Anaín Bjorkquist

grasping for straws – lessons from jupiter

If death is a wake up call for those that it leaves in it’s wake to live then what would repeated waves of death that surround you be considered? Ten years ago, as people I worked with and their children began to pass away in sets of threes I took notice yet it didn’t really cause me to act until my place of employment began to seem like the Grim Reaper’s favorite spot to shop for souls.

As death surrounded me at work my relationship with my mother hit an all time low, my country had been attacked by terrorists, paying bills plus my tuition started to become too much for my spouse and I to bare and I knew if I didn’t swim sideways this rip current would drown my future but I didn’t.

I continued to swim straight towards the shore thinking that if I swam harder I would break free and just as I reached the point of exhaustion I reached out looking for something to cling to that would help pull me back to shore…

The insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has caused many of us to find ourselves grasping for straws!

…I was grasping for straws arms desperately reaching out for anything or anyone until it became apparent that Beverly’s last words had been the only thing keeping me afloat this long. I was barely clinging to the raft her words formed wishing she had not had her final conversation with me as we stood at the sinks scrubbing our hands. I wasn’t worthy of last words especially not the last words of a woman that would die with clean hands.

Beverly had started working at Jupiter soon after the technician that worked the 3pm-11pm shift had died. Yes, Beverly began working at Jupiter as death began to take hold of it. When she started I had been covering the 3pm to 11pm shift while still going to school and working per-diem in labor and delivery as an OB tech. I had been promised that when Beverly was trained on how we did things at Jupiter she would take Jamal’s old shift from me. It quickly became obvious to me after watching her scrub that she like me didn’t need training and that I had been lied to. After a couple of months of being stuck on this shift that made my life more difficult I boldly approached Beverly and said, “Were you hired for three twelves? Did they give you my fucking shift?”

Beverly smiled and said to me, “You’re as fiery as they say. Yes, I was hired to do three twelves. That’s the only shift that works for me because I have an eleven year old son.”

We had a conversation about how the politics of working in the Operating Room were and always would be. She wanted me to see the situation I found myself in as one in which the glass was half full and not half empty. I wasn’t hearing none of it because now I knew that I had to change my entire schedule of classes for the Fall and since classes started in a week this would be damn near impossible. I stormed out of the break room headed for the Charge Nurses’ desk. David confirmed what Beverly told me and admitted that he and the Operating Room Manager had decided I was their best bet for Evening Shift technician because both of the late nurses got along with me and I could handle the emergency cases.

And how in the fuck are you so fucking positive all the fucking damn time?

Later that week as people spoke poorly of one of the technicians that wasn’t very good at her job I started to say something when Beverly reached for my hand and gave me a look that made me pause. Beverly was the type of person that you would never hear say anything bad about anyone even when they left room for you to speak badly of them. I was young and naive and thought that she must have lived a life in which she never suffered for her to be so positive. As Beverly worked her three twelves and I was forced to work the evening shift we became friends.

I learned a lot about her in just a few short months. Beverly had a daughter a year or two older than me she was very proud of and an eleven year old son she was raising on her own. She had some family in the area that loved her very much and they helped her with her son as she worked very hard to make a better life for him. She had been in the military and become a Surgical Technician in the military like I had. We both had taken the courses and passed the certification to become First Assistants. We were just a peg up from technicians because we could assist on the surgery instead of just passing instruments. We both kidded how our certification didn’t mean very much at a hospital like Jupiter where the nurses fought over being First Assistants so they wouldn’t have to circulate.

From my conversations with Beverly I learned that it wasn’t an easy life that caused her to be so kind and positive but a hard life filled with lows and small triumphs. She was dedicated to make each day better than the last even as she struggled with raising a son alone and her diabetes fought her. Beverly continued teaching me the lessons that I hadn’t gotten at home. Lessons that I’d been learning one friendship at a time from women who molded me through their kindness and understanding. I found myself not only listening to Beverly but also speaking to her about my mommy issues and my current desire to leave my mother behind forever.

You can’t runaway from your blood but sometimes a transfusion will give you energy you need to move forward together.

A couple of weeks before we would find ourselves at those sinks on that fateful night I spoke to Beverly about one of our coworkers. As we sat in the break room alone on a slow night I told her that I wished that I could just never speak to my mother again like our coworker had with her mother. Beverly said that she had heard the coworker tell me earlier that she hadn’t spoken to her mother in years. Then Beverly told me that we as black women don’t and shouldn’t do that. She spoke to me about how important it was for us to stay united with our families no matter how much grief they cause us. She promised me that eventually I’d be able to see through the pain enough to understand my mother. She told me that she had been there once too and that maybe like her what I needed was some distance between my mother and I. That’s when I confided in Beverly telling her that I had been considering leaving Jupiter to take a job as a traveler. Beverly asked me what I would do about school and said that she’d have to think on it before she gave me her opinion because I was doing too well in school to just run off.

More of being the same until she had her final conversation with me.

It was one hell of a shift that afternoon. We were busy as hell and understaffed. I can’t remember for sure but I think it was a Thursday because of the amount of Orthopedic cases Beverly and I had just finished. We had already done a couple of emergency cases and had two more on deck for right that moment and another one would be left for me after. My nurse had one of the orderlies run down to get me some food from the cafeteria just as it was closing but of course he got me a nasty cheeseburger I didn’t want to really eat. I hemmed and hawed about how much I hated burgers as Beverly and I heated our food up.

Beverly reminded me to be grateful that I had food then sat by the windows and started to drink her soda and eat her pizza. I sat at the table closest to the exit of the locker rooms. As I took my first bite of my burger the surgeon I was working with walked out. Beverly greeted him and he looked at me. The surgeon spoke, “Lidia aren’t you my tech? Why aren’t you in the room?”

“Don’t you see I’m eating?” I asked him in the most sarcastic voice.

Out of the locker room walked out the surgeon Beverly was going to work with. Beverly said hello to him, grabbed her napkin, covered her food and began to get up to walk out behind her surgeon.

I continued, “They just brought the patient in. I haven’t ate all day so since I don’t know when I’m going to get to eat again I’m going to finish this burger and be in before you are ready for me.”

My surgeon smirked he was used to my rudeness and only allowed it because I was one of the best techs there. He nodded and walked out ahead of Beverly.

As Beverly walked out she said to me, “Sister you are something else. You’ll grow out of that anger.”

I never cared what people thought about me unless I truly respected them. I didn’t want to disappoint Beverly so I scarfed down the rest of my burger and followed behind her to the sinks. There we stood scrubbing our hands about to do two more surgeries. Beverly was standing at the sinks to the right of me. I asked her how her headache from before was. She told me she had just taken some more aspirin a nurse gave her. We scrubbed our hands in silence for a moment. Then as we rinsed the soap off our hands Beverly spoke one final time to me.

Lidia, I have been thinking about that travel assignment you are considering taking. I think it would be good for you. I think you should do it. I know it is what you need.

I walked into my room. I asked the nurse where the surgeon was and she said since they had been having trouble intubating the patient he was next door in the other operating room chatting with the other surgeon. Typical I thought as a huge commotion and screams for help came from the other operating room.

I was scrubbed, gowned and setting up my sterile field so I couldn’t leave the room. My nurse and the Anesthesiologist run next door. Leaving me and the CRNA wondering what could have happened with the patient next door that they screamed for help. What feels like forever goes by but it was only about a minute and then we see David, an orderly and the Anesthesiologist rushing a passed out Beverly on a gurney out the main doors to the Operating Room Suite. Both surgeries got put on hold until David and Anesthesiologist returned. When they came back they told us that the Emergency Room doctors were taking care of her and that we might have to perform an emergency crani on her. Nobody spoke during the surgery and as we finished hours later the Anesthesiologist walked in with news from the Emergency Room. The nurse from next door and David had prepped the room for an emergency crani for Beverly so they asked when they would be up with her.

We are doing the emergency ortho case that was scheduled next. Beverly is in coma and it doesn’t look good for her.

We ALL had to bottle up what we were feeling and continue working we had another emergency case to do.

*”Lessons From Jupiter” to be continued.

© Anaín Bjorkquist January 10, 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved.

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