The Chronicles of Nurse Noelle; Week 3 Entry:Switching up The Rules and the Honky Tonk Blues
It was a despicable Monday morning when I landed on an ambulatory surgical unit crawling with attitude. Attitude that was chiseled to perfection-- like an ancient Venetian mask and was to be worn by those ambulatory nurses who had suffered through the revolving regime of “managers.” There was an unspoken but heralded ten year minimum that qualified you as a bon a fide nurse with attitude. Ninety-nine percent of them had treaded these ambulatory surgical hallways resentful of the helm well over twenty years. They were the suffering nurse platoon—soldiers that donned their miserable dispositions year after year while protecting their territory. If you wanted to fit in; you had to wrap yourself in bitterness or buzz off to the nearest, How to be a Bitch school.
“Hi, I’m Noelle, a nurse from the registry.” I said flipping my ID badge right-side up.
Nothing. I began to wonder if this was a unit for the deaf and dumb.
“Excuse me, I am from the registry and was…”
“Noelle, Katherine. I’m the manager. This way, I’ll show you around.” Katherine, the most recent of the managers was a petite very pasty looking woman with short whisks of forward facing red hair. She was holding a Pete’s coffee in one hand and my paper work in the other. She reminded me of a concentration camp survivor although she was much too young for that. Her gaunt face and neck and thin voice made me want to eat something. Perhaps she had just finished a round of chemo, I thought to myself.
“The code to the nurses’ lounge is 9387. The fire extinguishers are just below the two exist signs-there and there.” Katherine poked her fat-less index finger towards the two ends of the hallway. She’d make a lovely airline hostess—I pictured her in a tight blue skirt with her tiny waist folding in half to take drink orders; a portable paper doll.
“Great and how about the med room, the clean utility and the supply room?” I asked.
“There, there and there. You can put your things away and I’ll get you a temporary computer code. My office is down that way.” She pointed towards a hallway with the same staccato efficiency as when she located the extinguishers.
“Oh, I should tell you: I managed a homecare facility and have only been here for a few months.”
“Wow that is a real switch. Good for you. I am also I writer and…”
“Uh huh.” Katherine sashayed down the hallway before I finished. I realized at that moment she would be of no use-- what-so-ever. She was not a worker—she was management—which meant she’d be cooped up in her office surrounded by piles of paper work that she would spend a life time shuffling and re-arranging and attend compulsory meetings—one after the other. It was a glorified Edgar Allen Poe story in the making.
After dumping my coat, purse, and food—I headedd back to the front desk where the enemy was flurrying about.
“Let me know what you need me to do, I…”
“Can you at least clean room 463?” Neila, snapped. She was one of the regulars, armed with ambulatory surgical unit defense. She’d been at the computer typing. Neila reminded me of a frustrated nun; short eyelashes, short hair, short fuse. A no make-up man’s wrist watches kind of woman.
“Sure no problem.” I scurried off to remove old sheets and clean equipment.
I knew in this cutting environment it was imperative that I appear busy at all times; run in out of rooms if I had to. I finished up 463 as nurse Leanne snarled “get vital signs on the patient in 450—you do know how to do that don’t you?”
“I believe so.” My irritation was mounting. I swore to myself mumbling, “I’ll never come back here again.” I made a mental note to call my registry at lunch; tell them to scratch me off this list.Thankfully it was busy and I happily assisted families with retrieving warm blankets, fetching ice chips, and taking endless temperatures, blood pressures, and O2 saturations. I mingled with patients drawing out conversations and arousing from their anesthesia slumber. While spilling out of the soiled utility en route to the next mindless menial non-nursing task, I met a fellow conspirator.
“Sharon here, Noelle?” A nurse with a crew cut spiking in all directions said as she extended her hand.
“Don’t bother trying to be human to them ( she threw her thumb towards the day shifters sitting at the desk)—they won’t respond.” I laughed.
“Nice. Okay, well I’m here to work.”
“You’re doing a great job—hey if they want to pay you to strip beds and chat with folks, that’s their problem. I know you’re a capable nurse. I’ve been here for a year and they still look at me like ‘who are you’ when I say good-morning. F-em—I’m outta here, Friday’s my last day.”
“But what the hell is their problem? I mean, I am here to help them, not take their jobs—I’m registry for a reason!”
“These nut balls, god bless em, are just sour—they bred em that way. This institution over works the nurses, they take it up the hoop de da, and then become bitter. It’s an ongoing saga.” Sharon said with a wide smile.
“Sad. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“You and I know that but try convincing the maharaja. They’ve been hood-winked steeped in a long tradition of misbehavior and I don’t think they see a way out.” Sharon and I laughed.
She helped me survive the shift; it was an unspoken pact between outsiders .
Despite her warnings, I tried to wheedle my way into the minds and hearts of those nurses-- but was met with grunts, aversion, and outright resistance. When I asked Petra where the waiting room was (I was going to get the family to let them know their loved one was back in their room) she shouted “ah” and nodded her head in a vague direction.
As I closed the door of a patient’s room whom I had taken broth to, Sandy chastised me demanding my sources—as if I were a prisoner of war.
“What were you doing in there?”
“Just giving them broth.”
“Check with me next time. Got it?”
“Right so, right so.”
I was fumed all over again and sought out Sharon for another venting session.
“I work on difficult units—patients that are waiting for livers or kidneys—how dare I be treated as if I am some brainless wonder smiling at insult after insult.”
At that moment Katherine sauntered through the hallway holding a new cup of Peet’s.
“Great, just great.”
“Can you work tomorrow?” She sipped her coffee, in short little slurps.I glanced at Sharon who was shaking her head yes, violently.
Sharon assured me she’d be among the ranks and that we’d make it a “good day.”
By the end of the shift the platoon had began to trust me—a smidge. Their rock hard attitude had lifted from a level 10 ( 0 being the worst) to a 9.8. I was certain Leanne half smiled the last time she barked a command my way. I had after all-- cleaned up vomit and attended to any unpleasant task the troop demanded of me—without their having to ask.
I thought to myself, “Noelle, just be yourself and eventually they’ll come around.” I imagined myself the great floor nursing hero; restoring the morale and revolutionizing bedside ambulatory care. Nurses would once again smile and talk to strangers with respect. There would be whistling and poetry books to read and backrubs for everyone. Music therapy would replace the hum of the never ending heaters.
I snapped out of my fantasy and slipped into the elevator with only one person biding me farewell—my one inconspicuous comrade that like I, held vigil for change.
“See you tomorrow Noelle.” It was Sharon. I waved and descended to the lobby.
I held up my fists as the doors banged against one another. I had wanted to shout at those nurses—“Look you b’s—I’m not just a nurse--I have a masters, I am a nice person, I do yoga for gods sake.” But I knew, better—I would have to wait.
On my way home, a friend called to see if I wanted to check out a band that was going to be playing this evening. Why not? I had been inundated with rules and feelings of not fitting in. I could use a bit of dancing and loosening of the soul.
After tossing my scrubs in the washer, I gussied up; threw on jeans, a sexy shirt, and a historic pair of boots—then my friend and I headed for the bar. During the drive she warned me that “the band” was a honky tonkish sort but not to worry; their music was fit for dancing.
“After today, I can take anything that involves a laugh.” I said.
And laugh we did—eventually.
We entered the tattered establishment and I immediately felt queasy. I wondered how much it would be to hail a cab. There were large metal belt buckles and hats galore, there were big bosomed women bouncing under their too small tops tapping their toes. I felt as oddly out of place as I did this morning with the nursing platoon at the surgical unit. But at least there was no vomit (not yet at least) or blood involved. I took a deep breath and ordered a chardonnay.
“Ma’am we don’t have no chardonnay—we have a house white.”
“Do you have margaritas?”
“Sure do sweetie.”
“I’ll take two. One for me and one for my friend.”
Before I could take a second sip of my drink a man wearing a buckle the size of a Frisbee asked me to dance.
“Come on little lady.”
“I don’t know the two step or…”
“It don’t matter—just follow me.”
He whisked me away and before I could protest, I found myself twirling as if I were dropped out of a plane without a parachute. I smashed into his buckle and my heel landed on the person’s foot that was whirling beside me. My ego was in tremendous jeopardy and I felt the need to let everyone in the room know, that I was a nurse, a teacher, and a fabulous dancer—and that I don’t do country hick.
The dance finally ended and I fled back to my margarita. The man had asked my name, “Noelle” I shouted over my shoulder.
I slithered into the crowd hoping to dissolve into the floor but not more than three sips and one song later—I was back on the dance floor with another big belted man swirling me to and fro. I felt as if I were on a boat on a day where the swells were high and keeping your footing was difficult. As I bobbled back and forth into his hairy chest, I thought about the attitude of the nurses I’d met today and I began to laugh. It was me that was now casting an attitude — keeping my guard up believing I had to adhere to a particular way of thinking. I’d always thought honky tonk type tunes were reserved for the ignorant, the closed minded, and people who in general, I could not relate to.
My friend was now beside me dancing and carry on as if she’d been two and three stepping her whole life—a real Loretta Lynn. She was singing and tossing her hair like a five year old girl skipping after school. It was then and there on that honky tonk dance floor that I disarmed my high-minded thinking. I chimed in with a whistle and threw myself into the dance.
Causes Karen Devaney Supports
Eve Ensler and any organization that deals with issues supporting women and children and the advancement of their education.