My cell phone and Sandy’s computer say it’s 41 degrees in our little Midwest town near Columbus, Ohio. I could look out the window and see the sunshine or open the front door and sniff the air, but I’ve been told it’s the first day of spring – and it looks like a beauty!
The last six days have been the end of the beginning for me. I finally turned in my notice to go contingent "on-call" at the nursing home where I work those back-breaking, mind-killing, exhausting, frustrating, demanding 12-14 hour shifts.
It looks like Jim will be starting a new job on March 26, but that wasn't what cemented this commitment to change my schedule.
Yesterday, as I reset the snooze alarm for as many times as I dared, and longer than I’ve ever pushed the limit for getting ready for work, I made up my mind to stop this insane schedule. Working until midnight with the private duty baby case, and then holding my back in pain as I limp out of bed at 5 a.m. to start another hectic day at a place where no supervisor has ever said “thank-you” out loud, suddenly appeared so insignificant compared to how I was feeling physically and mentally. (To be truthful, once my supervisor did mouth the words ‘thank-you’ so no one else would hear.)
I re-dated my two-month old notice and slipped it into my uniform pocket as I kissed a peacefully sleeping Jim good-by and told Sheba, “mommy go to work” so she wouldn’t wait at the door for me to come back.
Fighting the urge to park in the Employee-of-the-Month parking spot right by the employee entrance, I pulled in next to a nurse who has locked her keys into her running car.
“Do you have AAA?" she pleads.
“No. I used it so many times to help other people they raised my rates,” I answer empathetically.
Inside at the first nurses’ station, I notice all the staff gathered around the phone. They’re looking up numbers to call in more staff aides, and others are using the agency book to call for extra nurses. “At least one person has called off. Maybe two,” I muse as I walk on over to my unit where it is still and quiet for a change.
Later, I’m told that two aides and one nurse have called off. A critical shortage!
Soon, I observe the director of nurses (DON) and the acting assistant director of nurses (ADON) rushing around barking orders with a body language that does not look happy! It’s not too long before the DON bangs through the double doors to my unit and demands to know where my aids are.
“Probably getting patients out of bed,” I respond with an even politeness.
Apparently the DON is using her authority to reassign everyone in the building.
She orders my supervisor to pass ice on the other unit even though she was discharging a patient home and the family is waiting for her paperwork.
She sends the Human Resource (HR) out to take dinner menu’s to patients even though it’s payday Monday and that person should be sending her reports to corporate so we can get paid on Thursday!
The ADON is assigned to start passing meds, but then pulled off that hall to do something else and the billing nurse picks up where she left off passing meds. (Impossible, I think.) Later, an agency nurse comes in as the third nurse in four hours to pass meds on that hall….
Then, the administrator arrives and yells at the DON because she doesn’t like how everyone is being used, and she immediately starts reassigning everyone again - her way…
I believe you get the picture here.
I, in the meantime, take over the discharge and start passing ice on my unit as I keep up with my morning med pass and answer call lights.
Right in the middle of this confusion and frustration, I walk back through the double doors to where the DON is still rushing around.
Ignoring the wild look in her eyes, I hand the envelope to the DON. “I know there’s never a good time for this, but I’m handing you my two-week notice to go contingent” I announce as I place my envelope on the pile of paperwork she holds in her hands.
“I don’t know if I can accept this,” she says with a tone of confusion in her voice as she walks away.
Well, I know she can accept my two-week notice to quit, so I walk back to my unit without another word.
Later, a supervisor’s comment took me by shock when I told her the first thing to go will be those 3-days in a row 12-hour shifts.
“You’re the only nurse I know of that’s been able to do that schedule for more than a month,” she said. “And, you’ve done it for over a year! It’s too stressful and demanding,” she added with a sly smile.
And, they don’t know that I’ve held another nursing job and did photography at the same time! I must be part-angel – or indestructible! Or just plain stupid! They knew it, ‘couldn’t be done’, but let me take the bull by the horns and plow on every other weekend with that schedule.
In room 55 I hear what sounds like heartbreaking sobs of distress.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” I ask as I put my arm around the shaking shoulders of an old lady in tears.
“Did you know my husband died and no one told me?” she asks through tears rolling down her face.
“Ohhhh no honey. You forgot. He died four months ago. And, you were in a car accident and you’re in this little hospital until you broken bones heal.”
“I did not! He’s sick and I need to get home to him. Will you take me home now? My husband needs me.”
“Right now I can’t take you home, but in a little while we’ll call your daughter. Maybe she can come see you.”
“I’ll do no such thing. My daughter is at work. You can call her there. But right now I need to get home to my husband!”
Just then another staff person comes into the room and says, “Your husband died four months ago. You have to stay here and get well.” (Not everyone knows how to talk to an Alzheimer’s patient.)
As tears roll down her face and her voice crumbles in grief, the little old 75-year old lady cries out, “My husband died and no one told me. Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
We finally take the out to the nurses’ station area where there is a TV and large table and other people to distract her.
“Have you seen my pocket book?” she asks now.
“Your daughter has your pocketbook and she’ll be here soon.”
“Will she take me home. I need to get to my husband. He needs me.”
“You’re husband died. Don’t you remember?” another staff member tries to help.
“You mean he died and no one told me?” And the wailing and tears start all over again.
In the meantime, someone has left the double doors open the long-term care unit and those patients are wandering to our dining room.
One very very old women shuffles towards a new upholstered chair. She has on a large diaper that is full of stinky brown BM. It hangs loosely and heavily at her sides. I rush to throw a large blanket over the chair before she sits down.
“Oh you go on now and leave me alone,” she yells at me.
Several visitors squirm in discomfort at the odor.
Another patient from the long-term unit makes her way to the nurses’ station area propelling herself along in a wheelchair. Clean and well dressed she looks happy and cheerful.
“Does anyone know how far it is to Springfield?” she asks pleasantly.
“About 55 miles from this area of town,” someone answers.
“Well, I have a Thunderbird out there with a bad transmission but I think it can make it to Springfield. The problem is that someone took my car keys.”
The visitor squirms again.
“Have you seen my pocketbook?”
“Your daughter has it and she’ll be here soon.”
“Will she take me home. My husband is sick and he needs me.”
Before I can “shush” everyone it starts again.
“Don’t you remember? You’re husband had a stroke. You took care of him for a long time but he died four months ago. You were with him when he died.”
“You mean my husband died and no one told me?”
I get on the phone with her doctor asking some something to calm her down. He complains because no one told him she was upset, but reluctantly orders an anti-anxiety pill that may last a couple hours. By the time the night nurse gets here, she will be right back to the forgetful stage of Alzheimers where every fresh memory brings a wave or heartbreak and sad tears.
Finally, after giving a long and lengthy report to the agency nurse relieving me for duty, I call Jim and we agree that we deserve a good meal at “O’Charley’s tonight.
He’s been doing our taxes all day and is cross-eyed and somewhat stressed too.
A tired-looking but pleasant waitress arrives to take our order.
“First, I want a piece of chocolate-chocolate cake with six layers of chocolate frosting covered with dark chocolate fudge. Then I’ll place my dinner order,” I say with pure pleasure.
“You deserve it” Jim says as he reaches for my hand across the table.
Take Care on the Journey,