Tuesday I went to one of the four VFMC campuses to receive some immunizations, to have blood drawn, and to have the first of two TB tests started. The young male nurse I saw told me that he works full time as an LVN (licensed vocational nurse), is going to school full time (to become a registered nurse), and also runs a business part time! Work is 40 hours a week, his business takes 30-40 hours a week, and school takes up about 20 hours a week. I said he must be one of those people who can get by on three hours of sleep and noted that he looked remarkably well rested.
I asked about his self-care practices and he said he used to meditate regularly, but doesn’t have much time for that anymore. He said he tries to use his breaks to best advantage and that he is methodical in this regard: He has breakfast during his first break, takes a walk during lunch, and naps during his afternoon break, outside if possible or sitting up in a chair in the hospital. He said later that he actually gets five or so hours of sleep each night. I said he must be a wizard of time management, and he said that he doesn’t watch TV, though he did watch the debates between the Democratic presidential candidates.
We discussed the presidential election at some length, including internalized racism, one of my favorite topics these days, and I could see his mood beginning to sour as he talked about how Trump is appealing to his supporters’ worst natures. To give him a chance to talk about something that would put him in a better mood, I asked about his business, which is selling shoelaces, let us say. “On another topic, why shoelaces?” His face lit up and he told me what is unique about what he sells, and he explained why he has a business as well as a full-time job: he understands that money in this country is flowing inexorably to those who are already rich, that his employer feels no loyalty toward him whatsoever, that he may lose his job at any moment, and he is worried about having enough money. His business is a means of financial self-protection. Sad. But also very impressive, how energetically and determinedly he is implementing his plans. He was also extremely meticulous about his operations in my regard, showing me each tiny vial so I could be sure I was getting the right stuff. I couldn’t read those little letters or understand what they meant, but I appreciated the care he took here.
He left the room for a few minutes at one point, and suddenly I was flooded with a visceral memory of how it felt when I myself was a cancer patient sitting alone in a hospital room: scared, curious, uncertain, vulnerable. And this was just Stage 0 breast cancer, or DCIS.
When my LVN returned, I made a point of seeing his physical appearance: the freckles on his neck, the way his earlobes (or at least, his left earlobe) came to almost a slight point at the bottom, his reddish-brown hair. Seeing something and knowing one is seeing it is a fine way to be sure of being present.
I left my appointment feeling very inspired about working in a hospital one day.