung and there was no safe place where I could pull over. The wasp settled on the lower part of the dashboard, about one inch from my knee. This was terrifying, but the wasp seemed preoccupied with something on the dash, so I kept driving, holding myself tense, sweat literally soaking my shirt, and I got home safely.

Jon tried to kill the wasp, but it disappeared while he was looking for a suitable wasp-killing implement, so we opened all the car doors, and the tailgate and searched and that's when Jon found the axe. "Oh, I forgot about this," he said. It was his dad's axe, and we'd brought it home from Buffalo two years ago. The axe has a bright yellow handle (for safety), so how did we manage to overlook it for two years? We'd wrapped it in a green plaid blanket (for safety), tucked it under the far back seat of the minivan and forgotten it.

Jon slung the axe over his shoulder, Paul Bunyan-like, and told me to come look at an issue he discovered with our shrubbery. I, the Goodwife Crabstick, obediently followed him, unaware that I was nearly to become a modern day Anne Boleyn. The shrubbery problem is tricky and I was thinking very hard about it and crouching down to pull up some weeds and I stood up just as Jon was turning to toss some cans into the recycling bin and my head smacked straight into the business end of the axe. It hurt a lot. It hurt as much as or more than a wasp sting. Here's a picture of the wound, which is superficial, but caused pain far out of proportion to its benign appearance.

My nerves were already shaken from the encounter with the wasp, so it was pretty bad luck to get chopped in the head with an axe not ten minutes later. Perhaps it's suitable to quote Ma Ingalls (via Shakespeare) and say, "All's well that ends well."

Actually, it ended with martinis at Bang!, where we went for dinner with friends. I had two martinis, which is one and three quarters more than I need to become impaired, and later, at the music venue "Is" (all the cool restaurants in C'ville have one-syllable names) I drank some of Jon's Pabst Blue Ribbon while we watched a concert by the excellent group The Duhks who are from Winnipeg and put on a great show. I got rejected for a job and axed in the head all in the same week. I deserved my two martinis.

Addendum: The great thing about getting axed in the head is that you can write a fabulous status update for your facebook page, which I did, and got several witty comments. The prize for the wittiest comment goes to my sister-in-law Danielle, who wrote, "You're going to be okay. Next time just correct the perpetrator. Tell them it's 'ASK.'" I was wounded by a literal axe, not a verbal one, but thanks to her, any time I hear someone say "axe" when they mean "ask" I am going to consider myself axe-wounded.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I didn't get the job--the nursing job I interviewed for back in January. I don't want to describe how devastated I am. I got the letter when I arrived home from my last clinical day--brilliant timing, I must say. The letter says I should get a year's experience at some other hospital and reapply. Now, after the weeping, and the surveying of the destruction of my planned career path--1. work at large teaching hospital, 2. get into their RN-BSN program, for which they will pay my tuition, 3. become a nurse anesthetist--I am able to say, "Let's think about this rationally." These are my options:

1. Work at a community hospital--but probably not the one in Charlottesville, since I've heard they're not hiring, so I would have to work at a distant rural community hospital.
2. Get a job at a teaching hospital in Washington or Baltimore (the one in Richmond has a hiring freeze) and get a little apartment for myself there so I could commute back and forth. Only one doesn't "just" get an apartment in Washington.
3. Get a job in an outpatient setting, like an urgent care center, only then I'd be functioning more at the level of an LPN than an RN.
4. Get a job in a nursing home, where RNs function as supervisors for a staff of LPNs and nurse's aids.
5. Not try to get a job at all right now and wait six months and hope the economy gets better.

It's funny how the climate for new graduate nurses has changed so radically in less than a year. Students who graduated from my school last year were getting calls with job offers when they were still in their cars driving home from their interviews. Now I'm hearing disturbing stories like this one, about nurses getting laid off.

I am trying not to take it personally, but it's hard not to. They did hire a few--a very few--students from my school. Why not me? I have a 4.fucking0. I had excellent recommendations from my clinical faculty. What is going on? But when one is planning a career, it's best not to publish one's most rancorous opinions on the internet, not even under a pseudonym.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In which I try not to whine about nursing school.

It's hard not to. On Easter, when a friendly young man showed up on my doorstep to share with me something out of the Bible, I actually said, "I'm in nursing school," as an excuse for why I didn't want to engage in conversation with him at that moment. My world view has become so myopic, that I just assumed he would understand that nursing students--particularly adult nursing students with four kids, and two frantically barking dogs --do not have time for anything. My whole attitude for the past two years has been, "What do you want from me? I'm in nursing school."

But there I go whining again.

I tried to think happy thoughts, and I realized that I am happy about Michelle Obama. She is the first First Lady of my lifetime for whom I've felt any enthusiasm. She buys her clothes at J. Crew! I buy my clothes at J. Crew! She's young (and yet older than I) and vibrant. She's awesome. Over the winter, it penetrated my bubble of self-absorption that Michelle Obama has been criticized for wearing sleeveless dresses. When one is First Lady, one can expect much commentary about one's wardrobe, and I did, I admit, think it was a tad eccentric to go sleeveless in the winter, in the daytime, but then, when one is from Chicago, the Washington D.C. winter must seem balmy, and-- OH HELP I'M ABOUT TO COMMENT ON MICHELLE OBAMA'S ARMS. No, there's nothing wrong with Michelle Obama's arms. If I had to criticize, I'd say she has Health Club arms, but is that so terrible? (Robin Givhan of the Washington Post called them "Post Title-IX arms" but whatever. That's why she writes for the Washington Post and I don't.) Don't most middle class women in America either have Health Club arms or aspire to them? And even if one objects to such blatant musculature, aren't Health Club arms preferable to, say, Lunch Lady arms, or East German "Female" Swimmer Circa 1984 arms? Of course, everybody else was talking about this in February, and here it is April, but you see I'm in nursing school and...

I'm reading Word Court by Barbara Wallraff and have become uncomfortably aware of my grammar deficiencies. I had one of those moms who would patiently say, "Mary and I," every time I or my siblings announced, "Me and Mary are..." Writing is one thing. It's easy to edit, delete, reword. I feel that I can almost always make my meaning clear, even if my writing is not always as elegant as it could be. Speaking, on the other hand, is difficult. I blush to remember how frequently I blurt a stream of solecisms, giving the impression that I am, at best, careless and imprecise, and at worst, uneducated. There are so many tricky rules, often involving the most common words in English: as, that, put, bring, take, convince, like, but, so, than, then, hopefully...

I have been aware of the problem with "hopefully," ever since I read, somewhere, the following passage: "She's the sort of person who misuses the word 'hopefully.'" At the time, I wasn't sure what it meant to misuse "hopefully" but I knew I didn't want to be the sort of person who did it. That passage haunted me, and eventually I learned the secret of "hopefully" from Bill Bryson's A Dictionary of Troublesome Words. As an adverb, "hopefully" is an inappropriate word with which to begin a sentence because adverbs are supposed to modify a verb and not express a wish. Hopefully, we still have some cookies. (Wrong.) She peered hopefully into the cookie jar. (Right.) I have, with effort, managed to prune "hopefully" from my speech, but I have learned that other people cling tenaciously to it, indeed, feel threatened when you try to take "hopefully" away from them. I once made the mistake of mentioning to a friend what I'd learned about "hopefully" and he got so upset, I thought our friendship was over. It's not like I said, "Hey, you just used "hopefully" wrong, idiot." I think we were talking about language in general and I pointed out the common misuse of hopefully, and caused serious offense when I didn't mean to. I am hopeful that I will use more tact in the future.