A few weeks later, Penn was reassigned to the ER after his stint in the COVID-19 testing booth. He went into nursing because he recognized the importance of treating the whole person rather than just the disease. He certainly wasn’t getting to do that when he was sticking a long cotton swab deep into someone’s nose to determine whether they were positive or negative for the virus. He also hated how rude and obnoxious some people could be. The incessant horn honking rang in his ears until he was about to go to sleep. The yelling, threats, and fists in his face triggered his PTSD, but he couldn’t take a mental health day. So, while the ER wasn’t a great assignment, at least he wouldn’t be stuck in that infernal booth anymore.
He went back to night shift, regularly working more than his 12-hour shift and coming in to work on his days off. Again he saw an influx of critically ill COVID patients. Dying patients. A couple of patients requested that Penn joined them in prayer. He wasn’t a religious man, but he prayed aloud if he was familiar with their faith traditions and silently if he was not. These patients reminded him of working on a wounded soldier and the chaplain, no matter what religion he or she practiced, would pray as a soldier died.
There were plenty of other heart-wrenching stories. One man, minutes away from death, asked Penn how much his care would cost his family because he didn’t have insurance. Hospitalized mothers and fathers would ask Penn to FaceTime their children to say good bye, as would spouses or significant others. Penn thought about how Rufus’ parents died alone without saying farewell to him and he wanted to shed a tear—if only he had time.
Sometimes ER patients would be stable enough to go to the ICU. Penn helped transport one of his patients and marveled at the differences between the ICU and ER. It seemed like a luxury to be assigned to three or fewer patients per shift, and the atmosphere suggested a feeling of hope instead of despair in the ER. In the elevator down to the ER, Penn contemplated asking for a transfer but, once he hit the floor, he had no more time to think.
Amazingly, Penn got off work on time for a change. At 7:30, he joined his nursing school chums, Beth, Judy, and Nancy for breakfast in the hospital cafeteria.
“I cannot believe what we went through in the testing booth,” Beth stated. “We were cooped up, wearing full hazmat gear, stuffing testing swabs up people’s noses.”
“Some of the people got angry when the swab hurt or if we had to go deeper to properly retrieve any virus-laden secretions.” Penn added. “I had a couple of guys threaten to punch me in the face if the swab hurt. Got others who weren’t able to be tested try to storm the booth and beat me up if they had to be turned away.”
Judy nodded. “I was threatened with a knife by a man whose wife had moderate symptoms and was going to an isolation. He thought that transferring her out of the ER was a way to dump her because she wasn’t sick enough for continued use of the ER or ICU.”
“It’s those medical shows,” Nancy complained. “In some of them, they show a patient in the ER for their entire hospitalization. Even if the patient has surgery, they come back to the ER instead of a post-op floor. ER beds are too valuable to use for patients who can be treated elsewhere.”
“None of us signed up for this,” Beth grumbled. “Most days I wonder why I even decided to go into nursing. Sometimes I just hate it.”
Penn asked, “What do you think you want to do?”
“I’m going to get my PhD,” she said.
Penn was baffled. “But don’t you need some practical experience first?”
“Nope,” Beth answered. “Nowadays PhD nursing programs don’t require any practical experience. In fact, they like new grads who haven’t been tainted by actual work in a clinical setting.”
Judy’s and Nancy’s goals were not quite as lofty as Beth’s. Nancy wanted to work obstetrics while Judy planned to be a nurse practitioner. Then they asked Penn’s plans.
“Long term, I want to join a medevac team. It’s the closest thing to what I did in the Army,” he responded.
Nancy asked, “But is it a good idea? You went through Hell when you deployed to Afghanistan.”
“True,” he said. “But right now, I want some time off. At least a month, maybe two.”
Unfortunately, Penn’s casual wish would come back to haunt him.
To be continued…
2 thoughts on “Not All Superheroes Wear Capes 5”
My favorite part of this chapter is the near end, where you skillfully blend sharp dialogue with your smooth narration! Feels like I’m sitting right in the same room, a participant in the conversation.
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Thank you. Just finished Prudence’s character sketch. Hope you like it!!
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