Being a nurse’s aide isn’t a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination. The most glittering it gets is when you happen to be in the same room as the doctor when he makes his rounds.
You see, we’re there for the dirty jobs. We do showers, meals, changing beds and bedpans. We clean up the puke, the blood and whatever other body fluids happen to make its way wherever they’re not supposed to be. We take vitals when the doctor orders and when we notice something out of the ordinary, whether we know what it is or not, we are to report it to the nurse.
No matter the shift, we are on our feet from the time we start until it’s over. If we’re lucky we get our thirty-minute break to eat and it takes a miracle for us to get the relaxing fifteen minutes twice a day.
I’ve been a nurse’s aid for almost five years and it’s not an easy job. I’ll say it over and over. It takes a hell of a person to want to do an even more thankless job than being a nurse.
Every once in a while you get that one patient who you never forget. I do try to pretend that every patient is my mom, my dad or even my ignorant brother. It helps to keep the compassion because after doing this job for so long it can slip away like the years of your life.
This one patient wasn’t like the others. For the three weeks he was in my section I fell half in love with him. He was sexy, charming and very funny no matter how bad he felt. Well, except the two times when the nurses were late with his pain medication.
By seven I’m walking into his room ready to take his morning vitals. His head is always covered by the blanket. The bright light from the hallway is rude enough to keep him awake. I never like waking him. He reminds me of my little boy who hates having to get up so early since I work days.
After I say his name a few times he finally rolls to his back and gives me an offended look. You can always tell he doesn’t mean it.
“Isn’t the fact I’m looking at you enough to say I’ve got vitals, Annie?”
That makes me smile. “The doctor wouldn’t forgive me if I let you off the hook, Dave.”
I stick the thermometer in his mouth, wrap the blood pressure cuff around his arm and smile as I begin. After a few minutes I’m finished and writing down his stats. As is the norm for every morning at that time, the telephone rings.
“My guard wants to know if I’m still kicking.”
Don’t I know it? “BP is 138/84, pulse 82, respirations 22 and temp is 99.2”
When I hear Dave relaying the information, I watch him. I know what’s coming next.
“He doesn’t like any of those, Annie.”
“I’ll let the nurse know. Maybe you’re getting a little infection, but don’t quote me on it.”
“Hutch wants to marry you,” Dave jokes.
“Tell him I’m marrying you.”
His chuckle makes me smile and as I’m walking out the door I think how wonderful it would be if Dave was interested in me. If I could afford contact lenses, lose about twenty pounds and quit breaking out whenever I get my period, maybe I’d get his interest. Nope, when I think about it for a second.
Dave’s Hutch already owns his heart. A few of the nurses would snicker and make snide remarks about them, especially that Mary Wayne. She swore up and down she saw Dave and Hutch screwing each other’s brains out one night. Hutch and two friends had managed to sneak in food, wine and a kerosene lamp. To this day I still haven’t figured why anyone would bring a lamp with flammable liquid into a hospital. By the time it was done, the alarms had gone off and everyone in the room was soaked to the skin. Mary Wayne raised hell with anyone that would listen. That was all it took for the awful jokes and innuendo to take.
They couldn’t see what I saw. These guys shared a devotion that’s rare. Mary Wayne didn’t have a clue as to what their relationship means. I hope someday I get as lucky as them.
By the time I get finished with vitals, I have to hurry to help patients get ready for their breakfasts. Three patients are self-sufficient enough to see to their own meals. Five of them have to eat in their chair per doctor’s orders. Three of those need assistance getting out of bed. The last one I get to is Dave. I help him move to his chair. He’s still having a hard time getting around and it takes a lot out of him just for that little move.
During all this I get three calls for bathroom assistance, requests for ice water and other unexpected needs. After breakfast, I collect trays and start on beds and baths.
Two patients are elderly and require diapers. Sometimes me and one of the other girls will double team with the more time consuming patients. We get them cleaned up and change their bedding. Those we have to do all their moving for them and they take far more time than the others.
Once that was finished, I grab fresh linens and head to Dave’s room. About this time Hutch usually arrives. Dave’s a modest guy. You would think he would be past all that by now with how many people in the hospital have seen him naked, but nope. He prefers having Hutch help him with showering, shaving and dressing change. That’s the only time I ever knew a doctor to relent on who changed bandages.
You’re probably wondering how a patient with those injuries can even get a shower. It’s like a sitting sponge bath in a shower room. The doctor wants him moving around and Hutch, like the good officer he is, makes sure those orders are followed.
“He’s running a little late this morning.” Dave doesn’t look very happy about it. He’s still in the chair and has no interest in the TV.
“I’ll come back later when he’s here so I can change your sheets.”
When I leave I hope Hutch shows up soon. The nurses don’t like baths or showers delayed. It throws off the rest of the schedule. Dave still has respiratory and physical therapy to come. That’s not counting the doctor’s rounds.
The next hour is spent on changing sheets and making sure the other patients are bathed. The IV accidentally came out of one patient and it took over twenty minutes for Mary Wayne to arrive to put in a new one.
By the time I get back to Dave’s room, the TV is off and he’s looking out the window. “Dave?”
“Just a little while longer, okay?”
“The doctor is going to be here in an hour and right after that is your physical therapy.”
“He’ll get here.”
It’s more than just modesty for Dave. He’s lost weight and he doesn’t want me to see his incision when the bandage gets changed. The uncertainty, exposure of his weakened state and the changes his body have undergone weighs on him like he has an aircraft carrier on his back. I’ve seen it before.
So, rather than argue with him I take another approach. I start stripping his bed. “How long have you been a police officer, Dave?”
“Long time now. Almost nine years.”
Call me strange, but I like making beds. I love perfectly smooth white sheets made on a bed. My hospital corners can’t be beat. “You’ve probably seen some pretty awful things.”
Dave gives me a look like I’m supposed to know what it means and I do. “So’ve you.”
“I’m just an aide.”
“But you’ve seen.”
Yeah, I have. I’ve seen wonderful people die alone. Seen sick children suffer. Elderly who were lost in a world of their illness, the strong turn weak, and more. “But we keep doing it, don’t we?” He shrugs his shoulders and looks the other way. “No matter how ugly it gets we still have to do what we’re doing because we care.”
This next look I get from Dave is different. His eyes narrow a bit and he folds his arms. “Oh, you’re good.”
“What?” I’m feigning innocence now. No way am I going to admit to anything.
“Not as good as Hutch, but damn close.”
That’s a compliment I’ll take. It’s time to own up to my manipulation to get Dave naked. “If you don’t get your shower, I could lose my job.” Okay, maybe not just yet. He shakes his head and I smile as I finish the bed. “If you’ve got something I haven’t seen I won’t tell a soul.”
He’s thinking about it. Come on, Dave. I won’t turn my head in disgust. The body you have right now is only temporary.
“Can you do it fast?”
“Faster than Mary Wayne’s mouth can run.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
Relieved I wouldn’t get yelled at by Mary Wayne, I left to get a wheel chair. After I returned, I helped Dave into the chair. “Do you want your hair washed?”
“Did that yesterday.”
“I’ll set you up to shave when we’re done.”
I found Dave’s pajamas and soap. I push him out of the room and stop off at the nurses’ station. When I walked behind the desk I saw Mary Wayne look up from her paperwork and stare at me. Her eyes went from me to Dave. That look told me to hurry up.
Carrying the bandages I hurried over to Dave. Mary Wayne likes to shoot her mouth off and I hoped she’d keep it shut at least until after Dave was gone. We stopped in front of the shower room and I smiled at him.
“The hospital is one of the most vulnerable moments in a patient’s life. It almost always seems like everyone has control but you. It’s even more so when someone has to help with something as simple as a bath. If I could take that feeling away, Dave, I would.”
When Dave grabbed onto my wrist and gave it a gentle squeeze my heart just about stopped. It was such a small and wonderful show of affection. “Thanks.”
We were both surprised to see Hutch coming our way. Dave’s face lit up and when Hutch knelt down in front of him I took a step back. It felt like I was intruding on an intimate moment the way Hutch was looking at Dave. “I see you charmed a woman into taking a shower with you,” he teased.
“I didn’t think you were going to make it,” Dave told him.
“Starsk, I made you a promise.”
“I’m not going to hold you to that. It’s okay now.”
Hutch’s hand rested on Dave’s knee. I hope they didn’t notice my sigh. “You sure?”
“Yeah,” Dave whispered. “I’ve got some help.”
Hutch has got a beautiful smile. I could fall in love with him, too. Even with that dazzling grin aimed at me, Hutch love belonged to Dave. “Thanks, Annie. Starsky, you want me to wait in your room?”
Just knowing that Dave was willing to let an outsider into his world of vulnerability was enough for me. “I still have two more baths to give. You’d be doing me a favor, Hutch.”
“Okay, but…” Starsky took a quick glance around then leaned towards him. I didn’t hear what he said, but when Hutch’s eyes lit up and he chuckled I didn’t think I wanted to know the details of whatever deal was struck.
I started to leave and Hutch came over. “Listen, this means a lot, Annie. Starsky’s been…”
“I know.” I couldn’t let Hutch make a big deal out of it. It’s too embarrassing not just for me, but for Dave, too. “Let me know when you’re done.”
My cheeks hurt from smiling so much. After I start down the hallway, I look over my shoulder and watch Hutch pull Dave into the shower room. How lucky they are. Someday I’ll have that.