Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Final Assignments

“You ladies have a good evening,” Marcia said as she slid her ID badge through the time clock.

                Everyone waited until the elevator doors closed her and the number bar on top of the elevator showed that she was off the floor.

                “Okay, who do you have?”

                Sarah looked back and forth between her co-workers like a Tuesday night poker player.  The rules were simple.  Each person picked three names.  The players could not have the same name entered, so nine names were entered in the contest.  Ten points for each correct name.  In case of a points tie, then it was order picked, and time they went. 

                “Wait, money first,” Kim said.

                “We’re all good for it,” Sarah said.

                “It’s a bet.  You don’t bet in Vegas unless you put the money down first.”

                “You can’t play this game in Vegas,” Gina said

                They all laughed.  The game was called Full Moon Lottery.  None of them remembered who came up with the idea, or when they started the game.  But it had been a long time, at least three years.  Three years of full moons, and the rare blue moon, that month with two full moons.

                “What’s it tonight?”

                “Twenty,” Kim said.

                “We haven’t had a winner in months,” Sarah said.

                The best they all could remember, Gina had won every game earlier in the year, but there had not been a winner for the past three months.  Sarah walked over to the wall calendar from one of the drug companies and flipped back to April, found the date, and saw a small “G” in the corner.

                “Yep, she won it back in April.”

                Sarah took out her list.  She had Harris in 403, Parker in 410, and Jablowski in 401.

                “Damn,” Kim said.  “I had Parker and Jablowski.”

                “Sorry, that’s the benefit of going first,” Sarah said.  She had won the dice roll earlier in the evening.

                Kim looked at her list and crossed through two names, sneaking a peak at Gina.  Gina was at the end of the table organizing her clinical notes for the evening.  Kim read her list: Butler in 411, Gooch in 412, and Bechtel in 414.

                “Ooh, the east hall.  You know something the rest of us need to know?”

                Kim looked at her.  “It’s called back ground work.  Why do you think I was thirty minutes early for work tonight?”

                They both looked at Gina, waiting for her to give her names. 

                Gina finished filling out her daily worksheets.  She squared the papers and pushed them over on the table.  She knew what she was doing, making them wait for her picks for the night.  She was the oldest of the women, nearly forty but she had been a nurse only five years, picking the profession after her ex-husband ran off with their son’s first grade teacher.   What she lacked in experience, she made up in hard work and paying attention to her patients.  She slipped the index card from her pocket.

                Whyte in 420.  Lovell in 422.  Rodgers in 424.

                Sarah and Kim looked at each other.  They were already worried that they might have been outplayed.  Gina had taken the end of the hall all week, a few more patients to care for, a little more work, but she had gotten to know her patients better than rotating with a different group every couple of nights.  They took their three lists, the sixty dollars, and slipped them together in an envelope and went to work.  The pool, if someone won it, was two hundred forty dollars.

                The unit had thirty patients, and in the past, they would have had four nurses and three aides.  But new management had come in and cuts were made and they were down to three nurses and two aides.  At first the work seemed harder, but after a while, they were used to it.  The patients were mostly stable, transferred from other parts of the hospital for their chronic problems, not ready to go home, but too well for the acute side of the house.  The medical interns and students were not allowed on the floor so it kept the orders and tests to a minimum.  They got to know their patients, care for their needs, and who knew, even win the lottery.

                Lottery nights were crazy.  One of the rules was that you could not take care of your own pick.  Not that anyone would ever do anything to influence the game, but they just thought it was more appropriate.  That meant that they had to switch patients, and carts, and to make everything look right on paper, even let someone else sign off on their meds.  They drew the line at narcotics; they always gave and signed for the patients’ narcotics.  No game was worth losing your license for.

                It was a few minutes before midnight when a “Dr. Green”, the code for the resuscitation team after a cardiac arrest, was paged to the   cardiac ward.  Kim waited an appropriate amount of time and then called down stairs.

                “Did they make it?”  She listened for a few moments and hung up.  The other women waited for the answer.  She shook her head no as she put the receiver down.

                Deaths come in threes, every nurse knows that.  And full moon nights are the hardest nights, the emergency room is busier, patients crash, and they die.  Everyone said it was an old wives’ tale, or maybe an old nurse’s tale, but ask any nurse who has worked nights and they’ll tell you strange things happen with full moons.  Some nurses avoid nights with a full moon just because of the stress.  The three nurses on 4 West embraced it.  And made a game of it.

                “Means there will only be two more,” Kim said.  “One of us needs to win tonight.”

                “That means a death up here.  Are you up for it?” Gina said.

                “Makes the night go faster,” Sarah said as she pushed her medicine cart down the hall.

                It was five thirty and the floor was quiet.  A faint glow of the sun could be seen in the horizon out of the nurses’ station window.  They had just found out that there was a death in the intensive care unit, a ninety year old woman who had broken her hip.  They did not try to revive her.

                “Another night without a winner,” Sarah said.  “I could have really used that money.  I’ve got a vacation coming next month.”

                Gina barely heard the rest of the story.  She walked down to check on one of her patients.  She looked over her shoulder and slipped into Maggie Rodgers’s room.  The old woman was awake, staring at the ceiling.  Her breathing was deep and there was a rattle in her chest.  She had cancer and was waiting for a place in the new hospice house in town.

                “How are you feeling Mrs. Rodgers?”  Gina’s touch was light, but reassuring to the woman. 

She turned her head and smiled slightly.  “I’m ready.  I’m at peace.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Gina said.  She slipped the syringe from her pocket and slid the needle under the thin wrinkled skin and into the fat, what there was left of it.  She slowly pushed the clear fluid into her.  Her usual dose was two milligrams, Gina gave her ten.  “I think this will help you.”

“Thank you,” she said, her voice trailing off as she fell asleep.

It was a few minutes before seven when they made their final rounds.  They each walked around, checking on their patients one last time before the day staff arrived.  Sarah walked out the room, her face slightly pale.

“Kim.  Gina.  We have a winner!”