Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wet Nurse

As a child I liked to hammer my pelvis against the stairs. It was a family activity; my siblings and I would sprint to the top of the staircase, lie on our bellies beside each other, and count down together before pushing off to slide and bump our way feet-first to the bottom. Mom and Dad would watch and laugh. Pajamas were the best clothing to wear, the lack of buttons and belts providing a smooth and slippery surface for sliding. The jovial practice of stair surfing became a nightly ritual, perhaps because Mom and Dad saw it as a way for us to burn the unspent energy of the day before going to bed. The combination of breathless giggling and happy exhaustion that overtook us remains a highlight of my childhood. Buried somewhere deep in the family archives there is an 8mm silent film of us running up and sliding down the stairs over and over again, our smiling faces conveying our absolute joy more than words ever could.

Some joys come at a price, however, and the price I paid was high for a four year old. Pajamas don’t provide a whole lot of support or protection for the more tender parts of a boy’s body; I suffered a hernia and spent several days in the hospital for surgery to repair the damage. I can still recall my time in the hospital with a great degree of clarity, minus the actual surgery of course. The playroom in the children’s ward, for example, is still very real to me. I remember sitting in a small chair at a low- level table playing with a Fisher Price playset by myself, while other sick kids made friends and played together. Another distinct memory is that of my hospital crib, a shiny metal cage with bars that towered above me as I lay there wondering what my siblings were doing at home, and if they missed me.

The sight of my mother from between the silver bars of my hospital crib is the most vivid and powerful memory I have of that hospital stay. I don’t remember her leaving my side for a moment, and I am not sure when or where she slept, or if she even did sleep while we were there. I recall waking up during the night in that sterile, metal, frightening place, and the wave of fear, confusion, and loneliness that threatened to wash over me. That same dark wave would retreat at the bright sight of my mother sitting watch beside my crib in the dark. I would feel the loving touch of her hand on my back, and in an instant I knew it was safe to fall back to sleep under her protective gaze.

I still compare the memory of my mother’s protection to that of a nurse assigned to my care that week. The various nurses I have encountered throughout my life have been for the most part beautiful, compassionate, and capable women. Their crisp uniforms, cool hands, and clean smells have always had a calming effect on my panicked and creative mind in moments of pain. There have been many moments in which I have imagined agony and death in my immediate future, only to be snatched from the jaws of certain doom by the soothing touch of a nurse.
Except for this particular nurse, that is.

I have no memory of tenderness in this woman. Unlike the other nurses, she never once offered a reassuring smile as she took my blood pressure, never bothered to warm the end of her stethoscope before slapping it to my chest, and not once did she run her fingers through my hair and tell me things were going to be alright. All business and no heart, she remains, in my mind and memory, a spinster in every sense of the word, complete with dark purple veins running down the length of hercold and bony hands, greying hair pulled tightly into a bun on the back of her head, and a wart on the end of her crooked nose. This may not have been the case, and she may have in fact been a physically beautiful woman, but her negative attitude, impatient manner, and bossy way of being are made manifest in the ugly rendering of her physical appearance in my mind. She was in no way kind and endearing, and in her presence I was that much more grateful for my mother’s love and protection.

Once the surgery was completed and my recovery had begun, the doctor made it clear that I could not be released from the hospital until I had successfully relieved my bladder of my own accord, into the toilet, witnessed and signed off by a nurse.

It would not be the last time I spent a few compromising minutes in the presence of a medical professional, but it was perhaps the most rewarding, especially in many retellings over the years by my mother.

Groggy from pain medication and weak from the entire ordeal, I stood in front of the toilet on rubbery legs. My mother stood to my right, her hands at the ready to catch me should I fall, to comfort me should I fail. The spinster stepped between the toilet and the wall, directly to my left.

“You should move, he pees to the left,” my mother warned.

“I don’t need your advice on how to do my job,” the nurse huffed.

I wobbled between good and evil, my eyes heavy, my little mind lost in the ether.

“I’ve been watching kids pee for years; I know what I’m doing,” the ugly woman declared.

“Not this kid; I’ve been watching him pee for four years, and I can tell you that your shoes are about to get wet,” my mother countered.

“I’ve never been peed on once in all my time as a nurse,” the spinster boasted.

A moment later, I ended her dry spell as my bladder let go to the left, all over her shoes.

I’d like to say that I peed on that nurse’s shoes out of love for my mother, to thank her for all those comforting hours spent at my side. The more probable truth, however, is that as a heavily drugged four year old that had always peed to the left, I just didn’t have the control necessary to avoid peeing on her.

But I haven’t peed on anyone’s shoes since...

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