Miracle on Hoyt Street

If It Fits It Ships photo: jparadisi 2010

Trudging out of an Oregon rainstorm into the Post Office, I found a line of 30 people like me with Christmas packages to mail. In a poorly ventilated building, a crowd of wet people smells like wet dogs, but less so. John Lennon’s voice sounded scratchy singing “And so this is Christmas” from a poor quality speaker. I knew the late afternoon was a bad time to go, but I’ve never been a morning person, a characteristic that served me well for twelve years of night shifts.  I started thinking that a busy hospital is a model for Post Office chaos during the holiday season. Each type of health care provider or patient personalities exists in this parallel universe, the Post Office.

For example, attempting to speed things up, a woman wearing a name badge triaged the swelling line of package bearing humanity, asking who needs insurance forms to fill out. Someone at the back of the line asks her what time the Post Office closes. She says she doesn’t know, because she usually doesn’t work in this area. Apparently postal workers float to unfamiliar departments like nurses do during staffing shortages.

In front of me, a woman with silver hair converses with a younger woman. I suspect the silver-haired woman is a retired nurse, because she hands out an endless supply of clicky-pens to other customers in the line in need of writing implements, then pulls a Sharpie out of the same pocket for her own use. The younger woman has long hair pulled back in a barrette. She is sans makeup and wears what we call in Oregon, “tree-hugger” shoes. She is overweight, but kindly attentive to the silver-haired woman. While she speaks, a similar looking man I take for her husband appears and gives her a peck on the mouth. It makes me happy.

I watch a woman wrapping packages in tissue paper and bar code stickers. In front of her, a man loudly complains on a cell phone, “Those #$*#-ing doctors give you a bunch of pills and then you can’t get a hold of them!” He never stops talking the entire time the clerk processes his packages. When he’s finished, she says “Merry Christmas, Sir”, which I think is more than he deserves.

Finally, it’s my turn. Oh no, it’s that clerk, the one who is Newman to my Jerry Seinfeld. She annoys the hell out of me because she doesn’t ask if the contents of a package are dangerous, instead she asks, “What’s in the package?” Once, David and I got into a disagreement when he told her what was in my package. I insisted she was violating my privacy. I’m not special: In the past, I’ve heard her say rude things to other customers and her coworkers too. I brace myself for the encounter, because I have to get these damn packages in the mail in time for Christmas and I’ve been in line for an hour.

She does not ask what’s in my packages. “Anything hazardous, flammable, toxic or a combination thereof?” is all she asks. I say “No.” “How do you want this posted?” she asks. I say “First class,” but she informs me that anything over 13 ounces cannot be First Class. “Priority?” I say as nicely as possible. She pulls out some tape, and fixes a loose corner on one of my packages. “Sorry,” I say, “I never get it perfect.” “Forget perfect, my dear,” she says to me while I pay for the postage. Then she hands me a candy cane. “It’s always a pleasure to serve someone who comes in with a smile. Merry Christmas.”

Seasons Greetings

…And don’t forget to leave a plate of cookies for Santa!

Christmas Cookies for Santa photo: JParadisi

The Season of Lights





photo by: JParadisi 2009

          The other day I wondered if my blog posts are depressing this time of year when people are celebrating the holidays. Who wants to hear about medication errors and cancer when there are family gatherings and parties to attend? My concern was validated when I read oncology nurse Teresa Brown’s blog. She told a story about shaving the head of a cancer patient losing her hair from chemotherapy. In response, one commenter posted that she will no longer read Teresa’s blog because it’s too depressing.    
     Yep, that’s what I was afraid of.        

     While I understand reading about hospitalized people can feel sad, to stop there is missing the point. I believe nurses write stories about encounters with their patients because of the universal truths of humanity they relate. Whether poignant or humorous, the stories shine a light on the characteristics that connect us all as part of the human race.       

      This is the season of lights.       

     Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, walked the hallways of an army hospital during the Crimean war, shining the light of her lamp on wounded soldiers while making her rounds. To her patients, she was known as The Lady with the Lamp.       

     Nurses, at our best, bring light to patients, by listening to their stories while delivering expert care. Treatment, especially cancer treatment, can feel like a season of darkness one must travel through to find the light at the end. Some patients will never leave the dark season of a chronic illness, and for them, nurses are there to hold the small lamps of hope needed to guide them along their journey.       

     This is the season of lights. During the darkest time of year, our society strings lights from our homes and businesses. We string lights around the trees outdoors, and those we bring into our homes. We light the Menorah during the Festival of Lights. We light our way through the season of darkness, and remind ourselves that nature’s light will return.       

     Nurses tell the stories that guide us through long shifts with fearful patients. The stories bring us back for the next shift and the next, until a string of these stories lights our careers, and our lives, until each of one of us finds our unique purpose in the darkness.       

     This is the season of lights.