As I mentioned in my first post in this series, my father had fallen and broken his hip. Much more on that later. First I want to talk about something I learned when he checked into Leonard Morse Hospital, which is this: many nurses don’t work for the hospitals where you see them.
Her name escapes me now, which I feel a little badly about – but then I suppose if you are a hospital administrator, that’s part of the point. You want them to be as interchangeable as possible. So, let’s call her Carmen. She looked like a Carmen, with dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. Although she was attending to my father in a hospital in Natick, Massachusetts, she was actually a 30-something temp who lived in South Florida and was part of a staffing agency. I was too jacked on adrenaline to ask her which agency, and truth be told, I was still absorbing the fact that a Massachusetts ER nurse would have been transported up for a 4 day shift from Florida.
She wasn’t unhappy about it. In fact, she had requested it because her boyfriend lives in Milton, only a 45 minute drive away. She gets up here every chance she gets. But from hearing her describe it, it is a challenging life. She is paid by the hour; if she’s not staffed somewhere, she’s not earning money. Often she is dropped into ER’s where she doesn’t know anyone and she’s gone before she has the chance to really try. And when she works, she is working. She is not checking social media, or shopping online, or catching up on work-related reading, or texting with her boyfriend. Even in an ER that isn’t that busy, Carmen isn’t walking around. She is running.
I was somewhat flabbergasted by the sheer amount of chasing people down that she had to do. Even in a mostly empty hospital on a Wednesday night, scheduling resources like an X-ray was extraordinarily complicated. Then getting my father up there was hard. Then we had to wait for the result, and of course, she is the only one who has any idea when the orthopedic gods from on high have deigned to gaze at the picture. I imagine her nightly labor is a little like my recurring dream like I am running in molasses, or am trying to move my arms but something I can’t see is pinning them. Carmen must feel like that all the time.
And yet – she was so wonderful with my father. He is 92 and therefore is simultaneously a bit cantankerous while also liking to flirt with and charm younger women. Which for him, is everyone. She did not treat him, as the system would so often over the next couple of months, as an “elderly-male-who-fell-and-probably-has-dementia-and-so-many-other-problems. Every doctor, and I mean every single one who saw him that night, did. Not her. She figured out that because he has a hearing aid, she should talk into that ear. She made sure he was comfortable. She held his hand while she talked to him. She delivered news the instant she could, and was selfless and apologetic when she couldn’t. Mostly, she delivered care. Not medication or testing. Care.
I’m guessing of the 3.1 million registered nurses in the U.S. – 3.1 million! – that hundreds of thousands of them are temps like Carmen, waiting to find out where they are going next. Then when they get there, they are the front line to sick, broken and scared people who are caught in the hospital system and looking for answers and care, genuine care, anywhere they can find it. The same was true for my daughtefsdfgsdfgrs when they were in the hospital with rotovirus just before they turned two; hospital supervision is a sandwich generation problem, for sure.
I wish I could remember Carmen’s name, or that we had a system where Carmens are not commodities. Imagine the care they could deliver if they weren’t running in molasses. But, obstacles or not, I’m glad she was there that night for my father, and for me.