CEM

Those are the initials on the license plate of my Aunt’s golden BMW convertible. It’s also the name of the car. Pronounced “sem”. The initials actually stand for Catherine Ellen Money. That’s my Aunt, or Auntie C as the cousins like to call her.

Auntie C is petite and porcelain-skinned with poker-straight hair the golden red color of an LA sunset. She is the only one I know who can wear her fringe of bangs as naturally as if she were born with them. She pulls off the kind of outfits Anthropologie features in their catalogue – bold prints, saturated colors, delicate knits, cloche hats. The adjective that comes to mind when I think of her is “sprightly”

 

Despite the number of stamps in my passport, my favorite place in the world really is the South Pasadena bungalow where she, my uncle, and my cousin live. It is a deeply initmate place adorned with family photos, bird feathers collected from walks, fresh flowers, and whimsical decorative touches. An arbor covered with fuschia flowers creates a canopy of foliage in spring and summer to welcome you to the backyard garden festooned with twinkly lights, the lawn littered with grapefruits and oranges from nearby trees. The doors and windows are usually kept open and the southern California breeze drifts in and out with the promise of sunshine and care-free days.

 

 

Auntie C is my soulmate. She and I share a birthday – January 14. It even amazes me that she was born in ’58 and I in ’85. We are both Capricorns; headstrong and willful but also deeply emotional and attuned to the spirits and needs of those around us. Every year I eagerly anticipate the box that will come in the mail from California for my birthday. This year, within the cardboard, there was a pristine white box cushioned by layers and layers of deep pink and red tissue paper. Inside were three objects that might have seemed random to another person, but to me they make perfect sense. A light switch plate, a drawer pull, and a small vase.

This year I have been contemplating moving to my own space and without having told her, Auntie C picked out three things that she felt I could use to help make a new place my own. Small touches similar to those she has used to make her home unique. Three simple, yet perfect things to remind me of the beauty all around. The light switch plate looks as if it has a pattern of rays bursting forth, the drawer pull reads “favorite things to keep forever” – reminding me to cherish what I hold most dear, and the vase is shaped to look like a bunch of radishes which my cousin said made her think of me in my garden.

Auntie C is my soulmate because she just knows me.

27

“I woke up once in the middle of the night, and Buckminster’s paws were on my eyelids. He must have been feeling my nightmares.” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer

I have read a great many books since my childhood but there are very few that linger within me the way this one does. I think of the way my own cat, Bali, will sleep upon my chest – sniffing my eyelids and laying a cool paw on my lips when my breathing blows through her fur, something she finds supremely annoying. She knows when I have awful dreams because she will sleep a good distance away to avoid my tossing and turning.

 

 

Tomorrow is my birthday. 27. Which means that it is almost 3 years since the worst day. Somehow, things seem unrecognizable since then. Even so, I find myself looking forward to each new year as an opportunity to put more distance between myself and 24. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds so much as it profoundly dulls them from a sharp stab to an underlying ache. A new year, a birthday, is yet another opportunity to peel away the next layer in the quest to discover all that life has to offer. What adventures are in store? What changes will occur? There is always the promise that what lies ahead will be infinitely better than what lies behind.

Just 3 years ago, Bali was a scrawny kitten whose face was oddly distorted by the bold orange and white patch above her eye. My mother professed that this was the ugliest cat she had ever laid eyes on. Now she is a hefty creature of 10lbs and the orange and white patch has seemingly shrunk to nothing but a daub upon her fur. Dad used to sit in his chair and call to her from across the dining room, “hey, Ballsy…come here”. He knew it was a ridiculous nickname but I always hear him in my head when she comes running to me, chattering in her cheerful mew.

So now I am 27 and Bali is almost 4 but the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same in this old house. I am curious to see what will be different about this year and what will remain as it is. I never really thought about coming this far before.

(Almost) A year in Nursing

I get the same reaction over and over again when I tell people that I am a nurse.

A: “So what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a nurse.”

A: “Oh so, you must work like what…3 days a week? That’s awesome! I wish I could just work 3 days a week. All that free time must be great.”

 

And that’s when, if you’re a nurse, you will roll your eyes. Sure, it’s great to work only 3 12-hour shifts out of a 5 day work week and do your banking in the middle of the day on a Wednesday while everyone else is grunting through the 9-5. But that’s hardly the reality.

If I am working day-shift, things usually go like this:

4:45am – wake up

5:30am – leave for work

6:00am – arrive at work/eat breakfast

6:30am – figure out my patient assignment for the day and look over their charts

7:00am – get report from the night-shift nurses

7:30am – get my day started (assess patients, give meds, send patients to tests, etc)

9:00am – 11:00am – attend rounds while simultaneously providing patient care

3:00pm – finally eat lunch

5:00pm – administer evening meds, speak with family members, admit patients

7:00pm – give report to night-shift nurses

8:00-8:30pm – leave hospital

9:00pm – arrive home, eat dinner, go to bed

Try doing that for three days straight. Somewhere in there I try to remember to go to the bathroom or drink some water. Most of the above time is spent standing up. My family members will tell you that it’s like I don’t even exist because I eat, work, and sleep. Night-shift means that they don’t even see me at all because I leave for the hospital while they are at work and come home when they are still sleeping. I’m pretty sure I have gone almost a full 5 days without speaking to my mother because of my work schedule. And all that free time everyone thinks they would have? It’s spent recuperating from physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. And since most of us work 80 hours in a pay period (two weeks), you have to work one 8-hour shift as well. Then factor in working every-other-weekend, two Fridays per month, and various holidays. In reality, only other nurses really know that working such a schedule isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

I have learned a tremendous amount since nursing school.

Mainly, that nursing school is nothing like actual nursing.

The rest being that nursing is an extrememly difficult profession. You must manage 3-5 people as if they were ships on extremely rough seas: get them safely to the harbor without incurring too much damage along the way. You must be smart but it isn’t enough to just be intelligent; you must have a keen intuition and gut instincts that will help you to make clinical decisions. Each shift you will be juggling a great many things required by your patients and the physicians, and you must be finely attuned to every one of those things but not so distracted by any of them that you cannot focus. You have to be able to adapt to a wide variety of situations, personalities, and problems because nothing is the same every day. One day your patient think that you are the best nurse they have had and the next, a patient is throwing things at you across the room. And, because of this, you can never simply be good at your job like everyone else, you must be excellent so that you do not make life-altering mistakes. No one’s life is in jeopardy if you don’t get that company-wide email out or your computer eats those sales projections, but someone will die if you give the wrong medication or fail to notice important changes in your patient’s status.

Nursing is so difficult that it humbles me every single day that I spend on my unit. Just as it is difficult for the civilian to comprehend the experiences of a soldier, so is it difficult to describe the complexity of one’s experiences as a nurse. I am not merely carrying out a series of tasks ordered by a physician, I am the man on the ground for that physician, sending back important data to be analyzed. I am the one who will see the change in vital signs or the blue pallor of someone’s skin before any physician does. Patients are relying on me to protect and reassure, to nuture, to be their mouthpiece, to navigate them through what may be the worst time of their lives. It is an incredible burden to shoulder and one that few people ever will, comfortable as they are at that computer in their cubicle.

And so, even if it is only 3 days a week, it always seems like a lifetime because everything that happens in a shift tends to slip through the elevator doors with you on your way home, always present until you return again.