Keeping Score

My friend Nick told me this story of the time he was hospitalized with a bad infection. It was 3am and as his body struggled to fend off impending septicemia, he was in the throes of night sweats and feverish dreams. His nurse came into the room and, seeing that he had soaked his pillow with sweat, replaced his pillow case with a clean one. In his semi-delirious state, this simple action prompted my friend to exclaim: “You’re an angel!”

There are a lot of different ways to keep score as a nurse. A lot of people go by how many lives they’ve saved. In fact, when I was a nursing student in clinicals my mom used to ask me if I had “saved any lives that day.” (Answer: “No. They’ll die of something else later. But I definitely prolonged some.”) Nick, on the other hand, always asks if anyone told me I’m an angel.

I keep score this way. So far, my score is 3.5.

It’s actually a pretty difficult metric. “You’re an angel” is not the most common expression of appreciation. And even if I allow myself the conceit that at least a few of my patients think it, it probably takes a special person to actually say it out loud. Fortunately, most of my patients are on drugs so they are all pretty special a lot of the time.

And that is why nursing is so great. You do these very, very simple things for people and it means the world to them because they are in such a vulnerable place. The very simple things that have gotten me my 3.5 points are:

-Giving my patient a cup of ginger ale with ice.
-Washing my patient’s feet. (When he thanked me, I said “I follow a guy who is big on foot washing.”)
-Praying with my patient when she was anxious.
-Helping my patient get into bed without hurting her incision. (Actually she said “You’re soooooooo niiiiiiice.” so I’m taking it as just half a point. This is also a good example of the drugs talking.)

It strikes me that it’s the easiest things that have this kind of impact on people. You don’t have to catch an impending heart attack or stop your patient’s carotid artery from rupturing with your bare hands (I wouldn’t advise doing that, anyway). Just get them something to drink. Make them feel a little more human. Be a comforting presence. Help them with a task they can’t do on their own.

We started having some electrical problems at the place we just bought. Most of the house lost power, and the circuit breaker board was slowly but surely becoming non-functional. I had no idea what was wrong, how bad it would be when we figured it out, or how much it would cost us. It dogged me like a suspicious lump that was steadily getting bigger and the doctors hadn’t figured out yet.

When the electrician came by this morning, he did some tests, adjusted some wiring, fixed the problem, and let us know that while some more work needed to be done eventually, our house was not going to blow up, burn down, or blackout in the near future.

My sense of relief was palpable. I told him “you just made me feel physically better.” Which maybe sounded really weird, but that’s how I felt, and I wasn’t even on narcotics. Here I was, Nurse Ferris, in a vulnerable place with a problem I didn’t understand, and in doing his job right, this electrician did a very simple thing that gave me great relief.

So it made me realize that I’m not in such a privileged position as I thought I was in nursing. There are a lot of ways to be vulnerable, and a lot of simple gestures that have tremendous significance when done in the right place, in the right way, at the right time. I don’t know how electricians keep score, but the one I saw today definitely gets a point from me.

Nurse Ferris

I’ve decided that I am not myself on night shift. I am an alter ego named “Nurse Ferris.” Nurse Ferris is pretty much me except more sleep deprived and curmudgeony.

For example:

Nursing Assistant: “What did you bring to eat tonight?”
Nurse Ferris: “Oh, some sandwiches, a banana… some kind of cake.”
Overly Interested Nursing Assistant: “What kind of cake?”
Nurse Ferris: “I don’t know, some kind of cake.”
Food-Preoccupied Nursing Assistant: “But what kind of cake?”
Nurse Ferris: “Some NOT YOURS kind of cake! Jeez.”

or

Nurse Ferris: “I want to die of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.”
Naive Nurse Sarah: “But before it ruptures you’re just sitting around waiting to die!”
Nurse Ferris: “Sarah. We are all sitting around waiting to die.”

Margie said I should share some examples of grumpy things I’ve said to her while on night shift. But then we realized that I don’t say funny grumpy things to her when I’m sleep-confused and miserable. I’m just kind of mean and bitchy.

I’m working on that.

we are here to be Ourselves

There’s an exercise I created for my senior thesis in nursing school. I put up a picture of a hospital patient in an intensive care unit. Clustered around the bed are the legions of medical equipment and devices used to sustain life at its most fragile moments: ventilator, cardiac monitor, IV pump, oxygen, defibrillator. A nurse is hanging an IV medication – stethoscope around her neck and a plethora of medical supplies in her many pocketed scrubs.
“What is the most important tool in this picture?” I ask. The audience’s answers vary, but eventually someone gets the one I’m shooting for, which is “the nurse.”

My mother has a little trouble with the fact that I get into cage-matches every once in a while. I’ve been training in Muay Thai for a couple years now and last night I wrote her a long email after a tough sparring session trying to capture why I love it so much. What it comes down to is this: You bring nothing into the cage but yourself – what you have made yourself capable of, what you can force your body do, the depths of fatigue, pain, and fear that your mind and your spirit have the power to overcome. The other man in the cage is not your opponent. He is your teacher and he is testing you to see, quite literally, what you are made of.

Ten months ago I became a father. It’s a wonderful adventure and it also brings up a mess of previously unknown anxieties and responsibilities. Am I making healthy choices for my daughter? Am I raising her right? Am I providing enough for my family – now and for the future? How do I balance time with her against other responsibilities? Am I pulling my weight alongside my wife in terms of child care.
At the end of the day, however, I know that none of these questions are Jubilee’s questions. My daughter wants just one thing from me. She wants me to be her Daddy; one simple thing that I will spend the rest of my life being and becoming. The world is full of fully grown adults who still mourn their fathers’ relational absence, regardless of what their father may have achieved or done for them. But a father who loves and thoughtfully cares for his children can and will be forgiven many failings and shortcomings.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. I’m still trying to figure that out, and much of it seems to be discovering all the things that I have backwards. I wasted a lot of time thinking that God wanted me to become someone else before I found out that he wants me to become myself. And lately I’m learning that even this is only part of it. We are indeed meant to become ourselves, but it is not for ourselves. We are here to be ourselves for our neighbours and for our maker.

Not to do, to act, or even to dream, but to be.