Blue Eyeshadow, Nurse Jackie, and Patients Care

The evidence I am overly tired from a long stretch of shifts appears when I swipe a brush

photo: jparadisi 2011

across my eyelid and it is the wrong color. Yeah, I wear makeup to work. I can’t do Nurse Jackie’s bare face and aerodynamic haircut. Nurse Jackie goes for a stripped down, ready for battle look, but to me, she’s given up from battle fatigue. I feel my patients deserve a nurse looking like she expects to have a good day, even if I am more than a little tired.

More than a little tired caused dipping the brush into the wrong color of the eye shadow palette.  I look in the bathroom mirror expecting to see a neutral shade of taupe. Instead, a blue eyelid blinks back at me. I’m not talking about Mimi Bobeck blue eye shadow. Even at 5:45 in the morning, and bone tired, I have better fashion sense than that. The blue eye shadow I own is a silvery grey hue called gunmetal. It’s pretty. I wear it for special evening events and gallery openings, but it’s a little dramatic for work. There isn’t enough time to redo it and be on time, so I brush it on the other lid, minimize the eyeliner, and add only a light coat of mascara. A pale shade of lip gloss and I am out the door.

At work my coworkers look at my face a beat longer than usual, letting me know they notice the blue eye shadow without mentioning it. I have no idea what they think, because Oregonians are nothing if not polite.

Where I work, nurses wear surgical masks while inserting Huber (non-coring) needles into a patient’s chest to access his or her port. We are busy this shift, and over and over again I wear off my make up by putting on and taking off the masks, accessing ports. I began to think that Nurse Jackie is right. Why not skip the make up and sleep in an extra fifteen minutes? It doesn’t stay on anyway. Why bother?

My last patient of the shift is an elderly woman, arriving for her appointment too weak to stand. I help her from a wheelchair onto the bed, and adjust its head to a comfortable angle. She is pale, and tired. Beyond the window behind her a September breeze shakes leaves off of the trees which line the street.  Her fragility is that of an autumn leaf.

I gather the sterile supplies needed to access her port. I don the surgical mask and she is wearing one too, so she doesn’t breathe her own germs onto the access site after I swab it clean. I look down into her masked face. Her eyes look up into mine, and I see that she is wearing gunmetal blue eye shadow on her eyelids too.

Reconsidering Cherry Ames on Veteran’s Day


photo: JParadisi (2009)

     This fall, I’m reading the first 4 books of the Cherry Ames series, by Helen Wells, for the first time. Cherry Ames, if you don’t know, is an 18 year-old student nurse, who’s intuitive style of patient care and indomitable spunk lead her through a spree of madcap adventures in the halls of fictional Spencer Hospital, eventually “winning” her cap and the coveted black stripe of a graduate nurse, during World War II.  

     Unlike Cherry, I did not want to be nurse as a young person, and I wasn’t particularly interested in books about nursing. From junior high on, I felt heroines like Cherry Ames were kid stuff.  In high school, I read Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Ray Bradbury, Robert A.  Heinlein, and James Thurber.  Characters such as Michael Valentine and Garp held more intrigue for me.

     I felt pretty much the same way as an adult reading Cherry Ames.  In a world of Nurse Jackies, Cherry’s declarations that,

The patient always comes first. Save the patient at any cost to yourself. That was the nurse’s creed.”


“Nursing had always been Cherry’s dream. She knew it was the finest way a girl could serve people, and Cherry loved people and wanted to help them. Nursing was the way to put her idealism into practice.”

come across as cheesy cliques.  At least, that’s what I thought until last Thursday, November 5th, 2009, when the Fort Hood shootings occurred, and the stories of heroism during the crisis became publicly known.

     The first story of heroism I heard was that of civilian officer Sgt. Kimberly Munley, the first responder on the scene, who simultaneously shot the assailant as he fired upon her. She put herself  (as the clique goes) in the way danger to save the lives of others.

     On Tuesday morning, I watched The Today Show. Meredith Vieira’s guests were 19 year-old Pfc. Amber Baher, and her mother.  Amber is a soldier, credited with applying a tourniquet on the bleeding wound of one of her “battle buddies,” then carrying him to safety, while she herself was shot in the back. I don’t know if it was adrenaline, but my own personal safety wasn’t really what mattered to me,”  Bahr told Meredith. “Making sure that my battle buddies were safe was my No.1 priority.”

     Another soldier, US Army Reservist Dorothy “Dorrie” Carskadon (who has family here in Portland) was injured during the shooting, reportedly while assisting one of her comrades.

     I am deeply moved by each of these stories of individuals choosing to save the lives of others, at any cost to themselves.  By their actions, they put their idealism into practice. These women, these soldiers, exemplified, on American soil, the values and commitment of our past and present veterans overseas. This type of courage happens everyday, on battlefields far from home. “Their lives’ work is our security, and the freedom we all too often take for granted.”

     In healthcare, we borrow military language. We wage a war on cancer. We battle disease. Severely broken bodies in trauma units are FUBAR. Today, I went to work, hoping I would also borrow a small amount of the courage and idealism displayed by our soldiers.

I need to reconsider my opinion of Cherry Ames. 


Nurses and TV: Why Do We Care?

     Doctors don’t get all pissy when they are portrayed as immature adults with adolescent behavior problems (Scrubs), drug dependence (Cider House Rules), or happily married, goofy fathers (remember Cliff Huxtable?). They appear to roll with it.  So why do nurses  take it so much to heart how we are portrayed in the media? Why do we care so much about it?

     When was the last time you heard a physician complain about Dr. Cox drinking scotch in his t-shirt and underwear on the living room couch?   

     When was the last time you saw a nurse portrayed on TV with a sense of humor?

     Get it?

      Why are there no flight nurses on TV?  Everyone knows, in any exciting story, something flies, and there are nurses who do that for a living.  If Gage and DeSoto on Emergency! riding around L.A. in a fire truck were exciting (did anyone know what a paramedic was before that series?), how much more so are  flight nurses, who land on freeways in helicopters, saving the lives of trauma victims of car accidents? Or military flight teams, providing extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) inside of flying surgical suites and the stories of  how the patients got there? How about the life of a midwife, or a neonatal resuscitation nurse, as if the life of an emergency department nurse, or an oncology nurse, isn’t exciting enough?  Why not make a TV series that’s populated with staff from different departments of nursing?  Maybe we need nurses to become producers and screenplay writers. Any emerging filmakers out there?

   TV dramatizes the personalities of nurses (and doctors) because writers either don’t really know what we do, and/or what we do simply isn’t exciting enough as it plays out in real life.  TV is for entertainment, and to sell commercial air time. That’s all.

   For the record, I like Nurse Jackie, but I’ve only seen the first episode.

   Be the nurse you want to see portrayed.  The rest doesn’t matter.