Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Plan B

Do you remember your dream?

You know, the one you had where you went down the aisle, stepped out into the sunshine and began the book of your life?

If that book had a name, what would it be?

When posed that question by a friend yesterday, I barely hesitated. Twenty years ago, I would have named mine "Living the Dream".

  If I were to name my book now, twenty years later, I would call it:        "Living Plan B". 

Plan A was The Dream.  Living the Dream.  The house, some kids, the part-time-just-a-couple-days-a-week job that would keep me on my toes, get me out of the house and keep me in the work force just enough.  The learning to cook and meals on the table when he came home at night to a spotless house, a cocktail and sparkling conversation.  It was all I knew, passed down from generations and watched on TV as my little kid brain was forming big adult plans. June Cleaver, Alice Kramden and Nana; my role models for wifedom.  I could do this, I thought.  I can do anything.  Life is beautiful.

Enter Plan B.

Plan B is where the hours in a day fly by like an F-14 while I scramble to clean up, struggle to maintain a budget, work like a dog just to keep the "starter home" we still occupy two decades later, cook when I feel guilty, and make a valiant attempt at being a decent wife to the man I stepped out into the sunshine with.  The two kids, while desperately wanted and fiercely loved, added lines to my face and pounds to my ass that never appeared in the 1991 version of The Dream.  Also found on the cutting room floor were the parts where I pick a thankless, mentally exhausting career, the economy tanks, I care for a 95 year old with dementia and I spend my days off spinning my wheels in a haze of coffee and sleep deprivation.   Plan B is where I wonder, sometimes hourly, when the hell we are ever going to catch up, let alone get ahead.

Damn you, Plan B.

The honest, kick you in the balls side of me says:  Yep, Princess, not how you planned it, is it?    

Can't handle the curve?  Can't suck it up?  Boo hoo for you. You made your bed, now take a nap in it.   

The Princess side of me doesn't often rear it's whiny little entitled head. But today as the rain falls and I read about people who walked away from their homes getting $3000 checks to "help them start over" I get really, really pissed.   I flame about busting my ass to pay the mortgage, juggling bills like a circus freak to get out of debt, going to work each night to care for the "disabled" 30 year old opening a purse I could never afford to hand me their 'caid card, demanding I get them a prescription for motrin because "it's only a dollar on my insurance."  I field five or ten phone calls a day from Nana, who has spiraled downhill and is now like having a stubborn toddler to care for.  I remind myself that I still have fifty pounds to lose and I should be taking better care of myself.  I tell myself that I can't afford a stroke.  I consider medical marijuana.  I consider non-medical marijuana.  I hug my dog.  I cry a little.

 Then I start writing the Sequel to Plan B, because Whiny Princess is not my idea of a good Leading Lady.

I ponder the people who live on the street, in cars, and under the freeway overpasses. I remember the friends I had that never got the chance to have a Plan B.  I think about single moms who work three jobs and spend every minute fearing that someone is going to hurt their children while they're out trying desperately to support them.  I think of the friends I have who battle with angry children and have gotten crushed by spouses that left them alone and broken.  I feel embarrassed that I even consider that I might have a rough life.

I refill my empathy tank by playing loud music, dancing in my kitchen, and pouring a glass of whatever moves us to share with the man that is also starring in Plan B.  I celebrate years of happy memories.  I look at the things in my home that I worked hard for, things that make me happy.  I sneak to the door and listen through it while my daughter has her vocal lesson, thanking God I can afford her the opportunity to let her beautiful, perfect voice grow and shine.   I hug my dog.  I cry a little.  I look at the one wedding picture I liked in it's frame on the table, and I step out into the sunshine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ode to The Donald. A story for ER nurses.

I revisted some old drafts tonight, and stumbled across this one.  It's way past Nurse's Week, but I guarantee somewhere in the Metro Detroit area, my subject is well into his second or third pint of the day.  Here's to you, Donald.

In my constant attempt to lighten people up on Facebook, I posted a request to send me a smile, a memory or a joyful thought.  What I received was exactly that.  My friends reminded me of some of the funniest moments I witnessed as a nurse, as well as some thoughts that allowed me to reflect on seventeen years in a profession that is NOT for the faint of heart.

With National Nurse's Week approaching, I want to share with you the glue that holds us together; mentally, physically, and emotionally; as we practice the World's Second Oldest Profession.

I have written in the past about Stump Thumper, Groping Dead Man, and a few other memorable clients, but I have never shared with you my all time favorite patient: The Donald.  The Donald  is a professional, much like The Donald that you already have etched in your mind.  He has bad hair, a booming voice, his own sense of style and often holds audiences rapt as he works a room.  My Donald, however is not a wealthy financier. My Donald's home is the street and his prized possessions include empty Mohawk liquor bottles, a collection of hospital slippers, and numerous cast offs from my husband's "I can't wear these anymore" pile.  On any given day, The Donald identifies himself as a Doctor, The President, or Jack Nicholson's Brother.  He has braved the elements for many years now, and as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, being homeless here is no picnic.  He lives daily at an alcohol level that most of us would die from, the kind that college boys lie to their frat brothers about.  The Donald - forever etched in my heart.

It could be the busiest night in the universe at Hospital Z - a nuts to butts night as I used to call it.  People lined up from hell to breakfast in hallways, triage bays, and waiting rooms. As the Triage Coordinator Nurse I was responsible for all of them.  The ambulances were told "traumas, pediatrics and criticals only" but they pretended they never got that dispatch and would whoosh through the ambulance bay with a smug smile, knowing we had no choice but to take their patient, space or no space. Family members would approach me as I held my head in my hands, frantically trying to see if one of my colleagues could take "just one more" and stay within range of keeping their nursing license.  "Oh nurse," they would say,"My father (mother, brother, lesbian lover, baby daddy...) has been here two (three, four, eighty) hours... just when are you going to do something about that?"  Then they would try to stare me down as  I struggled not to make a fist and punch them in the throat.  It always seemed that just when I was at breaking point - ready to throw down my pen, yank off my badge and walk out the door, I would hear him - or more accurately, smell him as he blew through the ambulance bay on his stretcher-throne.  Waving to his public and insisting "I used to be a doctor here." EMS deposits his three garbage bags of crap and  uncerimoniously dumps him onto a gurney.  "He's all yours, Kimi." they would say with a smile.  No report necessary.  It was probably less than a day or two since he had been there last.  I knew more about The Donald's whereabouts than I did my own kids.  This is what happens to homeless alcoholics, people.  They are like a pinball getting bounced from ER to ER to alley to city limit. Never, ever, winning.  No one wants them in their backyard.

The Donald was, in a way, the perfect patient.  Stench aside, he was grateful, happy to be somewhere warm and more than willing to entertain the audience of waiting triage patients.  He was easily pacified by my response of "maybe someday" when he asked when he would get a bed.  He didn't threaten to tell his neighbor "the CEO of the hospital" about the shoddy care he felt was receiving as the true emergencies trumped him.  (Don't even bother with that one, people.  The more name dropping you do, the less we care.)  I loved The Donald because he was happy to just be.  He reminded me of a hyper little preschooler, asking a million questions and parroting everyone around him.  Sometimes, to keep him occupied, we would give him a cell phone, dial up former nurses and let Donald leave messages on their voicemail.  "Hello, Ellie?  It's me Don!  Hello?  Ellie?  Where did she go?" as we laughed hysterically in the background. Just a little voice from nightmare jobs past.

I cannot tell you the number of times I sifted through The Donald's belongings wearing a Hazmat suit, finding citations for public intoxication, napkins from Starbucks, Watchtower magazines, (apparently the Jehovahs will even hit up a cardboard box house) and discharge instructions from the six area hospitals he rotated through.  The discharge instructions would always make me laugh:  YOU ARE BEING TREATED TODAY FOR ALCOHOL INTOXICATION.  YOU MUST STOP DRINKING IMMEDIATELY!!!

As if.

After the securing of Donald's "valuables", I would bribe a couple friends to help me strip him.  On one memorable occasion, layer number nine came off to reveal a slinky purple nightie against his otherwise naked skin.  "Please!" cried Donald, "Don't take the nightie, it's my favorite."   "Donald," I asked, "Where did you get this beautiful nightie?"  Looking at me with a beaming toothless smile, he replied "The Dumpster at Lover's Lane."  And as you may have guessed, I let Donald go back to area C in his purple nightie, fresh slippers over his blackened frostbit toes and Elmer Fudd hunting cap on his head.  It was a beautiful thing.

One night, The Donald came in at 2am on a night that was eerily quiet.  It was a couple days before Christmas, and apparently the public was saving their "emergencies" for later, when they were done with their festivities.  It was well below freezing, and Donald was lacking in clothes.  Someone had robbed him and he had been turned away at the Salvation Army because, well, they don't take drunks. He was a mess.

Maybe it was because it was the holidays, maybe we were bored, but I like to think it's because we ER nurses are like The Grinch - possessing a big heart that is hidden under protective scar tissue.  Whatever the reason, we decided that The Donald was going to have a spa day.  We sprang into action, grabbing toiletries, towels, and basins.  We put Donald in the Decontamination Shower, soaped him up, had him brush his six teeth and wash his dirty hair.  We gave him lotion from our stash and in a short time, had him smelling like Midnight Pomegranate, Sensual Amber or some other restricted hospital fragrance.  Shirley took one for the team and gave him a pedicure while I found some trauma shears and gave him a haircut, "the first he had gotten in years", he said.  Donald smiled and cried and closed his eyes while we fussed over him like a bride, telling him how handsome he looked and that he should shape up and find himself a sugar mama.  When we were done we covered him up with warm blankets and put him in the Psychiatric Seclusion room so he could sleep in peace until he was somewhere close to sober, until we kicked him back to the street again.

But that wasn't all.

While we had been playing Steel Magnolias, other staff had been passing the hat and hitting up the doctors for a shopping spree.  Taking advantage of a 24 hour Meijer, Lizz purchased boots, hunting socks, long underwear, gloves and a new hat for The Donald.  We fished a coat out of the clothing closet (a.k.a. the Bum Bin), and set to work making a Christmas for The Donald.  We wrapped our gifts in Christmas paper and made a card.  The night progressed, and before day shift came in, we woke The Donald and told him that Santa had came.

I will someday be decrepit and demented in my own little world, but I hope I never forget the reaction that Donald had.  The joy on his face when he realized that there were presents  and they were for him!  was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced as a nurse.  He unwrapped his gifts carefully with shaking hands, ooohing and ahhhhing as he put everything on.  We gave him his discharge papers, crossing out "YOU ARE INTOXICATED" and replacing it with "MERRY CHRISTMAS DONALD!"  We loaded him up with Christmas cookies and we sent him on his way, feeling quite full of ourselves and our grand gestures.

I would like to tell you that The Donald went into rehab, became sober and is now an investment banker.

But I won't.

Because the ER isn't Disney World, no matter what administration is trying to sell us.  The ER is real, mean, ungrateful and really ugly at times.  You probably aren't going to get a "WOW" experience when you hit our doors, and for that you can thank your fellow man; who stretches us thin with non-emergencies and abuse of the system. We have been beaten down quite well, thank you very much.  But still we try.  And we never stop laughing.  Especially when The Donald came back two days later, without his new boots and socks.  His response when we asked him where they went? "I traded the boots for some good vodka and boy those socks, they wipe your butt right clean after a good dump".

God bless The Donald, and God Bless ER nurses everywhere.