I think there’s a thing about nurses, specifically acute care nurses, that we see so much shit that other people cannot even begin to imagine. There’s sometimes no way to process it; no way to sit with it. So we party. Hard. We dance. We drink. We sing. We sometimes get into bar fights (kinda more often than you might think). We get kicked out of bars. And a lot of nurses are kinky. A LOT of them. In fact the only in home sex toy parties I’ve gone to have been with nurses. That’s an aside though.
I have some memorable escapades with my ED buddies. The Christmas party my last year there was one of the best. Lots of people attended, there was a lot of hot gossip going on at the time so it was interesting to see who arrived with who and who flirted with who (spouses are NOT invited to ED parties….for…reasons) and considering we all spent a minimum of forty hours a week with each other it’s always a big deal when we pay to see each other outside of work. But pay we did for the open bar and food.
I drank a lot. Two residents came who didn’t pay. Myself and the nurse who organized the party confronted them. We take money very seriously as nurses. We are generally cheap and as I said- it’s a big deal for us to pay to spend time together. So pay up.
I laid into them hardcore about being entitled asshats until they coughed up the 30$ each. The nurse who organized it thought I was awesome and we took horrific selfies in the bathroom together.
One resident who I made pay then hit on me, and when I told him I was married to a woman he said, and I quote, “I like ’em feisty,” and smiled at me like he thought that was a great pick-up line. I mean really Grey’s Anatomy isn’t too far off reality. I picked up a pool stick within reach and casually leaned against it, and told him if he came within six inches of me I’d show him what it means to be feisty and there were about fifty people here who would all pretend they didn’t see shit because they had my back. So back off.
That was the end of that.
The end of the night my friend drove me home, dumped me on my lawn, screamed at me for losing my purse as I was screaming at her that I lost my purse, my wife came outside and screamed at us both to shut up because it was 2 AM then my purse was catapulted into my face and my friend drove away. It apparently was on my seat. My bad.
So why was this the most memorable night for me. Couple things.
That year had been particularly gruesome with cases that left us all scarred. There were more deaths than usual, all around the holidays, and there were at least three times in the last two months I personally had done CPR- as in the actual chest compressions. And I knew that was only three out of eight cases. We were all beat up emotionally that holiday season because the deaths were just more and more painful.
There was an abuse case where a child died. Where the parents were in our ED and where the parents were the perpetrators. We had to stand there in the room and watch a child die standing shoulder to shoulder with their murderers.
I mean if you sit back and think about that. It’s fucked up on many levels.
A few of our own were going through ugly divorces, we were starting to see a huge turnover in nursing staff that would only get worse in the coming year, and as always management was up our ass for things out of our control and never appreciative for the lives we saved that were within our control.
We needed that night. We needed that night to remember that we were all just human beings. That we can laugh, cry, blush, play pool, joke, and do all those things that normal human beings do. It was a huge catharsis and relief in a sea of chaos.
I also realized right there with the pool stick in my hand that I wasn’t lying. All of those people would have my back in a hot second. Because that’s what we did for each other.
There is nothing that can quite describe the bond that develops in acute care, the closest I can come to describing it is that moment. Knowing I could pound this asshat with a pool stick if he tried anything with me and that not only would every one in that room defend me in every way, they would all have stood in front of me before I even needed to use it. That’s some serious loyalty right there because I know for a fact not everyone in that room liked me and the feeling was very mutual. But we were family. You don’t mess with our family.
A few years after I left, a nurse I hadn’t talked to in awhile messaged me on FB. She was going through some bad stuff. She poured her heart out to me, and I called her, and we cried together because it just killed me to know she was suffering. We hadn’t talked since I left the ED. Three years earlier. But that’s how it is with the people I worked with there. They reach out to me sporadically now, and when they do it’s like we know we are there for one another. Nothing has really changed. I could be in a bar twenty years from now with a pool stick in my hand, and if one of them was there I know in my heart they would be next to me in an instant no questions asked.
That’s what I gave up leaving the ED. The family and connectedness. That’s what I miss most. It’s just all the other shit that takes over your brain when your in the thick of it. The safety, management, violence, safety of my license practicing with a shortage of nurses, and the patients. The patients who touch you in ways that fade over time but are never truly forgotten.
People always ask me if I miss the ED. I don’t miss the violence. I don’t miss the fatigue emotional and physical. I don’t miss looking murderers in the eye. I don’t miss the ego’s and the pissing matches between specialists and medicine. I don’t miss watching patient care be put to the back burner while politics of a hospital plays out.
But I miss the people. I miss the family. I miss knowing I could yell out “suction” and it would be in my hand. I miss having an Attending look relieved when I come in the room to start an IV or draw up a medication because they had confidence in my skills and knew I could manage things when shit went down. But most of all I miss the cases that didn’t break my heart. The cases that gave me hope that humanity still existed with kindness and compassion.
I miss knowing that the people beside me were part of an epic team of which I was a member- our mission- to literally save lives.
The better question is not do I miss it, but knowing that I would see the worst sides to humanity, knowing about the blood that would stain my clothes, the tears I would shed, the bodies we would try and pound life back into, the violence I was victim of and witness to…knowing all of that would I do it all over?
That night. The Christmas party. I knew my time in the ED was coming to an end. But I also knew I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And anytime I see any of you waving a pool stick around in a bar, I got you.
*** The picture was taken just about four years ago when my friend the nurse who drove me home and dumped me in my lawn, and I, took a vacation together. Considering I irritate her in many ways we travel very well together!