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Real to real

For once, everything seemed so clear in the hospital. As I had told Misti on several occasions, I was headed back to school for something fun this time—the culinary arts. I didn’t have any grand aspirations to become a chef or run my own restaurant, nothing committal like that—I just didn’t want to be lame in the kitchen anymore. It was something I felt I needed to do, a direction I needed to take. What this most recent flare had taught me, among other things, was that I had to get serious about my diet. Even though it hadn’t been terrible to begin with, it hadn’t been great, either. Along with an entire spring and summer of skipped and missed doses of Colazal, popping them whenever it was routine or I actually remembered, my food habits had probably contributed in small ways to the slide last November, the decline that eventually led to pancreatitis and my hospitalization.

“You’ll be a chef nurse,” said Misti.

“I will.”

That was the other moment of clarity I’d had in the hospital—becoming a nurse. By the time I was discharged on the nineteenth, I’d spent a total of thirty days in one hospital bed or another, in the emergency room or on one floor of Bergan Mercy or another. I’d met a lot of nurses and had a chance to watch many of them work and decided that maybe I could do what they did, maybe where I really fit in and would finally be content and fulfilled was in the care of others. Some afternoons, after my day nurse had rounded, after the nurse’s aide had stopped in to check my vitals, I would lie in bed with headphones on and think it through. I’d try to consider all the angles, all the aspects of the job, and tried to scare myself by dreaming up hard or extraordinary scenarios, as well as the mundane. By then, I was already shitting in a plastic hat and peeing in a jug so the nurses could monitor my input and output; many times, especially at night, I’d watch from bed as my nurse stretched purple gloves over her hands and bent out of sight over the toilet and read the volume of collected stool; I’d hear the chunky splash as the hat was emptied in the water and rinsed clean and repositioned for use again; I’d hear the steady stream of my urine, old and cold by then, being dumped out, and I wondered, Would that bother me?

I remembered Carolyn from PINS floor, Carolyn with the sweetest voice I’d ever heard, who spoke to me long and freely one afternoon in the saddest light about her scariest experience as a nurse. I wondered if that could have been me, too, in the room, paralyzed by everything I knew and didn’t know, while an embolism moved through my patient’s body and lodged itself in her lungs and eventually killed her. Could I be one of the first people in the room, would I know how to help?

“I think you’d be a good nurse,” said Misti.

“Think so?”

“You have a compassionate heart. I can tell.”

Misti was just a nurse’s aide; a couple times a day she would come in and check my vitals and offer to get my shower started, which involved laying towels on the floor around the drain to corral the excess water, placing a stack of extra towels on the sink to dry off with, and taping Saran Wrap around my arm to keep my IV site from getting soaked. Many times I used these opportunities to chat with her, about anything. I liked Misti. I liked the way her face lit up when she smiled. I liked her laugh, especially when it was in response to some goofy thing I’d said. Sometimes our conversations would last for a half-hour or more, winding from one topic to another, punctuated by that same smile and laugh I would eventually come to crave. Sometimes I wondered if it was okay, talking for such an extended length, if maybe she wasn’t supposed linger like she was, but I never mentioned it because I never wanted it to end.

I’d told her once of my plans, how I’d enrolled in a CNA class at Clarkson last November—paid for it and everything—how I’d jokingly explained becoming a little preoccupied the Monday the class was scheduled to begin—being in the hospital for pancreatitis and all. I’m not sure if Misti believed me at the time, thinking perhaps I was some blowhard, some jerk out of his mind on pain meds who was only trying to impress her. But it was true then and it still is now. Clarkson still has my money for their CNA class; it’s something I want to do, the first step of many that sees me, ultimately, earning my RN, working on a floor like the Med/Surg floor alongside some of the wonderful people I’ve met there. The first time I postponed my enrollment was from my bed in the hospital, back during the second week of January—back when this adventure was just beginning. Early March sounded fine, I thought. I’d be strong and healthy by then. But I wouldn’t, of course: still waiting for me were another two trips to the emergency room, an eight-day stint in the Post Intensive Care Unit, followed by twenty days on the floor above, the Med/Surg floor, where I had first met Misti, and where I later reconnected with her.

I’ve since had to postpone the CNA class again, this time for summer. I’ll be ready by then, I tell myself. I’ll be strong and healthy by then. And I believe I will. But recovery is hard, and what seemed so clear in the hospital is now a bit murky. Those culinary classes I saw myself enjoying are a little more involved, more drab than I had first envisioned: before Fine Dining and International Breads and Plated Desserts are classes with dreadful, obscure names like Culinary Math, Protein Fabrication, and Sanitation. And just as easily as the dream was dreamed, it fades now, and I can’t see myself investing that kind of time and money when all I want to do, really, is put together a half-decent meal for myself.

But I still cling to the dream of becoming a nurse. During my conversations with Misti, I had explained the reason why I thought it’d be a career I’d enjoy, and essentially it was just people, caring for and getting to know other people. I’d been in the hospital so long, had met so many different doctors, nurses, and aides—including the food prep and housekeeping people—that it became easy to spot the good souls, the ones who actually saw me as a person and not a thing in a hospital bed that swallowed pills. And Misti, I knew, was one of those good souls; I knew it pretty much the first day I met her. That bright smile and laugh. Her attention and care felt genuine, real, in a place and during a time when everything else was surreal.



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