Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Year and a Day

My first real day as a nurse-- the first day I got paid to be a nurse-- was August 7, 2011. I had spent the previous 2 years plowing my way through nursing school, and the two years before that plugging away at the pre-requisites for nursing school, and all four of those years working full time and raising a couple of kids.

I had gotten a job more quickly than I could ever have hoped for-- basically, four hours. I had passed the NCLEX, the test that officially makes you a nurse, in July of 2011. A few days later, my wife and I talked-- she works in employment, so is really good at finding job postings. She found one quickly that, unlike most of the others, did not require previous job experience; they would, in fact, train.

I got online and applied for the job. Four hours later, I got a call, and set up the interview for the following Monday. On Wednesday, the woman who interviewed me called me and told me I had the job.

My first day of the classroom work for my new job, I sat behind a guy who was a few years younger than me. At first, he annoyed me-- he was a real "eager beaver." Over the next week or two, my guard lowered.

Then, one night, he and I were both sent to a hospital that was about 45 miles from Chicago. We were covering the hospital in emergencies, so they wanted us to know all the ins and outs of the place (as it turned out, they had a lot of emergencies-- we were sent there a lot, much to our chagrin).

That night, though, as we were leaving, talking about our day, we walked to the parking lot. I got in my car and saw him get in his. And then out of his car. He popped his hood, and I realized that there was a problem.

I went over and discovered that his car battery was dead. We talked to the hospital guard and discovered they had a jump starter for such an occasion. We tried, but the thing couldn't crank his car. I remembered that I had given my jumper cables to my wife and neglected to get myself new ones.

He lived about 30 miles south of me, and I lived about 45 miles south of the hospital; he was stranded 75 miles from home. His girlfriend, who lived with him, had a car, but it seemed silly to have her drive `150 miles round-trip. I told him to call her-- if she left their place when we left the hospital, we would meet at my home about the same time. He called her and the plan was in action.

On the way to my place, he and I got to talk at length for the first time. We had a lot in common-- both of us went back to school after other careers-- he worked printing presses, I was a teacher. Both of us had kids who were grown or nearly grown. Both of us loved baseball. We both had pretty well misspent youths. We also discovered we were opposites in a lot of ways-- He was a metalhead; I loved punk rock. He grew up in south suburbs of Chicago, I grew up mostly on the north side of Chicago. This led to that other great opposite-- he was a Chicago White Sox fan, I am a Chicago Cubs fan.

By the time we got to my home, and his girlfriend picked him up, we were friends.

My helping him out was not forgotten. We were pretty much inseparable after that-- if not in person, by text. My wife noticed that the number of texts I sent or received went from about 50 a month to about a 1000 a month. As he and I struggled through our job, the first nursing job for both of us, we texted asking questions, or sometimes just joking around. It became my lifeline. Sometimes it was a question about the dialysis machines we used, or about a particular patient. We had been rushed through and out of training, so there was tons more to learn. We came to really depend on one another.

Since I had a kid about to start college, and he had a kid in college, both of us loved to work overtime; we were, in fact, dubbed by our co-workers "The Overtime Kings."We discovered that despite looking very different, and being 9 years apart in age (he was 42, I was 51), people confused us for one another, in part because our names were similar-- starting with the same first two letters-- and they saw us both all the time.

As summer arrived, we began to realize that we were finally getting the hang of a rather difficult job. We started making plans to try to make it to a baseball game.

On August 7, he, Neal, another friend from our training class, and I sent one another vulgar text messages "congratulating" one another on our one year anniversary at the job. We had all become quite annoyed with the job, but kept good humor about it.

Later that night, I got a text from him; turned out he was heading to the hospital I was working at that night to check on some documentation on the dialysis machines in that hospital. After that, he was planning to go home, have some vodka and Red Bull (ick!) and then was going to interview to be head of our unit-- our boss had resigned recently. He texted me a picture of the pint of cheap vodka he had purchased at a convenience mart on the way over, and a while later popped his head into the room of the patient I was doing dialysis on. He came in, checked the documentation on the machine and stopped to chat for about ten minutes. We talked about the usual stuff-- our kids, our mates, baseball, laughing about the job. He was doubtful that they would offer him the manager job, and if they offered it, and he couldn't do it the right way, he wasn't going to take it.

The next day, I was at a hospital getting ready to set up a patient, when I got a text from another nurse in our unit who he and I were friends with. He asked if I'd heard something about my friend having a heart attack. I knew nothing.

I called his phone and left a message, expressing the hope that he was in a doctor's office dealing with some minor health scare. About ten minutes later I got a call from his girlfriend, who had seen his phone go off, and seen my name on the call. She knew he and I were tight. She told me that they thought he'd had a brain aneurysm. They didn't know how severe it was, but he was not conscious. That morning, her teenaged son had heard him fall in the bathroom, and had gone to check on him. He was not breathing. He ran to get their neighbor, who called 911 and then started CPR.

Two days later, he was on a ventilator in an ICU. She asked Neal, who had also been in our training class, and a good friend, and I to come visit him, and to assess him. We drove to the hospital and got to his bedside. He was intubated; he was not breathing on his own. He had not breathed on his own since the aneurysm.

It was weird for Neal and I to be friends and nurses to him at once. We checked for a pupillary response-- none. We talked to his nurse, who explained how they had confirmed that he had no more neural activity. In turn, we explained this to his girlfriend.

It was rough seeing my friend, who was so vibrant, funny and alive, like this.

We discussed what was ahead. Ultimately, his brother was going to make a decision regarding life support. At this point, they were maintaining it so that his organs could be harvested for transplant. There was no chance for a recovery.

A day later, life support was removed. They could not use his heart-- unbeknowest to me, he'd had a heart attack previously-- or his lungs; he was a smoker. But they took his pancreas, his corneas, some other tissue-- and his kidneys. Neal and I were later to remark on the irony, that two people were soon going to get off of dialysis thanks to the kindness of this guy, who made sure that he was an organ donor.

My wife warned me that I had a rough couple of months ahead of me; she knew that he and I were close, and on top of that, my son was about to go off to college. She was right. It was rough. I'd also lost my mother-in-law, whom I adored, and my friend Larry's mother, who was like a second mother to me, a few months before.

It was rough-- I'd come to depend on him at work for advice and just to liven up my day with the in-jokes and such. I'd come to depend on his friendship. I felt like I'd had a huge rug pulled from out under me. But as the weeks wore on, I came to realize that it was a big lesson in enjoying the time you have with people. Despite the fact that we worked like dogs, we still managed to get out and hang together when we could. And I realized that I was lucky to have met him-- it was only a year and a day, but sometimes a year and a day is all we get with someone. 


SkylersDad said...

I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend, and your sounding board. You are right, we all need to enjoy the time we have here with the people we know and love.

Pat Tillett said...

Hey there! Long time no see. I'm sorry to hear your sad story. You sure are right about not knowing how long we have with another person. I try not to take life for granted, but I know I do.
My granny used to say that, when someone in our life passes, they are never really gone until we stop thinking about them. I always thought that was good advice and it sure helped when she died.

Hope you had a nice holiday season.

Erik Donald France said...

Sad to learn. But much agreed -- sometimes it's only one day, or a year, but has an impact.

Here's to 2013 in the aim-at-2014 direction.

jin said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing though, we all need a reminder sometimes to cherish more...