I’m putting my hand up.

*Written December 2014

I’ve just quit my job. My steady hours, steady pay, guaranteed employment job. Why? I hear you ask. To be a writer. For an un-steady, un-paid, very small chance of success, stay at home in your pyjamas kind of job, get up at 12 and work till 2am kind of job. There is nothing good about writing.

Except for how it makes me feel.

Braver then I can ever be in person. More real than I could ever imagine. Plumbing the depths of my soul, and all that jazz.

But it wasn’t easy.

Nursing is a great job, a necessary job, a job that if you do it right can make you feel competent and knowledgeable and useful and necessary, and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to feel like that every day when they get up and go to work.

But it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough for me.

It was part of my identity, and maybe it still is. It’s the answer to the question, what do you do?

“I’m a nurse.” I don’t DO nursing. You are a nurse, or you aren’t.

I’m a nurse. A nurse who’s also a writer, but I’m telling you that I found it too hard to do both. And then this job came along, this different, wonderful, easier job with better hours and better pay and no night shifts or getting home at 11pm and having to do all the housework before getting up at 5 to go back to work in the morning, or working a double shift because everyone’s called in sick and it’s the only option.

So this job came along, and the tiny, dangerous voice in the back of my head said, here it is. Here’s your chance. Take the job, quit, and WRITE. It’s what you were meant to do.

My husband even sat me down and said that if I didn’t take this job he would never understand that literally here was every opportunity I could ever ask for and if I didn’t take it I was an idiot who didn’t deserve what I was given (but in much nicer way because he is lovely).

So I took it. I handed in my notice, then spent the next 6 weeks at work thinking about what I’d done. Had I made a terrible mistake? Had I just thrown away years at uni and years at my job where I was probably getting a promotion within the next year or two, and long service leave after that, and what about the fact that after I left I could no longer call myself a nurse? That was the hardest pill to swallow. That was the part that hurt the most. I didn’t want to give that part up. That part wasn’t for me. I LIKE calling myself a nurse, I liked being the one at dinner with the crazy stories about the poop and the blood and the shocked looks on everyone else’s face. I liked knowing things about surgeries with hard to pronounce names, and being the one my friends called for an opinion on whether this colour was normal, or who their mum should be referred to. I was competent, and good at my job, and for the most part I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. No matter how hard I tried, how often I tried to talk myself into it, or when I had a bad shift trying to reconcile that with all the things I thought nursing would be but so clearly weren’t.

So 6 weeks went by, and I pondered, and then it was my last shift, and people were signing my shirt and handing me cards and hugging me, then I walked alone to security, and handed in  my pass. And that was that. I went around the corner to walk to the carpark and I couldn’t stop crying. It was grief, pure and simple. My heart recognising what my brain couldn’t; that a part of my life was over and I was sad about it,

Sad that I hadn’t loved it enough to stay, that I hadn’t been strong enough to keep at it, that I wanted something else in my life.

In my first year as a nurse I came very, very close to making a huge mistake with a patient. Fortunately, my want to protect the patient outweighed my ego, and I went and got the manager to see if I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t.

Experience is a brutal teacher, but by God do you learn. We caught my mistake in time, and I luckily did not cause the patient any harm. A friend of mine said to me the other day that sometimes the biggest successes of our lives are actually recognising when you need to make a change. There are moments you can look back on and be most proud of yourself, and those moments for me are when I recognised I was making a mistake. I stopped what I was doing. I put my hand up and said, I need help.

Thinking about crashing your car or falling down the stairs as you go into work, not so badly that you’ll be really hurt, but just badly enough that you have to miss a few days of work is a sign that you’re not okay. Coming home so stressed that you cry if you drop an egg, or yelling at your family because the internet is slow is a sign that you need to stop. Something’s not right.

You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You are making a mistake. Remember that thing five-year-olds can do that adults don’t allow themselves to do? Stop what you’re doing. Put your hand up and say, ‘I need help.’ Treat yourself the same way you would treat a patient, a friend, a loved one – you want the best for them. Why shouldn’t you want the best for yourself? It might not save your life, but it might just save your soul.

 

Week Twenty-Five Prompt: Intersection, “Closer”.

Closer

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” – Albert Einstein

“At this stage, it remains unclear how many people have been injured, as the chaos surrounding the nightclub fire continues. First reports indicate an electrical short ignited the acoustical backing which surrounded the stage area…”
*
The morning has been chaos, I’ve been down in Emergency helping transfer the stable patients to theatre or a ward. The hospital is on bypass now, we’re not taking any more admissions. The burns unit is full and every bed up here contains someone in pain. Alexa asks me to do a dressing on a patient for her; rattling off a quick handover: She’s come to us from Emergency overnight, she’s fairly stable, extubated already, the main problems for her are pain management and infection control. Alexa touches my shoulder, “It’s a mix of first, second and third degree – her face, right arm, bilateral legs, abdo – face and arm are the worst. Just those dressings for now. Thanks.” I nod and enter the room, wheeling my dressing trolley in with me. The TV is blaring, another newscast about the fire fills the room. I mute it, and suddenly all I can hear is the ticking clock and the soft put-put-put of the pump pushing fluids into the patient’s one good arm. 

I cross to the sink, scrubbing my hands for the thirtieth time that day. My skin feels raw as I grab a towel and pat them dry, snapping gloves on after opening the dressing pack. What I can see of the woman is covered in bandages; swollen eyes and mouth are all I can see of her face. Puffy fingers peek out from one bandaged arm; the other arm uncovered, relatively unscathed. Good. One good arm. That is good. That will help. She begins whimpering as I slowly and carefully drip sterile saline onto the old dressings on her arm. 

“I know it hurts, I know. Try to take slow breaths.  We have to soften the bandages first before changing them.” 

Clotted blood and haemoserous stains turn wet, shiny from the saline. The dressing relaxes, no longer dried out papier mache, and I slowly, carefully, peel it back. 

Stop. Just stop. Get that look off your face. This is your job. Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. Breathe. Just breathe. This is a person. She is still a person. 

I bite my tongue. Stop. Her arm, what used to be an arm; what might, some day, again be an arm, stirs, reaches out, searching. Just stop. It brushes against mine; hot and angry. I watch it for a moment, see the red, oozing, raw skin against my own. My first impulse is to draw back, shake it off, some disgusting, rotting, inhuman thing touching me. She pulls her arm back, leaving a smear of clear fluid on my skin. I stare at the mark she left, anchoring me to this moment. Get that look off your face. The smell smacks into me, sinking into my nose, my skin, my clothes. This is your job. I close my eyes and suddenly, I am two years old again. I am staring out at the driveway of my childhood home. It is 45 degrees outside – mum and dad keep talking about it, “heat wave”, “we really should get air conditioning”. The driveway is paved dark stone and the heat is visible, rising in hazy waves to meet the hot blue sky. I am wearing latticed white stockings, no shoes, and a dress. It is 45 degrees outside. The door is propped open to let some air in. I step outside. 

Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. I think of the effort it must have taken this woman to touch me, how much pain it would cause that arm to brush against mine. Her eyes are wet; she is blinking as though she can’t see clearly. I look around for a tissue and grab one from her bedside table, holding it to her eyes. The tissue soaks up the salt water and I watch her mouth. She seems like she might be trying to talk, but I can’t understand her.

I reach to take off the dressings covering her face. They peel off, one by one, the smell rising up in cloying tendrils, getting worse with each unraveling layer. I gasp. I can’t help it when I see her face. What used to be her face. What might, someday, again be her face. But not today. Today it is half gone, blackened and shiny and swollen and oozing and it's never struck me before that without hair, eyebrows, a nose or cheeks a person doesn’t look like a person any more. Breathe. Just Breathe. The breaths remind me to focus on what she has been through. What she will go through. I see it all now, spinning out before me on some kind of timeline; I see debridements and amputations and skin grafts and excisions. I see how completely her life has changed even though she doesn’t know it yet. I see that right now all she needs is for me to be calm. In control. I take a deep breath. This is a person. I wipe a smile onto my face. 

“You’re going to be okay,” I lie through my teeth. I am two years old again. I am screaming and screaming and screaming as my stockings melt into my feet. I cannot move. I can only scream. 

“I’m just going to change these dressings okay? It will be over soon.” Panicked footsteps, and my dad is almost there. I know it’s my dad, even through my tears I can see he is dad-shaped and crying and trying to get to me faster. Closer now. Closer.
Almost there. 

“Almost there, I promise. I just have to clean this first.” He’s there, scooping me up, crying and yelling and so mad at me but gentle and I am so tiny in his arms and then I am in the car, feet in an orange bucket. There is ice and water in the bucket and I cannot stop screaming. My sister is holding me, shushing me, telling me it will be alright. ‘You’re at the hospital now, they will take care of you. This is where people come when they’re hurt because people know what to do here. They look after you
here.’

She is still a person. 

“Right,” The nurse smiles down at me, I smile down at the woman; calm, in control. “Let’s get you fixed up.” I relax in the nurse’s arms. I trust her. The woman grips my hand suddenly, tight against mine, and her breaths come easier. She trusts me. 

**NB** 45 degrees Celsius is 113 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This has been an intersection with the very lovely , who put up with my nitpicking like a real trooper. Now go read hers, it's awesome!

Many thanks to  for 'whipping' (har har, see what I did there?) this into shape. 

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Inconceivable

Have you ever wanted those five seconds back? Just those five seconds? Like the moment when you reverse into a pole because you weren’t looking, or when you stub your toe on the bath, or when you’re talking about someone and they walk up behind you?
 
Lyn knows how that feels. If she had been more careful, she wouldn’t have tripped. If she hadn’t tripped, she wouldn’t have fallen. If she hadn’t fallen, she wouldn’t have lain on the floor at the bottom of her stairs for two hours, calling out to a neighbor with a voice that grew weaker with each passing minute, waiting for her husband to come home.
 
In Australia in the 1980’s, there was a huge push towards awareness of domestic violence. This was a good thing, because it meant that healthcare workers (who are often the first people outside the family to see the results of such violence) felt more comfortable in asking the tough questions.  It also meant, unfortunately, that sometimes they looked for something that just wasn’t there.
 
Lyn’s husband came home and he could barely see the digits on their phone through his tears. Lyn comforted him from where she lay on the floor, knowing that right now he needed her.  “Come on baby, just focus. Just do this for me, and then I want you to go pick the kids up from soccer, they’ve been waiting.”
 
Lyn’s husband wanted to wait with her ‘til the ambulance arrived, but Lyn wouldn’t hear of it. She kept picturing her boys sitting on the curb in the darkening night; soccer ball under one arm, their tiny faces hopeful as each car drove by. She couldn’t bare it (it turned out that a kind mother had taken them home with her own boy; she knew Lyn wouldn’t be late to pick them up without a good reason). The husband nodded and kissed his wife. He made her more comfortable with a pillow and a blanket, and sped off to find his boys.

The ambulance arrived. Lyn was lying there, alone, bloodied and bruised. They couldn't believe that a husband would leave his wife for any reason when she looked like that. They decided that Lyn was the next poster girl of domestic violence. They refused to take her in until she admitted that her husband had done this to her. Lyn begged them, and it was only when her husband arrived home with her boys that one ambulance driver said to the other, “Come on mate. She needs help. Let’s just take her in.”
 
At the hospital, they inspected Lyn, searching her all over. Bruising covered her back, dried blood pooled on her forehead where she had smacked her head on the stairs. They looked at her; so tiny, so young; so obviously, in their eyes, a victim. “You need to tell us the truth. This is a safe place. Did he hurt you?”
 
They refused to scan her when Lyn didn’t give them the answer they were looking for. The husband took Lyn home, and the fresh-faced idealistic resident folded his arms across his chest, watching them. “I’ve just changed her life,” he thought, and he felt good about it.
 
Slowly, Lyn’s body healed, but not in the way it should have. Bones fused where they should never fuse, torn muscles never worked the same way again. She learned to live with the pain. She began to gain weight. She saw doctor after doctor, each looking at the initial report from that night in hospital, each seeing that the resident had written that there was no obvious injury, and therefore no need to scan the patient.
 
She was diagnosed with depression and subscribed painkillers and anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes, if Lyn took enough, the agony stopped for a little while. She saved the really good painkillers for special occasions, like when her sons graduated from high school, or when they got married. On those days, she was able to sit without pain and just be a mother. On those days, she cried because she was proud.
 
One day, her therapist moved away and referred Lyn to a friend for her continued treatment. Lyn was excited to meet him; he was a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist looked at her, looked at her records and decided to send her for some scans, just to see if this patient who had been labeled over the years as a hysterical liar who likely suffered from Munchhausen’s could possibly be telling the truth. Maybe, he thought, she hadn’t ever been given the benefit of the doubt.
 
Twenty-six years after Lyn fell down the stairs, Lyn got her scans. She was immediately referred to surgeon after surgeon, all of whom said she weighed too much for the surgery to be a success, until one surgeon said yes. He’d give it a go. He said she had one of the worst backs he’d ever seen, and after this he’d need to look at her neck, her hips, her knees and her ankles.
 
I met Lyn when she was recovering from her fifth surgery.  I went in to take her blood pressure. She was happy. She was grateful. She told me her story. I had to leave the room to stop myself from crying in front of her. There was no place for how I felt about what she’d been through in her life. When a person is that vulnerable, bearing scars from surgery in places no-one should ever look, looking up at you with tearful eyes and matted hair and no make-up and hooked up to machines with tubes coming out of them every which way, telling you they’re grateful, you cannot fall into pieces. You suck it up. You hold back their hair, you wash them, you feed them, you take away their pain and you listen to them. 
 
Later that night, I called my dad up and told him her story as best I could without bursting into tears. He’s a doctor, and he nearly vomited when he heard how she had been treated. I asked him how this could have happened, how it could be possible that here in a first world country with excellent healthcare and fantastic standards could this be possible.
 
“Oh love I don’t know. That’s…Some people just…slip through the system, I suppose. She was just one of them.”
 
Sometimes I think about Lyn, and wonder how she is now. I think about everything she’s gone through, and I hope her and her husband can do all the things they wanted to do together but couldn’t because Lyn was too damaged. Sometimes I think about her grandkids, and I hope she can lift them up without pain.

Sometimes I think about those five seconds, and how different everything could have been. Just those five seconds.
 
 

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