28 January 2003
Sue Barton. She was my heroine when I was in grammar school. I read all the books about
her. I was with her as she went through nursing school (I still remember when she was
brand new and someone sent her looking for the "neck tourniquet" as a joke). I
stood with her as she graduated. I followed her when she worked at Henry Street in New
York, ministering to the low-income sick. I thrilled when she married her doctor (whatever
his name was), and began having babies, and went into "family nursing." I
remember one of her kids was a musical protégé or something.
In my mind's eye, I was Sue Barton. Dressed in the crisp white nursing uniform, with my
little hat perched on my head and being Mother Teresa (of course we didn't know about
Mother Teresa then) to all of my patients.
Then I learned about bed pans and started rethinking this whole thing. I thought about all
the gory stuff that a nurse had to deal with and though the sight of something like
surgery excited me, the smell of those imaginery bedpans, the thought of actually touching
some of that yucky stuff made me realize that perhaps I wasn't cut out for a nursing
career after all.
My reservations were further strengthened when I got a job washing test tubes and petrie
dishes in a medical laboratory after school. Every afternoon I'd come in and put on a
rubber apron and rubber gloves and fill the sink with hot soapy water and proceed to clean
out dried on blood and scrub poopie petrie dishes. There were days when it took great
fortitude to keep from vomiting into the soapsuds.
I liked the other parts of the job. I would occasionally be called upon to help with a
blood draw. I was the one who held the patient's arm and tried to calm her down. I was
good at that and it never bothered me to watch needles going into a vein or a vial fill
with blood. I just didn't want to get much more up close and personal with it.
Scratch the idea of going for an R.N.
However, the medical profession always intrigued me. It's why I loved doctor shows (though
knew I didn't have the math to do any doctor-studying).
Then I discovered medical transcription and got to work around medicine, without actually
being involved in it. I could keep the yuck factor at bay without difficulty.
When I interviewed for my present job, Dr. G told me that I would occasionally be called
upon to do some minor medical assisting--the kind that doesn't require any degree or any
studying, just simple stuff. Did I think I could do that?
Sure, I said confidently. I was picturing myself back in Sue Barton's nursing shoes once
I guess that was before I was presented with The Speculum Bucket and given instructions on
how to scrub them. I was reminded of years ago when I was working for a different gyn
office that used to have lots of social events. My friend and I decided we were going to
give out awards for a Christmas party--the "Golden Speculum." We ordered plastic
specula, Walt made wooden bases for them, I spray painted them gold, and sprinkled glitter
on them. Everyone in the office got one, along with some appropriate "award."
When I was in the middle of making the awards, the kitchen table was covered with all
these plastic specula. Paul was talking on the phone playing with one. When he got off the
phone, he asked me what it was. I explained that it was the instrument a doctor inserted
into a woman's vagina in order to do a vaginal exam. He dropped the thing like a hot
It's not USED is it? he asked, in horror.
Those weren't, but the metal ones at the office are, of course. They get dropped into a
vat of something called "surgical milk" and then when the bucket begins to get
full, I fish them out, put them in bleach to soak, then scrub them with a toothbrush and
antibacterial soap, and then they get baked for an hour in a sterilizing machine. I wear
rubber gloves to do all this (except the oven part).
The longer I work at the office, the less gingerly I handle the speculums, even in
their...freshly used state.
The nurse practitioner who told me when I started the job that it got routine was right.
I'm used to standing next to Dr. G and holding implements for him to poke and prod and
brush in areas that I didn't often examine in my former life.
I stoppped feeling nauseous when removing a sheath (read "condom") from the
ultrasound wand, hoping that the gunky stuff is really gel and not something else.
I was a bit put off when Dr. G told me I would be doing occult blood testing. These are
fun little things. The patient takes home three swabs and uses it to wipe herself after a
bowel movement, then packages it up and send it back to me. I open each packet up, squirt
some liquid on it and see if it changes color so I know whether or not the patient has
blood in her stool.
The first time an occult blood test came back, I somehow managed to "loose" it
on my desk for days because I didn't want to deal with it. As I started doing them,
however, I discovered that It's not as disgusting as it might seem. I actually got
comfortable doing the testing.
I realized today just how comfortable I've become with all this stuff. The occult blood
test that came in today was one the patient hadn't even bothered to wipe off the smear of
feces on the outside and there was pubic hair clinging to it. Didn't phase me. I just did
the test and washed my hands well afterwards. Then I noticed that there was a urine sample
in a cup in the bathroom which Dr. G forgot to empty after he did a urine test for the
previous patient. I just picked it up, dumped it out and washed my hands again.
I may be ready to rethink that whole bedpan thing now.
The Years Creep on Apace
(and so do the ants)
This entry is dated January 28. I wish I could feel something. If Paul were alive,
he'd be 33 today. Maybe I've lived through too many emotional anniversaries. Maybe I've
finally moved on. Maybe all of this "take charge of my life" stuff is really
(happy birthday, Paul...)
Two Years Ago
"Who do I complain to about not getting my journal this morning?"
Walt asked me, letting me know he'd already checked the journal page for today and found
no new entry.
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