Monday, June 28, 2010


I thought it was just the usual afternoon thunderstorm and continued my activities, unconcerned. But when the wind made a sudden right turn and slammed into the house I felt somewhat alarmed. Indeed, I was home alone, since Jon had taken all the kids to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg for the day and at first I was inclined to be frightened but decided I needed to hold myself together for the sake of the dogs.

This is Sancho. Does he look like a dog who handles stress well?

Sancho is anxious

I contemplated my options should this curiously violent storm become a tornado. Everybody knows you are supposed to go to the basement, but getting to my basement involves going outside and around the house and unlocking a padlocked door. From the look of things outside, I figured odds were even between getting to the basement safely or getting knocked unconscious by flying debris. The other option is to hide in the closet under the stairs, but trying to persuade Sancho and Luna to follow me into the closet when their doggy instincts were telling them to hide under the dining room table was going to be a challenge. Then I remembered that if this storm killed me at least I wouldn't have to be a nurse anymore. Buoyed by this cheerful thought, I stood by the window and placidly awaited my fate. Which turned out to be nothing more severe than enduring long boring hours with no electricity. A large branch broke off our walnut tree, but didn't hit the house. The entire top of a large oak in the park across the street had been sheered off and lay upside down on the grass looking like a dropped ice cream cone. The ground was liberally scattered with nuts, branches and other detritus.

It was inconvenient that I had set out to wash the sheets and while each bed now had clean and dry bottom sheets, all the top sheets were in a sodden lump in the dryer. Jon and the kids had arrived hungry but otherwise unscathed from Busch Gardens. I anticipated a miserable night, trying to sleep without air conditioning, but it was actually quite pleasant and the lack of sheets somehow made it feel like we were camping.

It really was quite a storm because two days later traffic was still snarled around the main vortex of destruction near the university and traffic lights were still out and trees still blocked the roads. I ended up trapped on the wrong side of town and had to drive in a huge detour around the city in order to get home. Thus is Charlottesville inconvenienced by the weather for what must be at least the fourth time this year.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I had an epiphany at work: I really, really need to make time to eat lunch. A lifetime of body image issues have left me with a high tolerance for hunger. I'm like a camel in the desert where food is concerned. It had been my habit to eat a light breakfast, bike to work, perhaps snatch a five-minute sit-down to snack on a clementine during the middle of a twelve-hour shift, but otherwise take in no nourishment other than sips of water and strong coffee, bike home and then, without stopping to eat, go for a run. I assumed, because I never actually collapsed, that my body has some sort of superior blood sugar regulation system. What I didn't consider was what the lack of food was doing to my mental status. I thought that quietly weeping in the bathroom toward the ends of my shifts, full-on sobbing after getting home, generally feeling like life would never, ever be joyful again were related to the stress of being a nurse when actually, they were related to the fact that my brain was starving.

On Sunday, I was working my fourth twelve hour shift in a row--with the extra half-hour tacked on for lunch (which I never take) that's fifty hours in four days. I had had the same patients and they were getting on my nerves. Two of them (there were five, total) were the sorts whose family members come looking for you when they need something, instead of using the call bell, which meant I was constantly getting interrupted for stupid stuff ("Can you do something about the guy in the next bed who is snoring?" "Can you bring us a cup of ice/ a towel/ an ice cream? "Can you make my roommate's visitors talk more quietly?""Could you provide longer IV tubing so Dad can move his arm more easily?" "Can you give Dad these particular pills at this time, but wait half an hour for this other pill because that's more convenient for us? And then can you bring him pain medicine a half an hour after that?" "Can you fly to the moon and bring back a piece of it for us?"). It's not like I'm checking my facebook when I'm at the nurse's station. I'm charting, I'm sending pages, I'm checking in with the social worker or physical therapists, planning my care, in other words, WORKING. And I'd had big plans for a different patient who had been with us for months. I'd wanted to put him in a wheelchair and try to get him outside for some fresh air--his first trip outside in over two months, but I was just too busy with all the other patients. I was frustrated because this patient was quiet and undemanding and I resented that my other patients were getting in the way of my plans for him. When I finally sat down for a minute to grab a quick bite, I got paged to one of my rooms--the patient's visitors in the other bed were concerned about the roommate, who was moaning in pain. The moaning patient, for whom I had done a lot to get improved pain control is someone who doesn't suffer silently. It's just her way. I helped her (and her chest tube) transfer from the chair to the bed--her lusty screams could be heard all the way down the hall-- encouraged her to press her PCA pump button, told her when she could have more Percocet. She was comfortable, but it had taken fifteen minutes to accomplish all that.

Then her roommate's daughter wanted to talk to me at great length about how disappointed she was that her mother wasn't being discharged to their top choice nursing facility. It was all my fault you see, because I'd verified that they'd communicated their choice to their doctor's administrator, and I'd told them our social worker would arrange it--provided there was a bed available. And the social worker should have arranged it, but for some reason placed the patient in a different facility, possibly because the family's choice facility doesn't show up in the computer when you search for it, ("Oh," the family said, "That's because it's new.") Well how the fuck are we supposed to find it and, more importantly, WHY ARE YOU BLAMING ME ABOUT SOMETHING THAT IS THE SOCIAL WORKER'S RESPONSIBILITY? Anyway, this woman talked and she talked and she talked and suddenly the room started spinning. I steadied myself with the bed, told the woman I had to leave, and walked out. Some nurses aids in the hall asked me what was wrong and I started crying and said I thought I was going to pass out. They couldn't have been kinder: they made me sit in a private office, brought me washcloths for my face, brought me food, told the charge nurse who took my pager away, and then left me alone to eat and cry and recover.

The thing is, the food didn't just give me physical strength, it improved my mood. It improved my mood a LOT. The angry family wasn't so terrifying any more, the demanding family, well I'd be going home in a few hours and they'd be chasing a different nurse down the hall with their demands. The quiet patient I wanted to take outside? We did at least manage a short walk in the hallway. Unfortunately, a few days later, he suddenly got very sick and is unlikely to ever see the light of day again.

Update: The patient I wanted to take outside for some fresh air coded and died a few weeks later.  He never got an opportunity to do outside and breath fresh air.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

How is a window like a dog suppository

You know those tasks? Those tasks that, while they don't cause you actual physical pain are still seriously annoying? "Oh God, now I'll have to give the dog a suppository." "Oh God, it's time to take down the Christmas tree." For me, it was "Oh God, now I'll have to open the kitchen window." Opening the kitchen window involved climbing onto the counter top, balancing one foot on the narrow stainless steel bridge between the sinks and tugging with all your might until the sash began to rise, gained momentum and hit you in the chin. Jon once crushed his finger between the top and bottom sashes during a particularly vigorous window-closing effort. Not to mention the fact that the storm window shattered, oh, eight years ago allowing freezing winter air to infiltrate the kitchen, and the screen didn't fit tightly and wasps had moved in to the space between the screen and the glass. We were always like, "We have GOT to get a new kitchen window," but never did anything about it until recently.

So it was that as I slept after working night shift, an argument between two carpenters floated up to my bedroom from the kitchen, below. It seemed that one carpenter was afraid of wasps and the other one wasn't. It seemed to me that the sensible thing would be for the not-afraid carpenter to deal with the wasp's nest while the afraid one provided emotional support from a safe distance. Perhaps that is what actually happened. I went back to sleep--a sleep punctuated by roaring machinery--and when I awoke, the wasp-y window was gone and a new one in its place.

The carpenter said it would be a one-day job, but it actually took four full days. Our house seems to have been built by two drunk guys who made frequent visits to the dump. Everyone who has ever worked on our house has commented on the bizarre construction. The new window, however, is fabulous. I bought a top-of-the-line Architect series, appropriate-for-old houses window. Cheap replacement windows are an abomination! Don't ever buy them! Don't let your friends buy them! Our new window is a casement, so no need to climb on the counter top ever again. It's the little things.

Old Window

New Window:

New Window

Random picture of one of my kids misbehaving in a way that involves a window:
They have the whole world to play in, but they have to pick the roof.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The homeless may be onto something

Miss G hurt her wrist and I put an ace wrap around it so she'd be more comfortable at school. Only I wrapped her a bit tight and she went to the school nurse and asked her to rewrap it and the nurse refused, saying she needed a doctor's order. OK, no doubt she is bound by the school district's policies, blah blah blah, but the thing is, Miss G then presented her arm to a random 8th grader who was happy to re-wrap her arm, and did it quite competently, too.

So Jon came home after spending ten days in the mountains above Santa Fe, at an altitude of 7,000 feet. On his first day back, he was up at 06:00 and by 10:30 he had cleaned the gutters, hacked down all the pokeweed in the garden, pruned the large maple tree in the front yard, plus other sundry tasks that I am unaware of since I was still in bed for most of that time.

I have "days off" which are nice, but they are always interrupted by "work" and the specter of "work" consistently ruins all my days off. In other words, my life really sucks right now. After eight months of working full time, I am still not used to it. I realize that it is the normal condition in this country for women and mothers to be in the workplace full-time. Pundits are always telling us how great it is that more and more women are in the workplace. Hurrah! More women than ever are working! This means we are progressive and enlightened! Let's celebrate that fact and talk with enthusiasm about "women in the workforce!"

But let's ignore the thousands of children who dine on pizza rolls, nightly. Let's not talk about mothers inflating their sick kids with Tylenol and sending them to school because there is no one to care for them at home. Let's not talk about workplaces that "allow" six absences from work per year. Let's not talk about parents who are so stressed they look forward to death as a time when they can finally rest. Let's not talk about the fact that Miss G will stay home from her 8th grade graduation since neither Jon nor I can be there or the fact that I had to work (night shift, naturally) on Mad Scientist's 18th birthday, and I'll be working (night shift again!) for Drama Queen's 17th birthday tomorrow. And if my job, which is supposed to be a "profession" wasn't so stressful, maybe I wouldn't mind working so much. I thought a career brings "fulfillment," but every minute of every day at work I am in a state of near-panic from the stress. This is not fulfilling, it's hell.

Oh, but now we have so much money. It's true, I have almost more money than I would know what to do with, if there weren't an Anthropologie in town, but there's no time to enjoy it. We can't even take a family vacation because Jon and I can't get time off at the same time. When I stayed home full-time, I worried about money. I hated scrimping and making-do and stressing about car repairs or traffic tickets, but our lives were so relaxed and carefree in other respects, the money troubles seem trifling now.