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Shirley L., RN

Updated on April 23, 2010

Shirley L., RN

While I was sick in February with some sort of ancient plague, my very good friend Shirley decided that she absolutely had to come over with, you guessed it--soup, and see how I was. I was starting to regain my voice at that point. Out loud, I told her it was fine if she really wanted to take her life in her own hands that way. In my head I said, 'please, please, dear God, please, do not come over here! I love you, kid, but seriously, please allow me to just stay in bed and face my mortality in blissful solitude.' There are those who worry about dying alone, but for me, being found dead in a cute outfit is pretty much my fantasy.

But, alas, it is only a fantasy. The nightmarish reality of how I will die is already very clearly outlined in my mind. I will be wasting away in some hideously white hospital bed, wishing to God for some peace and quiet. I will be conspiring in my mind about how to make the machines read flatline, just so I can get a moment alone once they clear my family out so that I can be coded. Once the code team gets there, that's when I would let them know that it was a very mean, very necessary trick so that I could get my family out, and if they really wanted to be heroes they should just make all the code blue noises, and keep yelling CLEAR! so that I could have some me time. Once the fake code is over, my mom will be back at my bedside on a conference call with "Funerals are Us." I'll have to stifle my own screams while she says things like: "NO excuses, Pablo! There will be doves! How do we make the doves happen?!" That's when I will text my closest friends that if ever they loved me they will put my mother on the next thing smoking EASTBOUND!

"And there should be music, she loved music. But something appropriate, none of her music was ever appropriate," she'll say.

"Ma, seriously, I'm still here!"

"Shhhh, hijita!! I'm on the phone. Fix your hair, I have photographers coming for the memorial pictures."

My dad will be wrestling with the wrong buttons, and making awkward attempts at looking on the bright side.

"Sweetie, I brought you this logic puzzle, you're gonna love it!"

"Thanks, Pop, you know me," I'll say, since I happen to hate logic puzzles, but my dad loves them. Logic puzzles are just math in bad disguises, they're trying to fake people out.

The people I love the most will come to visit me as I circle the drain, and I'll love them back. But all the while I'll cling to that fantasy of my found-too-late, dead body in a cute outfit, where I skip all the hand-wringing of my loved ones.

When Shirley got to the house, I found out in minutes that her checking on me was due largely to the fact, that she simply needed her friend to listen to her, sick or not. I met Shirley about 2 and a half years ago, and we had a lot in common. A lot of her choices mirrored my own, only she was 4 years younger. She was at the same crossroads I had been at right around her age. She held a degree, but had decided to return to school to become a nurse. She had traveled a little, and she was very open, very positive, and very strong-willed. Our differences were also obvious. Shirley was amazing to me, in that she'd started studying the bible at 10 years old on her own, and later came to make choices about her own faith against her very close family's wishes while she was in her teens. She was also supernaturally organized. I was fascinated by this, since I live my life in piles. If you asked Shirley how she was doing the impossible, she'd show you a planner. It would have a detailed short term and long term plan, as well as an action plan for potential obstacles. If you asked me the same question...I'd probably shrug my shoulders, or show you a trunk full of very good intentions. Even in nursing school, Shirley made dinner. I ate out of vending machines, or got taken out to dinner. Shirley stayed in the gym during nursing school, I forgot how to spell gym in nursing school. Shirley did it all during nursing school, couldn't wait to be a nurse, and did not miss a beat. It was maddening! But I was her cheerleader.

Six months ago or so , Shirley graduated and became a Psychiatric RN. She began her visit to me talking about work and cracking me up. I THINK my job is funny until a psych nurse comes over. She told me the story of her patient from a very wealthy family with auditory hallucinations who LOVES them. He's an artist, and they guide him, and help him, and he just can't see living without them. His wealthy family finds this embarassing, but he just doesn't care. These voices are his friends, and despite his constant re-admission into the psych ward, he's just not giving them up without a fight. He's willing not to talk about them if they make other people feel uncomfortable.

Since Shirley has become a nurse, her life has turned upside down, however. She's overwhelmed, exhausted, she's been getting sick, and she's starting to wonder what on earth made her pursue nursing. FINALLY! I was so happy about that. I was going to be so furious if after breezing her way through the nightmare called nursing school she became a nurse and made that look easy too!

"It's just so....tough. I mean it's not human. There's NO possible way a human can do what's expected of you," Shirley said.

"Ahhhh, yes. And you thought you'd just be wearing cute scrubs and giving medicine. You didn't read the fine print, love," I said calmly.

"Why, didn't you warn me?"

"Because you would've quit school. And it does get better."

Her face was starting to get more and more frustrated before she said, ,"It's so draining, and it never, ever stops. There's not enough time in the shift, not even the day. Everyone is all over you for something...the doctors, other nurses, the patients, and their families. I just feel like such a...a...MOM!" Shirley's 25 and has no intention of mothering anyone, ever.

I was laughing my face off at this point. "And a fairy just got her wings, with that one. It is something like motherhood only way, way worse. You're gonna love it. Here's the deal, the first year is the weed out. Either it kills you (and that's never really off the table), you quit, or you become one of two types of nurses. You become the nurse no one can stand, or you find your own way to remember who you are, and why you do what you do. You will have experiences that you will never, ever forget. You will change more lives than you could ever imagine for the better in ways that you may never even know. You'll get tired, and you will drink a red bull. You'll fall down, and you will get back up. You'll make mistakes, and you'll learn from them. And when when the orders are all signed, the miscommunications are resolved, and the doctors are spared (again), you won't regret a moment of it."

She thought seriously for about a minute before she said, " could've warned me!!"


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