Monday, January 13, 2014

New Man

I feel like a new man.

This, from the mouth of a shelter-dwelling man who maybe hadn't showered in a week.  When I ran upstairs to get some gloves with which to remove some the old bandages from the arm of another man, his odor rose up the stairs with me, like unwanted company. 

He brought with him a giant cookie cake from the soup kitchen next store.  The friars had baked goods to give away.  One man came into the clinic with an ice cream cake.  Eat it quickly, we told him, laughing at the rich absurdity of it, even in the chilly weeks approaching the official start of winter.  I guess I'd better have a party, he said.  You want a piece?

I stashed the cookie cake in a back room though the official policy is to not be responsible for other people's property.  Too many people in and out, too many things to keep track of.    After he showered and put back on the same clothes, with a new old sweatshirt that came from the supply closet, I gave him back his cookie cake. 

I feel like a new man.

I like to talk about the clinic, and I don't.  I like to talk about some of the things I see, because they're so outrageously unbelievable and heartbreaking.  Even after all the reading that can be done about addiction and homelessness and the underserved.  It is still so unbelievable.  But I also don't like to give anyone any reason to tell me that I'm doing a good thing. 

No.  I slide into and out of that world with an ease that is almost unforgivable.  I drive in, in a safe car that locks and has heat, and I drive out in the same one, as clinic patrons head back to the streets or a shelter, with new prescriptions or instructions or with tokens or bus fare to head to the ER, because their blood sugar is so high that it doesn't register on the glucometer.  It only flashes, "HI," "HI", "HI," and they have ketones in their they're acidotic and probably need insulin hung. 

I feel like a spectator.  And I am.  Despite the blood pressure cuff I wraps around this man's arm, or the disposable thermometer I put in that woman's mouth, or the flu shot I administer to this man, and this woman. I try not to be a spectator, I pray to not be one, but I am. 

The real work, the nuts and bolts, is done by the nurse practitioners who run it.  They have formed relationships, know most clients by name, know their stories, which could keep keep the average person up at night.  They fill out the forms, follow up, encourage, chide, refer, prescribe.  I read their notes when I can, trying to memorize how they document, the way nurses do, their assessments. 

I feel like a new man.

I carry this home with me, into a world with the stress of looking for a full-time nursing job, my first one since graduating with a BSN.  I can get lost in my own world, some worries petty, some anxieties real.  I carry it around like a laptop bag: there are so many compartments into which I can slide this worry or that one.  Despite all my perspective, which I've been generally good at recognizing and embracing, I still struggle with it. 

I see his smiling face carrying his cookie cake out the door.  Adios, he calls. 

At home, it's warm inside and my dog jumps on me and my kids call out to me.  The kitchen is a mess and normally I'd roll my eyes and sigh.

I feel like a new man. 

His words hang over me, like an admonishment or a prayer, I'm not sure which.  Like something from the merciful mouth of Christ himself.  I can't begin to explain this to my family, so I just sit in the warmth and in the light and in the company of those I love.