Tuesday, May 18, 2010

As Happy Does

Years ago, I would have been irate to get a phone call from the director of nursing telling me I was being floated up to the sub acute floor.

I like my little long term floor and its predictable demented old people. I know their orders by heart, have their routines down pat. I can glide through a shift without a care. My floor is home, the residents my family, and I'm so comfy there.

But upstairs is where the actual sick people are. Freshly post-op. Battling cancer. Fighting stubborn infections. Frequent admissions and discharges. It is chaotic and not comfy.

I didn't get pissed. I killed her with kindness. Expressed concern for the nurse who'd called in sick. Thanked her for the much appreciated heads up.

I trudged upstairs and took report from the day nurse. It sounded like I had a good group of patients. Nobody too sick, no admissions. Only one lady who would potentially be a problem.

I made my way down the hall and met my patients.

Jerry. Perfectly pleasant. Polite. Smiling. He'd lost one leg to diabetes and was at risk of losing the other if his foot didn't heal. He bragged and beamed with pride at the progress he'd made using his prosthetic leg.

Al. Homeless. Grateful for the bed and meals. Lounging lazily.

Mel. Another amputee without a single complaint. Asked only to be boosted up in bed; "If you aren't too busy. No hurry at all. I can wait. I hate to be a bother."

Lady on IV antibiotics, lady with breathing troubles, blind lady, lady recovering from a stroke. All kind and lovely.

Miserable lady. Well known around town and wealthy. Almost 90 and still beautiful, her skin better than mine, hardly a wrinkle. Perfectly made up, not a white curl out of place. Designer bedding brought from home.

Not a thing was right. The bed uncomfortable. The food inedible. The aids never quick enough. The room too small, the roommate speaks too loudly, (and because she can't hear, others speak loudly to her). Therapy hurts too much. What do they expect from me? I can't. I won't. Do it for me.

"Fill my water pitcher, get me some percocet, fix the blinds, turn up the heat, no that's too much, turn it down, oh forget it, send in the aide". Never please. Never thank you.

Poor me.

Her husband is every bit as unpleasant. The hospital that had performed his wife's hip surgery almost killed him last year (and yet you allowed your wife to be treated there?). He should have sued. Doctors are idiots. Everyone is incompetent. When can she get a single room?

Because she's entitled to more right? Because she's rich? Because she's always gotten her way? Because when she gets out of this shit hole, she gets to return to her big beautiful home?

Poor her. To have everything she needs at her fingertips, to have people come running when she calls, to have nothing make her happy.

Next, I have the absolute pleasure of meeting the miserable lady's absolute opposite.

Chuck greeted me with a big smile and a " Well Hello Darlin'!"

Instantly I knew this was a dear sweet man. Tall and thin, mop of white hair matching a clean white beard, big friendly smile.

He turned off the news as it was making him sad. "Why can't people just be nice to each other? Smile at each other? Isn't it easier just to be happy?"

"It is", I had to agree. We kept chatting.

He'd lost his wife, and remembered her to me with a twinkle in his eye. He couldn't keep up their home, so he moved to a senior housing apartment. He misses having a yard, a garden, a car in the driveway to take him wherever, whenever.

But he loves his big window and the sea breezes it lets in. That is enough. Breezes and smiles are enough.

I could have talked to Chuck all night. His positivity was a welcome light to his neighbor down the hall.

But I'd end up spending most of my shift trying to do the impossible; make Mrs. Misery just a little less miserable.

I remember expecting my life to unfold as I'd planned it. The perfect house in the country, the perfectly healthy child and his perfect childhood. Maybe even a few perfect siblings.

Because things had always gone my way, they always would right? I could only stay happy if they did right?

I know now how lucky I am that I got to experience it being stripped away, all my expectations, the things I knew I was entitled to.

I was free to start over with nothing, no home, no healthy baby, no job, no expectations - entitled to nothing;

Not the roof over my head, the food I eat, the car I drive, the job I have, the Deaf kid and his Muppet sister,

Not even to the next breath I take.


  1. I can totally relate to this post. In fact, I think I cared for similar people the other day.

  2. Absolutely fabulous post. Stumbled in and glad I did.

    Oh. And I concur totally. I'll be back.


  3. I want to be remembered for beautiful skin and being nice!

  4. you sort of lost me at the "more percocet" but I promise I actually read the entire story.

    I've always wondered what it's like to be a nurse, when you assholes and angels, all mixed into your day. and showing compassion to each one, equally.

    my expectations are typically low - and I'm better off for it ;)

  5. my life didn't turn out at ALL the way I planned it, and yet I wouldn't trade it for the world.
    when I'm sick I want you to come and take care of me (I promise to say PLEASE get me more percocet)

  6. Thanks for the reminder. Sometimes we all need one.

  7. Thank you for the reminder that for every asshole out there, there is a Chuck to bring back the sunshine.

  8. My mother always said, "expect nothing, and you'll always be pleasantly surprised."

    Kind of makes sense, in a motherly, martyrly kind of way.

    Sounds like Mrs. Misery is living the money-can't-buy-happiness lifestyle. Sad really.

    God bless the nurses.

  9. Y'know, you can have your life on a silver platter and still not suck. You can still be a nice person and be grateful for everything you have, despite having more money in the bank than I will ever see.

    Rich lady has no clue.

    Neither do some of my patients. But as an OT I can (nicely, gritting my teeth) tell hem to do it themselves, in the name of independence.

  10. Money can't buy happiness but it can buy you a beautiful face in your 90's when no one in your age range can even recognize you without coke-bottle-thick glasses.

    Shame she wound up with looks instead of decency.

    Thank heavens for the "Chucks" in the world...they serve as a reminder of who we should want to be.

  11. Oh, what the world could be if everyone realized how much easier it is to choose happiness!!

    Can you imagine?

  12. well, i am relieved that most of the patients are nice. there always seems to be a stinker to contend with in every job, every class, and every hospital. SIGH. i guess that is supposed to make us appreciate the good ones.

    do you watch nurse jackie? sorry if that is an annoying question. i just love the show. LOVE IT.

  13. Wow. Dude. This post is just epic for me right now. I love how it reads - straight and clear and with heart. No extra flowery words of b.s. - just clear and strong.

    It's been a while since I've been here because it's been a while since I've been anywhere but .... it's a breath of fresh air. I've missed your words....

    Nice new scene over here too. Love it.

  14. you know, this piece of misery is proof that money does not buy happiness.

  15. Oh, yeah, I can see this blog is the place for you.

    You are really letting your freak flag fly here.

    Good for you, cuz I LOVE IT!

    Feels so good to throw off the apron and just BE NUTS!

  16. You are making me so excited about starting nursing school in the Fall!!

  17. You always have to make me cry, don't you?

    S'okay. I still love you.


Use Your Words.