Monday, December 10, 2012

Holidays at the Hospital

Editor's note: Today, we're lucky enough to have author and nurse Cassie Alexander as our guest blogger.  Her dark and refreshing urban fantasy series is set in the secret supernatural ward of County Hospital.  Her latest Edie Spence novel, Moonshifted, was published November 27. Check out our interview with Alexander about her first in the series, Nightshifted, here!

by Cassie Alexander
Author of the Edie Spence series

So, since Moonshifted is set around the holidays, and since I’ve worked pretty much every holiday since I started as a nurse, I thought I’d share some humorous (hopefully!) stories from my time working the Longest Shifts.

Perhaps my most memorable holiday shift was right near Christmas. We had a patient come in with severe psych problems. They were convinced that they were going to be killed either by demons or angels every thirty minutes or so.

It’s one thing being a one to one with a patient that has a suicidal history, but another to be with someone who’s completely bent. The prior shift’s nurse had given this patient pens and pieces of paper to write on, which they were doing furiously, possessed/compelled-horror-movie-meth-addict style. All I could think about was that this was the first time I’d ever had a patient that I was worried might stab me with a pen in the eye. (Most angry people punch or spit, but they’re usually gimpy due to their injuries, inebriated, or halfhearted about the whole thing, like they’re doing it because they have to, to keep up pretenses, not because they want to, and don’t connect.)

So I’m sitting within arms length of my patient like I need to in case the angels or demons start telling them to stab themselves with pens, reluctant to take the pens away lest I become the focus of their wrath. I’m keeping a close eye on them out of the corner of my eye (instead of making actual eye contact in case they’re gonna hulk out like a mountain gorilla, and also to make it harder for them to eye-stab me with pens) and walking by outside I see one of my festive coworkers who enjoys dressing up for the holidays. She’s rolling through the unit with a reindeer antler headband on.

The last thing I need is for my patient to decide that my coworker actually has antlers – I’m not sure if she’d be an angel or a demon, but the way the Ring-Child is in there making endless concentric black circles on their page, I don’t want to ask and find out. There’s no way that can end well for either of us. I made some furtive gestures towards my charge nurse from the doorway, and my lovely and understanding coworker took off her antlers for the rest of the night.

Runner up to that, first in the itchiest Christmas ever category, was the year when I admitted a little kid. We give everyone who is admitted to my floor a bath. If you’ve ever bathed a little kid, they can be pretty squirmy. So I’m in charge of keeping the kid in one place while the medical interventions that need to happen get done, and they’re slippery as a fish, I’ve practically got them in a headlock. Skin is definitely touching skin.

I’m off for two days after that…and then when I return I find a Merry Christmas from Infection Control note on my locker to let me know that they’d had scabies.

I have been told (and immediately at the time read up) that scabies aren’t super-super contagious. And yet. I spent the rest of my night thinking I was itching and being paranoid every time I was about to scratch. I did that for one more night and then gave up and went downstairs on Christmas Eve.

Luckily, the emergency room was very slow. I explained what had happened, and I got a pretty fast prescription for the cream you use for scabies. That morning, I took it to the 24 hr pharmacy, where a pharmacist who looked even more unhappy to be there than I was, now that it was Christmas morning, informed me that a tube would be $15, and did I still want to pay? Oh, hells yes.

My peace of mind to cash ratio was never so high before in my life.

Last, but not least, although worst (?) (Thinking. Yes, worst.) is when I worked a double on Christmas, from nights into days. That meant I was on from 11 PM on Christmas Eve until 3:30 PM on Christmas day.

16 hours is a long shift, no matter how much holiday pay you’re scoring. And the hazards of working a day shift is that your patients talk to you. Even when you don’t want them to.

I had a person who had injuries to both of their hands. They refused to ask for help with anything though, which meant that we had to redo their hand dressings a lot. You know, after peeing.

So I’m in there feeding this patient their hospital supplied Christmas lunch, since they can’t operate a fork. And they decide that we’re going to talk about A Clockwork Orange, because a friend of theirs brought the movie in for them to see.

This was when I was much newer nurse. I’m so much better at heading off sexual innuendo now (when I realize it’s happening, that is), but at the time, I was trying to do a good job while being exhausted. So I let them tell me – in excruciating detail – all of the events in the movie, A Clockwork Orange, while I spoon fed them exceptionally well blended mashed potatoes. It was awkward and seemingly unending. Sometimes holiday pay is not enough.

At the end of that 16 hour shift, my patient called me back at the end of the day.

Now, I wear gloves with everyone and for everything. I feel weird touching patients on their skin. I’ll do it if I have to, but on the whole, I’m gloved-gloved-gloved.

This time was no exception. I put my gloves on and go into their room, and they lovingly shovel handfuls of Hershey’s Kisses that their parents brought for them into my waiting hands. “Because you all are so good to me! Go share them around! Merry Christmas!”

I thank them, and tell them I will – all the while knowing I won’t -- and carry them out of the room – where I realize that my patient’s hands are, again, soaked with urine…as are all the Hershey’s Kisses they gave me to share and share alike.

I went around the corner and threw them away, and waited a little bit, before going back into the room to ‘just help’ them with their hands, so they wouldn’t know they’d tried to poison me.

Merry Christmas everyone! May no one give you scabies or pee on your candy!

Can't get enough of Cassie?  Follow her on Twitter and visit her website. Already devoured the first two Edie Spence novels? Pre-order Shapeshifted here!
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  1. Hilarious! Seriously, nurses are such unsung heroes. Doctors seem to get all the credit but it's really the nurses who've made huge differences in the lives of my parents who've both had illnesses. Great, funny stories!