A Dose of Murder
“Open wide.” If I had to repeat that order to this kid one more time, I’d stick my head into the autoclave and roast my brains until they popped like a kernel of corn. Of course, first I’d have to remove all the instruments that are sterilized in the darn thing. That’s how my day was going. That’s how this damn career was going.
No, that’s how my life was going.
I glared at the close-mouthed kid sitting in front of me in the pediatrician’s office I’d offered to work in for a week--and groaned.
What the hell was I thinking?
I had a permanent job at the Hospital of Saint Greg’s. I didn’t need this. Why did I insist on doing favors for others all the time?
Stinky Lapuc, the little boy sitting in front of me with his mouth clamped shut tighter than a clam facing a pot of boiling water, glared at me from his perch on the examining table. I called him Stinky because the dear must have eaten beans prior to his visit at the office. His real name on the chart was John. Boring. I liked Stinky better. It had character. He had gas.
I waved the throat swab in front of his beady, watery eyes. “Open wide, my dear,” I repeated in my best Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother voice. “Open wide and let Nurse Pauline Sokol take a peek at those handsome tonsils you have.” If not, kiddo, this swab gets poked into your tummy until you open. Okay, I’d never poke a five-year old, but the way I felt right now, I enjoyed a moment of thinking I was capable of child poking.
Today while my feet hurt worse than Stinky’s possible Strep throat, I stood there and looked at the swab in my hand. Before I stuck it into his bacterial-laced throat, I wished, for a second, that it was a magic wand, and I could whisk myself away to Club Med.
Because, although I didn’t have a mercenary bone in my body, I also didn’t have any money in my savings account and a magic wand was the only way I’d get there. Admittedly I was a shopoholic, but, hey, I was single--not something I’m proud of by the way, and don’t get my mother started on that--and could shop till I dropped. But not today. Today even shopping didn’t pique my interest. Hell, I was tired of taking odd jobs on my vacations. I was tired of my regular job as a Unit Director in Labor and Delivery who hired and fired staff. I didn’t have the stomach for the firing. Frankly, I’d been considering the fact that I was...burned out.
Nursing had been my life, yet now...I needed a change. But I couldn’t afford to just quit with no future plans.
Stinky looked as if he needed to cough or yawn or something so I aimed my swab. “Open wide, sugar-doll.”
His mother, Mrs. Lapuc, and cousin to Andrea Lapuc who went to high school with me and stole my boyfriend, Stephen, gave me an odd look. “You think you could get him to open?” I asked in my most professional voice although that poking thing wouldn’t leave my thoughts.
She took the boy by his collar. “Do what she says or no dessert tonight.”
Amazed that the old threat was still used by parents today (My mother had used it as her dinner mantra until I was about thirty. No, wait, she still uses it on me.), I stood at the ready.
Stinky hesitated. Then as if watching a drawbridge go up in slow motion when you’re the last car in line and you have to pee, I took the swab from the holder, held it at the ready, and saw his little lips part. It wasn’t enough yet, so I gave a pleading look to his mom.
That did the trick.
Or so I thought until he bit down on the swab, leaving half in my hand. “Don’t swallow!” I reached toward his lips. “Open.”
He looked at me, then, the remainder of the swab shot out with the force of his tongue clearly behind it. I looked down. The swab was stuck to my left breast. “Excuse me.” I walked out of the room, screamed inside my head and promptly went to get another one.
“Don’t do that this time,” I said, giving another pleading look at his mother when I came back in.
“He doesn’t feel good you know.”
And I hated my career.
“That’s why he’s behaving like this,” she said, then grabbed his arm. “Open!”
He did, and the swab hit its mark before he clamped shut like Jaws again and I had my, hopefully, last patient taken care of. I gave the mother instructions about the test and turned to go.
Mrs. Lapuc bundled Stinky up although the office had to be a hundred degrees. Outside was snow covered and maybe in the thirties but this wasn’t Alaska. It was Connecticut for crying out loud.
Babies cried. Toddlers ran rampant. Older kids, I’m guessing by the colorful language, yelled words to the nurses that even I didn’t use in the privacy of my home when alone, and the odor of diapers, full and ripe, mixed with medicine that no kid in their right minds would take unless under threat of mother.
The soreness in my feet spread to the tips of my shoulder-length blonde (natural, I swear!) hair, which was wrapped nurse-style upon my head. When I got to the nurse’s station and had given the swab to Maryann, the fulltime nurse who’d know better what to do with it, I collapsed into a chair. Thank goodness it wheeled itself into the counter with the weight of my fall and not out into the hallway where I could have bowled over one of the little patients.
I leaned back with my hands behind my head and momentarily shut my eyes. Then I heard a rustle from behind and didn’t care if an attack of some sorts was imminent, as long as a group of out of control kids didn’t wheel me into a closet since I am, admittedly, claustrophobic. I didn’t budge.
“The Lapuc kid’s swab is negative,” Maryann said.
Relieved it was her and not that wild group or some crazed pediatric patient with a scalpel behind me, I managed to shake my head. “Good.”
“Want me to tell his mom? You look beat.”
To my surprise, one eye opened. The left one. It had always been my strongest and the deepest gray, which came from my Viking ancestors who’d invaded Poland years back. I didn’t know I had it in me to open either eye. “That’d be great.” With my one-eye vision, I watched her shuffling papers, signing things, writing notes. God, I was tired. “How do you do it? How do you manage to stay awake all day and not commit Hara-kiri at the end of your shift?”
She laughed. I wish I had the energy to join her. It seemed as if it would be fun to laugh. I think I remember laughing in 1992.
“You get used to it,” she said as she turned and walked down the hallway.
Used to it? I sat bolt upright. That was like saying to drink Scotch you’d have to “acquire” the horrible, throat-burning taste. I didn’t want to acquire a taste for Scotch or get used to this never-ending state of exhaustion I’d been in the last twelve years.
I looked into the highly buffed side of the autoclave. There I was. Thirty-four years old. Bags threatening to materialize under my eyes and a possible wrinkle forming on each side. Crow’s feet. I might have crow’s feet! Okay, maybe they were from leaning my hand against my face, but I was starting to look--older. Still, I told myself, I wasn’t bad looking. In fact, in my youthful, self-absorbed teens, I actually won Ms. Hope Valley, twice. Blonde Polack beats voluptuous brunette Wop. That’s what I’d put in my diary.
Now I was burned out from nursing, had no husband, actually no love interest at present, and I refused to count Doctor Vance G. Taylor even though we’d been on and off again for the last five years. In high school he wore pocket protectors and was called “Vancy.” Today, well, I’d give him this. The guy was a living doll who still wore pocket protectors. Much like a younger version of George Hamilton. Year-round tan included. Not even ethnic. True WASP, Vance was. And well off to boot. An orthopedic surgeon.
But there just wasn’t any spark between us. At least not on my end. My mother, bless her heart, couldn’t understand that one. Take a number, I thought.
Maryann came around the corner. I’d seen her reflection in the autoclave as she came from behind. “You ready to call it quits for the day?” she asked.
I looked at her in the silver metal. “No, I’m ready to call it quits...for good.”