I love being a nurse. Caring for sick children gives my life purpose. My work makes a difference for families on their darkest days. It gives immense satisfaction, opportunities for growth, and an outlet for compassion. —WUUUB-SKRIIIIIIIITCH (That’s the part of the post where that ‘needle on a vinyl record sound’ scrapes across my brain!)
Although the above is heartfelt and true, it’s only half the story! Let’s have a Paul Harvey moment, and I’ll tell you the “Rest of the Story”!
I have a t-shirt that reads, “Nurses. We can’t fix stupid, but we can sedate it!” Seriously, nursing offers innumerable chances to look like an idiot, to deal with other people acting like idiots, and to be coated in strangers’ body fluids. A nursing career of any length requires large quantities of ‘guillotine humor’ for survival. (Guillotine humor is along the same lines as gallows humor, but it’s bloodier!) There are experiences that most nurses and all ICU nurses share:
- I own the PERFECT PEN. If it falls prey to a notorious Bic rustler, there will be strip searches, shakedowns, death threats, and Chernobyl-type lock-downs.
- Upon arriving home, I offload three needle caps, an empty saline syringe, seven bottle tops, two rolls of silk tape, an empty packet of Skittles, a mini flashlight, and four pens from my left shirt pocket. (Only one of the pens is the ‘One Pen To Rule Them All‘! The other three are ‘loaner pens’, because, NO ONE touches my Precious!)
- Halfway through a work story, I’ll notice my dinner guests are green and everyone is studying the rare roast beef with queasy suspicion.
- While driving home, I feel the psychosomatic tickle of a patient’s cooties crawling over my skin. This retch-inducing sensation is followed by the certainty that stripping naked, burning my clothes, and scuba diving in Lysol is the only way to save my family from an outbreak of flesh eating bacteria, zombie making viruses, and/or parasites the size of John Hurt’s alien!
- Kids everywhere may be doing the ‘snow-day-happy-dance’ and the entire population of Texas hunkering down with cocoa, but I’ll leave for work four hours early to play my role in the Ice Capades edition of Nascar.
- I spend Christmas away from my husband and kids, and wish I could throat punch the next person who says, “You have to go to work?!? That’s not fair. They should close the hospital!” (Just a tip, folks. If sick kids could get well on command, I’d be out of a job. The miracle of healthy kids would make me the happiest person collecting unemployment, but I’d be out of work nonetheless.)
- The biggest, loudest, most tattooed and pierced, escapee from Cell Block H will squeal like a four-year-old girl, burst into tears, and fall out like a Douglas fur in December the moment he sees a needle and/or blood.
- And…I’ll be asked about someone’s sciatica, hay-fever, left big toe pain, or digestive upset wherever I go. (Seriously, I’ve had strangers in line at the grocery store tell me about their bathroom difficulties!)
As a nurse with a farming alter-ego, I’ve discovered some undeniable similarities!
For example, pre-toilet and post-toilet hand washing is a must! Whether at work or on the farm, I spend an inordinate amount of time with my gloved hands poking around in germs, poop, body fluids, or someone/something’s personal bits. I’m not germ-o-phobic, but my life seriously calls for the peace of mind that comes from serial hand scrubbing!
Remember the list of pocket tools and trash listed above? Well, it has a close kinsmen that follows me to the farm! My pockets bulge with zip-ties, dog treats, strings, wire cutters, feed receipts, and hay—always hay! I’m not sure where ALL THE HAY comes from! I swear it’s like the tribbles from Star Trek. It multiplies and invades! I’ve found hay in my scrub pockets (I don’t wear scrubs on the farm.), in my grocery bags, in my makeup kit (which never leaves my bathroom), and on one memorable occasion, in a freshly opened, previously hermetically sealed, package of sausage!
Conversation unfit for polite society happens in my life. At least, it’s unfit for polite non-medical non-farming society. As a nurse, I occasionally forget that it isn’t normal (or acceptable) to discuss wound vacs, drainage color, and the distinctive smell of pseudomonus aeruginosa (like sweet corn chips) in front of civilians. (If you understood that last sentence, I’ll assume you’re medical personnel. If not, I apologize for skeeving you out! [For goodness’ sake, don’t google anything! Understanding will just make it nastier, and there might be pictures!!!])
Farming conversations are just as high on the ‘Make ‘Em Yack Scale’. With farming, there are conversations about the t-post stuck nine inches deep in the horse’s hip, ram birth control aprons, birth, birthing complications, parasites, butchering issues of all kinds, and the best way to dispose of bodies. These conversations are part of why we don’t eat out much. (Well, gross conversations and a tendency to check out random strangers’ veins. Seriously, it’s a nurse thing. I promise if you know a nurse, they’ve looked at your arms and thought “I could hit that blindfolded in the dark!” or “Dude, drink some water! You haven’t got a vein worth sticking!” Ask a nurse, if you don’t believe me!)
Another similarity between nursing and farming may surprise you. This is patients thinking I’m Satan with a stethoscope. In my nursing career, I’ve been hit, kicked, punched, spat on, and in a bizarre turn of events, clocked in the face with a hardback Jackie Collins novel. I’ve worked pediatrics for years, but I didn’t always. Most of the incidents mentioned were when I worked with an elderly population. Certain medications and the 24-hour nature of ICU’s cause some older people to temporarily lose touch with reality. They become frightened and morph into Chuck Norris with dentures and an AARP membership.
In pediatrics, kids see me as walking talking ‘Stranger-Danger’! After all, I stab them with sharp objects, while their parents cheer me on! Try convincing a child that the shank wielding weirdo wants to help them feel better! It’s the nature of the job, that while healing patients, we do some extremely unpleasant things.
Honestly, most of what I’m paid to do would be a felony offense if ‘RN’ didn’t come after my name! I spend my working hours sticking tubes, needles, probes, nasty concoctions, and thermometers into various portions of my patients’ anatomy! I don’t know about y’all, but I think my job description sounds like the Spanish Inquisition’s honey-do list! (“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” It had to be done! 😉 ) Before I dole out life-saving torture, I even promise stickers or candy. Does anyone else see echoes of the creepy guy (who always seemed to drive a van) that our mothers warned us about!?!
After sporting a black eye for a week, I thought the old dear with the Jackie Collins novel was a challenge. Then, I had to give Finnbar (our bum-biting quarter horse) five shots a day for seven days! Finn tried to avoid being caught, attempted to stomp on my toes, and glared at me with his ears back and his lips twitching. I could read the desire to take a chomp out of my arm (or bum) clearly in his eyes and ears!
In the name of animal husbandry, I’ve had sheep use my chest as a springboard, a pig bark viciously and charge me, a sick cat try to shred me, and a mad Maran rooster attack me to defend his girls. (The rooster was tasty, by the way. Our new rooster is a kinder gentler [therefore, still breathing] cock o’ the walk.) At work or on the farm, my efforts at healing are often met with suspicion, hostility, and bared teeth. Luckily, the horses have yet to cold-cock me with a copy of Black Beauty or National Velvet!
Abused clothes are another shared joy! I wear scrubs at work and jeans and tees on our place. My work clothes (at the hospital or on the farm) are exposed to the most disgusting muck imaginable! I’m not a slob. I’m tidy, and I start out with clean clothes. However, there are times when body fluids are unavoidable! Equine, ovine, canine, feline, porcine, galline (That’s chicken. I googled it.) or human juices are everywhere! I don’t have to wait for it to hit the fan, because, some days it flies solo.
At some point, I’ve been caught by every body fluid imaginable. (I carry spare scrubs for a reason.) At home, I’ve been nailed by stuff flying from hooves, spraying from wounds, and smeared off newborn animals. I’ve slipped, slid, and splatted into ooze the odor of which defies description! Sometimes, I hose excess farm muck off outside or strip off scrubs in the shop. Then wearing only a robe, I head in and put my clothes straight in a sanitizing washer. I immediately hit the showers and try to straddle the line between scrubbing and scalding myself! (Nursing friends, have you ever wished you could autoclave your own body?!? Yep, me too!)
You know, once I started thinking about this something occurred to me. There are several roles I play in life: wife, mama, nurse, farm girl… What does it mean, that most of the jobs I’ve chosen require the complete lack of a gag reflex, a cast iron stomach, and the constitution of a bull moose? Seriously, is it a sign of mental instability, that when I choose a job it tends to involve cleaning up someone or something’s bio-hazards?!? I mean surely there’s psychological treatment for such masochism!
No need. The treatments are built in! I snuggle my kids, rock a sick baby, ease the pain of a suffering child, pet my big dogs, or bury my face in the warm neck of a horse. These are the things that make all the eye-rolling gory goopy smelly Three Stooges moments of my life worthwhile.
So, what weird things have you found in your pockets recently? Have you ever felt so icky that you stripped in the garage and wished you could shower in bleach? Please, leave a comment if you have the time! I love it when y’all take the time to share your stories!
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