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Walking the Line

Today I took care of a patient who used to be an ER nurse. She's married to a man who used to be an ER nurse. After years of diverting and shooting up Dilaudid and other drugs, both she and her husband lost their nursing licenses, their jobs, and their health. She checked in today because she's detoxing off of methadone and alcohol. In order to function, she has to drink alcohol every half hour. Even during the night, she wakes up every 30 minutes to take a drink.

This woman brought her 10 year old son to the ER with her. He sat in the corner and drowned out reality by playing his hand-held video game. She has other children, too.

Her veins are scars, and her limbs are pock-marked with scars from shooting up for so many years. She laughs at everything, but the smile didn't reach her eyes.

She terrified me.

In nursing school, I remember learning about a shocking percentage of nurses that end up abusing drugs and stealing medications from work, or even using at work. It seems like such a huge line to cross. And yet she crossed it.

Because of God's grace, I'm the one wearing scrubs. Hopefully I'll never be the one without a license, detoxing in an ER. But the reality of such things scares me.


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I waited for a second, then looked at his wife and smiled, and she smiled back. I asked, "Did you just say you were wearing panties?"

He said, "Um, yeah." We all started laughing.

A few hours later, when I was discharging him, he asked, "You're not going to tell anyone that I called my underwear 'panties,' are you?"

I replied, "Oh, you bet I'm going to tell people!"

Good Question

The other day, a patient asked me, "Do you have any pets?" Immediately, I pictured Spike and his cute little mustached face and hilarious personality. I replied, "Yes, a little Cairn Terrier. How about you?"

She told me about her three Italian Greyhounds, and showed me pictures on her phone.

It struck me suddenly that this is a fabulous question to ask people. It's not invasive, it won't make the childless people hurt, and there may be some fascinating stories behind the answers.

Usually, patients and other strangers ask me if I have children. I say, "No, not yet" and leave it at that, quickly getting back into my therapeutic nursing communication mode to get the focus off me and back onto the patient. But I always feel the ache of having to say "No, not yet" over and over again. It just felt so good to be able to say, "Yes!" to the pet question.