I wrote a novel based on my blog called Running with Needles. I am currently trying to find an agent so I can get it published. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
Here are the first two chapters of my book, please let me know what you think!
Clutching the lifeless baby in my arms, the only response I can utter is, “Oh crap.” This is not the brilliant reaction I was hoping for.
I wait for my nursing school training to kick in. Shouldn’t my arms start moving on auto-drive? But in this critical moment, nothing miraculous happens.
I can’t concentrate. All I can hear is my heart pounding. All other sounds in the busy ER are muffled background noise.
Focus, Morgan. Just focus.
I take a deep breath and lay the baby on the stretcher. His lips are bluish purple and he definitely is not breathing.
Oh, God, what do I do?
Ok, ABC’s–Airway, Breathing, Circulation. Start with the airway, Morgan.
Where’s that ambu bag?
I see it on the wall by the oxygen. I rip the bag from its hook and begin tearing at its plastic cover. Why can’t I get this plastic off? I hold my breath as I struggle to free the bag.
I’ve got to stop shaking or this baby is going to die.
“Code blue,” I hear myself scream as I bend to pick up the bag, which I managed to drop on the floor.
People are running towards me but they appear to be moving in slow motion.
With the bag and its matching infant mask in hand, I bite my lip as I try sliding the pieces together. Where does this mask attach? I’ve practiced this a hundred times, but now when it actually matters, I can’t figure it out.
After pausing a moment, the answer becomes obvious: the tube on the back of the mask slides over the smaller tube on the ambu bag. The mask fits snugly and I turn on the oxygen.
As my trembling hand squeezes the bag, I see the baby’s chest rise from the oxygen being forced into his fragile lungs. I feel myself breathing along with him, as if these are my first breaths.
I look up and see his mother waving her arms in the air. “Mi bebé! Mi bebé! Ayuda!”
The trauma team rushes past her into the room.
Has she been screaming in Spanish this whole time?
One of the trauma nurses places her stethoscope on the baby’s chest. She shakes her head, “No.”
Using two fingers, the nurse begins pushing on his chest. It easily collapses with each push. I continue giving him breaths with every squeeze of my hand.
Feeling a touch on my left shoulder, I turn to see another trauma nurse. She places her hand over mine on the ambu bag and I step away, letting her take over.
I take a few steps away from the bed and watch the scene in front of me. I feel like I am watching a movie, as if I am not really here. My skin feels clammy and I am sweating.
Walking backwards through the door and into the hallway, I find the nearest trashcan and start to vomit. The ER swirls around me.
I sink to the floor beside the trashcan and rest my head on my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. Why did I want to be a nurse? What had I been thinking? Real nursing is nothing like they show on TV.
As I sit here on the ER floor, unable to process everything going on around me, I long for the days when I was a student nurse and had no real responsibility. Those days were easy…….
It’s 7:00 am on my first day of clinicals, where unsuspecting patients will replace the mannequins I have been practicing my nursing skills on over the past few months. My classmate Danielle and I hurry down the hallway towards our patient, Rose Abram’s, unit. We were both up most of the night learning about Rose’s medications, medical history, lab results, and devising a plan of care for our day with her. Although we realize that Rose is an extremely sick patient, we know we will be able to impress the unit nurses and our instructor. If it weren’t for the “Student nurse” on our ID’s beneath our names, no one would be able to tell we weren’t real nurses.
As we enter our patient’s wing on 6 North, the adult medical/surgical unit at St. Peter’s Hospital of Kansas City, Danielle says, “Can you believe how much Morphine we are supposed to give her?”
“No. I was more worried about her lab values, did you see her hematocrit?”
We pause and face each other. I whisper, “Are you ready for this?”
She shakes her head, “no.”
Our pace slows, as if walking slowly will somehow save us from the inevitable:
entering a patient’s room for the first time.
We reach Rose’s room, raise our eyebrows at each other and open the door.
But we don’t go in. There are several nurses standing around our patient’s bed. What is going on here? We are too nervous to move closer.
After a while, one of the nurses says, “Rose passed away a few minutes ago.”
Danielle and I look at one another, wide-eyed. Our first patient is dead and we haven’t even touched her. Is this some sort of cosmic warning?
We remain frozen in the doorway, like extra pieces of furniture.
After a few long minutes, one of the nurses motions us over. “Have you ever done post-mortem care?” she says.
We’ve never done pre-mortem care. We shake our heads “no” in unison.
“Come with me.” The nurse motions with her hands.
We follow her to the bathroom.
“Fill this with warm, soapy water.” She places a small pink bucket in the sink. “Bring the lotion from the patient’s drawer.”
She rejoins the others, leaving us looking at each other in the bathroom. This is all a bad dream. Just a bad dream. But it’s not going away.
We hurry and find the nurse alone, waiting next to the bed. She holds a few folded wash towels.
She has a hardened face with dark eyes. Without a word, she soaks and wrings her cloth in the bucket Danielle is holding. She pulls the blankets off of Rose and begins cleaning her face.
We snap out of our daze and follow her lead. I lift the woman’s arm and wash her shoulder.
Silently we work. I feel my frustration level rising. My first bed bath is on a dead person. Does anything seem wrong with this picture?
With the three of us working, we finish the bath in only a few minutes. But we’re not done.
The nurse holds out her hand. “The lotion.” Her tone isn’t bossy, but cool and efficient.
We both hold out bottles for her. She takes Danielle’s, squeezes a drop on her palm, and returns it. She uses her fingertips to rub the lotion on the patient’s face and neck.
I uncap my bottle and work on the woman’s shoulder and arm. The lotion is sweet-smelling and cool, an eerie contrast to her fingers that are still surprisingly warm. I hurry on to avoid thinking about it.
As I am rubbing the lotion into Rose’s hand, I feel a sensation that shakes me to my core. Her finger twitches.
I scream. I leap away from the bed and look down to see if I’ve peed myself.
Thankfully I have not, but when I look up, every eye in the room is locked on me.
“She moved.” I point accusingly at the dead woman.
The nurse laughs. “It was probably just a reflexive twitch, or you hit her tendon while you were rubbing her hand.”
I can feel my cheeks burning. I want to throw my unused stethoscope at the nurse, storm out to my car, and stop at the nearest McDonalds for a job application.
But for some reason I don’t. I clench my teeth and smile, squeezing out another line of lotion for the hopefully-dead woman.
I fume over how unfortunate Danielle and I are. Why do we have to get the dead patient? We are supposed to be learning important skills: taking vital signs, giving injections, being good nurses.
Just keep working, Katie.
As we finish combing Rose’s hair, two men from the morgue enter the room.
“Not yet.” The nurse waves them outside.
Now what do we have to do? I can’t believe how much I am missing out on for this.
I roll my eyes and spot a small man entering the room. He concentrates on his steps. When he pauses a few feet from the bed and looks up, I can see he’s well along, perhaps in his mid-90s. He says, “She looks beautiful.”
Slowly, he approaches Rose and takes her hand. The nurse pulls up a chair for him. He sits and pulls Rose’s hand to his cheek, holding it there a few moments. His fingers run through her freshly combed hair.
“I love you with all my heart, my precious,” he says, kissing her hand, a slight tremble in his voice.
For a moment he is still, hunched over his beloved’s hand. But then his frail form shakes, and sobs wrack his body.
The nurse springs to his side, hugging and supporting him with one of her arms. With a familiarity that is instantly apparent, he curls into her shoulder, crying.
In a jagged voice he says, “She was my best friend for 90 years. And my wonderful wife for 77. The best 77 years of my life.”
The pain in his face is unbearable to watch. I wipe my eyes.
With clear eyes again, I see that the man is looking at us over the nurse’s shoulder. Staring. Silently he nods and mouths the words, “Thank you.”
Like a spark, it hits me: I haven’t missed out on anything at all. In spite of my impatience and pouting, I am witnessing and even playing a small part in something unfathomably important. Here is a couple married for 77 years, I am watching their final good-bye.
I try to hide my own tears, but can’t. I stare at the marks my tears are leaving on my scrub top.
Forget about vital signs and giving meds. That is surface stuff, the superficial details. Maybe nursing is really about the emotional support, being there when our patients experience the most dramatic changes in their lives: birth, disease, healing, and even death. I’ve always known that nurses were needed for the emotional side of patient care, but until today, I had no idea how significant that role really is.
I walk out of Room 616 humbled, with Danielle by my side.
As we walk down the long hallway in silence, I have a new understanding of my life’s work.