Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nurse Nazi or How to Remain Calm

When I first got out of college and for the next 5 years, I worked at an elementary school in the front office. Because of budget constraints, we only had a nurse one day a week and a social worker 1/2 day a week. Even when she was there, the nurse rarely had time for the day to day nursing duties of taking temperatures, handing out various pharmaceuticals, or patching up scraped knees. The social worker rarely had time to follow up on anything more than paperwork.

Thus, the nursing duties, the truancy calls, the contacts with social services fell to me.

Early on, I created a motto for myself.

Stay calm in the face of adversity.

And it would serve me well.

I discovered I had an interesting ability during a crisis to flip a mental switch - turning off all emotional response and turning on...what? I don't know. Let's call it Tweet Revenge - my alter ego superhero. A clicking through a rolodex of stored information looking for the best course of action to contain and solve the problem.

Think and act fast. Cry later.

This ability helps me remain compassionate and yet be all business to accomplish what must be done. It was what kept the little boy with a broken arm from going into shock as I got him to sing You Are My Sunshine with me while waiting for his grandmother to come take him to the hospital. It's what allowed me to step in the middle of the domestic dispute in the lobby and talk the abusive husband down long enough for the police to come1. It's what got the little girl with the dislocated knee to laugh tremulously at my pun-a-licious jokes instead of losing consciousness while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Later, it would be what would make my father call me a narcotics Nazi after his shoulder replacement surgery as he was doing his physical therapy 3 times a day sans anything stronger than extra strength Tylenol2.

This ability is what made me seriously consider pursuing a career in trauma medicine. It's easier to do what must be done - while remaining compassionate - when there is little to no emotional connection. And apparently I'm great at disconnecting in the face of adversity...I thought.

So this weekend, while in New Mexico, when the loveliest of companions came down with some kind of infection that sent her reeling into a 103 degree temperature and reduced her, by her own admission, into a 3-year-old little girl, it was Tweet Revenge who stepped in and took over the situation.

It was Tweet Revenge who navigated the dark streets of a city in which she'd never been, driving a luxury car perhaps worth more than she makes in a year, in search of anything she could think of to bring the fever down and making note of the emergency entrance to the hospital she happened past. It was Tweet Revenge who came up with the bath and the cold washcloth and the plan for the next day. It was Tweet Revenge who packed everything, loaded the car, and drove the 6 hours home on 4 hours of fitful sleep with nothing but adrenaline and coffee to keep her awake.

Except...this time Jane (I) was there too. Watching anxiously while the person for whom I care deeply struggled to swallow, struggled to stand, and barely able to walk more than a few feet. For the first time, I was there feeling helpless, scared, and very much alone not knowing what to do. But only from the recesses. Outwardly, I was Tweet Revenge. Inwardly, I was lost. And our connection grew, strengthened by the unveiling of vulnerabilities.

But I didn't cry. Not once.

At least...not until I was safe at home and only into the fur of a love bug cat.

1: Had I known he also had a knife, I'm not sure my response would have been the same.
2: The narcotics made him sleep. After he was home for 3 days, what he needed to be doing was his physical therapy even if it did hurt...per doctor's orders.

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