October 4, 2016

CNF/Essay by Jenny Sturgill: "The Moon's Spell"

Jenny Sturgill is an RN who lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband. When she is not writing she enjoys cooking and gardening. Her works have appeared in The Kentucky Explorer, Ky Story, Page&Spine, The Enchanted File Cabinet, The Pink Chameleon, Friday Fiction, The Storyteller, Long Story Short, and she is the author of Against the Wind; How I survived my life with Grandma.



     I still remember my first nursing job as if it were yesterday. I'd been there less than a year and had discovered that our charge nurse was absent a lot. This night she had called in sick yet again, and Mrs. Gillings, our Supervisor had appointed me charge nurse.
     I pushed my long brown hair back from my face, and looked up at the full moon. Just what I needed. It was a yellow disc hung between two dark clouds. I was late again! I hurried down the four steps from the porch and dashed to my 1976 tin can, hoping it would start. The door opened with a squeak and I tossed my brown bag lunch onto the seat beside me and turned the key. The engine roared and spit to life. My hands trembled and my heartbeat quickened. I could have turned around right then and called in sick myself, but I couldn't do that, what would Mrs. Gillings think of me?  I squeezed the steering wheel in frustration. Me in charge? Counting my hair, I was only five feet tall and named Lilly. What kind of authoritative name was that anyway? It had no power. I pressed the gas petal down as far as I dared and drove up Farnham Street toward the general hospital where I had taken a registered nurse position on the 11 to 7 shift. I glanced at the clock on the dash. I still had time, but I couldn't  be late tonight, not my first night to be charge.
     Why me? All sorts of faces popped into my mind. My head throbbed. Take Connie for instance. She even looked like a charge nurse with her stylish, coal black hair that came just to her pointed chin. She always held her head high, and her back was ramrod straight. She had big, intelligent green eyes and seemed to be so well organized. She could be down the hall and back before I could even get my medicine cart together. When she opened her mouth an unquestionable torrent of words poured out. More Information than anyone could ever need or comprehend; besides she had been there for years and she really knew the ropes. Then there was Sally, always sweeping back that strand of dyed red hair that hung down past one eye and touched those red lips of hers. She was usually brazen, but sometimes she was shy around the doctors, a picture of energy, flitting about barking out orders that sent idlers scurrying back to work. The patients loved her big smile and flirty ways, especially the men. She'd been there since the doors opened and knew how things were run. I shuddered, just thinking about all the responsibility a charge nurse had: making out the assignment, arranging staff for the next shift, taking care of admissions, and on top of all that, a whole team of patients under my own personal care. I heard my heart beating in my ears. I could do this, that's what I told myself, but I wasn't convinced. I wasn't able to imagine getting all that done, and… there was a full moon overhead behind increasing clouds.
    The thunder broke open the sky and rain peppered the windshield as I broke to a grinding halt in the parking lot. I grabbed my lunch and bolted out of the car. The raindrops fell sharp and fast, stinging my face. The ground was wet and the air was raw. I ran, but my feet shot out from under me. My arms flew back to brace my fall and my lunch bag sailed away and landed in a puddle.  My knees wobbled dangerously, but I hoisted myself back onto my feet.  I started to reach down for my lunch, but my right foot had found it first. Peanut butter and grape jelly oozed up the side of my just polished white shoes. I stomped my feet to remove the excess. Great, a purple shoe and a white one. I felt in my pocket, but all I had were some coins. Not enough for lunch, I was sure.
    I dashed over puddles and climbed the steps up to the front door. I shivered in the cool air conditioning and pulled my damp sweater tightly around me. The elevator doors opened to the 5th floor nursing station, and the scent of clean linen and antiseptic hit me in the face. Everyone was gathered around the counter. Their eyes swept over me, and then to the clock on the wall behind them. The clock read 11:05 pm. Late again! I felt their piercing stares. My mind was already stressed out and emotionally tired. I summoned a smile.
    I forced myself to take deep calming breaths, and I tried to wrap my mind around my responsibility. I quickly made out the assignment and handed it to Connie, Sally, and our three aids. A long pause settled over the conversation as each person studied their duties for the night. What a shock to go from taking care of one patient to taking care of twenty-five. Where was this holistic approach to nursing they taught us, where you take time to sit at the patient's bedside and care for their every need, from emotional support to their physical wellbeing? Welcome to the real world, Lilly.
    It was soon midnight; patient assessments were almost finished. I took Mrs. Pincrest's medication from the drawer of my medicine cart, opened the door to her room and found her sitting up in her bed, reading a book. She was a pleasant, elderly lady who was admitted for heart arrhythmia, a retired school teacher, with kind eyes and a big smile.  She saw me, marked her page In her book, and placed it on the bedside table.  "My favorite nurse, Lilly," she said and scooted up in bed.
    "I have your nighttime medication." I poured her a glass of water from the pitcher that sat on her bedside table and handed her the tiny cup filled with her pills. She placed each one in her mouth, took a swallow of water, and then lay down. I tucked the covers in around her and  placed her call light next to her hand.
  "Have a good night, dear," she said as I turned out the light and closed her door.
   I pushed my medicine cart back up the hallway to the nurse's station. Time to do some charting.
   Just then, from the dimly lit hallway, I saw Mr. Pearce emerge, his arthritic knees popping and cracking in objection. He pounded the floor with his cane and was completely naked.
   "Missy, call my driver, I have a board meeting first thing this morning," he said, tapping the spot on his arm where his watch should be. I sighed and took his boney arm.
   "Mr. Pearce you're in the hospital," I replied.
   "Nonsense,  and what are you doing in my house anyway?" He raised his cane. I grabbed him to steady his wobble.
    I lowered my voice and said it again: "You're in the hospital."
   "What the devil would I be doing in the hospital?" His voice got louder.
   "You've had surgery, a bowel resection." He looked down at the large white bandage on his abdomen. "Now let's go back to your room and get some clothes on. He was  unaware that he was totally naked. I took his arm. He jerked away.
    "Get your grubby hands off me!" He swung his cane at my head. I ducked and grabbed the cane out of his hands. He teetered  dangerously, his legs buckled, but I grabbed his arms and managed keep him upright. He kicked me in the shin, over and over, and pain shot up my leg as his sharp toenails scraped my legs.  
    "Stop! Mr. Pearce, stop!" I lowered my voice to a near whisper. "Mr. Pearce, it's way too early to get up.  See? It's only 1:10 in the morning." I pointed to the clock on the wall behind the nurses' station. I saw everyone gathered around watching, listening, grinning.
"Connie quick, call Mr. Pearce's daughter, tell her that her father is confused and she may want to come in and sit with him. Come on, Mr. Pearce, let's go lie down for a few more hours then you'll be fresh in the morning. It's way too early."
    "I have a board meeting in the morning. It's very important, I must be there."
    "Don't worry about that now, you need your rest." I put my arm around his waist and led him back to his room. He shivered as I helped him dress and tucked him between the sheets. "Now let's get some sleep. You're in the hospital," I said and gently stroked his forehead. He looked up at me with just a hint of a smile.
     I hurried back to the nurses' station. Maybe I could finally get some charting done, and eat lunch. Then I remembered my lunch in the puddle and the few coins I had in my pocket. Oh well, there wasn't time anyway, besides there stood Mrs. Pincrest clutching her IV pole; her gown gaped in the back showing her boney frame. Her eyes had turned into a sinister glare. Senility seemed to have completely over taken her. This just couldn't  be the sweet little old lady who just hours ago embraced me as I tucked her in for the night?
    "Let me out of here, bitch!" She glared,  reached for a cup filled with soda someone had left on top of the counter, and splashed it into my face. Burning pain shot up my nostrils. I was blinded as the soda stung my eyes. It drained down my throat choking me. I was completely stunned . I fumbled my way into the medicine prep room behind the nurses' desk, wheezing and coughing, my breath coming in choking gasps.
    The crash of the IV pole on the floor was ear splitting. Someone handed me a wad of tissues and I wiped my face. I was suddenly overwhelmed: first Mr. Pearce then Mrs. Pincrest, both gone bonkers.  Connie had Mrs. Pincrest by both arms. Mrs. Pincrest was screaming obscenities a sailor would be hard pressed to come up with and bashing Connie in the chest with her clenched fists.
    "Turn her loose, Connie, and quick call a code black." My voice came out as a strangled request. I rubbed my eyes, trying to focus, still coughing. "I'll call the doctor." I picked up the phone. Two security guards huffed down the hallway toward us, their guts jiggling over their belt buckles, their keys slamming against their hips. The elevator door opened and out stepped Mrs. Gillings, our house supervisor. It was  known around the hospital that she had been a military nurse and could put any upstanding drill Sargent to shame. She paused for a moment and scanned  the situation, then stepped back, arms folded across her chest and looked on with that penetrating stare of hers.
     I got the doctor on the phone and explained the situation with Mrs. Pincrest  "Well I'm glad you're there and not me." He chuckled. "Give her 3 mg of Haldol IV right now." My heart rate speeded up even faster.  
     After a brief silence I said. "Sir, Haldol hasn't been approved for IV use yet. It causes arrhythmias in frail, elderly people."
    "What would you suggest my dear?"  His tone was sharp.  "My head's a little foggy."
    "What do you think about a small dose of Valium?" I asked. He ordered 5mg of Valium and wanted to be called if there was no improvement.
     "Mrs. Gillings, I have an order for Valium. Could you please get it for me from the pharmacy?" I handed her the order, and pushed my sticky hair back out of my eyes.
      Mrs. Pincrest continued to flail about, red faced and screeching, but the guards held her steady, keeping her from hurting herself or anyone else.
     By now, patients peered out of their rooms and ventured toward the desk to see what all the ruckus was about.
    "I'll handle the situation here. Sally, please take these patients back to their rooms. See that they are safe in their beds and check on the rest, especially Mr. Pearce."
    Mrs. Gillings arrived with the Valium. I took the vial from her, got a syringe from the medicine cart, and drew up the medication. The guard held Mrs. Pincrest's arm steady as I eased the medication into her IV line still intact in her left arm. She soon settled down and I put one arm around her and pushed the IV pole with the other. The guards walked beside me as I escorted her back to her bed. She sat, I raised her legs to the bed and tucked her blankets in around her, then pulled the side rails up.
   "I'm so tired," she whispered. I couldn't help but chuckle. She fell asleep almost immediately.
    I wrote up the incident report. The night was over.
   "Nurse Lilly, let's go to my office and go over this."  Mrs.  Gillings was standing at my elbow. Fatigue had set in throughout my body.  With one long sigh I walked behind her. I stared at her back, her stark white dress so starched stiff it could stand on its own, her stride determined, as if she was going to some important event and couldn't possibly be late. Her thighs made a swishing sound as they rubbed together, sheathed in white hose. I looked down at my one purple stained shoe and wrinkled uniform, and smoothed back my stringy, soda-sticky hair. Mrs. Gillings unlocked her door, walked in, and took a seat behind her desk. She gestured to the chair in front. "Have a seat," she said as she pulled off her glasses and leaned back in her chair. Her eyes softened and a smile spread across her face. She laughed out loud. "Nurse Lilly, you are sure a sorry looking sight."
    I needed to swallow but my throat was sore and dry; my cheeks burned with heat. I felt hazed, bewildered, dazed. She leaned toward me, her eyes still kindly. "Good job, nurse Lilly," she said,  "You handled the night quite professionally." Then with delight dripping from her words she added. "I'm recommending that you be offered a permanent job as charge nurse." Her words spun around my head for a long moment before they sank in. "Now, go home, get some rest, and think it over." I shifted proudly on my seat. What a bright finish to a dark night.
    I walked out into the morning...The aroma of breakfast in the air tantalized my nostrils and made my stomach growl. God had sent a glorious day with a sunrise that replaced the moon and felt warm against my face. I could do this...I was going to make it after all, even with a full moon. 
 ~Jenny Sturgill

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