At some point in their careers, everyone that works in retail will say something like, “I gotta get out of retail”…some actually do. I’ve unsuccessfully done so three times.
The first time was after we moved to California and I started living on my own way down in the LBC. I ended up working nights at this little hospital just up the way from John Wayne Airport named Hoag. Hoag was kinda famous for being the place that John Wayne actually kicked it while being treated for cancer.
Sorry. The Cancer.
I was basically an orderly, but I worked in the OR, preparing rooms for the morning surgeries. Basically, my day started at 11 pm with cleaning and staging the rooms with the tools and machines required for the first surgeries and ended at 7 am after I transported said surgical patients to the operating room.
Unless there was a referral from the ER, I had a span of hours where there was nothing to do. I could read, watch TV…even nap. As long as everything was ready for the morning and someone was there, just in case.
This is when I decided Justin Case would be a good porn name. It was about 1993, which could actually be around the time the kid who took that name for his eventual porn name was born.
Anyway, the night crew was small: two nurses in charge and then three orderlies. There were always three of us scheduled, but there were four on the team in order to make that happen. The two supervising nurses would trade weekends off and then take weeknights on the alternate weeks.
The night shift cast of characters was pretty diverse, at least personality-wise.
When I started, Mother Mary was the senior nurse and kind of the Cool Mom type. Everyone’s favorite, including the few doctors we saw. She had grown children of her own, and treated us orderlies as her placebo kids.
The other nurse in charge when I started was Back Bay. She was a pretty bitter old gal. I mean, a no nonsense type of woman. Boy, was she in the wrong place and on the wrong shift. I call her Back Bay, because she’d moved to SoCal from Boston after her husband divorced her. While she may have run as far across the country as possible, her mind never really left Boston. It was a nightly activity to mark how long into a shift she could go without nostalgically bringing the glorious Back Bay up.
Back Bay had one of those faces that was simultaneously lost and enraged. Not a Resting Bitch Face kind of situation, because her features were usually hyper animated…no resting involved in Back Bay’s face.
She had a shock of chin length white hair that was usually tucked up under her blue surgical cap and even though she was a big woman, moved with an intensity of purpose that told you that this wasn’t a country club. That rarely got her into trouble, except when she found herself moving quicker than a groggy doctor, woken after midnight for an emergency procedure. Good nurses anticipate a surgeon’s needs and are ready for it. Bad doctors fail to realize this is what’s happening when they aren’t firing on all cylinders and bitch out the nurse.
This happened a few times. While I felt bad for Back Bay, I also realized the karma at work here since she pretty regularly told us orderlies how we failed to meet her expectations. When this happened to me, I was usually equally disappointed, since I usually expected my good old self to avoid her path of travel, thereby sparing myself her therapeutic abuse.
What I liked about Back Bay getting bitched out by a surgeon was the make up candy and goodies they sent to her afterward – which she shared with us for the same reasons. Although her claim was that her waistline didn’t need it. One of my fellow orderlies – Steve, the funny nerd – commented once under his breath after hearing this “Your ass line sure needs it even less!” which cracked me up and put me in her crosshairs for the night.
For her part, Mother Mary once famously came out of the lounge with a bunch of those little brown paper cups that candy sits in taped to her ass and hips. Her bottom looked like a float. She just putzed around the charge desk muttering to no one how she couldn’t eat any of the candy in the lounge because it goes right to her hips. We were all dying. Her deadpan delivery was amazing. Back Bay was even laughing at the show, finally chasing Mother Mary around the corridors of the OR trying to swat the wrappers off of her.
At least she was a good sport when it came time for payback.
My least favorite Back Bay story was probably the most memorable, if only for how surreal it was in the moment. It was a late night emergency and I was pushing the patient from Holding into the OR. For her part – because no one was ever fast enough – Back Bay was pull-steering the gurney from the front left corner.
Did I mention that one of our duties at night was to mop the entire place?
I only mention it now, since as I was pushing the gurney and Back Bay helped me by pulling it forward and steering the foot of the gurney around a corner, I saw these two blue booties appear in front of Back Bay’s face. That registered as weird to me and I could tell from her profile that Back Bay thought so, too.
I’m wondering whose feet those were and why they were in Back Bay’s face and noticing that Back Bay’s eyes were wide open and her mouth was making a perfect “o”.
Then there were just the feet. Back Bay had ducked out of the way.
When the feet disappeared, leaving two downward blue streaks in their place, I finally caught up with the slow motion scene unfolding before me.
Back Bay had hit a wet spot on the floor and somehow in overcorrecting and trying to remain upright, her feet had flown forward out from under her and she went down.
And that was pretty much the end of Back Bay. Her broken elbow kept her laid up until after I had returned to retail.
She was replaced by a young up and coming nurse. Nothing super remarkable about my time working with her, since it was fairly short. But I remember her most for her eyes.
Specifically how animated they were when the rest of her face was obscured by a surgical mask and hair covering. She’d be assisting during a procedure – ok, here’s one in particular – it was an emergency appendectomy. It’s the middle of the night and we get everything done for the next day only to find out the ER is sending us a patient.
We reset the room for an appy and go get the patient.
Eyes is assisting, the rhythm of the procedure is all normal.
Move the patient onto the operating table, anesthesiologist starts his shtick, doctor and nurse scrub in.
What have you.
I head into the room to start clearing the stuff that’s been set aside and I see Eyes kind of standing still looking from a specimen container to the doctor and back again several times in a row. After the surgery is done, I’m helping her move the patient to recovery and ask her what gives.
She doesn’t answer me directly, but says she’ll tell me back in the suite. When we get the patient settled, we head Back to the OR and she takes me to the labcart outside the suite. She pulls the jar and opens it, revealing an appendix that even I recognize as a healthy pink tissue specimen.
I basically do the same thing to her that she did to the doctor.
“The fuck?” I say.
She goes to tell me that she shouldn’t let it bug her, it happens all the time; doctors have insurance to pay or tuition for their kids or need a new sports car.
“Or it’s Christmastime”, I say.
So, that’s bullshit. But I guess it happens.
But as long as I am on the topics of out of the ordinary events – ie: emergency surgeries – try these on for size.
You know how people eat sunflower seeds by cracking the shell in their teeth and then sucking out the seed and spitting out the shell?
Yeah, that’s too much effort for me, so I’d just suck the salt off the shell and then start chewing. That’s how I ate them since I was a kid…much to the dismay of everyone who witnessed this.
Well, one night I’m sent out to the ER to pick up an emergency patient with a bowel obstruction. They go into the guy’s abdomen and start pulling out handfuls of sunflower shells from his gut. I’m watching this thinking, How the hell many sunflower seeds did this guy eat?!?”
I had the same thought again when they closed him up and then put his feet in stirrups and basically did a D&C on his butt. I was all, “Thank god his mom was upstairs to call 911 for him…”
Speaking of butts, do you know what a rectal shelf is? Yeah, I’m kind of an expert in the area and I’m a bit fuzzy on the topic of a rectal shelf.
But(t), the second time I picked a guy up in the ER for an emergency procedure, I knew exactly what we had on our hands: foreign object.
More to the point, a lost foreign object.
I’d seen this before and figured out the deal when I saw a guy waiting for the patient outside of recovery.
When the second guy looks back at me over his shoulder and lisped, “My girlfriend did it”, I rolled my eyes so far that I think I sprained them. I trust Mother Mary like crazy. But to this day, I’m still not sure that there was a legitimate reason she admitted the guy that night. I’d told her what he said and she laughed – it was the early 90s and people were still making jokes about the Richard Gere urban legend. When I dropped the guy off at his room, I was still wondering if we were really just waiting for the batteries to die.
…and on the subject of dying, in what hospital job wouldn’t you expect to confront some death?
I’ll tell you about my first dead body last. First, you have to hear about the Fat Guy. Not because his death was anything surprising or grisly. No, when I took Fat Guy downstairs, the morgue attendant kept talking about “Bring Fat Albert over here” and “Let’s get Fat Albert” to the point where I felt like I wasn’t getting his point. Initially, I thought he was being inappropriate, but that didn’t jive with the little I knew of him. When he looked up at me pointedly, we both realized I had know clue what was going on.
“Oh! You haven’t met Fat Albert, have you?!?”
Me: looks at Fat Guy.
Him: “No, no, no!”, laughing, “Fat Albert is what we call the portable crane we use to move significantly obese patients!”
Me: nervous laughter – I thought he was funnier before he said that…
Then there was my first Harvest.
Seems like Bros in Orange County were too frequently falling backward over deck railings.
My first Harvest was such a Bro.
A Brain Dead Bro, in this case. He was an organ donor and his family had signed away permission to do the procedure so that others might live.
I have no idea if this makes pulling the plug easier or harder in the moment for the family of an early 20s guy.
I got to wheel the living cadaver down to the OR.
Check that, the very hot even after a backward fall from three stories up living cadaver.
Such a waste.
I know now that it’s a waste of a life regardless, don’t mind my sharing of an early 20s newly minted gay boy’s inappropriate thoughts.
So, a Harvest is pretty much exactly what you would think based on the name. All viable organs are collected. Some, like the heart, kidneys, liver, etc are taken for immediate use for patients on a transplant list. Other organs like skin, the corneas and long bones are taken and stored for future needs.
The long bones are what surprised me most. I guess the marrow is valuable so they take the shaft of the bone – shut up, Diezel – and replace it with broomsticks so the body maintains its integrity for burial.
Lastly, there’s the Body Bag Incident, aka: the first dead body I encountered at work.
It was an emergency heart surgery that ended poorly and it happened on a night where one of us called out sick, so there was just two orderlies on duty.
And it was Wedding Season, so there was another surgery going to repair the hand of a former suitor who had put his hand – fist – through a mirror at the reception. Seriously, it happened at least once a week for six weeks.
Needless to say, I’m handling the Heart Suite alone.
I jockey the body bag under our dead hero’s body and start zipping, toe to head. Somehow, I end up leaning over his head to pull the zipper from his chest to close it up.
Now, I’m pretty sure I would have lost my shit if this happened in broad daylight, let alone 3 am.
I experienced a full on case of the heebies. Then I ducked into the Suitor’s OR to just ask Mother Mary if we were sure-sure my guy was dead before proceeding further.
Her scoff prompted Eyes to invite me out with the gang after work the next morning for their breakfast ritual the first time.
Ok, maybe Mother Mary’s scoff and my overall pallor.
There’s a place for a dive bar at 7 am. I learned that that day.