I need a hero, I'*
I'm holding out for a hero
"til the morning light, H*
He's gotta be sure, A*
And it's gotta be soon, A*
And he's gotta be larger than life...
("Holding Out For A Hero", Bonnie Tyler)
Well they didn't have to shoot me after all---I seemed to have recovered from the flu, although, in the immortal words of my cowboy doctor, there were some moments there that I thought I'd have to "just plumb die in order to get any better" .....
And the weather seems to be improving. The dogwoods are blooming today, which has cheered me up immensely in the face of the 3-foot high pile of paperwork that is sitting on my desk.
Actually, maybe me having the flu was a boon---in order to keep me from stewing about the tumultuous word of road nursing and all the problems I've had brewing at the office lately. Which is a nice way of saying: "If it ain't one dang thing it's another".
Last week our company experienced a couple of shocking "bombshells" which definitely left us all reeling.
The first shock was hearing that Jane-Anne is pregnant...
Yes, it's true. When an excited Jane-Anne phoned us from her doctor's office to tell us the news, both Geena-Lou and I almost fell over our desks in twin faints. The minute I hung up the telephone, both of us let out bloodcurdling screams of despair. And that is because despite two doctors sternly warning her against getting pregnant in this first year of her very brittle diabetes, Jane-Anne claims that she and her husband experienced an "oops" moment in their method of birth control which resulted in a pregnancy.
Geena-Lou and I (as well as Jane-Anne's entire family) have been afraid of this scenario for months.
Although pregnancies are usually celebrated affairs, the announcement of Jane-Anne's pregnancy smacked everyone over the head like wooden two-by-fours. In fact, when the owners of our company (Jane-Anne's aunt and uncle) heard the news, Jane-Anne's aunt bawled like baby and her uncle stood silent in mute terror. Nevertheless, what's done is done. And so we have all set about the daily task of praying to the Lord for Jane-Anne's precarious health.
Before you get impatient with all of us busy-bodies for butting into Jane-Anne's personal business, let me just tell you that it isn't only for Jane-Anne's health that we're fretting. The other reason is because of her lack of health insurance and the possible financial cost of such a complicated pregnancy.
Jane-Anne makes meager wages as an LVN--but although meager, those wages are enough to disqualify her from receiving Medicaid assistance. And her OB/GYN doctor immediately demanded the sum of $3,600.00, up front, for the 9 months of prenatal care (which although mercifully discounted, is still a staggering sum for Jane-Anne)---but which does not not include the ultimate hospital cost. A conservative estimate of the hospital cost for delivery of a child will range anywhere from $10,000 to a whopping $40,000--if there are no complications.
And Jane-Anne's young, still-just-a-boy husband makes even punier wages at his part-time manual labor job---also with no health insurance. And then there will be the cost of daycare once the baby is born. I guess the only thing we can do now is hope like hell that the Lord starts listening to all of our prayers, BIG TIME.
LORD? I'm talking to You--are Ya listening?
Anyway, that was the first shock of the week. My next problem is our other LVN, Lee-Lee, who slayed me with the declaration that she has accepted a job with one of the two "big name" road nurse companies which operate multiple branch offices up and down this stretch of the Interstate Highway in this region.
"Lee-Lee", a rookie LVN, has been with our company for a little less than a year. She's only got about 2 1/2 years of total nursing experience, 11 months of it in road nursing here at our organization. But she is a fairly competent, dependable, and pleasant young nurse--- and our patients love her. I sorely hate to lose her.
But Lee-Lee's got "stars in her eyes" to work for one of the "big shot companies". For some reason, she thinks it would be a feather in her cap to command the higher salary and "famous name" on her resume of such a large, nationally-known corporate organization. She's seen their snazzily-uniformed nurses zipping around town carrying their monogrammed nurse bags. But worse, she evidently has not heeded either mine, Geena-Lou's, or Belinda's frequent warnings about our past experiences with a similar company just down the road from us.
Both Geena-Lou and I have valiantly tried to impress upon both Lee-Lee and other young road nurses just exactly how harsh, brutal, and impersonal the working conditions are at such companies, and how those outfits treat their employees with absolutely no respect, no dignity, and routinely schedule them for work hours which are humanly impossible to achieve. Those jobs are generally considered by those "in the know" as deplorable at best. And believe me, I am not exagerrating here.
But those type of companies offer the magic word around here: Health Insurance---which is a scarce commodity in Podunk's isolated rural environment.
And those companies are only able to offer such perks as health insurance by manipulation of the Almightly Dollar, which always translates into two things. One: slave labor for the nurses. And two: huge profits which enable the company administrators to drive fancy Mercedes, take frequent ski trips to Aspen, spend thousands of dollars on television advertising, outfit the nurses in fancy, embroidered employee uniforms---you get the picture? And the ones who suffer are the road nurses who are regularly abused in the pursuit of those profits.
You might think that such corporate practices couldn't possibly exist in the 21st century, but they do---right here in Podunk, where a "good job with health insurance and a retirement plan " is a dearly sought-after commodity, something for which a lot of desperate people will willingly endure inhuman conditions.
Geena-Lou and I--- and also my buddy Belinda--- all used to work together at such a fancy outfit up the street. And we all three have all vowed solemn oaths that we'd never go back to that miserable life of medieval drudgery--- even if it meant that we'd have to leave town to work elsewhere. We solemly count our lucky stars that we each managed to snag our jobs here at small, family-owned organizations which pay us fair wages and treat us humanely (me and Geena-Lou here at this company, and Belinda about an hour up the road at another small company) even thought it meant the terrible loss of health insurance. It was a matter of physical and mental survival. In case you think I'm exagerrating, let me explain.
Geena-Lou, Belinda and I don't like to talk about those days at the "other company" very often---because when we do, it brings back some very sorrowful memories...
The branch office we three worked at operates their patient case-load among various small towns scattered around a 75-mile radius of Podunk. The three of us worked alongside an eager bunch of other road nurses, RN's and LVN's---all of us strongly in need of a good job with health insurance. And we felt lucky to have landed our jobs at the big company---and we subsequently found ourselves working like indentured slaves to keep it.
As for myself, I needed the job because after years of Emergency Room work, I had finally "burnt out" of the heartbreak of daily trauma work in ER/Trauma Centers. And so I had returned to my country roots at my beloved Podunk in a desperate bid to start over and live a calmer life--- while trying to stay away from my old nemesis, alcohol. I had set about the task of trying to hang on to my sobriety by working as a road nurse by day and attending rural Alcoholics Anonymous meetings by night. It was a tremulous arrangement because my enemy, liquor, has a long memory and is very patient...
Belinda and Geena-Lou needed the job equally desperately because nobody else in Podunk would hire rookies. And on top of that, they each had piles of unpaid bills, husbands, and children to take care of. Their husbands' paltry wages in Podunk's local construction/utility outfits were woefully insufficient to support their families.
Anyway, there we were. And that huge road nurse company worked us like dogs, day by day, month by month, with never any respite. The company management was notoriously hard-lined and unforgiving about any deviation from the pre-set road nurse schedules---even a 15-minute absence wasn't tolerated. You were expected to get your work done in a 7.5 hour work day, but the company DID NOT PAY "overtime" wages if you worked past that 7.5 hours! And on a daily basis we were given work loads that took at least 10-12 hours a day to complete-- and yet we were only payed for that basic 7.5 hours!
If it sounds illegal---it is.
But we had no choice but to endure it.
Each day, and although the company's official "opening hour" was 8:00 am, we left our homes at around 6:30 a.m. and frantically began logging in the day's required miles in order to get our patient visits done. And then each night we stayed up late finishing the required paperwork. This pace never varied. We neglected our homes, health, and families to do this because the company balked at granting sick leave, vacation time, or even personal time to attend doctor's appointments, take care of sick family members, or anything else. Absences or tardies were not tolerated.
Even if a nurse did manage to gain an "approved" absence from a supervisor in order to attend a doctor's appointment or something, this "occurrence" was met with the threat of losing one's job or the loss of any future pay-raises---because five "occurrences" in a calendar year meant the definite loss of an annual pay raise.
Logging 500 miles on the road per week was not unusual for any one of us. And so, we basically worked till we dropped, every day and most nights. Before we knew it we had become chronically fatigued, mentally exhausted, and sadly neglectful of ourselves and our families. And yet we patiently awaited that magic moment every other Friday when we collected our paychecks--- upon which were written the magic words "health insurance deduction".
Our families developed the habit of constant bitter complaining about the fact that none of us were ever home for weekends or holidays--- and that if they wanted to talk to us they had to call us on our cell phones while on the road or at the office. But the Road Nurse Company was our Master and we willingly sold our souls to them, never stopping long enough to realize just how pathetic our lives had become.
Belinda and I began our friendship, perhaps, due to the fact that we were "odd-balls", both in desperate need of companionship....someone who would understand...
She and I were both similar-minded perfectionists, quirky in our ways, both of us very organized RN's who enjoyed our jobs as Case Manager RN's.....but...
Belinda and her family had always been severely ostracized by many in Podunk's staunchly Baptist community simply for the fact that her family belongs to a religion considered by many in Podunk as "weird"....
And I was quietly living my life on the fringes, in shy secrecy, due to my utter shame and embarassment for being a recovering alcoholic.
But Belinda and I found true friendship and acceptance in each other, a bond which grew and strengthened as we worked tirelessly, side by side, for the road nurse company---and it gained more strength each day as, together, we faced the on-going tribulations of the road nurse company's harsh regime. She and I each quickly developed our personal "tricks of the trade" for making our days more bearable, which we freely shared with each other in order to survive the brutal miles on the highway. And we soon met Geena-Lou, who had been hired as one of the LVN "work-horses" of the company, which is a common practice among large road nurse companies.
Geena-Lou was assigned to me and Belinda for the performance of the daily "routine" visits of the patient caseloads which Belinda and I would set up. And let me tell you, Geena-Lou's lot was far worse than ours---because the company treated LVN's no better than plow-mules, forcing them to do the dirtiest and most undesirable tasks. And not only that, but the LVN's were routinely given at least a third more visits per day than the RN's were given--- even though they were paid far less.
I guess the first time I realized what a terrible toll our life-sapping jobs were taking on our families was one day in Walmart when several of us were hosting a Blood Pressure Clinic. To my utter mortification, I witnessed a searing scene whereby Belinda's mother-in-law had brought Belinda's 4-year-old child to "visit" her at the Clinic's booth in order to give the two a few minutes together---since it was the only time in the day that the two would be able to see each other since Belinda always got home in the evenings after her child was in bed.
The mother-in-law allowed the child to visit with Belinda for only a few minutes before taking her away lest Belinda get in trouble with our supervisor for not paying attention to her Clinic duties. But to my horror, when the mother-in-law began dragging Belinda's child away, the child child began wailing hysterically, screaming: "Mommy, Mommy! Why can't I be with you? PLEASE MOMMY!--I WANT YOU! I WANT YOU!"
God, it was awful! I glanced at at Belinda and saw that she was bawling, too. But she quickly brushed her tears away quickly before our supervisor saw them. We had to tend to the lines of patients waiting for their blood pressures to be checked...
The most heinous duty the company required was to force an RN to take turns doing a week of "on-call", every three or four weeks, along with one of the LVN's--- whereby we'd perform any "after hours" visits at night and on the weekends. This meant that you literally worked for two weeks without any sort of break, frequently working half the night as well as the days, with all of the added paperwork those visits generated. But we rarely noticed the difference---because even on our weekends when we were supposedly not "on-call", we still had to take home reams of our regular paperwork which was due on a daily basis.
Thus, most of us rarely had a day off.
I noted on one three-month period where I only had 5 days off total for the entire 90-day period.
Some nights, Belinda would call me in tears and swear that she couldn't "make it to work" the next morning. "Yes you can," I'd tell her--although I was thinking the same exact same thing in my own head. "You have to make it, Belinda! Because you know dang well that if you call in sick you'll get an "occurrence" which will count against your pay raise next year. And also, you'll have to do double work the next day to make up the work that you didn't do on the day you were sick."
"So pull it together, Belinda! You can do it..."
And sometimes, it was me calling Belinda in tears. And then it was she who gave the words of encouragement and hope. Or else it was Geena-Lou calling in desperation. But no matter who it was calling, we each tried to give each other the right words which could somehow help the person who was falling down the necessary strength in order to pull herself back up to her feet and keep on trudging onwards...
It was Geena-Lou who broke first...
One morning an exhausted Geena-Lou, whose desk was next to mine in the nurse room, suddenly got a strange look in her eye---and her knees buckled. She made a strange, strangled type of sound---and then she sank down into her chair, sweeping all the papers and folders off of her desk in one wild movement. She threw her head into her arms and began crying uncontrollably in such a forlorn and defeated sobbing that it practically broke my heart to hear it. Belinda was nearby and I could see that she had gone pale in shock.
God, I can still remember that scene just like it was yesterday---Geena-Lou sobbing the following words:
"I just cain't go on! Oh Lord save me but I ain't had any lunch in a week--- and my children ain't got no clean clothes! God, I'm just so dang tired that I want to DIE! And I'll just NEVER EVER EVER get ALL THESE PATIENT VISITS done today! I just cain't--I just cain't get 'em done I tell you!"
Mortified, I looked over at our stoic supervisor who was standing nearby. She was standing there, wordlessly watching Geena-Lou cry while the rest of the occupants of the room fell progressively more silent and stricken. Both Belinda and I stood perfectly still in dread and an anticipatory silence, waiting--- hopefully?--- for the supervisor to speak up and offer to do something for Geena-Lou by suggesting a remedy to lighten her load somehow. But the stone-faced supervisor just stared hard at Geena-Lou's heaving shoulders with a steely gaze on her stern face. And it became plainly evident that she had absolutely no intention of remedying the situation. She obviously had no sympathy for the tragic Geena-Lou---and it was becoming rapidly clear that she wanted this situation to end. I feared in my heart that Geena-Lou would be unable to collect herself in order to work that day ---and it was pay day, and I knew Geena-Lou's family needed every cent of their money....
And I knew what I had to do. I broke free from my moment of shock and spoke.
"Dry those tears, Geena-Lou honey," I stated evenly. "I'll take two of your patient visits off your hands."
And then Belinda spoke, too.
"I'll take two also..."
And then the supervisor spoke.
"I don't give a shit WHO takes the visits. Just get yourselves together and get the hell on the road."
Belinda went over to the sobbing Geena-Lou and began stroking her hair, comforting her in a low murmur.
Geena-Lou looked up at us with a tear-streaked face and tried to voice her thanks in between sobs. "Thh....thh...thanks, you guys," she managed, trying to gather her folders. "But how are you guys gonna do my visits... AND yours???" Her sorrowful and exhausted face hardened my growing resolve--- and in answer to her question, I reached over to her stack of patient folders, taking four of them, then handing two to Belinda.
Belinda took the folders, looked at me calmly, and then asked with the most glorious smile I've ever seen on her face: "So, Bo baby... fake it or play it?---What's your pleasure?"
"We'll play it," I replied, matching her smile. "I'll take the north visits and you take the south."
"But you know, Bo, some of these visits are blood draws..." Belinda warned, with just a hint of a twinkle in her eye. "And that means that we've got to hurry and get those bloods delivered to the labs in time for the results to be 'run' before the doctors' offices close for the day..."
"Right," I replied.
And then... I looked the horrid supervisor right in her eyeballs, tossed Belinda an extra box of butterfly needles, and declared:
"Lock and load..."
And we got those damn visits done---and done on time, although I do think that the Lord just might have given us a little added help by sending a couple of his Road Nurse Guardian Angels to fly with us that day. I definitely felt the wind of Their Graceful Wings shepherding us on a wing and prayer down that dang highway while sweeping away any earthly obstacles which impeded our mission. I have always believed that the special love of the friendships between God's Children is the most powerful force in the world---and it was definitely with us on that horrible day.
* * * *
Geena-Lou was the first to leave that that horrible company. She quit a couple of weeks after the above incident, stating that she just "couldn't take it anymore". It was then that Lu-Lu picked her up to go help her begin to build what is now our current branch office.
As for me, I lasted at that horrible pace for a few more months---until I relapsed back into my active alcoholism one day--- whereby I couldn't stop drinking straight vodka until they literally pried the bottle out of my tightly clenched hands and locked me up.
(Remember when I went to the looney bin? Belinda used to call me there, every day, while I was locked up on the psycho ward. She never deserted me, praying daily for my return to the Land Of Sober. )
And bless you all---my wonderful readers---because you, too, stuck by my side during that hidious episode---a precious gift for which I'll be eternally grateful. You have no idea how much that meant to me, and I mean that with all my heart.
And lastly, Belinda, bless her strong little heart, lasted for a few more months before she, too, left that company, broken and exhausted, having lost so much weight that she was barely a wisp in her size 2 uniforms.
(Remember me blogging about Belinda's last days with that company? And how that company had slashed their budget so much that they actually had the audacity to send out memorandums berating the employees for using "too much toilet paper in the bathroom" ?)
Anyway, that's how those companies make a profit---by treating employees like dogs. And neither Geena-Lou, me, or Belinda will ever forget those dark days. If you think slavery is a thing of the past, you haven't seen road nurse companies in small, Podunk towns.
And the above story is the reason why I always tell each young nurse around here that if, by chance, she finds herself at a company which---wonders of wonders---treats her with even a small degree of dignity and humane conditions---then that girl would be well wise to stick there.
Sigh....which is something that Lee-Lee is going to have to learn for herself, ya know? And Heaven knows, I wish her all the luck in the world.
Anyway, when the above two shocks---Jane-Anne's pregnancy and Lee-Lee's threatened resignation-- hit me last week week, I became pretty discouraged. And then when I got the flu, I REALLY got discouraged. And while I tossed and turned in my bed, I fretted and fretted---and no matter which way I twisted the facts around in my mind, I just couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel....
Because for certain, I am facing a tough road ahead with Jane-Anne's precarious health and her pregnancy. I'm fairly sure that with her brittle diabetic condition, her health will suffer--and maybe that of her baby's.
And she'll most likely miss a lot of work time. And although I'm worried about Jane-Anne and her baby's health, I'm also worried about the company. Because for sure, on-going sick-time by Jane-Anne will mean hard times for our tiny company because we simply don't have any nurses to spare, especially with losing Lee-Lee (with no other new prospect nurse on the horizon at this time.)
And there's always the other cloud hanging over my head---that I've somehow got to figure out a way to navigate this branch office through the rough times ahead---as well as meet the owners' expectations for gaining new patients and business for the company.
So in light of all this fretting, I finally decided to have a heart-to-talk talk with the Only One who CAN help in times like this....
Which is why, this morning, while on a long drive to see a patient on a distant ranch, I had myself a talk with the Man Upstairs--- which I am wont to do in times of trouble. Normally, I don't like to bother him with the little stuff. I figure that my "inner biker" can MORE than take care of the every-day crap. But in times of dire need, I get out the special "hotline"...
(It's kind of like that red phone that the Commissioner used to call Batman on, you remember? But mine looks more like a Nokia cell phone and is called "The God-Line"....)
(Okay, I was going to paint it gold or some other Heavenly color or something--- but I figure God doesn't care what color it is...)
(Its buttons are shaped like stars, and when I dial the Operator I get St. Peter, who usually puts me on hold for a minute or two.)
(One time I sassily informed St. Peter that I didn't appreciate being kept waiting on hold and he replied: "Listen, Bo, you think you've got troubles? I've got President Bush on Line 2 and he's bawling like a little girl...")
Anyhoo, when I finally got God on the line, I raised my voice in prayer. Which is a misleading expression--- because I don't mean that I poetically "raised my voice in prayer".
What I really mean is that I actually, physically, RAISED MY VOICE while I was praying--- if you catch my drift.
Because I will admit it, here and now, that I talk to The Lord in the exact same way that I talk to anybody else. There's none of that "Oh Holy Night" type murmurings that the nuns at my convent nursing school taught me. (You know, like "Ave Maria, help me and could ya please intervene for me with whichever Saints are available at this moment" type of stuff---nupe, I don't do that.)
And there's also none of that "Baptist Stuff" that I grew up listening to in Baptist Sunday School. (You know, like where the preacher prays stuff like: "Oh Lord, we beseech Thee to help us lowly sinners in our earthly despair' type of stuff ---nupe, I don't do that, either.)
People, when I pray, I wholeheartedly and unabashedly PRAY. So please forgive my... uh...praying style, because I usually use the "Bohemian Road Nurse's Prayer" in all its...uh...vehemence....
Which usually goes something like this:
Hey, Lord, it's me again. Are you listening? St. Peter put me on hold again, and I've been sitting here an hour.
Anyway, Lord, and DAMMIT, but I'm in some deep dukey down here!---the kind of stuff You call TRIBULATIONS! And don't go telling me some platitude like 'You help those who help themselves', okay, Sir? Because believe me---I've helped my own dang self PLENTY, and this time I need something more....
And remember---You told me in Your very own words---yes you did, right there in the Bible--- that You would NOT load me down with any more "burdens" than I could bear, remember? It's written right there smack dab in the Bible in the Book of Psalms, I think---or else Deuteronomy or somewheres, I forget exactly where. Anyway....
And usually right about here, I'll pause just to let The Lord consider my rants and...uh requests. And then, while He's still pondering, I'll hit Him with the point of the whole prayer....
So Lord, like I said, I NEED SOME DANG HELP down here! And this time, Lord, it ain't just ME that's needing the help---it's the whole dang company, You get it? We all need help---the patients, my co-workers, Jane-Anne, her baby, our families, the company owners, EVERYBODY! Dadburn it, Lord, we need some of Your good ole MIRACLES, ya know?!
And then right about here I'll usually pause and listen---just in case The Lord is arguing with me or else leveling some bargaining terms at me.
(Yes, I've been known to argue...uh, I mean debate... with The Lord....)
What's that, You say, Sir? "You'll provide"? Well I appreciate that, Sir, I really do. That's fine and dandy. But I need it in a hurry---an all-fired hurry, okay? Anyhoo, I'll be waiting to see what You provide. Until then, this is Bo signing out, over and out...er..Nanu-Nanu or whatever...later 'tater....
And after I prayed, I did what I always do after praying...
Which is hope like hell that the Lord doesn't strike me down with a lightening bolt for my sassiness.... and then I go to Bubba's Jif-E-Mart and buy myself a Banana Moon Pie and a Diet Sprite.
And then I check the animals for the weather forecast.
Uh oh, the cows are laying down again---looks like rain again. I knew the good weather was too good to last.