The smell of urine didn’t bother me in the slightest and I held my head a little higher when the other students in our clinical session in the empty patient room that we often used for practice coughed and tried to cover up the fact that they were gagging. Ally Kay—which was a badass name for a nurse—pinched her mouth into an impatient line as my classmates learned to change a bedpan.
“If you can’t handle the smell, then this career will be quite difficult for you,” Ally said, staring a little longer at the girl next to me. Her intense gaze moved right over me and I considered that a compliment. She was known to rarely give praise and tended to scrutinize the details. I had a semi-crush on Ally, because details were my thing.
“Now, if the patients are connected to a catheter, you will need to remove it like so.” She held up the device that emptied into a large bag. The other end would be connected to the patient so he or she could remain immobile for as long as they needed. “Make sure you always check the bag when you enter the patient’s room.”
“And we just dump the urine in the toilet?” a student asked.
“Yes. You empty the bag into the plastic container and dump the urine in the toilet.” She modeled the final part of the process and set the equipment down on the floor. “The sooner you master it, or get over the fact you will get bodily fluids on yourself, the sooner you can prepare your mind to be a nurse.”
Our small group mumbled under their breath at her but I remained focused. She wasn’t wrong. Ally checked her watch and took a large drink of water before she held up the water bottle. “You’re going to be on your feet for at least eight hours, often times without a break. Make sure you drink water. I’ve had students pass out from dehydration and it isn’t fun.”
One boy in our class started chugging his sports drink full of sugar and it made me laugh. Ally eyed him for a second but shook her head before continuing with our instructions. It was our first day of clinicals this week—one of three full days of being at the Victory Hospital—while the other two days were spent in classes. Situated right in the heart of downtown, it was by far the busiest hospital in the valley—the parking garage was always full.
“You’re all paired up with an experienced nurse and you will shadow them for eight hours today before meeting up for a reflection. Professor Hannigan insisted that you each interact with patients today instead of just observing. We can never predict exactly what will happen, so be prepared for changing bedpans and taking vitals. Any questions?” Ally crossed her arms over her hot pink scrubs and tapped her foot twice.
The chatty yet friendly girl next to me raised her hand and Ally raised her jaw slightly, granting permission to ask the question. “What is it, Bella?”
“Will we be out of here by four?”
What an idiot. I tensed, waiting to see what Ally would do, because it was obvious Bella wouldn’t make it in this major. The rest of us knew better than to try and leave early, and even though my best friend had an engagement party that I would miss a good chunk of, I wouldn’t dream of skipping out early from clinicals.
Ally took a deep breath before marking something on her clipboard. “No.” She opened her mouth to say something else, but the phone she carried went off and she snapped her fingers and said my name. “Follow me, Michelle.”
Bella looked relieved at not being chosen by Ally and I smiled. Tough people didn’t scare me. Neither did no-nonsense, no-small-talk people. If anything, I appreciated them because my life was so damn busy that a minute saved from awkward conversation could be better spent doing anything else.
Ally held up the phone and replied to the head nurse’s request. Each patient on the floor had a call button that went to the nurses’ station where the head nurse would respond to the patients and essentially dispatch their assigned nurse. It was pretty cool and Ally met my eyes for one second before responding. “We’re on our way.”
She went to a locked room storing medicine that patients needed, came back with a small cup with three different colored pills and grabbed one of the many desks-on-wheels that lined the hallway to place the meds in.
She walked fast and with purpose and I matched her stride as she headed to the maternity recovery ward, informing me about the patient en route. “Lindy Jetton is recovering from an emergency C-section and her baby is in the NICU. The night nurse will update us before our rotation starts and I want you to take her blood pressure and temperature and mark them down.”
“Have you done any of those before?”
“Yes,” I said, already going over the steps I’d been taught. “This will be my second time interacting with the patients.”
“Good.” She stopped, knocked on a door twice and eyed me. “I’ve heard good things about you.”
Pride filled my chest at her words. “Thank you. I work hard.”
We entered the small room with our desk-on-wheels. Inside, a petite woman with blonde hair piled on top of her head looked exhausted. Her face was pale, her lips turned down at the sides and the man I assumed to be the father of her child sat helpless on the small pull-out couch.
Heather, the night nurse, grabbed a clipboard and introduced Ally and me as the next people to take care of the patient for the day. She went over the last time the patient had taken medicine, asked where her pain was on a scale of one to ten and if she had any questions.
“Is there any way to have more pain medication?” the woman in the bed asked, her husband coming up to rub her arm. “I couldn’t sleep more than twenty minutes at a time.”
“We can call your doctor to see if we can up order a higher prescription to help,” Ally said, still using the same confident tone. “It shouldn’t take more than an hour max.”
Heather said some kind words to the couple and smiled at me before departing. Ally introduced me and excitement and nerves took root in the base of my throat. My voice shook when I waved to the pair who were looking at me with tired smiles.
“Do either of you object to having Michelle take your vitals?”
“No.” The woman sat up and gave me a kind look. “You have to learn somehow.”
“That I do.” I moved to the patient bed and put gloves on, the non-allergenic material sticking to my sweaty skin. Then I got the thermometer ready by putting a plastic covering on it. “Please put this under your tongue for me.”
She did and I prepared to take her blood pressure. I briefly recalled having read that high blood pressure after giving birth was a huge red flag that something could be wrong. The thermometer beeped and she was in the clear—I repeated the temperature to Ally, who documented it and wrote it on the markerboard where the patient could see.
“Excuse me while I try to navigate through all the IVs,” I said, wrapping the Velcro material around her upper arm. One IV positioned itself in an awkward spot so I had to twist and turn them until they were straight. Sweat pooled on my brow at the time this was taking, but Ally said nothing. “Okay, keep your arm relaxed at your side for me.”
The patient obeyed and the machine started tightening around her. She stared at me for a second and I wanted to take the worried look off her face. “Did you have a boy or a girl?”
“A little baby girl. She’s perfect,” she said, emotion clogging her voice. She reached her other hand out to her husband, who clasped hers, before she looked back at me. “She’s upstairs in the NICU. Jaundice.”
I nodded but couldn’t hide my frown from them. “Oh, I’m so sorry you have to spend some time away from her, but she is in amazing hands.”
“That’s what I keep repeating in my head.”
“Have you been up to see her yet?” I asked, telling Ally her blood pressure. Relief went through me when her numbers were normal.
“No. The lactation consultant is coming here in an hour so we’ll go after that. I did get to hold her though. It was the most amazing thing. Do you have children?”
“I do not.” I smiled and organized the wires to hang the device back up on the appropriate hook. “I’d love some one day, but right now is just about finishing school.”
“I get it.” The woman smiled and I patted her hand. “Everything good for me?”
“Yup. You’re doing well. I’m going to change your bag for you.” I bent down and undid the hook, disconnected the tubes and poured the liquid into the plastic container meant for it. It wasn’t pleasant, but it didn’t gross me out and I disposed of it in the toilet, took off my gloves and tossed them into the correct trash receptacle, then washed my hands before returning to the woman, gloving up again and reconnecting it. “Okay, all set.” I disposed of those gloves too.
“Thank you,” she said, and my heart tightened at the emotion in her words.
“Of course.” I smiled and found Ally staring at me with one side of her mouth lifted just a hair, the slight indication of pride hitting me like a lightning bolt. She went to the desk-on-wheels and scanned the patient’s wrist bracelet before giving her the three types of medicine.
“We’ll be back in an hour with more pain medicine, but call if you need anything, okay?” Ally said.
Ally jutted her chin to the door and pushed the desk with her. I followed, not quite wanting to leave the kind couple. “Take note, Michelle, not every room will be like them.”
“What do you mean?”
She didn’t respond because her phone went off, but hours later, I understood her words. Some patients were beyond rude and others were demanding and hysterical, while an occasional one was kind and normal. My face hurt from forcing an unnatural smile for so long that when we were paged back to the first couple’s room, I sighed in relief.
Ally chuckled and patted me on the shoulder once. “You’ll learn to appreciate the patients that treat you as a human rather than the help. Not all the people we see are as dramatic as 127B or 138B, but I rationalize it by remembering they just gave birth.”
She pushed the door open and Lindy smiled at us. “Hi.”
“We heard you needed us?” Ally asked.
“I’m okay, but we’re going up to the NICU for a couple of hours, so is there any way to take some pain meds before we go?”
Ally nodded and went through the same steps of documenting the process, taking the pills from the rolling desk and scanning the patient’s wristband while I redid the vitals. The only difference in the room this time was the sound of the TV playing, and I glanced up and almost dropped the thermometer.
It was him.
“You a Soles baseball fan?” the husband asked, smiling at me. “Madsen just got a hell of a contract for five years.”
“Wow,” I said, hating how my heart hammered against my ribcage. “That’s…great.”
The woman laughed and I focused on her instead of the gorgeous man on TV. She made a resigned face. “We would be watching baseball news after having a kid.”
“Maybe it’s a good distraction?” I said, forcing out all the memories I had of Brooks.
“He is pretty to look at,” she said, smiling when her husband made an annoyed sound.
“Uh huh.” I told Ally her vitals and glanced at the TV again when Ally took over for the other parts. He looked as good as I remembered and my face felt way too hot. Don’t think about him. Not his hands or how his mouth felt on me.
“Anything else?” Ally asked, pulling me from my own mind.
“That’s all, thank you.”
We left her room and the clock right next to the TV caught my attention—Fiona and Gideon’s engagement party started in an hour and I would totally be late. Not even like a cute oops my class ran over late. It would be an obnoxious I’m a shitty friend late.
But Fiona would understand because she knew more than anyone what my schooling and becoming a nurse meant to me. I just hoped she remembered all that when I showed up four hours later than planned.