So, I got a call on the way to one of my jobs yesterday, in ER, where I work as a travel nurse (a good deal, tax-wise, and flexible). I've been working at the same ER for over a year, because I like it better than any of the other 6 or 8 I've worked in.
Over that year, the place began to feel like home - I stopped feeling shy and started feeling like a fixure, someone who knew where things were, who new nurses could come to for help. I knew the housekeepers and how many kids they had. I knew the lab people by name. I had a reputation as someone who liked to work, who would help out, who could start an IV on ANYONE. It felt cozy, and I felt valued.
Chuck, my "nurse recruiter" had sent an email saying to call him, that it was kind of important. As I was pulling in to the parking lot to go to work, he returned my return call, and said "They're not renewing your contract". For the last year, I've had a series of 13-week contracts, and began to assume this would continue, at least as long as I've got a kid in college.
Not so. This contract will end November 24, my last day scheduled there. 13 days' notice. They're phasing out "travelers", Chuck said.
I've asked the ER manager from time to time about how secure my spot there is. I once said "So, can I keep doing 2 shifts a week until my kid gets through college?" and she answered, in her smiling -without-smiling, vague way "I don't know why not". Then, last month, with rumors of cutbacks flying, I asked "Are they thinking about getting rid of travelers?" and she said, smiling-without-smiling, "Hospitals are always trying to get rid of travelers." Travelers are a sometimes necessary but expensive way to fill staffing gaps. I knew this. And I've been there for 15 months. It felt deceptively solid, this ground I was standing on. Roller skating on, more like.
I clocked in and checked in with the charge nurse, whom I love - whose Halloween party I went to - and told her, swearing I wasn't gonna cry, but I did. She was angry, supportive, sweet. Then I limped through 12 hours, telling some people, holding it together with others.
I must confess something, here. I'M PATHOLOGICALLY NOSTALGIC. I can get sentimental about the freeway exit I once took to a house I used to live in. Or my mom's jar of rancid face cream that's still in her medicine cabinet, because I remember when the Avon representative was at our dining room table, in my childhood home when I was 10, selling it to her. Or an old receipt, scrap of paper, note - anything, because it's old - evidence of my life as it was years ago. I cry every time I move or leave a job. I can't throw out an old tupperware mixing/pouring pitcher because my Dad used to mix pancakes in it. Likewise the bottle of prescription ibuprofen I inherited when he died - I take it when my back hurts (Federal law prohibits this. Don't tell anyone), and get sentimental every time. I doubt I'll be able to take the last one - I'll feel an urge to make the bottle of Motrin into a shrine to my Dad. So sue me.
This fascination with the past mystifies me. But then, time mystifies me - how can I belong in a place for a while, and then not belong there? How can my home town still be there, but not be my home town? What happened to the kid I was then? The young parents mine used to be? Where did we all go? But I blather. . .
Everything nice about work started to hurt. The familiarity of the hallways, which I will be leaving. Every person who said hello and likes me, because I'll be leaving them. Larry, the old alcoholic veteran who comes in once or twice a day for some Ativan or a pain shot and some company, who sent us a Christmas card signed "Larry _____", and his medical record number. Love hurts. Attachment hurts.
I called my sister to see how her gall bladder surgery yesterday went (fine), and cried when she asked how I was and I told her. Went back in, tried to discharge a patient, and started crying. I've never done that before; I said "I'm sorry - I just got some bad news" (I didn't say what. I think I may have sounded noble.) The young woman, who had the flu and was wearing a mask, said "Mom, I'm sick - give her a hug," and Mom geve me a wonderful, obese, all-encompassing hug and told me about a fire last weekend that burned their family house to the ground. I felt better - knowing how much worse things could be, seeing the capacity for kindness that runs rampant in "ordinary fucking people" (as the guy in Repo Man said, I think). We hugged again and said goodbye, wishing each other luck.
Mike, one of my buddies there, told me about his ambulance that had just arrived - a young girl with a blood alcohol of 0.30, who had been found by the river with her pants pulled down, raped, obviously, and left there like that. And I thought of my own daughter, brilliant and not remotely interested in substances, going to college, making funny silent movies, going to Young Democrats conventions because she's so damned smart and funny and lovable. And she's OK. She's not in a river bed, raped.
How do you make sense out of this life? Such beauty and such nastiness, kindness and danger, love and loss all sitting side by side, like they all own the place. Dunno, OS pals. Dunno.