Thursday, October 29, 2009

House of plague

Mr. McP has returned to school but now Miss G is glassy-eyed and feverish, and Drama Queen and Mad Scientist are complaining of sore throats and cough. I think we're lucky to get this thing over with early in the season, although I worry about my girls because they have asthma. Drama Queen got pneumonia last winter after having the flu, but there was not a lot I could have done to prevent them getting it, since the vaccine takes two weeks to provide protection, I've been told, and the schools were supposed to start distributing after my kids were already exposed, and anyway, I've learned that they have run out.

As I said, I'm not too worried, and I'm glad that the people who commented on yesterday's entry feel more or less as I do. Let's hear it for common sense! Then again, I was thinking about my great-great-grandmother who lost four of her five children in the same week in an epidemic. Ironically, her surviving child, my great-grandfather, died at age 38 during the 1918 flu pandemic.

I feel well. Perhaps I'm immune. I was seven years old during the earlier swine flu outbreak in the 1970s, and maybe I caught it then, although they're saying it doesn't necessarily confer immunity for this outbreak. I don't remember being sick, but I do remember hearing about it on the news, so I imagine the coverage must have been frequent and obsessive, because what seven-year old pays attention to current events?

That's my handsome husband in the photo, btw.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Corn phone, H1N1, and Nursing Students

We got the phone situation cleared up. After being totally frustrated by the Sprint store, we went elsewhere. I am not a big fan of Best Buy, but this can be said of them: they will sell you a phone and not barricade themselves behind invisible fortresses and/or pretend that logging into their computers is a process that takes fifteen minutes of unbroken concentration. While being ignored at Sprint, we browsed among their phones and found a cute one that is made of corn. Everything is made of corn nowadays. When we went out to dinner the other night, our "plastic" cups were made of corn. I think the expansion they're building onto my hospital is made of corn. So at Best Buy, when the salesman asked which phone we wanted, I said, "I'd like that stout, squat one that's made of corn." (And it does have a square profile, so "squat" is an appropriate adjective. I don't remember saying "stout" but Drama Queen and Miss G both insist that I did.) Apparently the Best Buy guys aren't educated about their products because our guy clearly thought I was crazy, but he was polite about it and he sold me a phone anyway, because, you know, it's his JOB. Equally important, I now have proof of being fabulously modern and enlightened since we buy phones made of corn now.

H1N1 has invaded my family, via Mr. McP who developed a fever of 101.8 and other classic flu symptoms. Several of his classmates had confirmed H1N1. He is now recovering, and so far no one else in our house has gotten sick. It really wasn't too bad and he was far sicker when he had the seasonal flu last winter. Everyone I talk to in person about H1N1 seems to have the same attitude I do--some mild concern but nothing approaching panic. Then the TV news does stories implying that our entire nation is in the grip of mass hysteria. One segment--I forget on which network--showed people lining up for hours to get the vaccine. They all talked about how frightened they were and how they would endure any hardship, just so long as they could get vaccinated. They interviewed one mouth breathing meathead who bellowed, "The side-effect of not getting this shot is DEATH!" Really? Consider this, Mr. Meathead: A "side-effect" of getting in your car and driving to your Swine Flu Vaccine Fiesta is also DEATH. (Potentially.) It amazes me how Americans freak out about any imagined threat, and yet blithely hop into their cars fifty times a day without a second thought.

Nursing students. I often felt out-of-place and unwelcome as a nursing student in hospital units, so I was looking forward to being helpful and supportive of any nursing students I encountered. The ones on my floor are first years, and some of them are terrified. I guided one through assessing our patient, something I always wished one of my co-assigned RNs would do with me.

At one point, a nursing student told me my patient had a question about a non-urgent matter. I was just going into that patient's room, but was addressing her more pressing issue, pain, so I forgot about the non-urgent question. Later, the nursing student reminded me, and I told her I'd forgotten but that I'd follow up with the patient in a few minutes, which I did. A little later, I noticed the nursing student had written in the chart: "Again, reminded co-assigned RN, Patience, to address patient's question about the [non urgent matter]." The "again" is a nice touch, no? It's more funny than annoying.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stoopid cell phones

Cell phones themselves are nice to have, but everything connected to them is a pain in the ass of the highest order. Can you tell I've been having a frustrating day? I'm working night shift this week, and it isn't agreeing with me. Daytime sleep feels so unwholesome, like I've been drugged, and it gives me nightmares. Then, since yesterday was my day off, I slept until 3:00pm, having worked all night the night before thinking I'd have to stay up late to stay on a night shift schedule, but I ended up falling asleep at 11:30pm and sleeping all night, so now I'm back on a "day" schedule, but I have to work all night tonight.

Anyway, last January we became a modern, technological family with cell phones for all, and it has been an endless headache. Everywhere, there are receptacles of water--the dogs' bowls, toilets--in which my children have dropped their phones, which causes the phones to act funny or die entirely. Not only that, they're buzzing and lighting up constantly, and I mean constantly. Our first bill showed we'd sent and received 50,000 texts. FIFTY THOUSAND TEXTS. And this month's bill had an extra $92 charge for "data" because Mad Scientist wasn't aware that it's not free to connect to the internet with your phone.

Now, Miss G's phone has died, mysteriously--no water involved--and we went to the Sprint store to see what we could do about it. Only we never got to actually talk to anyone because the associates were helping other customers, but when a customer finally left, the associate who had been helping him, and who had told us someone would be assisting us soon, disappeared. The other customer was having a very long and complex interaction with her Sprint associate, so long and complex that her pregnancy became visibly more advanced while I waited for her to finish. A different Sprint associate appeared on the floor and busily logged onto her computer, but she put up such a strong "don't approach me" vibe, she might as well have erected a force field around herself. It is not an exaggeration to say it was impossible to approach her. When I realized we had been waiting for nearly half an hour, I walked out. The same thing happened the last time we went to the Sprint store too.

Remember when all you did to get a phone was call the phone company? It would take about a day for them to set it up, and then you would call your friends and tell them your new number and they'd write it down in their address books. Remember when phones served solely as a means of communication and not as a device for storing information so no one fussed about losing their contacts, or needing "wireless backup" or whatever to be able to preserve their contacts because everybody had a HANDWRITTEN ADDRESS BOOK? As you did yourself. Remember that?

A while back I heard a story on NPR about how the practice of saving all your numbers on your cell phone means that you no longer bother to memorize important phone numbers, and that this is becoming a problem for people who are arrested because when it's time to make their one phone call, and they don't know the number because they didn't memorize it because it was saved on their cell phone. I am sure that is a useful lesson for us all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Politician's book club

Election Day will be so anticlimactic, compared to last year. Be that as it may, we are preparing to vote in our local elections here in Charlottesville and people are fired up about various local issues. I like the intimacy of local elections, when the candidate himself (or herself) will turn up on your doorstep, or you bump into him at a neighbor's party, or your kids' school's open house, and you exchange the URLs of your respective blogs. Charlottesville is small enough that the local politicians are truly accessible to the people.

Anyway, our weekly paper does a mini interview of each candidate, and I was happy to see that one question they asked each person was "What are you reading now?" I love to hear what other people are reading--or in this case--what they want us to think they are reading. But who knows, maybe these books are what they are actually reading, although I noticed that no one admitted to Three Nights of Sin by Anne Mallory or even something by John Grisham (who lives here).

I tend to judge people by what they are reading. It's not that I can't forgive the occasional mindless book--I like brain candy as much as anyone--but there are some books it is best to distance yourself from. For example, this same paper once interviewed a man who, at the time, was the principal of Charlottesville's only public high school. He was asked to name his favorite book of all time, and what did he say? The Bridges of Madison County. Eee gads. Of all the books in the world, he picked that one? He couldn't have said the Bible, or War and Peace or even freaking Pride and Prejudice? Luckily, he was no longer principal by the time my kids got there.

So, what are Charlottesville's political candidates reading now? I present a list:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Rant: An Oral Biography of of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk
Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement by Patricia Sullivan
The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard
The Bible
Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon by Dan Parry
Thomas Jefferson on Leadership by Coy Barefoot
The Facebook Era by Clara Shih
The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara
Biographies of Cicero and Winston Churchill
Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them by Brian Czech
Keeping the Faith by Richard McKinney
The Lost Symbal by Dan Brown
The Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed
A biography of Stonewal Jackson
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
Game Plans: Sports Strategies for Business by Robert Keidel.
The Restorative Practices Handbook: Building a Culture of Community Schools by Costello & Ben Wachtel
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Leaderless Jihad, Terror Networks in the 21st Century by Marc Sageman
Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Heavy on the non-fiction and a lot of dull business books, but maybe this is what we want our politicians to read. I'm not even sure what use I am getting out of this information. At least no one is reading The Bridges of Madison County. Wouldn't it be fun if Obama had an online book club?

What am I reading?
The Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation by Peter Bernstein
and The Wild Colonial Boy by James Hynes, which is about the IRA.

The Erie Canal book is good, although I realized--and this fact actually kept me awake for a considerable time the other night--that I have never really seen the Erie canal. This would be excusable if I were from Kansas, but since I'm from Buffalo, it is not. Oh, I've seen it from the New York State Thruway, whizzing past at 65 mph, and when I did crew we used to row down the Black Rock Canal, which I always assumed was the Erie Canal, but I I'm not sure if that's correct. Part of the book's interest for me was the rivalry between the two small villages of Buffalo and Black Rock, NY, each of whom wanted their town to be the terminus of the canal. Buffalo won, and became a great shipping city, and Black Rock was eventually absorbed by the city. My brother lives there. It's a gritty neighborhood of 19th century cottages, railroad tracks, drawbridges, abandoned shopping carts, and weedy sidewalks. The sort of place where you can be pregnant and smoke publicly, and no one will bat an eye.

That's part of the Black Rock canal in this picture. I used to love rowing under that drawbridge when it was up. It's kind of exciting to be in a skinny shell, with a lake barge looming over you.

Anyway, one of the most impressive parts of the Erie Canal, according to Wedding of the Waters, is in Lockport, NY where a series of five steep locks haul boats up the cliff down which Niagara Falls plunges. I grew up thirteen miles south of Lockport and I have never been there. According to Bernstein, these locks are still functioning today, much as they did 200 years ago. I think that may be a project for next summer: to take my kids to Lockport and view the locks. Maybe we can take a cruise down the canal, and I can bore my children to death by rhapsodizing about western and central New York.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For lack of anything else

I am eating a meatloaf sandwich. The only excuse for meatloaf, really, is that its leftovers can be consumed in sandwiches, with lots of mayonnaise.

Later, I will go running. I've been running the same route through downtown Charlottesville for the past ten years, only recently I've been running a mountain trail once a week. It's a trail that starts at the foot of Monticello, and ascends, gently but relentlessly--350 feet-- for two miles to the Monticello Visitor's Center parking lot. Then you get to run the whole way back, downhill, but even running downhill takes a considerable amount of energy.

The trail is very crowded on weekends, because it was built for the use of adventurous tourists who might like to hike to Monticello instead of drive, and lots of local people use it for exercise too or take their out-of-town guests there. I prefer weekday mornings on the trail when the only other people you encounter are serious exercisers and everyone is courteous. On the weekend, many of the trail users seem to have agreed beforehand to waddle five abreast and turn to glare reproachfully at anyone who attempts to pass them. And if they're not waddling, they're sneering. What's it to you, oh Northface-clad People of the Mountain, if my running clothes are sloppy and not of the Best Brand Name?

Now that I am full of all this meatloaf, I will probably have a bad run, anyway.

People wanted to see my new boots and dress, so here they are.

I love the Donna Reed retro look of the dress but I don't have any occasion to wear it to. I'm sure one will present itself eventually. It's a bit too "notice me" for the grocery store.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The Good:
  • My new Frye boots came today.
  • Retail therapy at Anthropologie this morning.
  • First paycheck last Friday
  • Am eager to get back to work and try again, despite new-nurse stress
  • Biking to work is going great
The Bad
  • Not as much time for writing
  • New-nurse stress
  • Drivers who don't want to share the road

The Ugly
  • There's not a lot that's ugly and certainly not my new Frye boots. Nor my new orange shirt dress.
That's it in a nutshell. My first week on the bike, I focused on riding in a straight line and not getting hit by a car. My second week, I felt more confident and worked on being speedy. I suppose the learning curve in nursing is similar, although it progresses more slowly. It's not like I didn't know it would be hard. I knew it would be hard, but it's still a big adjustment--not just to being a nurse, but to working full-time. School was a full-time occupation, but it was in short bursts of a few hours at a time, and I did much of my work at home. Being out of the house for twelve hours at a time is something you have to get used to. So far, the kids have really stepped up about getting themselves off to school, and helping around the house.

Then there's being a nurse itself, which can be crazy. I'm continually haunted by a fear that I've forgotten to do, or chart, something vital. Then again, it's never boring. The way I feel about nursing right now is the way I felt about climbing ladders when Jon broke his rib and I had to finish painting the house all by myself. I was terrified to climb the ladder, and yet each time I did it successfully, I wanted to do it again, and again, until by the end of the summer I was able to be three stories up, and feel OK. At the end of each work day, despite the stress, I feel that I want to return and try again.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

In which Bono uses the "C" word

I haven't been to a U2 concert since the 1987 Joshua Tree tour, where I saw them in a muddy football field in Rochester, NY. It was not a good show--Bono had just broken his arm and can probably be forgiven for not really being into it. The highlight of the day was when I successfully swerved to avoid the vomit spewing from the mouth of a drunk girl near us, who had spent much of the concert sitting on her boyfriend's shoulders, directly in front of me. So it's understandable that I never made much effort to see them again, but our dear, dear friends called us back in March to arrange that we all attend the U2 concert here in Charlottesville, and I decided I could give them a second chance.

I'm glad I did because the show was fabulous. Muse opened, and they were awesome too. Isn't it a beautiful symmetry that the best and worst concerts I've seen were by the same band?

Charlottesville is a tough crowd. I know that well, from my twelve years of social interactions here, and now U2 knows it too because the concert crowd was pretty lame. Yes, they cheered, but it all seemed lukewarm. Early in the show, Bono asked if Mr. Jefferson was in the house, and this was the only time that the crowd really went wild. Charlottesville is a college town and the show was held at the University's football stadium, but when Bono referenced the "campus" the crowd gave a collective gasp. I could almost hear the mutterings: What does he think this is, the University of Oklahoma? 'Campus' indeed.

At the University of Virginia, we do not say "campus," we say "grounds" and we don't say "quad," we say "lawn." I'm not even a UVA person, (and frankly, some of them can be insufferable) having gone to college in New York, but I've lived here long enough that I couldn't help wincing every time Bono said "campus." Still, how was he supposed to know? Maybe I'm misreading things, but it seemed to me that the rest of the crowd wasn't as willing to forgive him for "campus" as I was.