Sling & Swathe

An ER nurse, broken/mending

Month: July, 2012


My loyal and cherished readers know that my previous entries have dealt exclusively with running or nursing.  But, since the title is “Fear and Fartleks,” I wanted to use this forum to discuss another, unrelated source of anxiety.  And, since it’s my blog, I can pretty much do what I want.  So there.

We live in a small house.  A very small house.  Two bedrooms, one bath.  870 square feet, to be exact.  Yes, all seven of us.  I did the math yesterday and it works out to about 124 square feet per person.  Population density-wise, our house is the equivalent of Manhattan.  Obviously when The Dude and I purchased our home we did not anticipate having five children (but really, who does?) and so, over the years, we have gotten extremely creative with space and storage and, somehow, it works.  But the teen years are fast approaching, and five kids in one bedroom just won’t do (the mess!  the fights!  the smell of pubescent funk!).  We finally made the decision to begin the process of finding a new home, and, after talking with a Realtor and a mortgage broker yesterday, it became very clear that our plans could soon become a reality.

At first I was elated.  A new, bigger house!  Pooping in privacy!  Not having to hide my tampons so child #3 doesn’t ask me if they are paint brushes!  Whole new vistas opened up in my mind.  And then, fear.  Nauseating anxiety.  Absolute and utter terror.  Naturally, I turned to my blog and Mr. Bombay Sapphire to help me sort out this bizarre mix of emotions, and I’ve determined that this new-found anxiety is rooted in two issues – both of which are purely emotional and entirely irrational.  Shocking, I know.

This is the only home The Dude and I have ever owned.  This is where we have loved, fought, rested, planned.  This is the lawn that we have battled over, the walls that we have painted together.  This is the patio that The Dude built for me (for me!).  More important, though, is that this is the only home my children have ever known.  I brought all my babies back here, to this ever-shrinking house – this house that stood safe and sturdy while the hurricanes of 2004 raged around us and I wondered if child #2 (who was due in June) would be born at the hospital or on the living room floor.  This house where #4 slept on the floor next to our boxed-springs and mattress, because we couldn’t afford a bed frame while we struggled through my first semester of nursing school.  This house where I lay next to child #1 and felt his feverish body and looked at his lop-sided face* and quietly prayed that God would spare him, where I held #3 and whispered in his ear that he was my treasure, and where I cried for days and days when ten pregnancy tests told me that #5 was soon to come.  Sigh.  This sudden rush of sentimentality is foreign to me, because I am not a nostalgic person.  I don’t save my children’s teeth, or their locks of hair, or their artwork (I’m sure this will be an issue in a decade or two, when my kids start families of their own and they realize that most of their childhood is in a landfill, but my plan is to explain it away with a dismissive wave of my hand and some comment about needing more room for storage).  So, it’s not the packing up that makes me sad.  It’s the memories that this house holds.

The other issue is that I truly believe that there is something inherently good in sharing a room, which all of the kids have done since the moment they arrived on this earth. It strips away a sense of entitlement and demands selflessness.  We have a quote on our kitchen wall which I shamelessly ripped off from IKEA that I think sums it up nicely: “To share a small space is to show love and respect, to compromise and transform.”  Some of the kindest, most generous and forbearing people I know have never experienced having their own room.  The Dude, for instance.  He grew up in a 3-bedroom mobile home in Oklahoma, with his three siblings and parents (I was told by his mother years after we married that the mobile had actually been a brothel before they purchased it.  Um…so a few things leap to mind: 1)how utterly unsuccessful must you be to have your brothel – in OKLAHOMA – go out of business?  And then to have your MOBILE HOME repossessed??? And 2) clearly I should have done some sort of background checking on The Dude’s family tree, but what’s done is done).  I, on the other hand, did have a room to myself for several years, and I am the most selfish person I know.  (For example: sometimes when the kids are asleep, we will drink too much ETOH and, like the crazy kids we are, will run to McDonald’s for a late night treat.  While The Dude is in the bathroom I will steal french fries off of his plate, even though I have a heaping pile of my own.  The worst part is that I shove them in my mouth super quick, so he won’t see me chewing when he walks in.  This is how I treat my husband of 12 years, the man who has assessed my hemorrhoids and given me an enema.  See, I am selfish.  So my theory is proven!)  And yet, as I watch my children grow and their personalities develop, I realize that child #1 is a true introvert and desperately needs solitude.  Child #2 has a creative streak and I don’t know how much longer I can take the wailing and gnashing of teeth that happens after numbers 4 and 5 have destroyed his lego tower or peed on his watercolor toucan painting.  So my dilemma is this: stay here, in this cracker-jack box of a house, and have generous, kind children (although I’m pretty sure at least 3/4 of them would end up joining a monastery just for some peace and quiet), or move to a larger place and have my daughter grow up into a french-fry-stealing shrew?

I know it’s not that simple.  And yet it’s also not that complicated.  As usual, I have made a normal life event into the Gordian Knot. I know, deep down, that my children will turn out to be functional, law-abiding citizens because of the things we teach them, and how we love them.  It’s the parents who shape the child, not the house.  Unless of course you live in a re-possessed brothel.

*Child #1 ran through a sliding glass door during his first week of kindergarten and slashed his face open.  As in, I-can-see-your-teeth-but-you’re-not-smiling open.  Emergency plastic surgery and the passage of time have left him with a barely visible scar.



People: if you bring your toddler/young child to the ER with a temperature that is rapidly approaching incompatible with life, and if you tell the nurse that no, you did not give said child Tylenol/Motrin/any-sort-of-MEDICATION-that-might-reduce-a-fever (and NO, a tepid bath doesn’t count) and if your reason for not having done so is that your child “would not open their mouth,” please know that all of the ER nurses will be internally rolling their eyes and desperately trying to keep from blurting out, “Um, I’m sorry.  But aren’t YOU the one in charge??”  Yes, getting a sick little one to take that bubble gum-flavored elixir can be challenging.  So I’m going to let you in on a wonderful technique utilized by nurses and parents with a spine everywhere.  It’s called “The Dogpile,” and it goes like this: one of you holds the squirming child down with one arm, using your body weight to keep small extremities controlled.  With the other arm you pry open your child’s jaw.  At the same time, the other parent/caregiver shoves the syringe into your child’s mouth and administers the medication.  Then (and here’s where you’ve got to really communicate with your partner.  Teamwork!) the parent doing the jaw holding quickly shuts the child’s mouth while the medicating parent pinches their nose closed.  And, voila!  Medication administered!  It’s a bit like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – you know, where that crazy Indian guy who likes to rip out people’s hearts and enslave poor village children forces Indy to drink the blood?  So, yes. It is brutal.  But it works.  And it sure beats the pants off of four strange people in blue holding your child down while they are jabbed with a needle multiple times and then catheterized.  But, that’s just my opinion.  Oh, and one more thing.  For the love of all that is holy and right in the universe, please, please, PLEASE purchase a thermometer.  And use it.  The end.


I am writing this post at 4:00 AM.  I have actually been up since 1:15 AM.  This is the curse of working nights, and after exhausting my usual insomnia activities of a) reading, b) lurking on Facebook, c) obsessively pinning any recipe that contains cheese or bacon on Pinterest, and d) checking in with the Klystron 9 weather update like it’s my mother, I decided to take control of the situation and write.  Also my anxious little brain was starting to work overtime and I just. couldn’t. lay. there. anymore.


The Dude and I are going away for three glorious, child-free, ETOH-filled*, zero-responsibility days.  We are leaving this afternoon (or today-TODAY, in night-shift speak, as opposed to today-TOMORROW-today.  It’s okay if you don’t understand this part.  It just means that you’re a day-shifter, and that’s cool.  We can still be friends) so I won’t be posting for a few days.  Before I go and get wildly intoxicated, though, I wanted to follow-up on my last post, “Slump.”


Running was sort of a bust this week, mostly because of the stormy weather, and my planned long run yesterday was cancelled due to a surprise pedicure (a gift from The Dude.  Yes, I know.  He is too good for me).  I did manage to get in two 5-mile runs, one of which was after my post and my statement that I would try to pull myself out of this current rut by not checking my pace every five seconds.  Well, I kept my word (partly because my GPS watch wasn’t working that day and partly because I spent most of the run screaming out colorful expletives at my cheap-ass phone which for some reason decided that it wasn’t going to let me listen to 970 AM.  Yes, I DO listen to talk radio.   I also read books.  And get the newspaper.  I guess I just like to be informed.  I’m sort of quirky and old-fashioned that way).  With the exception of my technical difficulties, I have to admit that my run was actually better.  I did feel a bit lighter, less stressed about my performance.


I got some good advice from a friend of mine (I’ll call her Preceptor #2) in a response she wrote to “Slump,” the general tone of which was basically to put on my big girl pants and quit whining.  She said, “Run because you can.”  I really like that. No frills, no complexities.  Simple, real, honest – brutal, even.  Sort of like “The Dogpile” technique.  Sometimes you just have to do a thing, and maybe it’s a choice, or perhaps it’s a necessity.  Don’t over-think.  Face it.  Embrace it.  Enjoy it.  Or, in the words of General Patton, “Grab the sons-of-bitches by the nose and kick ‘em in the pants!”  Okay, I know he was talking about the Germans here, but it still applies to goals, to work, to running – or to wrangling febrile toddlers.



*ETOH: hospital-speak for any type of alcohol.  As in, “I’ve got an 88-year-old male here, was found sleeping in a parking lot.  Vital signs are normal.  Appears to have some ETOH onboard.” Translation: drunk homeless guy.


I am an all-or-nothing kind of girl.  If I care about something – I mean, really, really care – I just absolutely cannot do it halfway.  This is why, when I first became a nurse, I felt the need to douse my patients in Skin Prep.  “If it works on their heels, why not their entire body!”  And now, in the ER, the obsession has morphed into red socks and purple fall bands.  I honestly think, if I wasn’t afraid people would laugh at me, that I would put purple bracelets on every available appendage.  And maybe red socks on their hands, too.  I mean, why not?  What if they get confused in the night and try to crawl out of bed, hands first???  Better safe than sorry!!!  These are the lovely little thought processes that are occuring in my brain when I should be: 1)hanging an antibiotic, 2)discharging that patient who keeps coming out of their room to glare me into action, 3)eating my dinner (Ha!), or 4)charting.  I get this from my dad, who finds it physically impossible to buy just ONE box of the on-sale Rice-A-Roni when there is a perfectly good, empty bedroom closet practically begging to be filled with 50 boxes of the San Francisco treat.  He has always been like that – growing up, one of my sister’s daily chores was to mix up several gallons of iced tea.  Daily.  Because Dad would drink them ALL.  Over the years, this compulsion ranged from cigarettes (two packs a day for thirty years), Afrin nasal spray (packs and packs of these – we still find them, tucked away in various “just-in-case” spots, like glove compartments and junk drawers.  Gotta keep that liquid gold nearby!), and pots and pots of coffee.  But his biggest obsession by far is numbers.  My dad keeps track of EVERYTHING.  How many miles he walked, or biked, and what was his pace?  What was the temperature?  Which direction was the wind blowing?  How long did it take him?


Which leads me to my current problem: I am in a running slump.  I started running back in February, with an ultimate goal of 10 miles.  Yes, at one time.  My longest distance yet is 8.64 miles, which The Dude and I did a few weeks ago.  Things were still going well then – I mean, the runs were challenging (and by challenging I mean brutally, awfully, insanely hard and I spent the majority of them alternating between telling myself that “It’s all in your head” and wanting to vomit).  And then we competed in a 10K on July 3rd, and that’s when things started to go downhill.


I don’t enjoy my runs anymore.  Where I used to get upset if something interfered with my run, now I am sort of secretely hopeful that it will rain, or a child will get sick, or, I don’t know – maybe I’ll break my leg and be excused indefinitely?  Lately I find myself running simply so I won’t stop running.  By that I mean, if I quit now – like cold-turkey just plain stopped running – I would lose all the progress I’ve made.  If I ever decided to run again, I’d have to start back at the 2-3 mile mark, and the thought of that just seriously depresses me.


So, I have been really trying to figure out why I feel like I do.  Maybe it’s the heat?  Even when I run after work, at 7:30 AM, it’s still hot as balls.  Maybe it’s working night shifts, and I’m just in a perpetual state of exhaustion?  Maybe I’m bored with my routes?  Maybe it is just a slump, and I have to push through it, then things will get better.  Or maybe – and this is my worst fear – I’m NOT a runner, and all this time I’ve been coasting on ambitious fumes, too ignorant to realize that this whole “yogging” thing just won’t work for me.  Sigh.


The Dude and I have talked about it alot lately, because stuff like this consumes me.  I think about it all the time (hence, the blog.  Obviously it’s not working.  Yet.)  And I think we may have stumbled upon a solution.  You see, just prior to the race I became more focused on my pace (which has improved by one minute, I’m happy to say).  And by “more focused” I mean obsessively, compulsively checking my awesome GPS watch (a gift from The Dude) for pace and distance.  Like, looking at it every 5 minutes or so.  Okay, fine.  Every 2 minutes.  And then keeping a record of my numbers (see, I told you I get it from my Dad).  Maybe I’ve taken the fun out of it?  Maybe my all-or-nothing personality has once again ruined something that should be fun, rewarding – at the very least, satisfying.


So tomorrow morning I’m going to do things differently.  I’ll still be running in the cancerously-hot sun, and I’ll still have my GPS watch on.  But this time, I’m not going to check it.  Not even once.  Hopefully.

You know those moments when you just say to yourself, “What the hell??!!”  I had one of those this morning at the Elk’s Lodge.  (Yes, we are members.  Technically-speaking, though, I am the only official Elk – Elkess? – in our house.  The Dude and the kids are my ‘preferred guests’ – which makes me feel all important and powerful.) The Elk’s Lodge may bring to your mind images of lots of old folks, outdated furniture, and Bingo.  And it certainly has all that.  But it also has $2 gin and tonics!  $2 Jack and Cokes!  No observation of any existing Blue Laws!  Forty-something men with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths while testing the outer limits of the diving board!  And all of this on a Saturday morning before 10!!  So you can see why we are members.  Plus, we like to think that, simply by our presence, we bring a bit of class and panache to the joint.

Anyhoo, my WTH moment came when an elderly male Elk disrobed poolside, and, much to the dismay of, well, everyone there, was wearing a black Speedo.  Things really got good, though, when he proceeded to don full snorkle gear with fins.  Oh, he also had a gold necklace that mingled with his grey chest hair.  I wanted to look away, I really did.  I even tried to rationalize it away – like, well, maybe he’s some sort of distant cousin of Jacques Cousteau?  Maybe that gold charm on his necklace is a pirate’s piece-of-eight, and he’s trying to relive his days as an adventurer/shipwreck diver/guy who scrapes barnacles off of rich people’s pleasure boats?  Sadly, I will never know – because at that moment child #5 decided to have a complete melt-down and we left for home.

Every once in a while, though I have one of those moments when someone says or does something that is so fantastically, astronomically, unbelievably outrageous that it’s like I can feel the soft pulsations of my friend Mr. Cerebral Aneurysm.  At times like these, when I’m presented with something that I just simply cannot fathom and my brain (and I picture him here, as a sort of School House Rock-ish character, with skinny, angular arms and legs, and talking to me in the same voice as that Saturday-morning nutritional character – you know the one, the chorus is something about “A hunk-a, hunk-a cheese”?  Yep, that’s him.) pipes up with, “Hold on.  HOLD ON.  I’ve got this. I’ve GOT this!”  Here I imagine him rummaging through some sort of tool box as he tries to present me with a scenario that is more palatable/manageable than the one I’m currently facing.

This occurred the other day at work.  I was about to discharge a patient when a family member turns to me and asks if they can take home an entire set of linen.  My first thought was, “How would that look??” and immediately began to hear the soft clinks of screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches, etc as my cute little MacGyver brain tore through his toolbox.  Of course I said something very nursey-nurse that was polite and calm and passive-aggressively non-committal.  But in the nanoseconds between her request and my response, this is what my brain presented me with:

All the hospital linen has huge bar codes on the back. I’m there, scanning everything through, like some sort of Emergent Bed, Bath & Beyond.  I say to the family member, “And did you find yourself a duvet?  And what about pillow shams?  Oh, and don’t forget the bed skirt!  Hmm?  What’s that?  Oh, no, bed skirts are DEFINITELY making a come-back!  Har har har!! (insert fake saleslady laugh here)”  And then, instantaneously, I’m transported back to reality, and I’m wheeling the patient out, and their visit ends with generic pleasantries and my standard sigh of relief.  And finally Mr. Cerebral Aneursym recedes into the dark crevices of my grey matter, where he will remain lurking until my next WTH moment.


I have alot of anxiety.  I am what may be described as “tightly-wound” or “over-wrought” (my mother likes to say “driven,” because she’s nice and, well, she’s my mother).  The things in my life that cause me the most anxiety, that keep me awake at night and distracted during the day, are being an ER nurse and running.  Yes. I admit it.  My greatest stressors are my job and my hobby.  Not my marriage.  Not my five kids under nine.  Not my cracker-jack-box house with two bedrooms and one bath and zero privacy for a mother who would just like to poop in peace for once already!…but I digress.  So, I thought perhaps that writing about these sources of both exquisite pain and singular satisfaction might help put that annoying anxious voice to sleep.  You know the one I’m talking about.  It’s the voice that torments the leave-me-alone-I’m-still-sleeping-off-last-night’s-martinis-and-have-thus-far-successfully-pretended-to-not-hear-the-kids-asking-to-come-out-of-their-room Marie, and makes her get up at 5:15 AM to look up the relative merits of Milrinone vs Dobutamine, or google “epidydimitis,” or why racemic epi is better than Duonebs, or why, why? WHY????  (I am not the only nurse I know who does this type of thing.  A friend of mine who works in the ICU was recently up before the sun reading about barotrauma.  See?  It’s practically an epidemic, this anxiety thing.)

So I’m hoping that this blog will put angsty Marie to sleep.  She may end up a bit dumber for the effort, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.

On that note, I am currently enjoying a few days off after having worked for 7 out of the last 8 days.  By day four I was tired and felt like I spent most of the shift five steps behind.  By day 6 I was in full zombie mode – wake up, eat, work, run, sleep. Repeat.  But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Shift 7 was only a “quick” six hours of overtime.  I can do anything for six hours, right?  And I’m making time-and-a-half, so that makes it worth the exhaustion, right?   Mmm. You would think so, but no.  To be precise, it sucked.  It sucked big time. Alright, I’m gonna go ahead and say it because this is my blog, after all, and if you don’t like my language, that’s okay.  We can still be friends.  You’ll miss out on my witty sense of humor and sparkling intellect, but I’ll see you on Facebook.  So here it is: my last shift sucked big donkey balls.  Whew.  Glad that’s out there. Now, onward!

So my patient was irritated.  She was hungry.  She wanted a meal tray.  She wanted it yesterday.  In my most professional voice I explained to her that blah, blah, blah, hospital speak, blah, blah, all we have are turkey sandwiches.  What is on them? she asked.  Um, bread and turkey.  Oh, and a little packet of mayo (we’re so thoughtful!).  What type of bread is it? she asked. Um, white. Like my knuckles.  And here’s where it gets really good: “White bread?  You don’t have whole wheat??  Some dietitian you are!!” (I think she may have even added a little “Hmpph” sound and crossed her arms, but I don’t want to make her seem rude or unreasonable.)

It is at this point that I realize what an amazing organ the human brain is.  Because in my mind are three different responses, which – within seconds – my frontal lobe has shuffled through and selected from.  Here they are:

Response 1: I use my best therapeutic communication skills and patiently explain that, here in the EMERGENCY ROOM at 2 AM, we are limited on our food offerings.  We do try to provide our patients with nutritious, protein-rich items that can satisfy their hunger in the short time that we care for them before they are either discharged or admitted.

Response 2: I put my hand on my hip, cock my head to the side, and say, “I know, right????  Isn’t it CRAAAZZZYY that we don’t have whole wheat bread?  And I’ve been after these sons-of-bitches for YEARS to start serving organic Greek yogurt and muesli, but to no avail!  And I’m SO glad that you correctly identified me as a dietitian, and are cognizant of the fact that the giant RN on my badge stands for “regular” and “non-fat” and not Registered Nurse.  I absolutely cannot stand it when people mistake me for one of those bitches.”

Response 3: I lean in real close, and in my most creepy Kathy-Bates-as-the-psycho-fan-who-smashes-that-author’s-legs-in-that-movie-Misery voice say: “If you were the absolute last patient on earth, and I were the absolute last nurse on earth, and you were bleeding from every orifice AND on fire, I MIGHT give you that sandwich.  But it would still be just turkey.  And it would still be on effing white bread.”  Then I sweetly smile, pat her hand, and quietly shut the door.

Well, thank goodness that my frontal lobe elected to go with Response #1. Yes, I said all that crap.  Yes, I felt horrid and dirty and as if the only thing left for me in this world was to be thoroughly scrubbed down with a mixture of Listerine and Borax.  But, I’m sure that at the moment I said it, somewhere in this great land of ours some hospital administrator’s stony heart felt a brief surge of warmth.  So, it was totally worth it. And, I WAS getting overtime pay.

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