It’s a Small World After All

Me in the NICU in 1987 on a slow day but I still didn’t have to float to another floor. 
​It left me time to decorate some bulletin boards in the hallway for Christmas.

Once in a while the census in the unit was low when I worked at Children’s in Chicago, even to the point where we’d have to rotate taking days off without pay. Now if our floor was slow when another was cram packed with patients, then they’d float us over to them to help out where they needed it. No one liked to float to another unit, but it was better than being short on pay at the end of the month.

​It was hard to work in an area that was unfamiliar and left you searching drawers for alcohol swabs, but the supervisors did their best to give assignments that fit each individual float nurse and what they were accustomed to. We usually swapped nurses between the Pediatric ICU, or PICU (pick-you), and Neonatal ICU, or NICU (nick-you), so it would be as close to what we were used to as possible. I found the problem with going to the PICU for me was that I had to suddenly start talking to my patients. Sure, I talked to my babies in the NICU all the time, but they were usually only a few days old, less than two pounds, or sedated. I could tell them whatever I wanted, as long as I delivered my words in a sweet, soothing kind of way. I swiftly learned that I couldn’t just walk into my pediatric patient’s room and pick up the three-year-old’s arm to take her blood pressure and simply get on with what I had to do. She’d suddenly scream and kick me quite unexpectedly and the whole shift would start badly. And painfully. It was shocking and stunning how well a three-year-old might land a kick when you (or I) weren’t really anticipating that that was coming. You (or I) would have to quickly readjust the approach and explain every little thing you (or I) were going to do. Plus do some damage control because you just blew your first impression and chance to gain the trust of one particular three-year-old. It was exhausting really, added in with all the other adjustments to being out of my comfort zone in an unfamiliar place, not knowing where the alcohol swabs were and all.
One day when I got to my unit, I learned it was my turn to float. Ugh. That was never good news. I took a deep breath, tried to be brave, and hoped they had a baby for me, or at least a patient who didn’t have a Swan-Ganz catheter in their chest because that’s what I’d had the last time I floated to the PICU. Those weren’t the kind of lines we used in the NICU. I got on the elevator and went to the PICU and reported for duty. I was given one post op patient who was stable and slept most of the day. It was wonderful. My shift was spent almost entirely in his room, with his mother in a chair at his bedside stitching on her needlework.
As the shift progressed, I cared for the little boy and visited with his mom while I worked. After a while, I asked her about her needlepoint. She held it up and showed me. The design was a Denver Broncos helmet. I said, “Hey, look at that. I was born in Denver.”
She said, “We lived in Colorado too.”
I said, “What town did you live in?”
“Greeley,” she said.
“I lived in Greeley too. After Denver. What part of town did you live in?”
“Near UNC.”
“Oh, my dad was a professor there. I still remember my address. Do you know where 24th Avenue Court is?”
She said, “I lived on 24th Avenue Court. 1848 24th Avenue Court.”
You’ve got to be kidding! “I lived at 1847 24th Avenue Court!”
Of course we gasped and our mouths dropped. Pretty unbelievable. It was like running into someone from Iowa when you live in California and say, “Oh, I know someone in Iowa. Do you know Ida Mae Peterson?” and they say, “Heck! She’s my aunt!”
My patient’s mom had moved to our street about six years after we moved away, but she knew some of the same neighbors, the ones who had stayed there as anchors for the street. It was mind blowing really. So many circumstances needed to line up to put me in the same room that day with a woman who had lived on the very same street that I had when I was growing up. She was in the house where I had tried to sell my fancy paperweight rocks. And my seeds. And my note cards. Well, now that I think of it, it’s probably better she moved in there after I lived there. That way we could have a better time together without all the baggage that might have come if she’d known what kind of kid the whole neighborhood knew I’d been. I could just pretend I wasn’t the girl she’d probably heard about from that house across the street who I suspect everyone was pretty relieved had moved away. So all in all, I’d say that was a pretty good float day. No one kicked me and I met someone who was my neighbor, once removed. It is ​a small world!

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