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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hold Everything Lightly #8 {Extension 2802}

I have edited this post for time because it was posted at 9:58 am May 1st but Blogger posted it as 9:58pm April 30. That is why I am sending it out again.

I was attracted to the terrible frantic pace of a teaching hospital because I didn't know any better.
 I liked fast and that hospital seemed fast paced and somehow more thrilling than other hospitals.
 I thought if I could survive there I could work anywhere. That prophetic thought proved right in the end although I never left the University (the prison nursing jobs I had were part of the University system). A teaching hospital is not quiet, patients do not get rest, there are droves of students and doctors and consultants. You cannot turn around without a student asking a question. Each of my patients had four doctors at least. The halls have a hustle and bustle, a noise that hardly subsides until evening. I was hired by a head nurse that I do not remember because she then resigned and I was put in charge. I did not have my registered nursing license yet. Back then you practiced with a graduate license until your board results came in. Here I was in charge of 5 South, telephone extension 2802, a thirty six bed unit usually staffed with two RN's, two LPN's, and four nursing assistants and was a graduate nurse. I had a pulse so it worked for them, I suppose.
I was too green, stupid, and scared to leave or protest.

The labyrinthine halls of the fifth floor took me to a bathroom to the right of the nursing station where I would be sick every morning. Across from the nursing station was a small work room surrounded on three sides by divided windows and we called it the "Birdcage". We sat there, which time rarely allowed, and wrote our nursing notes. The old part of the hospital was where 5 South was located and the patient rooms were too small and four rooms contained four patient beds each which I found reminiscent of the 1950's. It made for lack of privacy and difficulty caring for patients. We also had a few patients on ventilators who had 24 hour nurses at the bedside.  We did peritoneal dialysis for patients with end stage kidney disease. I struggled to care for twelve to fifteen patients and be in charge of the staff and answer the questions of numerous doctors and accept calls from admissions. Code 99's, when the patient is found pulseless and/or in acute respiratory distress, were not infrequent and I became experienced at handling the code cart and CPR (not both at the same time of course). I barely floated in the miasma that was that horrible place.

 I took care of the first AIDS patient diagnosed in our hospital (it was the early 80's). My heart was broken by families of these AIDS patients who often deserted them. We had young leukemia patients that we gave units and units of packed red cells and units of plasma to and often times we lost them. I was so young myself I had not yet built that steely core that protected me from these deaths and each patient loss was crushing for me. One particular patient, Janice, was in her late twenties and was the mother of four young children. Her husband left her when he realized how ill she was with leukemia. Her mother took care of her and the children. She was readmitted to 5 South at Christmas and our nursing staff anonymously gave Christmas gifts to her and her children. Her mother called me a month after her discharge and told me Janice had bled to death in her arms at another hospital.

Three years after I became a  RN I started shaking uncontrollably in the "Birdcage" and could not stop. The patient deaths, the long hours, shift work, and being in charge of the cage were too much and I crashed off the 5 South cliff emotionally. By this time we had a competent and compassionate head nurse and I received the help I needed. I am also thankful for wise and caring doctors who were there at the time. Anyone who was born in the frenetic fires of 5 South were in no place to judge and knew it.  Funny enough my husband (Stephen not Joe), parents, and church did not take my mental instability quite as good.

I do not remember the telephone extension of any other nursing unit I worked on in all these years, at the University, but I shall never forget 5 South's extension 2802.  I had paged interns and residents to that number a squillion times and it is imprinted in my memory. When I am eighty five and have frontal lobe dementia perhaps I will be dialing 2802, 2802, 2802.

"Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts, when God pries your fingers open."
---Corrie Ten Boom 1892-1983

To read posts 1-7 of  Hold Everything Lightly  click on the series at the top of the blog.

thank you for reading


  1. I can only imagine
    how your work at
    5 South both shaped
    you as well as left
    an imprint on those
    that you served, like
    Janice and her family.

    Thank goodness for
    people like you and
    the other doctors and
    nurses who worked
    with you ~ kind and
    compassionate souls.
    That is not work that
    most of us could do,
    especially in those

    An important part of
    your story....and you.

    Thanks for sharing
    these memories!

    xx Suzanne

  2. If you hadn't put yourself into that fire, and suffered the consequences, we would not know about Janice today. Sometimes, we look back and wish we had walked away from something, but we don't know all the things we affected by staying. A caring nurse means so much to so many! ~ Maureen

  3. Another fascinating read Olive. You formed your character early in life. I look forward to reading more. Ann

  4. Being young and naive can throw the character test your way fast and hard. You sure passed, even if you equivacate about it.

  5. Dear Olive - the experiences you have had and things you have experienced are enough for several lifetimes. However, these are the things that have shaped you into the person you are today. You now seem to be at peace, enjoying your life, and vintage shopping with Joe. You have a beautiful daughter, Clovis and Shelley, and all of your very many blogging friends♥

  6. Wow. I can't imagine having all the responsibility at that age. Heck, just having people dying around me would be enough to scar me. And you had to deal with all the other crap of managing other nurses and dealing with doctors too. I always wondered about the nurses that work in schools and would think that they had a pretty boring job, but I never thought that maybe they chose to be a school nurse for a reason. Maybe they have had their fill of the hectic busy hospital nursing and just wanted some peace and quiet.

  7. Dear Olive, I am loving this series of posts. It must have been tremendously frightening, to have all that responsibility at such a young age. You got through it my friend. I am happy that you seem to have found peace and contentment with Joe and I pray that you are happy in your life now, with all that you have been through in your earlier life! Take care.

  8. Olive these are brilliant writings. Thank you so much for sharing them with us. You inspire me so much x

  9. Olive, after reading this story, I had to walk away for a while and then come back to leave a comment..the settings are so real and you write with such a good writer is supposed to...this stirred a lot of memories of life with my first husband..he was a mental health worker and worked the ER on weekends and all of the human conditions finally got to him...I believe it is what caused the end of my marriage..he never got any help like you did...thought he could handle it on his you said, seeing all of that around you every day does something to a person....I am glad to know you ... a woman of such integrity...that is not afraid to ask for help and receive it. I love that all thru your stories, it is so obvious that your past experiences have made you into a better woman for having gone thru them with forgiveness and healing..sorry to be so, Mona

  10. With every entry, I can see your character forming. That's a lot of responsibility. You're still standing strong, Olive.

  11. Dear Olive,
    Everything that life throws at us is a learning curve and forms the person that we are today.You are such a lovely, caring person, just like my best and oldest friend who is a nurse. She has worked in a Hospice but, usually after about two years, she has to have a break and work as a nurse somewhere else because it is too much for her. After a while, she goes back for another couple of years.
    I really love reading your posts about your life ...they are so honest and I think that they help others too.
    Have a lovely week Olive and many thanks for your comment today. XXXX

  12. Wow - what a job - I can't imagine - God was good enough to make sure that when you crashed the right people were there...

  13. At the age of 53 I have finally come to the conclusion that we all have some degree of mental instability. You obviously overcame yours and are able to write about it with compassion. I'll be waiting for the next installment impatiently. Hope all is well and you are having a good week...Ann

  14. What courage and pain it takes to right this kind of story. I know it's like livng it over and over again. Like therapy for me, it's exhasting, but once on the other side, there is peace and relief at having shared.

    It's good you had a loving medical community who understood. Mine didn't and I left it behind.

  15. That's a lot of responsibility so someone so young. But you stuck with it and got help when you needed it. It has made you the strong, caring woman you are today. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  16. Oh Olive, I think you are an amazing lady indeed! So brave too to share this with us. I know it will touch someone, perhaps help heal too.

  17. They don;t prepare medical workers well enough do they. When I worked as an administrator for Paediatric oncology, I used to sometimes cry all the way home.

    Thank God you found Joe who is a loving partner to you,

  18. Olive, Are you going to make your story into a book?? I think I have missed some of your sections, because I don't recall the last one that I read as being number 7...I love reading your story. Smiles to you, Susie

  19. Dearest Olive-

    Where I live , in deep South Texas on the border of Mexico, when someone does something brave (and it is a woman) we say
    'muy brava!'

    Muy brava Olive. I see such courage and goodness and common sense in your story.

    So proud to know you,

    White Spray Paint

  20. Hi Olive! What a life you've lived and thank you for sharing some of it with us! You are quite a lady!
    I so appreciate your visits.
    You are the sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  21. I hope these installments are just tiny excerpts from a book you are writing. Each leaves me wanting to know more. You are a brilliant writer. Your bravery in re-living and sharing painful memories leaves me breathless. I'm sure that many are comforted and inspired by the way you've "turned out", in spite of the difficulties of your earlier years.

  22. Olive, what courage and responsibility you have shown in your life. I have such high respect for nurses. When my parents were hit by two drunk teenagers they were airlifted to the hospital and the doctors were fantastic but the nurses constant care was magnificent. My folks died of their injuries over a year later but while they were in the hospital the nurses cared for them round the clock with such skill and compassion. I used to worry about the nurses because of all they had to deal with. When my parents were sent home the nurses trained me to give them injections, etc. and be their trained home health care person. The nurses were exceptional at training me. Your story is an inspiration beyond words. Your caring and compassion still shows in your lovely personality. You are a woman of great character and strength.

  23. I look forward to reading the next are truly an inspiration!

  24. Thank you dear Olive for sharing this with us. Bless your heart. I've just read this segment and I'm in awe of all you did. You are a brave and strong woman! What you had to deal with is beyond my comprehension! I've always felt like you a such a unique, extraordinary and amazing woman! Now I know why! I'm honored to know a woman such as you.


  25. This must have been such a stressful young and so much responsibility. I just read the wedding segment, too~ so descriptive, it was like being there. Your writing is compelling, Olive!

  26. Olive, I wish I could sit and hug you every time I read a segment of your life story. You had to impact so many lives at the hospital not only for your nursing skills, but for your compassion for your patients.
    Mary Alice

  27. Girl, life is a lot of baggage and whether we choose to tote it on our shoulders like carry-ons or store it in the overhead compartment is the choice we make. What to do with all the stuff we cram into that baggage is another choice. Praise God for giving you the strength and courage to take it out, give it a shake and a thorough cleansing before deciding to store it away and look for a new wardrobe to face life in.
    You are something else.

  28. Olive -- what incredible responsibility for such a young woman. Your bravery is breathtaking -- you are such a strong woman :)


  29. That seems like an awful lot for a young person fresh out of school to deal with. Now I'm on the read the rest of what I have missed. Thank you for sharing Olive.


I adore your comments. They are like finding unexpected chocolates. olive