Friday, September 23, 2011

Little effort - gigantic gift

I'm growing to like a number of people in my nursing classes even though we've only been in session for four weeks.  One or two I'm already growing to love.

My lab partner is an Alaska Native woman who served in Iraq for 14 months.  She was a medic.  Her descriptions of the chaos, lack of equipment, horrific wounds, loss of life, gold in "The Palace" and squalor nearly everywhere else in Baghdad are mind-numbing, and sometimes I'll ask her a question she can't really answer.  Usually a question relating to how she copes with those memories..  She's in nursing school so that she can work with veterans stateside, and remains an Army Reservist.

We exchanged phone numbers after the first week of class.

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from her.  She had been riding her motorcycle on the closest thing that Alaska has to a freeway and ran out of gas on an overpass.  She said that she had already called all the cab companies and, being new in town, didn't know who else to call.  Nobody had stopped to help her.  The lovely woman who owns the B&B I live in during the week advised me that she had a full gas can in the basement, and that I should take it with me to rescue my friend.

I found her easily; a small woman dressed in black leathers sitting on a motorcycle with hazards flashing on a freeway overpass.  I pulled over, turned on my hazards, and handed her the gas can.  Her hand was shaking as she filled the motorcycle's gas tank with a couple of gallons of gas.  I returned the can to my Jeep and went back over to her.  She was still shaking.  She threw her arms around me and thanked me over and over again, tears streaming down her face.  She said, "I didn't know who else to call.  Thank you so, so much for coming to rescue me."

I replied, "You have gone much further than this for me.  To the extent that I am able, I will always have your back."

I can't remember ever receiving a greater gift than the chance to help in a small way this woman, my friend the veteran.  God bless her, and all who serve.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Birthdays and bedpans

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was also another dreaded "skills checkoff" day in nursing lab class.

I spoke with my sister Linda via Facebook in the morning.  We share the birthday and are seven years apart.  I told her that I wished I could be anywhere but where I was (waiting to take a skills checkoff test) and she reminded me that last year's birthday found me wishing I could be in nursing school in Anchorage for my birthday this year. She suffers from seasonal affective disorder, as I do, and we discussed using light boxes and vitamin D as we mutually mourned the passing of summer.

I donned my ugly green scrubs and drove to class feeling as though there was a dark cloud of failure hovering around me.  After all, I failed on my first checkoff last week and had to repeat it. 

They don't tell you which skill they're going to test you on; there are three to four skills possible and you pick one scenario/skill by choosing an index card that is lying face down on the table. I felt relatively confident regarding my ability to perform each skill because this week I had practiced (duh!), but hoped that I would draw applying a figure 8 bandage, because I practiced that the most and actually became somewhat proficient at it.

When my name was called I entered the lab and my professor said, "Oh no, it's you."  She was kidding.  I think. This is the professor who suggested that I might want to call my doctor and have him increase the dosage of my depression and anxiety medications last week. 

I drew a card.  I was to assist "Mr. Smith" (one of the heavy plastic dummies lying on a hospital bed in the lab) with his impending bowel movement.  As if that wasn't enough, he had taken a laxative the night before and had to go "right away".  Where was my birthday god?  My figure 8 bandage birthday god?

I sweated and heaved and donned gloves and talked to the goddamn dummy.  I hated Mr. Smith with a burning passion, but I didn't let him know.  My instructor watched and made appropriate comments, although she had looked at me quizzically when I had begun to put on a protective gown before approaching Mr. Smith with the bedpan.  "Why do you need a gown for this, Alyx?" "Because when I take a laxative at night there is bound to be an explosive result in the morning", I replied.

I passed the skill checkoff.  I was sweaty and shaking when I was done, while Mr. Smith just lay there in his plastic state.  He didn't thank me, and didn't join in when my classmates sang happy birthday to me a few minutes later.

Happy birthday, indeed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blind hog aka Nursing School Week 3

I passed my first clinical checkoff on Friday (after failing it on Wednesday).  My professor showed me some tricks (after assuring me that she was going to pass me on the exercise) and when she did, suddenly several pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me.  Even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.

I'm learning new things every day.  And not just about nursing skills.  I noted this past week, while riding my bike along several of the wonderful trails in Anchorage, that I could smell dog poop everywhere.  I pass several people walking a variety of canines every time I ride, but figured that hordes of wild dogs must stampede in from the wild and poop like crazy every night for the aroma to be that strong.  I mentioned this theory to a fellow resident at my bed and breakfast and he laughed until tears streamed down his face.  Evidently Anchorage smells like dog poop only in the fall when wild bush cranberries are fermenting.  I'm betting wild bush cranberry wine isn't much in demand.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's the safety, stupid

Today I donned scrubs for the first time since starting nursing school and showed up for my first experience with "skills checkoff".  "Skills" have scared me for two weeks now; first I couldn't hear my heartbeat using a stethoscope, and for some reason making a bed without grabbing the sheets by two corners and snapping them in the air to figure out which is the long way and which is the short way has me completely baffled.  We can't do that in nursing lab because the snapping stirs up dust particles that might just harbor deadly bacteria.  I'm a good snapper and am having a hard time learning how to "fan fold" sheets and make a bed the right way.

I knew I would be asked to either help a patient from a chair to the bed, help a patient walk down a hallway, or help somebody roll over in bed (reposition) for today's skill checkoff exercise.  I did all those things when my mother was in a nursing home.  No big deal, right?

Last week I realized that I've spent my entire professional career using my mind and not my body.  Terrifying.

Body mechanics (helping somebody move around without straining my back), not snapping sheets, and remembering all the ways that human joints move (assisting a bedbound patient with "range of motion"exercises) are not my long suit (yet) and I entered the lab today sure that I would fail the skills checkoff exercise.

I began sweating when my name was called.  Having been asked to transfer a patient from chair to bed (the "patient" being my lab partner) I shuffled in to make all the right moves.  I know I did very well with the chatting part.  I did well with the body mechanics.  What I neglected to do, however, was to confirm the patient's identity by checking her wristband AND return the bed to the lowest position once I had her tucked in.  My professor looked at me and said, "Did you forget anything?"  I stared at her and thought, "Well, obviously you screwed this up, you idiot.  What did you forget?"  After asking me two more times what I might have forgotten (she was really trying to pass me on the activity) she showed me what I should have done.

So, I failed my first skills check.  I'll have the opportunity to redo it on Friday.  I'm trying to look on the bright side:  never ever will I do anything to a patient without checking his or her wristband, and every bed I encounter in my nursing career will be as close to the floor as possible before I leave a room.  There will be no unidentified patients falling out of tall beds on my watch.

A little humility is good for a person.  I spent two hours with my stethoscope tonight (trying to hear the lub-dub I'll need to track in order to successfully determine someone's blood pressure for next week's skill check) and then I ate a large bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips thrown in for good measure.

Good thing those scrubs have elastic waistbands.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I remember

I remember seeing the towers fall as I watched on my television.  Hopeless, horrified.  I remember driving to my job at the American Red Cross that morning and seeing the blank looks on the faces of my coworkers.  I remember the skies being silent;  all planes were grounded.  As the day crawled by, I remember citizens calling our Red Cross office wanting to know what they could do to help.

I remember feeling angry.  I remember the awe I felt when I learned that a plane full of heroes averted an additional attack on Washington, D.C.  I remember the children who came into our office with coffee cans full of change to donate to the disaster effort.

I remember the last time I had dinner at Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.  It was partly cloudy that evening, and as I looked out the window next to my table a cloud rolled by.  We were in the middle of it, like you are in a plane.  Cotton candy.  Up so high.

I remember visiting Washington, D.C. in October of 2001 while attending a high school reunion.  I stood not far from the spot where a shrine had been built to recognize those who were lost when the plane crashed into the Pentagon.  Photos, flowers, notes piled high.  In the distance, the wounded Pentagon itself.

I remember my high school boyfriend at that reunion.  He was a Navy Captain then.  He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "We didn't know or we would have stopped them."  He cried, and I hugged him.  I said, "You did the best that you could.  There are some things we cannot control."

I remember visiting New York City in 2006 and seeing the altered skyline for the first time I felt as though I had been slapped in the face.  When I stood at Ground Zero I remember feeling chills as though I had a fever.  I felt nauseated and confused and empty.

Earlier this year when CNN reported that Osama bin Laden had been apprehended I felt a hot, raging, primitive streak of something rush through me.  I don't know what it was, but I hope I never feel it again.  It was so powerful that it terrified me.

Those of you who died, I remember you.  I remember those of you surviving their loss.  Those of you who saw the buildings fall and still cannot sleep at night - I remember.  Those of you who have fought and sacrificed since then to keep us safe - I remember you.  Those of you who fought before, who served before, I remember you too.  You built something for us that is so precious that others want to take it away. 

Like it was yesterday.  I remember.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fairy dust

Sometimes gifts and blessings fall from the sky and settle around me.  I'm always surprised, even though this has happened many times before.  On occasion, they are gifts that I've wished for.  Usually, however, they are unexpected - wonderful items that I didn't know I wanted or needed.

Yesterday I had lunch with my cousin's daughter here in Anchorage where I attend college.  Not only was it a relief and joy to sit and dine with someone I know (who happens to be smart, funny, and very interesting), but she offered to let me park my car in her driveway on the weekends I choose to fly home instead of making the three hour drive in the dark and ice.  She and her family live just minutes from the airport.  When I take her up on her offer, I won't have to pay for airport parking or take two public bus routes to get to the airport from a place where I can leave my parked car and not have to pay.

You can't buy fairy dust.  It's priceless.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nursing School Week One: The Locker

For the first time in (good Lord) 38 years I have a school locker.  The UAA School of Nursing issued me locker # 229 and a combination lock to secure it.  I had to ask someone much younger than I am to show me how to use the lock, and as I write this I can't remember how to open it. Twice around to the right, once around to the left, then what?  Oh, hell.

I had one distinct meltdown last week in the parking lot of a grocery store during a pouring rainstorm, and fortunately my sister Linda was available to talk me down from the edge.  It's a great gift to have someone who knows you inside and out and is still willing to talk to you.  She knows exactly what to say, and she said it.  After that I was ok.

One of our first lab sessions consisted of learning how to use a stethoscope.  We were instructed to listen to our own heartbeats.  They are supposed to make a "lub-dub" sound.   I couldn't hear mine.  Just couldn't hear it.  I knew it was beating because I was alert and oriented, but all I got was silence.  I approached my professor and explained.  She sat with me and used a stethoscope with two sets of earpieces, placed the diaphragm (the cold round part the doctor puts on your chest) on her chest, and said, "Now, you can hear that, can't you?"  I couldn't.  I said, "Oh God, after all this studying and working to be accepted into this program I'm going to find out that I'm deaf and can't be a nurse."  She said, "Alyx, if you were deaf we would not be able to have this conversation."  She suggested I try practicing (listening) in a quiet place over the weekend.  I have, and now I can hear my heartbeat.  I have also used ear drops and a wax removal system three times in the past three days in hopes that I'll never miss a heartbeat again.  My ears are not amused.

I now know how to give a bed bath, don protective gear for situations in which I'm treating someone who is either immune compromised or has something I don't want to catch, and brush somebody else's teeth.  I also know everything there is to know about handwashing.  I suspect that this aspect of nursing will speak to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.  Wash before, wash during, wash after, then wash again for good measure.  My professor used a phrase (several times) that is etched upon my consciousness forever:

"If it's wet and it's not yours, wash your hands."

Yummy, huh?