My Catalog Party Shopping Diary
My dear friend Jane emails that she is having a Thirty-one Party. See a girls night out and maybe some cosmos in my immediate future. Set off chain of events with a return email asking how it all works.
Email back disabuses me of the notion that there will be a girls night out. This is what is known as a catalog party. Instructed to go on line to Thirty-one and order something. Go on line to Thirty-one. Website says ‘Life Simplified’. More on that later.
Go back on line and view Thirty-one products briefly. Nothing here I need right now. Feel real conflict between the responsibilities of friendship and inherent thrift. Emotional overload. Defer decision till tomorrow.
Morning, May 4:
Receive email from Jane. I must come to a decision before May 6. If I don’t, it will be too late. I fear for Jane’s well-being at the hands of Thirty-one. I email back asking ‘too late for what?’
Afternoon, May 4:
Answer is ‘too late for my exclusive tote bag set’. Exclusive tote bag set can only be released when Jane has amassed orders for Thirty-one merchandise in a compressed timeframe. There is no other way to liberate the tote bag set into Jane’s waiting arms. The pressure is on.
Evening, May 4:
Go to Thirty-one website. Look at items Jane wants. They look remarkably like items I have picked up at Dress Barn. Consider that going to Dress Barn and just buying a cute tote bag set for Jane would stop the insanity before it starts. Hesitate to hurt Jane’s feelings. Go to Jazzercise and think it through.
Night Time, May 4:
Hour of girl-power talk at Jazzercise edges me toward taking one for the team. Decide to sacrifice thrift for Jane and the tote bag set which we now both think of as hers. Remind myself that my friend and I both have Master’s Degrees so this can’t possibly be stupid or anything.
Midnight, May 4/5:
I consider that Bill Clinton is right about the lottery being a tax on the poor. Wonder what he might have to say about catalog party shopping and the codependent.
Morning, May 5:
On Thirty-One website, shopping, during tea break at work. Determine how large a purchase this friendship is worth. At these prices I am down to a compact mirror for my purse. Order same.
Lunch Hour, May 5:
Email from Jane telling me I have not ordered yet.
Five Minutes Later:
Email to Jane saying ‘Oh yes I did’.
Afternoon, May 5:
Text from Jane, all caps, saying it doesn’t count unless I order through her.
Evening, May 5:
Text to Jane requesting brown patterned compact.
A Minute Later:
Text from Jane, striped or floral?
A Minute After That:
Text to Jane, floral, thanks.
Morning, May 6:
Email to Jane asking how much I owe her with tax and shipping.
Midnight, May 6/7:
Disoriented email from Jane. She has been ten hours calculating her order spread sheet and can no longer think clearly. She will get with me later. I fear for her sanity.
Morning, May 7:
Nature’s sweet restorer has done wonders for Jane and I am much relieved. She phones and tells me in a strong, confident voice that the compact comes to about $16 with tax and shipping. Tell myself that $14 more than what I would normally pay for a compact mirror is not that much money. Diagnose myself with Stockholm Syndrome.
A Minute Later:
I tell Jane I will go on line lunch time and pay with my credit card.
A Minute After That:
Jane tells me I must pay through her, cash or check. We will not be seeing each other for some days. I consider mailing her a check, adding the cost of a stamp to the purchase. At this point, what’s another fifty cents?
Friend for whom I am spending $16 on a $2 compact will not hear of me wasting fifty cents on a stamp. Insists I leave a check in an envelope in the mailbox outside her office. Jane’s office is near my house. I agree.
Dusk, May 7:
Jane’s office is also near the local E-Cigs place. Somehow, her office mailbox has gotten nearer to the E-Cigs in the impending dark than it is during the day. I pull into the office complex parking lot, complete with creepy crawlers. I drop the check in the mailbox, watch my back the whole time, and bolt. Take circuitous route home in case I am being followed.
Evening, May 7:
Arrive home in one piece. No one has followed me. Prayer of thanks to The Big Man for getting me home safely, and for creating Thirty-one to make life simplified.
Midnight, May 7:
Blissful call from Jane. Order is completed and tote bag set is secured. It has taken hours and hours of her time. Calculated in terms of what she is paid at work, the tote bag set has personally cost her around $400. Plus $500 in payments from friends and family. Total cost of free tote bag set =$900.
Ten Minutes Later:
Hang up with Jane. Attempt to calculate Thirty-one profit margin in my head. Too much math for me. Count sheep instead.
Morning, May 8:
Wake up to an email about Betty Hill retiring this summer. I am at the age where some of my friends actually are retiring, so I am not surprised. Just can’t remember who Betty Hill is. Have panic attack over developing early onset Alzheimer’s.
Ten Minutes Later:
Recover composure. Open email. Discover ‘Betty Hill’ is retiring a product line at Thirty-one. Pray for strength and deliverance.
Call from Jane. My compact is in and we have to figure out how to transfer it from her possession to mine. I tell her I will call her back and reach for an alcoholic beverage.
It took about nine months for me to push my first book out of the birth canal and into the world. Even if, like me, you are old enough to be retired, I’m sure the gestational time frame is not lost on you.
In the lull of the post-partum phase, regular calls from a still-working nurse friend kept things lively. My friend is a big-city DON. He’d regale me with cliffhanger tales of tough hires, VIP patient drama, and graveyard shift rounding.
‘You bored yet?’ he’d ask occasionally. He wasn’t asking about his stories. He was asking about my nurse-retirement.
My reply was always a perfectly honest “not yet”. It’s more whoredom than boredom when you’re hot on the social media all the time, trying to sell your baby–I mean your book. Still, at about the new-mommy point when the episiotomy stitches come out and they OK you for sex, I realized that I missed nursing.
I didn’t want to throw the baby–I mean the book–out with the bathwater. Surely, there was a way to fit both nursing and writing into my life. I found it at about the point where the baby is sleeping through the night and the pre-pregnancy jeans fit, more or less, once again.
In my new job, I review medical records for an attorney who specializes in disability law. I enjoy the work and my new office-mates have been kind and welcoming. Most days I feel just like a million-dollar baby.
I should mention that I am the only writer in the office, and the only nurse. So in spite of the camaraderie in my new workplace, it’s not like it’s all ‘mommy and me’.
Did I mention that my big-city nurse buddy runs a labor and delivery unit?
Around three hundred million people live in the United States. About three million of them are nurses. I make that one in a hundred.
This demographic worried me a bit when I first retired. Nurses don’t just share a shift or a workplace. They share a culture and a lifestyle. I wondered—and fretted—about what life would life be like when I wasn’t around a lot of nurses anymore.
What was I thinking? If you are a nurse, and do not live on a desert island, you cannot escape other nurses. And they cannot escape you.
The rule of Chaos Theory known as ‘strange attractors’ states that there is really focus and magnetism to seemingly chaotic and random social patterns. Nurses definitely have something like that going on. The only other thing similar to it that I can think of is gaydar.
Gaydar is the ability make an intuitive identification. The nurse-strange attractor thing is like that, but different. Consider this.
It is child’s play to pick working nurses out of a crowd. Once a nurse isn’t working, though, the characteristic nurse outfits, accessories and shift-related circadian rhythms are no longer in play.
How, then, do I always find the retired nurse in a crowd without even trying? For lack of a better word, I’m calling it radaRN. No offense meant to our LPN/LVN brethren. It’s my word and I’m counting you in it too.
When I first joined my new church, I was told to look out for someone named MaryAnn, who was a retired nurse. Two weeks later I tripped in a church hallway and fell at the feet of a 60ish blond woman. You know who it was.
Not much later, I plunked down onto a van seat for a day trip. The woman I chose to sit next to turned out to be a retired nurse too. Not MaryAnn. Another one. My new nurse friend and I decided to buddy up for yoga classes.
One day, my yoga nurse buddy couldn’t make class. I struck up a conversation with the woman on the yoga mat next door. She turned out to be a soon-to-retire OR nurse.
In another yoga class, I mentioned to a friendly fellow-yogi that I had worked as a psychiatric nurse. Her face lit up. “Are you a nurse too?” I asked.
“No”, she said, “but my husband is a psychiatric pharmacist.”
OK, so radaRN isn’t perfect. But a miss, as the Brits say, is as good as a mile.
Living in Tennessee as I do, I hear a lot of country music. It occurred to me recently that no one has ever written a hit country song about nurses. I trolled the internet to confirm my suspicion, and it seems to be true. I think this is an egregious omission.
Nursing as we know it and country music were born around the same time. I have my doubts about whether Florence would approve—she was, after all, pretty uptight—but I think it’s time we call on country music artists to fill this gaping void in the country music canon. The themes of a nursing career and the themes of country music are naturals together.
“Phantom 309” immortalizes a truck driver who crashes for the sake of others. Randy Travis’ recent “Three Wooden Crosses” honors teachers, farmers, preachers, and prostitutes in a car-wreck scenario. Isn’t there a place for a dedicated ER or OR nurse in a song from this gut-wrenching sub-genre?
Anyone who has ever done 1:1 or private duty with a sleeping patient on a long, dark night of the soul knows all about this one. The subconscious thoughts of the protagonists, if they are of opposite genders, might make a great male-female duet in the Tammy Wynette-George Jones tradition. It wouldn’t be the first time a talented country duo had a hit song about a dream.
Surely, some hell-raiser somewhere has encountered a psychiatric or correctional nurse worth memorializing in song. Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition” (“Hank, why do you drink? Hank, why do you roll smoke?”), which sounds a bit like a mental health assessment, cracks the door open for an outlaw country nurse song.
Obstacles to healthy romantic relationships
You work Baylor weekends, and the object of your affection works Monday to Friday, nine to five. He or she could sing a heart-wrenching ballad about waiting for you to come home from after twelve hours on the front lines of patient care, and what happens when you finally walk in the door. In the song, you can’t get out of your clothes fast enough to get into bed. In reality, you can’t get out of your contaminated scrubs fast enough to get them into the washer.
Neon lights, noisy honky-tonks and fancy footwork
Flashing alarm lights and call signals, alarming ventilators and wander-guards, the “don’t slip in that puddle” two-step…how about a song about an overworked ICU nurse pining for a well-deserved night out?
“The Bed by the Window” is about patients in a nursing home, and it’s a real tear jerker. Surely there’s a nurse in that nursing home with a story to tell too. I’ve experienced shift-to-shift reports that would make great country music songs in and of themselves. Maybe I should take this idea home, and write that song myself.
I had two pieces of furniture delivered yesterday: a really nice lingerie chest and a basic nightstand. They joined two pretty little tile stands that I bought for bedside use a few weeks ago.
I did not buy the basic nightstand to use at the bedside; I bought it to put under my internet router. Don’t ask me why, but in my new house the internet router is hooked up from about a foot above the bedroom floor in the middle of one of the walls. I had to do something to get that router off the floor; you know how nurses are about clutter on the floor.
The little nightstand is perfect for the job. It has just enough top surface to hold the router. It doesn’t stick out enough from the wall to get in the way of walking through the bedroom and to the bathroom, and I don’t have to tell you how nurses are about ANYTHING obstructing the path to the bathroom. And as if all that weren’t enough, it has a drawer.
The decorative tile tables do not have drawers, so there was just something that made having a real live nightstand with drawers in the room seem…well, right.
My realtor friend Sheila came over to see my new furniture. She admired my pretty little tile tables. She thought they were unique and different. She thought the nightstand was boring. “It has a drawer,” I pointed out. “Not to mention a shelf. And it only sticks out from the wall by twelve inches, so it won’t block the path to the bathroom.”
“It sure won’t”, said Sheila, noting the path and its full thirty-six inches of clearance. “And what is this fetish you have for little tables with drawers in them? Your new living room tables have drawers too.”
“And they have shelves with recessed spaces for glasses”, I pointed out proudly. “Always good to have a safe place to rest a glass of water.”
“You must think you’re decorating a hospital room,” Sheila said. I denied the allegation, but wondered to myself if she wasn’t right.
Sheila then proceeded to admire my new lingerie chest. She thought that a pretty little rug in front of it would look really nice. I pointed out to her that if I put a rug there, it would be right under my feet as I got out of bed every morning. “On that polished wood floor,” I told her, “my trajectory on that rug would put my forehead right at the corner of the regency bench under the window in no time flat.”
That’s when I stopped wondering if Sheila was right. I knew she was.
Retirement definitely changes relationships. I know lots of retirees who are thrilled to be kayaking, scrap metalling, meditating, or whatever-ing with their spouses. I know just as many who are scribbling on sales receipts with yellow markers at Walmart just to get away from them.
I know of many who took the plunge so that they could have the privilege of babysitting their grandchildren. I also know a few who moved several states away and essentially went into witness protection programs to avoid it.
Of course, there are those who bit the bullet because they needed to be available to take care of aging parents. Then there are the
ones whose parents don’t need them yet; the old folks just like to drive them crazy. A lot of those people are still hiding at work.
At this writing, my only roomies and dependents are my three cats. Boy, have they changed since I retired.
For one thing, they shed more hair, and they shed it in more places.I just don’t get it. When I was working, all cat hair gravitated immediately to any items of black or brown clothing on my ‘to wear’ list. It was annoying, but manageable. Now, cat hair is the new hydrogen; it is everywhere. There’s cat hair in the bed, in the tub, in the garage, on the end tables…I even found some the other day in the dishwasher. I vacuum, damp mop, and dust like a fiend these days, in places I never thought I would.
Sleeping arrangements at my place have changed, too.When I worked, I slept unobserved. Now, I feel like a psych patient on 1:1. Whenever I wake up in the night, there is someone—or should I say, some cat— watching me.
Sometimes it is Josephine. She stands guard at my shoulder, looking me dead in the eye if I wake up. Sometimes, it is Nina. She sits on the headboard shelf, ready to stare me down if I crane my head and stretch. Daniel, on the other hand, is a foot-of-the-bed guy. Any kind of restless leg activity in the wee hours on my part, and he has something, usually ‘meow’, to say about it.
Maybe the cat hair all over the place is a result of my cats making rounds, over and over, just like I used to do at work. Maybe this need they have to provide close observation, with rotating responsibility, is linked somehow to my own experience, to a career’s worth of making sure that someone was eyeballing a patient who needed it.
I wish I’d had as full a staff complement as my cats do to get the job done. And I wonder just what it is that my cats think is going to happen to me, or what they think I am going to try to get away with.
The paint and wallpaper in my new home are perfect, smooth and flawless, like unto a baby’s bottom.
Not so in my old home, which I painted and papered myself. The ‘skin’ I applied to my walls was like the skin on a cachectic nursing home patient turfed into an Emergency Room…peeling, friable, and gouged, if not actually falling off.
So, what possessed me to try to de-wallpaper my new kitchen myself?
There are the obvious answers. Outdated turquoise wallpaper. Saving money.
Then there is the less obvious answer. the obsession of a nurse with being ‘good’ at skin integrity being transferred to the walls of a house.
I started the job with some consultations. To a man, my handy man friends recommended I tackle the wallpaper with stuff called Dif, which they swore could peel anything off a wall, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Nothing else could hold a candle to it. Mind you, after their warnings about gloves, ventilation, and fans, the last thing I would have done around it was light a candle.
Diving into the job with a new and unknown product gave me the nurse’s equivalent of a bad acid flashback to the parade of ‘ultimate’ treatments we used on skin breakdown over the years. Sugar. Milk of Mag. Collodion. Debrisan. Hydrogel. Petroleum. Silvadene. Iodine. I knew one nurse who swore by the generic mouthwash the institution used, and would pour it into skin craters whenever backs were turned…no pun intended. The funny thing was, whenever the rest of us were on vacation, and she had her wicked way with the mouthwash, the decubs were always smaller when we got back.
So I overcame my doubts, primed up my pump bottle, and Diffed. The wallpaper peeled right off…in some spots. The sheetrock peeled right off in others. I had gone from baby’s bottom to geriatric backside in one fell swoop.
Speaking of butts and fell swoops, Dif reminded me of my nursing days in more ways than one. Take my word for it…you don’t want to take a slider on a Dif slick.
I decided to hire a professional handy man for the wallpaper job, and steer clear of Dif forever. Just to remind myself, I took a magic marker and put a big ‘C’ in front of the word ‘Dif’ on the pump bottle. That’ll keep me scared away.
I worked out my skin care obsession issues by selecting just the right color paint for my new kitchen walls. I prefer beigy-peachy tones myself. I was showing some of the paint chips to my neighbor who said they looked flesh-tone to him…just like a baby’s bottom.
Do you remember the most vivid nurse dream you ever had? I remember mine very distinctly.
I had the dream while I was working with a patient with a diagnosis of r/o Pick’s Disease. He was a big, strapping man, still young and strong, and he still had a big appetite. What he no longer had was cognition of any kind, the ability to sit still, the ability to chew, or the ability to manage oral containment properly. His ability to swallow was fast disappearing too, but he had yet to be tubed.
Safely getting enough pureed food into the man to keep him satisfied took a long time and was a messy job.
One night I fed this patient a meal that featured pureed spinach. By the time it was all over, it was a dead heat who was wearing more of the spinach, him or me. I think I even had spinach in my shoes. The walls looked like someone had run amok with a paintball gun loaded with pureed spinach.
I went home that night and dreamt that I was in a Geri-chair and that someone was feeding pureed spinach to me. I woke up in a cold sweat and could not face spinach for a long, long time afterward.
Other than the spinach dream, I didn’t dream a lot about my work as a rule. I sure worried a lot about it, though, as most of us did. Did that fever come down, did I remember to sign for that PRN, I hope they remember to keep that patient NPO for tomorrow…the usual stuff. I worried about it, but I didn’t dream about it.
Until now. Call it a delayed reaction.
The other night, I dreamt that I was behind a med cart, opening and closing the little drawers in preparation for an eight am med round. The slots for the pm meds from the night before should all have been empty, but they weren’t. The pills were still in them.
How could someone have actually forgotten to make the 8pm med round?, my dream-self thought. Then my dream-self remembered that she had worked a double the day before. The person who had failed to give ALL of the 8pm meds last night was…ME.
Once again, I awoke in a cold sweat. Fortunately for my hemoglobin and hematocrit, spinach will not be a problem as a result of this dream, but I know I will be unable to face a med cart for a long, long time to come.
Fortunately, at this point in my life, that’s not a problem.
I found myself wondering if that kiss was the most fun that nurse had ever had in uniform.
I wouldn’t, of course, ask if you ever had any such surprise romantic encounters in full work kit. Unlike the lively young sailor in the photo, I would never put a nurse on the spot like that.
I will also refrain from comment on my own such experiences. If I admitted to any, you might think I was bragging, or you might think I was reinforcing undesirable nurse stereotypes. If I denied that any such thing had ever happened to me, you might not believe me, or you might feel a little sorry for me. There’s just no winning that one.
Kisses aside, there were lots of fun moments in uniform.
There were a million silly inside jokes and a gazillion war stories that cracked us up. Some of them stood up to being told any time, and a million times. The ones that didn’t could still pass muster between 11pm and midnight, transformed from stale to hysterical by late-night Cinderella magic and clinically alarming caffeine levels.
It wasn’t all silly jokes; there were diva moments as well. In my long-term care days, there were quiet skeleton-crew weekends when records and radio gave a much-needed lift to both staff and clients. I had a coworker who was a big Sam Cooke fan, and she and I did a mean and much-requested duet on ‘Bring it on Home to Me.’ We danced, too; the Electric Slide, the Macarena, and less propitiously, the Chicken Dance. Or maybe should say more propitiously. It did the clients at least as much good as a PRN Ativan to have a chance to laugh at us doing the Chicken thing.
There was mellower fun too. I had a crafting coworker who attempted to teach me to crochet during breaks and quiet moments. Emphasis on the word ‘attempted’…we tried shell stitches, Catherine wheels, popcorn stitches, and many more, but I was hopeless at pretty much anything but making ever and ever larger granny squares. I would work on pieces of needlework at home and bring them in to show my teacher, who would just sigh and say, ‘it’s pretty, honey, but it ain’t no stitch I’ve ever seen’, and we would both just crack up.
As hard as we worked, one way or another we found a way to keep ourselves in stitches, if not kisses.
I recently bit the bullet and started text messaging. It’s not like face time and it ain’t Hallmark, but it has its advantages. It was an added bonus to discover that a career’s worth of nurses’ notes was the ultimate preparation for a would-be texter.
I avoided texting for a long time because I was put off by all the cutesy abbreviations. What was I thinking about…nurses invented abbreviations. KCL? We know what it is, what it can do, and how not to kill people with it. We can tell if someone is AAOx3 at 50 paces. We know if an LBM calls for NPO or BRATT. LMAO (laughing my ass off) or TTYL (talk to you later) is small stuff compared to a G10P9, V-fib, or calling Dr. Strong.
I was also text-resistant because of my grammatical principles. I went to Catholic School in the 1960s, when grammar had glamor. There was nothing of subtle, sexy, Audrey-Hepburn-in-a-little-black-dress-restraint about prose as I learned it. Less was not more. Less was…less.
Then came nursing school, where I committed sacrilege against everything the good Felician Sisters taught me and took up ‘telegraphic speech’. Old-time telegraphers got right to the point because they paid for their messages by the word. I learned to write my nurses notes as if I did the same.
If non-nurses read those notes, they would probably say the same things that naysayers say about text messaging. Disjointed. Poor grammar. Unfamiliar words, phrases, and abbreviations. Impersonal. Redundant. Lots of minutiae. A scary language, and I don’t understand it.
I was privileged in the latter part of my career to do a lot of auditing, so I’ve read more nurses notes after the fact than most. They were quite full of emotion, some of those impersonal and disjointed bits of minutiae, when you understood about them.
Jubilation can ooze out of a note, carefully signed with the letters ‘GN’, that simply says ‘TLC given, pain ↓’d’… if that note follows five or six others documenting PRNs that have had no impact at all. Vigilance, instinct, and intuition jump out from a dozen entries of ‘VSS’ at unordered fifteen minute intervals, followed by the code note that reveals that the @#$%, as some wise nurse knew in her gut it would, had hit the fan.
Some nurses notes are like the prizes at the bottom of a cracker jack box…just like some text messages are