By WENDY HODGE
When last we met, I was curled up in migraine agony awaiting a doctor in the ER when I heard, approaching from a distance, a pair of squeaky shoes. They got closer and louder until they stopped just on the other side of the curtain separating me from everyone else. I held my breath. “Could this be help at last?” I wondered.
The curtain parted, and through the one eye that I could open I saw a nurse with pink hair and a smiling face.
“I wish I could turn this light out for you. I know how much that hurts when you have a migraine,” she said softly. She patted my arm and continued, “Let me see if we can’t get you seen quickly. I’ll be right back.”
And just like that, she became one of my favorite people on this planet. I knew I was going to be okay. She actually DID come right back, and a doctor followed soon after. He ordered an IV and a cocktail of medications that would get me back on my feet.
I wish I could say the whole IV process was a breeze. But that would be an astounding lie. I swear the minute my veins hear that a needle is on its way, they tighten up and do their best to disappear altogether. It’s always the same saga. A tech will tell me they always get a vein on the first try. They begin to rub my arm, massage the vein, and give it a shot (so to speak). It never works on the first attempt. Just never. Typically I get a smile and a “That’s okay. Just relax. We’ll get it this time.” Then my arm is massaged a bit more vigorously; the veins are given a few more pats, and then another needle is inserted… into what feels like my last nerve. It certainly isn’t a vein because there is no blood. Not ever.
At this point, the tech’s smile gets tight and frustration lines crease their forehead. “Let me see if I can get someone else,” they say, and they walk off muttering about how “this just never happens.” At this point in the routine, I have been given the following explanations for my “difficult” veins:
You’re too hydrated.
Your veins are “wiggly.”
Your veins “roll.”
Your veins are “too skinny.”
You’re moving too much.
You’re not moving enough.
It’s caused by the tracking device the government secretly implanted in your arm at birth. (This was actually a medication-induced dream from years ago, but it seems as valid as anything else at this point.)
This day, though, a miracle happened. Nurse Squeaky Shoes intervened. Quickly and almost silently, she had an IV started and medication flowing before I knew what was happening.
“The trouble,” she explained softly, “isn’t your veins. It’s everybody else’s aim. You just have to visualize the vein, like a painting hanging on the wall, stare at it for a second until you know it real good, and then just point the needle … nice and easy.”
I wanted to stick my tongue out at the frustrated tech who’d left me bruised and sweating … maybe say “I told you so.” But I refrained. One shouldn’t provoke the people in charge of your meds, particularly when your clothes are in a bag somewhere beyond your reach.
As the nails in my head slow their roll, and the waves of pain recede, I can hear the patients in the rest of the room. There is a child throwing up in the far corner; a guy who insists he is fine and “just needs to get up out of here” even though he apparently was STABBED IN THE LEG; and the little old lady who slipped and fell in her kitchen while making a cake. “My cake batter is still sitting on the counter! I need to call someone to come finish my cake!” she cries over and over.
And then there’s the gentleman in the curtain area next to me who is groaning and cursing at the world. “Something is in my stomach, and it’s killing me from the inside out!” he screams, followed by a string of profanity that cannot be printed here. A female with him tries to calm him down, but he just gets more agitated.
Nurse Squeaky Shoes moves from bed to bed, quietly and kindly calming everyone down and easing their fears. The sick child is given some medicine that stops the vomiting and a sticker on his arm, the stabbing victim is convinced that he’s far too smart to leave now, and cake batter lady is assured that indeed someone will clean up her kitchen for her and make everything alright.
Nurse Squeaky Shoes finally reaches the man next to me. “Henry, the doctor says you have a kidney stone.”
I wince at the memory of the pain this poor man is going through.
“Oh, Lord! I knew it! I knew I was dying!” he wails.
“You’re not dying, Henry,” the nurse says quietly. “You’re going to be just fine. We will give you some medication to make you comfortable, and the doctor will take care of that stone first thing in the morning.”
“Call the kids,” the man wails to his wife. “Tell them I’m done for!”
“Now, Henry,” Nurse Squeaky Shoes says. “You’re going to be feeling better very soon. We just need to start a catheter.”
“You need to do what?” Henry says, his voice much lower.
“We need to start a catheter. And then give you some rectal medication.”
The room falls silent. The words catheter and rectal seem to hang above us all.
“Catheter? Rectal medication?” Henry asks. “Explain that to me.”
Everyone in the room holds their breath while Nurse Squeaky Shoes discreetly whispers the details of what is about to happen.
There is a moment’s pause, and then… “Come on, honey.” Henry says, sounding almost chipper. “I feel much better. Ain’t nobody sticking anything in either of those places.”
There is a snicker from the other side of the room, and then a giggle on my left, and then the whole room is echoing with laughter. Even Henry’s wife can’t keep the smile out of her voice. “Hush, Henry. I swear I can’t take you anywhere.”
And through all of this, Nurse Squeaky Shoes never stops moving and caring and healing. She is one of a legion of health care workers who are on their toes (figuratively) and on their feet (literally) for endless shifts, day to week to month to year, taking care of us all.
“Look for helpers,” Mr. Rogers once said. “They’re always there.”
And sometimes they wear Squeaky Shoes.
Now if I can just find my bag of clothes…..