Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Desert Adventure, Part 5: Where Weasels Dare

My first shift in the Indian Hospital ER was over, and I walked the short distance back to my house with a lot on my mind. I entered the house, walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a Guinness. Tossing my keys on the desk in my room, I changed out of my scrubs and into a ratty old T-shirt and baggy shorts. I opened the bottle, flopped into a chair, put my feet up, and took a drink. The ice-cold stout was like a balm for my dry throat.

I opened up the orientation folder and waded through the paperwork until my stomach signaled its readiness for dinner with an unseemly churning growl. I looked up at the clock and was shocked to find that nearly three hours had passed. Darkness had settled over the high desert, and outside the window I watched a bat as it shot recklessly back and forth through the bug-crowded cone of light cast by a nearby streetlamp. Somewhere in the darkness, a coyote emitted a high, rather feeble cry. The reality of how far removed from my family and home I was- and the disappointment of my first shift- set in at last, and I fell into a dark and sullen mood.

This won’t do, I thought to myself. You’ve slept in mudholes in the rain. You’ve been ten thousand miles away from your family without any way to contact them. You’ve been in some really crappy predicaments, far worse than this. This is nothing. Pull your head out, doofus.

I shook my head, stepped away from the window, picked up my cell phone from my nightstand, and called home.

After a ten-minute pep talk courtesy of my wife, I was finally ready to give in to my stomach and trooped into the kitchen, where I whipped up a skillet of Hamburger Helper (I love the stroganoff) and popped another Guinness as I stuffed my face with comfort food. I went to bed with the uneasiness somewhat improved, and slept hard.

The next morning I awoke, showered, dressed, and walked in the chilly dawn back to work at 0700. I noticed the doctor, asleep in his chair at the desk, his head lolled back, and his mouth wide open. A rattling, nasal wauggghh came forth from his gaping maw. After stuffing the paperwork I had completed the night before into the slot by the manager’s office door, I settled into a corner of the charting area to continue my slog through the remaining forms. Not long after, Ramona the ER Tech approached me.

“Lucille is a no-show. You’re in charge.”


I stared blankly at Ramona for a few seconds, blinked a few times, and summoned the presence of mind to ask, “Did you call her?”

“Yep. No answer. I tried three times, on both her home and cell.”

“I see…”I said. Then, I asked hopefully, “Is anyone else coming in?”

“Not until noon, but it’s a new traveler.”

At least the place is empty right now, I thought. I set aside my paperwork and stood up.

Trying hard to suppress any hint of panic in my voice, I said, “Okay, Ramona. I’m going to need your help. I have to call pharmacy so I can get an access code to the med room and a logon to the Accudose. I also need to know where the important stuff is at. I’m going to need the protocols and standing orders book so I can get up to speed. Are there any RNs on standby?”

Ramona shook her head.

Of course not.

“Does the manager help out on the floor if we’re short-staffed?”

Ramona horse-laughed. And it was not just any horse-laugh. This was a throw-the head back, full-throated, “Haw-Haw-Haw-Snort-Snort-Haw-Haw-Haw” horse laugh.

Waaaaaauuuuuuuuughhhhhhhhh , offered the narcoleptic MD.

The next hour, with the department mercifully empty of patients, was spent obtaining access to the med room and Accudose, cramming the protocols into my head, and poring over the crash carts and code medications. The somnolent MD was replaced by a pleasantly alert one.

As I walked our first patient back to a treatment room, I passed the manager, who had settled into his office. I heard the rattle of a newspaper.

God smiled on me during my brief tenure as charge nurse. Only three patients came through the door, and none of higher acuity than a poor gentleman whose foot was trodden upon by his horse. During a lull in the activity later in the morning, I retired to my little corner to resume my paperwork. I had almost completed the last form when I looked up to see Lucille standing over me with her hands on her hips.

“Do you know what that weasel did?” She huffed.

“Uh, by ‘weasel’ I assume you to mean ‘the guy reading the paper in his office’…”

“Yes, him!

“Okay. What did he do?”

“That little SOB called me last night and told me I wasn’t needed for today.”

Cue ‘stunned silence.’

“Ramona got hold of me and told me you were all by yourself. I’m really sorry!”

“It’s not your fault. However, I think I’ll have a chat with the Weasel.”

I got up from the desk and walked with slow deliberation to the Weasel’s office, speed-dialing my agency’s recruiter along the way. I rapped sharply on the door and invited myself in before hearing otherwise. Weasel lowered his newspaper and stared at me over his reading glasses. Lucille caught up with me presently.

“Is there something I can help you with?” asked the Weasel.

“No, but I think I can help you with a little advice,” I replied as I hit “speaker” on my cell phone.

“Is that so? And what might that be?”

“Simply this: I suggest you figure out how you are going to explain to my agent your rationale for creating an unsafe working environment by pulling all nursing staff but me off the floor and putting me in charge without even an hour of orientation to the unit.”

”He did WHAT!?” screeched a tinny voice from my cell phone. The Weasel blanched.

”Put him on the phone. NOW.”

I took the phone off ‘speaker’ and handed it to the Weasel, whose face displayed a variety of emotions ranging from displeasure to wide-eyed shock over the ensuing two minutes of one-sided conversation. I couldn’t hear what my agent was saying, but if the Weasel’s facial expressions were any indication, it was gooooooooooooood.

Finally, the Weasel said, “Yes, of course,” and handed the phone to me.

“Put me on speaker,” demanded my agent. I did so, and my agent informed all in the room that an agreement had been reached on this matter, to which the Weasel, pale-faced and sweaty, verbalized his affirmation.

“Do you have anything else for me, William?” asked my ass-kicking, no-names-taking agent.

“Nope. I think we’ve about covered it, Phil. Thanks.”

“You betcha. Stay in touch, partner.”

Phil signed off and I put my phone away. “Ah, modern conveniences,” I sighed. The Weasel made a sour face.

“Cell phones are not allowed in the department.”

“Yeah, well sue me,” I shot back. “I’ll be turning my completed orientation paperwork in before lunch.”

“That will be fine. Is there, ah, anything else?”

“No, sir,” I replied. “I’m glad we had this discussion.”

Lucille and I departed the Weasel Den, closing the door behind us. Coincidentally, we ran into Ramona (who was grinning like a maniac and trying hard to stifle her laughter but could not contain the occasional snort) just outside the office. Lucille managed to hold her laughter until we were back in the main department. I sat down to complete my paperwork.