Monday, November 23, 2015

"Take a right by the porta-potty, then a left after the second backhoe."

If you were to come to Casa Del Doghair, those would be the directions you'd get.

Every five years or so, Littleton's infrastructure guys decide it's time to replace the gas lines/sanitary sewers (that's how they refer to them: "sanitary sewers." I would hope there's no other kind)/water lines/electrical distribution system/various bits of asphalt in my neighborhood. This month, it's the sewer lines.

Do you have any idea how big sewer lines can be? I did not until this week. Apparently, replacing several thousand linear feet of sewer lines requires backhoes, something The Boyfiend calls a backtracker (on reflection, I think he made that up), a crane, and a whole shitload, pun intended, of disturbingly large plastic-and-metal tubes. These things are large enough to get lost in. And right now, five of them are piled up on what used to be my side yard.

So be careful if you come visit. Don't climb on the equipment. And for God's sake, don't cut that left after the second backhoe too close, or you'll end up ten feet underground in a big hole, with a bunch of men in orange vests staring down at you.

In non-sanitary-sewer-related news, nursing, both as a job and a concept, is eating my lunch. Mostly as a job. The concept of nursing is fine and dandy and I'm still all up in its metaphorical grill, but the practice? is leaving some tread marks across my back.

Part of it is the new residents we've got at the moment. We trade out residents more frequently than just once a year, so every four months or so, it's like July all over again. Not all of 'em leave, of course, but we get enough new post-grad-twos and threes to make things exciting. Here's an example:

SCENE: Interior, day, conference room. Six doctors are milling about, drinking coffee and PSLs and munching on PowerBars.

DOCTOR ONE: Okay, you guys. We have a full house today, so we've got to move somebody out of the unit. Who've we got that can go to the floor?

DOCTOR TWO: Um. . . .let's see. We have three TIAs that are stable and almost done with their workups. We have that patient with the left MCA stroke who's waiting on rehab placement, and the lady with the cerebellar stroke who needs a cardiology consult. Oh, and then we have that one guy with rhabdo, in status, with an insulin drip, who we're working up for DIC. He's four hundred pounds and in four-point restraints, too.

DOCTOR THREE: Sounds to me like we ought to move out the rhabdo.

DOCTOR ONE: Great idea. You write the orders and I'll let bed control know. Oh, and listen: be sure you write an order for strict ins and outs and put in the notes to nursing that they have to d/c that Foley immediately, okay? 

I'm spending Thanksgiving with the weirder half of The Boyfiend's family, in a prepper compound, with feral-hog hunting as part of the weekend's entertainment. At this point, I am looking forward to it.

And maybe, before I go back to work, I'll end up at the bottom of a deep hole under a backhoe with a bunch of men in orange vests staring down at me.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Whaaa. . . .what? Wait, what?

The family member insists that I called her a bitch during report.

Okay. (Nods head.) A reasonable assumption.

Except I didn't. I see no point in prejudicing another nurse against a patient's family member, or using profanity during report. As opposed to the rest of the workday, when I'll happily use profanity whenever.

But this particular family member? The one who threatened to sue because the room wasn't big enough? The one who tried to get her aunt arrested for simply visiting the patient? I wouldn't call her a bitch, even in an undertone, because that would get me in trouble. I still have some self-preservation instincts left, even after more than a dozen years. Besides all that, she was worried, but not necessarily a bitch. I took the reports of her calling out security and all the other crazy behavior with a grain of salt; a lot can happen when you're stressed.

My boss, who is a thoughtful, reasonable woman, heard the news with a mild snurk and let it go on past. My explanation to her was "I got no defense; I can't help you on this one," and she took it as read and filed the complaint in the round-file.

But still. Why on earth would you say that about somebody who's wiping your father's butt, not to put too fine a point on it? Why would you try to turn all the other nurses against one nurse with an alleged (admitted) foul mouth? Are you truly that mentally ill, that you need to have an adversary in every single interaction you have with the outside world?

If people ask me what my least favorite aspect of my job is, I tell them this: it's folks who have a habit of conflict making up conflict where it doesn't exist. It bothers me, not on a personal level--because my conscience is clear--but on an existential level. What makes some people nuts? I don't get it.

I seriously don't get it.

But I'm not going to call you a bitch just 'cause I don't understand you.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Today, Raji came to me. Raji's about as Indian as Indian can be.

Perfect vase-shaped figure, long black braid, gorgeous gold earrings, and a bindi. Raji is recognizably Indian. And she came to me with the revelation that my confused patient had called her "Senorita."

I explained that he'd probably seen the long black hair and the honey-colored skin and thought that she was Hispanic. She laughed and laughed and laughed.

Later, when I'd had a minor disagreement with an attending (more on that in the days to come), she exclaimed, when I mentioned his recognizably-Indian name, "Oh! I thought he was Hispanic!"

"Hello, Senorita!" I responded. "How are we supposed to have world peace when y'all can't recognize each other from across the room?"

This is what passes for humor on my unit on a hard day.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

"Why don't we ask the patient?"

Marcie and I had One Of Those Days a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Vizzini had to go do something neurological halfway through the day, so The Golden Boy took over for him in the afternoon. He gathered his residents like ducklings and re-rounded on all of the patients in the unit.

Marcie had a guy getting ready to go home. He'd had a very minor stroke in a very minor place, and was essentially without any aftereffects. He also had Stage IV cancer of the something-or-other--I don't remember what; I was busy myself--and was on so many anticoagulants it was ridiculous. (Cancer can make a person more prone to blood clots.) The fact that he'd stroked while on an injectable anticoagulant and a couple of oral ones was weird, but not unheard of.

So Mister Man was getting ready to blow that popsicle stand when The Golden Boy decided that he needed umpteen more blood tests, a couple of fairly-invasive scans, another MRI, and some other tests run. To see, you understand, what exactly could be causing him to clot. The answer to which conundrum was "metastatic cancer, DUH," but TGB wanted an exact answer. Like, down to the molecular derangement level.

And Marcie, being the sensible person she is, argued. She pointed out that we had at least a general idea of what the problem was (metastatic cancer, DUH), the patient had a limited amount of time to be futzing around with, and nothing we did at this point was going to make a damn bit of difference. There was, after all, no change we could make to his already-maxed-out medications to lower his risk of stroking again. More tests would mean at least two more days in the hospital, more discomfort, possible complications, and added cost.

Golden Boy argued back that it was incumbent upon him as a doctor to get to the bottom of the problem, and that doing less than that wasn't ethical. He had a couple of other arguments, but by that time, both my hair and my pants were on fire and I wasn't really listening.

Marcie and TGB argued politely back and forth for a few minutes, and then Marcie said something that you never, ever, ever hear somebody in a hospital say:

"Why don't we ask this guy what he wants to do?"

The Golden Boy was taken aback, but he did it. Our patient decided to head home and follow up with his oncologist as an outpatient. And just like that, problem solved.

It's interesting that a doctor would be shocked by another member of the care team wanting a patient's input into what happens to the patient. I mean, we do it all the time for big decisions like end-of-life care, but not as often when we're doing normal everyday stuff. Why not, I wonder? I mean, it's not like being in the hospital automatically robs you of the ability to make good decisions about your own health. It's more like being in the hospital sends you back in time to a more paternalistic day, when Doctor Knew Best (except for when you have a medical directive, and sometimes even then).

It's so simple, really. Ask the patient what they want to do. Just ask.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

People who love my hair and people who do not.

I just ran the clippers through my hair. It's my every-two-week routine: pass a pair of clippers with a #3 guard over my head, then fade out the sides and back with a #2. Then, carefully, measure out an ounce each of color and developer and apply it to the stubble on my head and let it rest for twenty-five minutes. When I remember, I dye my eyebrows as well. My eyebrows have gone white, as has the hair at my temples and the nape of my neck, and it's nice to have at least an outline to pencil in in the mornings.

Here are the people who love my hair:

1. Black women of any age. "Rockin' that 'fro, Boo" is what I hear from Friend Lisa at work, and I hear its equivalent from other Black women of varying ages, all day long.

2. Black men in their 60's. On Sundays when everybody comes to visit their fellow parishioners in the hospital, Black men Of A Certain Age are complimentary of my buzzcut.

3. World War 2 veterans of any ethnicity. It's surprising how many centenarians and men in their 90's comment favorably on a woman with really, really short hair.

4. Punks, people with excessive numbers of tattoos, and people with piercings in places you wouldn't necessarily want piercings. The fact that I have no hair breaks down barriers.

5. White women who've had cancer and who miss the ease of a buzz, but who hate the psychological implications of no hair. I can totally understand that. After my surgery, I grew out my hair to prove to myself I could, then cut it off on my 43rd birthday because I hated having to keep up with it.

And here is a comprehensive list of those people who hate my hair:

1. My dad. Bless his heart, I don't think he'll ever imagine me with anything but the curly, wild, shoulder-length red hair that I had in my early 20's. I feel bad for him. Not only is curly, wild, red hair a distraction and a pain in the ass to take care of, it's just. Not. Me.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to the days when Beloved Sister took a picture of me, all hair blown by the wind, on the beach near San Francisco. What that picture doesn't show, though, is the stress and horror of being in California when I didn't want to be, the stink that came from my hair not reacting well to California water, and the exhaustion of trying to keep together a marriage that was coming apart.

Mom is undecided. I think she thinks something chin-length with waves might be more flattering, but she understands the discipline of long hair and why I can't deal with it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Here is why I love my town.

If you were to look at a map of Texas, you probably wouldn't notice Littleton at all. It's not one of those places where a river runs through downtown, free to everyone, or where huge concerts take place or where there's even a top-ranked university. It's just a small town, kind of stuck on the outskirts of a big city, but emphatically not a suburb. It's its own place.

That's why I love Littleton. The rents are cheap and there's a big airport nearby, yes, and the air is clean and coyotes and foxes and various other small animals roam through downtown (somebody found a litter of bobcat kittens behind a bar a few weeks ago and turned 'em into animal control, who is rehabbing them and re-wilding them), and it's peaceful and bucolic. And it's determinedly independent.

There are trains that run through the middle of town, just two blocks from the courthouse, every night. And every night, pretty much, you can hear the train horns blowing in some new and interesting signature way that the guys who drive them have developed. Yes, it's policy that they blow a short-short-long prior to reaching a level crossing, but the engineers have ditched the computer-programmed horns for Littleton and do their own thing. At Christmas, they blow "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" rather than the usual signals.

The H.E.B. here (that's a local grocery chain) plays KISS and Ingrid Michaelson and the Bee-Gees over the speakers in the store. Rather than the usual boring "come get our chicken it's fresh between eleven and four and only a dollar ninety-nine" announcements, the staff say things over the PA like, "Is your life missing something? Do you feel empty inside? Try some CHICKEN! Fried or baked, it can bring new meaning to your existence!"

The Boyfiend's lawnmower was stolen last week and returned within three hours, thanks to the efforts of the local PD. Though they have pursuit cars and a bomb squad and a mobile emergency management truck, the officer still responded with "That sounds like Steve. Dammit. Steve needs to stop stealing lawnmowers" when he took the report. Despite technology, our PD is still small-town enough to be exasperated with the one crazy guy who makes a habit of liberating lawn equipment.

The city fathers decided to lock up the free public electrical outlets around the courthouse, but only after people started pitching tents there and setting up full-sized refrigerators that ran off the city's electricity.

We get the traffic from South By Southwest, but none of the other headaches. Bars that have live bands put up signs that say "OH MY GOD BECKY LOOK AT HER BOOKING" for that week. Gas is cheaper here, and the gas station is likely to have Mexican, Indian, or Korean home-cooked food for sale. The place I buy my beer smells of incense and kimchee.

There are four terrifying barbecue places where the meat melts off the bone and you're not advised to ask about preparation, and three terrifying Mexican places that have excellent strange salsas you've never tried before. Oh, and that little Japanese restaurant that will serve you amazing sushi if you shrug and say, "Whatever the chef wants; I'm not particular."

Soul food is cheap here. Grits are an option with everything. You can be literally thrown out of a bar, onto the street, on your ass, if you misbehave. Yet the patrons of the local gay bar will leave you alone if all you want is a beer and a book. There's a running club that meets at a local bar, three bike clubs (road, mountain, and casual), and a bird-watching group. There are two breweries and a dude who bottles home-made ginger ale and flavored seltzers. There's a soap company, two of those places that will sell you boxes of vegetables every month, and some guy who runs a barber shop out of his pickup truck and specializes in beards. Drag queens are an everyday sight. Nobody turns a hair at people of different/the same ethnicities/sexes holding hands in public. The library is one of the finest I have ever seen, and is enthusiastically supported by the locals. The city council is made up of a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom, a guy who runs the vegan restaurant, a history professor from one of Bigton's universities, some woman with oil and gas ties who is retiring this year thank God, and a couple of random business owners who want to legalize pot and skateboarding.

I was shopping today and had to do the excuse-me-I'm-in-your-way dance with a seventy-ish man in the soup aisle. It turned into a full-on dance-off and ended in a tango.

I love my town.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Happy Lumpiversary and 'Bye, Felicia.

Five years ago I was sitting in my dentist's chair when his hygienist found a lump on my hard palate. The lump, known as Cap'n Lumpy after that, turned out to be a rare-ish form of minor salivary gland cancer called polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma.

It started a year-long freakout on my part, most of which is documented on this here blog, that culminated in my wearing a cool plastic-and-metal prosthetic to replace the chunk of my mouth that a surgeon removed.

I'm not sure how I feel about this, so I'm gonna just mark this lumpiversary and leave it be. I have the latest set of scans (CT and MRI) coming up week after next. I'm not sure how I feel about that, either. Maybe it'll be easier once I transition to once-a-year rather than once-every-six-months scanning; maybe it'll be a whole new kind of hell. We'll see.

In other news, Keith is gone. I don't know the details, having been on vacation this last two weeks, but he's been relieved of his duties at Sunnydale and has gone back to the pit that spawned him. It probably had something to do with a patient decompensating to the point that she had to be intubated on his watch, with nobody but him being aware of it. I don't know. All I know for sure is that I can work now without having to worry about somebody else's patients as well as my own.

So. One okay thing, one good thing. Not a bad way to start off the new year.