Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who Ya Gonna Call?---Part Three

It's really great for me to be here,
I've won over the pain and the fear,
It's been so very hard through the years,
Been looking through a rainbow of tears,
And still I never really let go of the dream....
("The Dream", Irene Cara)


Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble deep,
Papa don't preach, I've been losing sleep,
("Papa Don't Preach", Madonna)


That second year of nursing school at Shadyside seemed to last forever.

And despite the grueling pace, the mountains of work, and the endless parade of patients we cared for in the hospital, Marla and Cindy and I grew as close as sisters. Or perhaps more like comrades in arms, because it truly seemed like a battle to keep our wits about us as we navigated the never-ending pitfalls which could derail a girl under the tortuous and rocky road of a student nurse.

With each passing week, the nuns seemed to delight in seeing just how far they could push us ever closer towards the precipe of insanity. More girls (and even a couple of the precious few male students) dropped out of the program, and we'd see them sadly packing their belongings, leaving behind empty dorm rooms and empty seats in the classroom--- cruel reminders of what could happen to any of us if we did not study and work as hard as the nuns demanded.

We had started out with 64 students and by the middle of the second year there were only 40 of us left.

I never knew whether to pity or envy the students who left.

By this time I was so numb with the pain of this difficult program that I finally got to a point where I was mostly on a sort of dead-eyed auto-pilot. My routine was simple. I got up at 4 am to study, at 8 am I went to class or hospital clinicals until 3:30 pm, at which time I rushed back to the dorm to change out of my uniform and into scrubs. Then I worked as a nursing assistant on the cardiac ward until 9:30 pm. After that I would return to my dorm room where I'd sit at my desk and study until exhaustion caused me to fall asleep at my desk or stagger into my bed.

In class, I feverishly scribbled down every utterance of the instructors---in fact, I wrote such copious notes that Marla and Cindy begged to copy them for use as their own study guides. And I worked the hospital's wards like a driven demon, making patients' beds so tight you could bounce a quarter off them, bathing patients, doling out patients' meds, and learning how to professionally document my work in the patients' charts. Some days I was so tired that I performed my duties with about as much enthusiasm as the walking dead.

Many times when I approached a patient's bedside to perform some nursing function, I had the insane urge to say: "Move over, honey---I don't feel well myself...."

But somehow I was able to go on.

I hated my part-time job as a nursing assistant on the cardiac ward. Not because I hated doing nursing work---but because the nurses there treated me like a yard dog. They considered nursing students little better than the scum of the earth and they never allowed me to do anything interesting---nay, they delighted in giving me the nastiest, most dirtiest of jobs--- the stuff they didn't want to do.

And do them I did. For instance, I was assigned to perform all the day's groin shave preps for patients undergoing cardiac catheterizations the next day. This was no problem to me with the female patients, but it was absolute hell for me to shave male groins. I was so young, shy, and horribly naive about the male sex that I never seemed to be able to perform that task without much awkward fumbling with the "anatomy", all while stuttering and blushing furiously.

Most of the men I shaved were just as embarrassed as I was and simply laid there, stiffly, in silence, glad when it was over. But, unfortunately, some men were ill-mannered and lewd, and those creeps seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in making the experience as mortifyingly unpleasant for me as they could, taking some sort of perverted pleasure in my discomfort.

Some days all I did was empty and rinse out bedpans. Every commode was equipped with a forceful water faucet so that after you dumped the contents of the bedpan into the bowl, you could then turn on that faucet to jet-rinse out any stubborn bits of poop, pee, or blood left in the bedpan. But the strength of the water jets were so strong that it always caused water to be splashed out onto me-- which meant that the front of my scrubs usually always exhibited damp splash marks colored with poop, pee, or blood residue....

The only task on that ward that I enjoyed was handing out the patients' evening snacks. I'd roll my little snack cart around and chat with the patients while serving them pudding, jello, or cheese and crackers. This was my last job of the evening and so I could actually relax a little, taking time to piddle around trying to find the best snacks to load my snack cart with. And while I was handing them out to the patients I could sit down and chat for a few minutes.

Now don't get me wrong--- as mean as many of those nurses were to me, I was no angel on that ward. Having to endure so many hours of the hateful attitudes of the "real" nurses towards my lowly student-nurse status frequently caused the rebel in me to emerge.

My favorite trick was to "disappear" into the bowels of the hospital for awhile (usually to flirt with a certain handsome young respiratory therapist), emerging later looking frazzled, my scrubs splashed with water, with the excuse that I had been "bathing a patient" or emptying more bedpans. Some nurses fell for it, but a few of them did not and would sneak around trying to catch me in some delinquent pursuit.

The Charge Nurse once caught me hiding behind a curtain in an empty patient room, lounging comfortably on the empty patient bed with my feet up and the TV on--- and I was singing my lungs out along with Irene Cara's character in the hilariously funny movie "DC Cab".

(I don't think she would have been near as mad at me if I hadn't also had my mouth full of chocolate cake which I'd filched off the snack cart...)

As a matter of fact, I watched quite a few good movies while hiding in empty patient rooms. In addition to "DC Cab" I was able to catch "Car Wash", "Aliens", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", and "Peggy Sue Got Married".

Where was I?

Oh yeah, I was the cardiac ward nurses' whipping post.....

Another time the Charge Nurse became absolutely livid with me because when I answered a patient's call bell who wanted her bedside table cranked down to a lower level, I carelessly cranked the table down smack onto the side rail, completely snapping in half the patient's groinal arterial blood line tubing--- which had been draped over that rail and was connected to a bedside "transducer", a mechanical device which provided a constant reading of the patient's arterial blood pressure.

The patient's arterial blood then began running out of the snapped tubing, down the bed rails and onto the floor--- causing the arterial line's alarm to begin blaring at the nurses' station--- which then alerted all the nurses, one of whom made a mad dash into the room to close off the clamp on the art line to stop the flow of the patient's blood!

God, I thought that Charge Nurse would bust a gasket!!

And for once, I refrained from my usual sarcastic comment of "It could happen to anybody!" No...not this time. I was thoroughly pissed off at myself for such a stupid blunder.

"Goddamm you!" she screamed (right in front of the patient), "Can't you do anything right? Now I've got to call Dr. Cunningham to come in here at 9 o'clock at night so he can put in another art line--- and there'll be hell to pay!! Get your ass back onto the ward and do my 9 pm blood sugars since I'll be in here for the next two hours!"

It was then that I swore to high heaven that I would NEVER, EVER treat a nursing assistant or rookie nurse in a manner like that of this Charge Nurse.

And I have kept that vow throughout my 22 years as an RN....

One of my other duties was to bring the oxygen tank whenever there was a Code Blue-- when a patient had gone into cardiac or respiratory arrest. Whenever I heard the dreaded Code Blue announcement go out over the hospital's PA system, I would listen to see if it was in a room on the ward I was working, and if it was I'd run grab the portable oxygen tank and madly roll it as fast as I could to the particular room.

I'd watch the Code Blue team attempt to resuscitate the patient, heroically working quickly and methodically in the complicated and difficult ballet of the desperate, last-ditch algorithms of procedures designed to bring a hapless patient back from the brink of death. I would watch wide-eyed and breathlessly from the sidelines as they desparately pushed in the lifesaving drugs or shocked the patient with the defibrillator. I admired their skills and abilities, and wished earnestly that I could someday be that skilled...

But for then I was just the lowly student nurse...

But despite all the slave labor "dirt work" I endured as a nursing student, I gritted my teeth and vowed on a daily basis that I would graduate from Shadyside with top grades so that I, too, could become an RN and go to work in the "critical care" arena--- like in an Emergency Room or an ICU.

I wanted to be one of the "glory girls" on a Code Blue Team---and I wanted it badly.

It was on that ward that I heard more rumors about the "ghost of the fifth floor of the nursing school".

It was one night when I was catching a short break in the nurse's lounge. Several of the ward's nurses were in there resting their sore feet, propping them up on chairs. I was in there in an attempt to grab a few minutes to study for an anatomy test the next day. One of the nicer nurses asked me how I was doing and I told her that I felt like my head was going to explode from all the knowledge I was trying to cram into it.

She, too, had graduated from Shadyside. And so I asked her.

I asked her if she'd ever heard of the "ghost of the fifth floor".

"Of course," she replied. "Everybody knows about the ghost. And it's not just on the fifth floor of the nursing school, either."

"Well....what's the story?" I pressed.

"They say it's the ghost of a nurse who once taught at the nursing school," she said. "A nurse from a long time ago---in the really olden days. And she lived in an apartment on the fifth floor of the nursing school. But after she died that apartment was turned into what is now the student nurses' "Skills Lab". Before she was a nursing school instructor she worked as a night nurse on the 4th floor in the main building of the hospital--the Med/Surg Ward. And it was after she died that strange things began happening on the fifth floor of the nursing school--- and also on the hospital's fourth floor."

"Really?" I said, pondering this information. And so I told her some of the things that had been happening in the nursing school---the noises coming from the fifth floor that could not be explained, the strange things happening like furniture moving or faucets turned on in the instructors' offices on that floor, and the fact that 2 girls had left the school that year because they were so frightened of the "ghost" noises they were hearing above them on their ceilings.

"It's the same stuff that happened when I lived in the dorm," the nurse continued. "But do you also know about the stuff that happens on the 4th floor of the hospital?"

I said I didn't and so she explained. And as she told me the stories, the hair began standing up on the back of my neck.

"It always happens on the fourth floor--the Med/Surg floor-- the floor where that nurse used to work before she became a nursing school instructor," she said. "On that floor the night nurses have to get surgical patients ready for their surgeries in the morning. The nurses have to bathe the patient, remove all jewelry, remove fingernail polish, remove their underwear, and put a gown on them. That way, the patient is ready and day shift can send them to surgery without delay."

"Yes--go on?" I pleaded, urging her to continue, hoping against hope that nothing would interrupt the nurse from telling me the story.

"Anyway," she continued, "Once in awhile, around 3 or 4 am, the night shift nurse will come to the patient's room to get the patient ready for the morning surgery. But the patient will already be ready for surgery! Bathed, gowned, jewelry and fingernail polish removed---and it confuses the hell out of the night nurse because she knows she didn't do it. And so then she'll ask all the other nurses if they did it--- but all of them deny doing it!"

"Well who did it, then?" I asked in shock, knowing the answer before she told me.

"Well....." the nurse said, smiling a little at my fright, "The night nurse would then go back and ask the patient who it was that got them ready for surgery. And the patient would always say something like 'it was that old-fashioned nurse---you know, the one in the really long nurse dress and the funny starched cap--- and she was wearing really clunky oxford-type shoes'...."

"GET OUT OF TOWN!" I exclaimed. "You're lying like a big dog!"

"No I am not," the nurse stated simply. "Ask anybody. And especially ask any nurse who works on the fourth floor."

"You're just joshing me because I'm a lowly nursing student!"
I accused.

"Nope," the nurse said. "Like I told you, you can ask anybody."

And I vowed that I jolly well WOULD ask around. I wanted to get to the bottom of this, oh yeah, I was going to find somebody to tell me the truth, once and for all.

So after I left my duties that night, I went to the fourth floor and asked three nurses there. After laughing in disdain at the "stupid rookie", they all backed up the story. They acted like I was some kind of idiot for doubting the tales. Apparently it was such a well-known enigma that nobody ever bothered to worry about it anymore.

"Oh hell," one of them said, "That ghost nurse gets patients ready for surgery so efficiently that whenever us nurses complain to the doctors that we're busy, they'll say something like 'Well, if you're that busy then get the goddamn ghost nurse to help you'!"

"And not only that," another nurse stated. "But there's been a couple times where a patient's call bell went off--- and when the nurse went to see what they wanted, the patient was unconscious and in respiratory or cardiac distress--- near death! And the nurse was able to call a Code Blue and revive the patient, saving their life. But the patient had been unconscious and so couldn't have been the one who had pushed the call bell! So it had to be the the ghost nurse who had done it!"

Still worried that the nurses were telling tall tales to a rookie, I promised myself that I'd find somebody who I knew would NEVER lie to me--and so I decided to ask one of the no-nonsense nursing school instructors whenever I had time.

Meanwhile, Marla, Cindy and me plugged onwards as best as we could, becoming the best of friends throughout all the blood, sweat and tears of our brutally rigorous workload, struggling to perform the best as we possibly could---and never losing sight of our distant dream of someday becoming RN's.

And then there was the problem of Cindy...

Cindy was in deep, deep trouble.

As I wrote in the previous chapter, a regrettable thing happened when Cindy naively, and stupidly, allowed herself to be seduced by a lewd hospital maintenance worker--- and had become pregnant as a result.

And Marla and I, for the life of us, simply COULD NOT figure out what to do about it! For days after Cindy tearfully told us the whole thing, we burned our brain cells out attempting to come up with a solution---all while Cindy cried hysterically in her dorm room, desperately frightened that somebody besides me and Marla would find out about the whole thing.

But no matter which way we looked at it, we knew that the only solution was that Cindy would have to drop out of school to have the baby.

Which meant that she'd never become an RN....

Shadyside was such a difficult 24-hour a day program that it was highly unlikely that Cindy could handle being a single mother while attending nursing school. And her parents were sure to disown her for becoming pregnant anyway, as it was a well-known fact that Cindy's home life was very abusive and neglectful.

And then something happened which I could never in all my born days have foreseen---something which would forever challenge my feelings about the nuns---and Catholicism in general....

I was summoned to Mother Superior's office.

Oh hell's bells, I thought to myself disgustedly. What in the damn tarnation had I done now?

So, still dressed in my nursing uniform from taking care of patients on the orthopedic ward all day, I made my way to her office on the fifth floor. I knew I looked a bedraggled and pitiful sight---a patient had puked on me, I had spilled sombody's poop on one of my shoes while emptying a bedpan, and I had a smear of somebody else's blood on one of my sleeves.

I knocked on the huge oak doors of her office and heard Mother Superior holler "Come!"

Dammit---she sounded like she was in an even worse humor than usual......

But as I entered her office, I was startled to see Cindy standing there, flanked by Mother Superior and her next-in-command cohort, Sister Kathleen, whom I disliked heartily.

Sister Kathleen had never smiled a day in her life and had repeatedly informed me that I would most likely "end up in hellfire and damnation for my wicked foolishness".

All three of them stared at me, somber and unblinking--- and I noticed that Cindy's eyes were red and swollen from crying, a number of crumpled Kleenexes clutched in her little hands.

"Whatever it is, I didn't do it," I remarked sarcastically, yet unsuccessful in my attempt to look nonchalant and unafraid.

"Close the door, Bo," Mother Superior said. "And sit down, both of you."

So Cindy and I sat down. I searched all three faces for clues as to what in the Sam Hill this was all about.

"As you know," Mother Superior announced, "Cindy is pregnant."


For once in my life I was speechless--- and I could see that this pleased Sister Kathleen. For she knew that this was the one situation for which I had no sassy retort or sardonic quip.

Nobody spoke for a minute. But I felt both the nuns' gaze---it was almost as if they were assessing me, guaging my possible reaction to whatever doom they were going to pronounce. Confusion spread throughout my brain and I almost began to cry myself.

And then Cindy dropped the bomb. Weeping pitifully, she blurted out a statement which would haunt me for many years to come......

"I'm going to have an abortion!" she blubbered, tears streaming out of her swollen eyes.

My jaw dropped.

I was aghast.

"And the nuns are going to pay for it!" Cindy added, a stray bit of snot dripping down out of one of her nostrils, which she dabbed with a Kleenex.

I was shocked to my very core. The room began spinning and I felt as if the whole scene was surreal. I fleetingly wondered if I was still asleep and was experiencing a horrible nightmare.

"An abor.....abortion?" I squeaked. "Cindy....for God's sakes, are you sure that's what you want to do? And what the hell do you mean that the nuns are going to pay for it?"

"It's true, Bo," Sister Kathleen said solemly. "Cindy has made her choice. And we are going to loan her the money for it. She will pay it back after she graduates and starts working as a nurse. And nobody is to ever, EVER, know of this---EVER! Do you hear me? We are counting on you to keep silent."

"Keep silent?" I replied incredulously. "Do you even have to ask? Good God, of course I'll keep silent!"

I still felt dumbstruck and sat there a minute more....and then it smacked my brain hard, like a wooden 2 x 4....

"Hey!?" I cried, "I thought you Catholics were against abortion! Hell, even non-Catholics are against abortion! I'm a Baptist and we're against abortion! So why would you, of all people, condone this? And what's worse---why would pay for it? I mean, it's one thing that you paid the money to keep my car from being re-possessed by the Repo-Man---but now you're going to pay for an abortion???"

At this, Mother Superior suddenly slumped, lowering her head as if the problems of the world were weighing upon her shoulders.

And then she sighed heavily....and spoke.

"Listen Bo," she began gently. "Cindy is only 18 years old. If she has this baby she will never be able to graduate from nursing school. And then what will she do to support herself and a baby without any job skills? Work at Burger King for minimum wage? And her parents, if they don't disown her entirely, probably won't give her an ounce of help--- especially once they find out that the father is a married janitor. And even if they did try to help her, they are poor and can barely support themselves! In fact, it is Cindy's great aunt who is funding her tuition to attend Shadyside---because this is her one and only chance at making something of herself. Becoming an RN will mean job security and decent wages for the rest of her life. This is her only alternative. And you are her best friend...."

At this Mother Superior paused before going on. And then she continued...

"And thus, Bo, you you are going to help her in this."

"Help her?" I stuttered, trying to come to grips with the situation. And then a dark dread began spreading through my very being.....

"Uh...what do you mean 'help' her?" I asked stupidly, in a stunned whisper, a vague suspicion creeping into my thoughts.

And then all three, Mother Superior, Sister Kathleen, and Cindy looked hard at me--and then Mother Superior listed my dreadful instructions.

"You are the one who is going to take her to the abortion clinic."

"On no I'm not!" I exclaimed quickly. "No-siree-Bob. I'm not taking ANYBODY to a damn abortion clinic, you got that? What the hell are you thinking?"

Suddenly Mother Superior gathered herself up to her full height, her stern face darkening in an ugly anger, her eyes boring into mine like fiery daggers--- and she pointed an accusatory finger at my stricken face--- and explained just EXACTLY what I was going to have to do...

And she laid it on the line in crisp, clipped sentences. And all I could do was stand there and listen in pale mortification at what the awful task was going to entail.....

"You know perfectly well that there are daily picket lines of anti-abortion protesters in front of the Pittsburgh abortion clinic," she began. "It's in the news all the time. They actively attempt to bodily prevent people from entering the clinic. I've heard they even commit what could be considered actual assault on the patrons of the clinic."

And then Sister Kathleen piped in.

"Cindy will never make it on her own---she is much too timid and chicken-hearted to endure such a struggle and would never make it through the picket line."

"And so it is up to you to get her through that picket line," Mother Superior added. "You, Bo, must help her cross the picketers and get into that clinic."

I was horrified.

Because I had seen the news. I knew what happened at that clinic. And I knew exactly what horrid experience Cindy and I were both in for if we did this.

Because in those days there were no laws prohibiting throngs of anti-abortion protesters from standing in extremely close proximity to the clinics' front walkways. There was no prohibition of them from getting so close that they could even stand in formation right on the clinics' front lawns, walkways, or parking lots. They could also line up and flank the street-curbs and sidewalks in front of the clinics' doors-- sometimes even forming blockades right up to the clinics' veritable doorsteps. As of yet, there was no federal law declaring it illegal for anti-abortionists to actively prevent patients from entering such clinics.

Anti-abortion protesters could picket and protest wherever they wanted, and their tactics included linking arms to block the clinic's door, verbally harassing anybody trying to break through the lines, and forcing anybody trying to get into the clinic to look at morbid and frightening posters on which were nightmarish pictures of aborted fetuses. I'd even seen news stories of hundreds of abortion protesters lying down on the ground in front of such clinics, laying on the ground in fetal positions in an attempt to "portray" unborn babies in the womb.

And the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh was no different. In fact, the protesters which picketed this clinic were a particularly vicious and violent group. They would scream hideous accusations at anybody trying to gain entry into the clinic. And some of their shocking behaviors included thrusting jars inside of which dead fetuses were preserved in formaldehyde right into the faces of anybody trying to gain entrance to the clinic, forcing them to look at the jar's contents, as well as forcing them also to look at poster pictures of fetuses which had been aborted, piece by horrifying piece.

The placards they carried warned of God's hatred toward anybody who underwent an abortion. And they were so efficient at blocking the way into the clinic's door that many prospective patients literally had to battle their way through the screaming mob.

I'd even heard of stories where the police had been called out to stop the protesters from preventing clinic patrons from entering the premises---whereby the police had found it necessary to bodily escort the patrons safely through the mobs and into the clinic door. And I'd also heard that some of these episodes had degenerated into completely violent and chaotic melees, with some protesters getting arrested by the police.

It would be a nightmare even for the bravest of heart.

"No way, Jose!" I hollered rudely at Mother Superior. "What you need is a 6-foot tall football linebacker to get her into there! There is no way in hell that I'm going to go through that mess! And you can't make me!"

"Please, Bo!" Cindy pleaded pitifully. "I'm so scared! And I know I can't do it by myself! And you're so strong, Bo! PLEASE TAKE ME, BO!"

And then, for the first and only time I ever heard it, the usually subdued Mother Superior raised her voice and actually shouted at me.

"You most certainly WILL do it Bo!" she screamed. "You WILL take her, do you hear me? You will get her in there--and you will wait for it to be done---and then you will bring her back out!"

"Why ME?" I screamed right back in righteous indignation. "I'm frightened to death of crowds! Why does it have to be me?"

"Because you're her friend---and, also because you're probably the only one in this whole school who has the stubborn will and personal grit to do it! You MUST do it!" she beseeched. "You are going to get her through that wall of protesters and that's FINAL!"

At this, Sister Kathleen took up the baton.

"You're tough, Bo. You've always been tough. And you're Cindy's best friend. We know that you can do this, Bo. And do it you MUST, for Cindy's sake! You're going to get her into that clinic. Have we made ourselves clear?"

And then I threw my last verbal salvo. "I don't think my parents would approve of this whole deal!"

"YOUR PARENTS ARE IN BRAZIL!!" Mother Superior thundered.

And that statement silenced my protests. Because as I stood there, my eyeballs bugged open as wide as a gigged frog's, I realized that I had no further defenses against the two old nuns. They had beaten me...as they always had.

"WE are your parents here," she stated flatly. "And we have endured all your ridiculous shenanigans for a year and a half---and so it's high time for you to grow up and rise to your responsibilities--- and repay us for all that foolishness."

"You will take her tomorrow morning, before any of the other students get out of bed," Sister Kathleen stated. "The arrangements have already been made."

Your parents are in Brazil....

* * * * * * * * * * *

And in the end, I did it.

I slept fitfully the night before, dreaming of Cindy, Mother Superior, and Sister Kathleen all screaming at me in that dreadful office. I dreamed of every frightening thing I had ever heard of about abortions. I dreamed of screaming babies. And I dreamed of all the horrid things I had heard that anti-protesters did on picket lines.

Your parents are in Brazil....

The next morning dawned a sad dull grey. Cindy was waiting for me when I knocked lightly on her door. She and I had both been officially listed on "sick call" by the housemother in order to quell any questions from other students, and we hastily sneaked out of the building, the Housemother letting us out through a little-used side door, a baleful expression on her face.

But of course my other friend Marla knew....we were a threesome and knew each other's every secret. I knew Marla would worry all day until Cindy and I returned from our awful mission. During the night she had slipped a note under my door that read simply: "Lock and Load...."

To this day I get tears in my eyes when I remember that godforsaken day.....

Sister Kathleen drove us to the abortion clinic, parking across the street, away from that thing which we were afraid of---the large group of protesters. Because even though it was very early in the morning, we saw that the protesters were out in force. It was a horrifying spectacle.

Wordlessly, Cindy and I got out of the car and stood still for a moment, trying to gather our wits about us. And then I steeled myself---and grabbed Cindy's arm--- and I walked us across the street, two frightened young girls about to try and enter an abortion clinic....

Sure enough, the protesters swarmed upon us like a pack of rabid beasts, quickly surrounding us and stopping us dead in our tracks. As I grasped Cindy's arm even tighter, the protesters linked arms and blocked our way to the clinic's door while chanting and screaming their virulently horrible messages....

one lady screeched.

a man hollered.

"THE BABY WILL BE ALIVE AS IT IS TORN OUT OF THE WOMB, YOU MURDERER!" another man screamed right into Cindy's left ear.

Cindy began crying hard and I felt panic rising in my throat. "Come on, Cindy!" I hollered, trying to sound confident. "We can get through these assholes!"

Suddenly, a protester shoved a placard in front of Cindy's face. Enblazoned upon it was a picture of multiple bloody, dead fetuses lying in a metal trash bin.

"Oh my God! Oh my God!" Cindy screamed, now sobbing hysterically.

Suddenly, an enraged priest burst through the throngs to stand directly in front of me. He rudely thrust a large Crucifix into my face, flattening my nose with it, and started blasting me with Bible quotes...


Your parents are in Brazil....

Cindy began bawling so hard she could hardly breathe as the protesters stepped up their shouting---and now they were physically pushing us backwards, pushing us away from the clinic door, which looked like it was miles away. It was clear that these rage-filled protesters had no intention of allowing us entry into the clinic. I glanced behind us and noticed that Sister Kathleen was sitting, motionless, in her car--and her eyes were boring laser-like holes into mine.

And then I got angry.

Really angry.

And I realized that, right or wrong, these damn protesters were assaulting us! And they were preventing Cindy from her civil right of entering any damn clinic she wanted to.

And then I felt a surge of strength begin racing through my veins--and I decided right then and there that, by God, if I died trying, I was going to get Cindy through this wall of screaming lunatics if it was the last damn thing I ever did in my life!

I yelled at the priest, who was still rubbing that Crucifix in my face. "Get the FUCK out of my way, Father!"

And with with my free hand I shoved him as hard as I could in his chest and out of my way---and thus was able to drag Cindy a few inches further.

And so I began punching and shoving and kicking at the protesters---which surprised them---and I began screaming right back at them in their faces while literally dragging the bawling Cindy behind me, inch by inch, one step at a time, through their masses. There must have been 50 of them against us two small girls.

Cindy was bawling out-of-control by now, and the protesters were screaming even more violently---but I screamed blatant cuss-words right back at them. I put my free arm out in front of me like a football player would do to force his way through an opposing team towards the field goal posts, forcefully pushing people out of my way. And I began a mad dance of kicking out with one leg and then the other, literally kicking people out of my way. And each time I punched, shoved, or kicked one of them out of my way, I gained a few more inches through the crowd.

One protester tried to separate us by grabbing Cindy's other arm and pulling on it--- and I wheeled around and slapped that person right upside their head, causing the person to drop Cindy's arm like a hot potato.

"Do that again and I'll SNATCH YOU BALD!"
I warned, jerking Cindy away.

And I kept on fighting our way through the crowd.

Finally, we had made our way to within inches of the clinic's door. For some reason I glanced back. And my last view of Sister Kathleen was of her still sitting in the car....

She was holding her face in her hands.

And I knew that she was crying too......

After madly forcing our way through the linked arms of two protesters, I was able to punch our way through the last few inches to the clinic door, whereupon it was swiftly opened by a waiting clinic staffer. And then two other clinic staffers reached out and bodily pulled both Cindy and I over the door's threshold and into the clinic. The door was then quickly locked behind us---and Cindy and I stopped and stood still to rest, sweat pouring down our brows, bruises on our arms, breathing heavy.....

But we'd made it.

* * * * * * * * * *

That night I laid in my bed crying hard. And I cried until I didn't have any tears left in me to cry.

Your parents are in Brazil....

I cried for Cindy and the awful choice she had made.

I cried for Mother Superior---and the awful choice she had made.

I cried for Sister Kathleen---because I had finally seen the chink in her impenetrable armor.

I cried for the three of us best friends---Marla, Cindy and me---because I knew in my heart that the three of us would never, ever be the same again.

I cried for myself, for having to go through the frightening, traumatic experience of dragging Cindy through that angry mob.

And I cried because I didn't have anybody to cry to---because, as Mother Superior had so bluntly stated, my parents were in Brazil.

But most of all....

I cried for the precious little baby....

* * * * * * * * * * *

That night, I heard chairs scraping the ceiling above my room....

And for the first time I admitted to myself that what I was hearing wasn't simply "bad acoustics" from the student dorm room below me.

I knew it was the chem lab's stools moving around on the floor above me.

And I knew that whatever (or whoever) was moving them was not human....

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Psalm 127:3).





Friday, June 26, 2009

President Bush and My Baby Sis.....


* See? I don't think her forehead is shiny at all. My sister is a very pretty girl--- and charming to boot. The other people at the event said that the President seemed very taken with her!

Apparently, they all had a very good time over lunch. Everybody said that President Bush is a fun guy to hang out with! The President's Secret Service guys were even flirting with my sister and her BFF! (But alas, my sister is "taken". She dates a millionaire who owns a trucking company---a guy I have worshiped ever since he bought me a stereo system for my Jeep.)

And a good time was had by all!

Anyhoo, Blaine and I are going down to Texas next week for a vacation at my mother's house. And, in honor of the occasion, my mother is throwing a huge, Texas-style BBQ.

For the BBQ, Blaine offered to contribute some of his famous marinated pork-tenderloin kabobs, which are eaten with tomato/onion relish and pita bread. My mother said that would be a great idea. But idgity, die-hard New Yorker Blaine just HAD to ask skeptically: "But can you get decent pita bread in Texas? Maybe I should bring pita bread, too. I hear you can't get decent pita bread in Texas..."

I told him "For God's sakes, Blaine. I'm sure they have decent pita bread in Texas. It's not like we're going to dadgum Alaska!"

To which Blaine responded: "We had better take some, just to be sure...."

So I guess we'll be traipsing down to good ole Texas with a cooler full of pita bread. (Yippee-yi-ki-yay!)



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

OK, Now I've GOT To See If Her Forehead Truly Was Shiny?....


OMG, but my little sister (in Dallas) just met former President George W. Bush --- and she shook his hand and chatted with him!

She says he's "very warm, personable, and nice" --- and that he said he likes her "good Irish name"--- and the whole thing was photographed. (Yes, I've already asked for a copy of the pictures.)

But now she says "she wishes her forehead hadn't been shiny".....but I don't know what she's complaining about because my sister always looks "perfect".



Monday, June 22, 2009

Bo's Cat Cam---6/22/09, 1:30 PM


"You can jolly well pout all you want to--- but it's not my damn fault that Blaine accidentally bought Little Friskies instead of 9 Lives!"



Friday, June 19, 2009

The View....From the Couch....


aaargh....it's not a good day.

The back pain is so bad that I couldn't get off the living room couch--- unless I absolutely had to because the phone rang, I had to go to the bathroom, or some such.

The pain is so bad that I could use some pain medication--- but I ran out of the small amount the Emergency Room gave me. And I'm so desperate that I've decided that if I'm still this miserable tomorrow, I'm afraid that Blaine is going to have to take me back to Olathe's Emergency Room.

The clinic nurse did call today and tell me that I'm scheduled for a "bone density test" at Olathe next week, along with some blood work. Lovely.


But bless Blaine's heart, tonight--- because since I was incapacitated on the couch for the evening, he hand-fed me some pieces of Alaskan King Crab dipped in butter!---and DANG, that was good!

Then he helped me up to the futon mattress, where I'll sleep tonight, in hopes that the pain will abate some...



Monday, June 15, 2009

Trying to Think of Appropriate Cuss-Words......


So you had a bad day, you're taking one down, you sing a sad song, just to turn it around...

("Bad Day", Daniel Powter)


This just ain't my month.....

I'm wondering if perhaps karma has caught up with my sinful self?

Woe is me...woe is me....(okay, okay, I'll stop whining)...

First, regarding the the sweet Dove Family's nest...

I was so thrilled that Mama Birdie layed two new eggies--- and so I photographed things regularly, in the same fashion as I had done during the first go-round. And I again proudly sent the pics to all my friends and family, crowing with glee that I was going to be allowed to witness the miracle of birdie life all over again.

But then....about a week and a half after Mama Birdie had begun brooding on her two new eggies, we had a spring rain squall. And then after the thunder and wind had abated, I did as I always did and ran outside to check on the precious nest. (I always worried that the wind would blow the flimsy nest out of the tree.)

Well.....the nest was there. But no Mama Birdie....no Papa Birdie....

And no eggies.

Broken-hearted and despondent, I wandered forlornly around under the tree, looking to see if the poor little eggs had been blown out of the nest by the wind. Not finding them, I turned and walked back and forth over the lawn, peering here and there to see if I could find something--- and then I spotted a lone dove egg on the driveway.

Wondering how in the Sam Hill the egg could have made its way out of the tree, across the lawn, and onto the driveway, I ran over and turned the little egg over.... and discovered that a huge "bite" had been taken out of the hapless eggie, and the contents sucked completely out.

Waaaah! I'll bet you Dollars to donuts that it was that wretched, sneaky, beady-eyed, yella-belly, low-down, dirty double-crossing CHIPMUNK!


Next, I injured my stupid self.

Somehow, I managed to get a compression fracture in my T-12 spine vertebra.


The pain was excruciating and I could barely walk. For two days I languished on my bed, hoping the pain would lessen or go away--but it did not. Blaine finally had to take me to the Emergency Room at good ole Olathe Medical Center, where my injury was confirmed by an X-ray.

After I finished ranting and raving to the doctor that I'm "too young" to have this sort of injury, he stated plainly: "Bo, your back has been getting worse for years. Hell, you've been a nurse for nigh on 22 years. These kind of injuries frequently happen to nurses who have lifted heavy patients and medical equipment on a daily basis for that length of time. Your spine is wrecked and you're going to have to accept that fact. "


Basically, I'm in pain 24 hours a day and my daily functioning has been severely compromised. And... I will admit that I have turned whining into an Olympic Sport at which I am a Gold Medalist. But.... I'm not going to let this get me down. I'm a rather stubborn sort and I have decided that I will overcome this problem.

So, as I wait for my follow-up appointment with my regular doctor, I can usually be found lying down--- parked on the living room couch or the futon mattress in the upstairs back bedroom. I try not to take the pain medicine they gave me unless I'm so desperate for pain relief that I can't stand it any longer (which for some reason is usually in the morning, after my back muscles have gotten totally cramped up by laying in bed all night, I guess).

And let me tell you, all these long hours of either watching the ceiling or the TV are getting pretty tiresome and boring....

But I've definitely had some extra time to give some more thought to the mysterious "bubble" that frequently appears in photographs of the upstairs landing--- that spot that the cats are continually gazing at as if there's "something" there--- but yet it's something which I can't see.

Many of you readers have suggested that perhaps it is an Angel, a Guardian Spirit, an orb of a being, or even a ghost. And I have to tell you, I'm extremely curious about it!

So I conducted an experiment, part of which I had done before I broke my stupid back.

I took pictures all over the house to see if the bubble would appear in pics of other locations. And I took those pictures in different variations of lighting--- in order to see if perhaps the bubble is simply "artifact" in the camera's flash function. And I also took pictures of the upstairs landing--- the spot the cats stare at--- and I took pictures of it on different days and in various levels of light (and different times of day) as well.

And... the bubble only appears in photographs of the vicinity of the upstairs landing--- at the top of the stairs--- YEP, THE ONLY SPOT THE CATS STARE AT!

And on one pic of the upstairs landing, where I had snapped the photo from the bottom of the stairs, I was startled to find three bubbles! (Look closely at the upper right portion of the photograph.)

And, as Alice (in Wonderland) would say:

Curiouser and curiouser!



Thursday, June 11, 2009



I know I've been totally grouchy and obnoxious lately...

But I threw my back out, and I've been flat on my back since then, moaning and groaning, hoping it will get better. But it hasn't gotten better. (This probably isn't a very good excuse for my grouchy obnoxious behavior, but it's all I've got.)

So Blaine's taking me up to the Emergency Room later on when he gets home.

I hate going to the Emergency Room.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Note to Self---No More Disney Movies....


WHY did I let Blaine talk me into watching that Walt Disney movie, "Homeward Bound--The Incredible Journey"?????? WHY, I ask you, WHY?

That movie totally had me sitting on the edge of my seat in FEAR, and then BAWLING my eyes out every five minutes---what with those two stupid dogs and that idgity cat that got lost then finally found their way home---but only after I practically got an ulcer holding my breath throughout all the dangers and sadness they went through. Good grief! First the bear, then the mountain lion, then the porky-pine--- and then just when I thought they were safe and their owners were going to come get them, those idgity animals go and break OUT of the animal shelter and get lost all over again! And then the poor old "wise" dog falls into a hole--oh GEEZ!!

They let little children watch this stuff? Jiminy Cricketts, if I'd seen this movie when I was a little kid, I'd have been traumatized! I'm too nervous and tenderhearted to watch things like this!

I'm going to stick to my nice, safe TV shows like Nancy Grace's narrations of current crime cases--- and those murder stories on the Crime Channel.... well, and yeah, "Supernatural's" demon-catching brothers, the Winchesters....

(Hell, even Blaine's stupid Sci-Fi Channel is better for me--- because at least the fake-looking monsters on there are so ridiculous, and the acting so bad, that it doesn't traumatize me....)

(Sheesh, it's been 1/2 hour since it was over and I'm STILL crying over the ending scene of that dadgum movie....)



Friday, June 05, 2009

Who Ya Gonna Call?---Part Two


Spirit move me, every time I'm near you, whirling like a cyclone in my mind. Sweet Melissa, angel of my lifetime, answer to all answers I can find...

("Could It Be Magic?", Barry Manilow)



Oh very young, what will you leave us this time? You're only dancing on this earth for a short while. And though your dreams may toss and turn you now, they will vanish away like your daddy's best jeans...

("Oh Very Young", Cat Stevens)


There never was such a stressful, difficult, tortuous year for me as that second year of nursing school at Shadyside Hospital.

The nuns were merciless slave drivers, piling on the work--- both in the classroom and with our work with patients in the hospital--- until many of us routinely got less than 3 hours of sleep per night. We attended classes all morning, worked on the hospital patient wards all afternoon, and we studied all night.

And my constant war with the nuns battled onwards. My irreverent, sarcastic attempts at wringing wry humor out of every situation proved to be a continuing provocation for the wrath of the humorless nuns---and always resulted in them piling even more extra work punishments onto my already exhaustive schedule, including writing assignments, verbal presentations--- and sometimes just the sheer verbal abuse of me, as only sadistic stern Catholic nuns can do.

But I was determined not to let them "break" me--- which my fellow students believed was proof that I had a death wish, as no matter how many unpleasant consequences my behavior drew, I continued to delight in thinking up new and different ways to irritate the hell out of the Sisters.

"Young Bo," a nun would say after I pulled some typically stupid, yet harmless prank. "Your incessant playing of the fool's jester is the devil's playground. Perhaps you have too much time on your hands---and so you can put it to good use by writing me a 500-word essay on the ten most important Saints of the Catholic Church."

And I'd write the assignment--- but then I'd stubbornly insert some irreverent phrase or idea into the task, to the additional displeasure of the nuns.

I once drew a double-punishment for asking the question: "Joan of Arc -- Tomboy or cross-dresser?" in an essay on the influence of the Catholic Church in the Dark Ages.

Occasionally I'd get tired of the punishments and try to behave myself for awhile---but it was difficult. Oft times it seemed that I was my own worst enemy---as the nuns seemed to have an endless arsenal of tactics designed to root out and shred every last ounce of joy, humor, or laughter from my psyche.

I simply never could get into the "humble, respectful" tone that the nuns demanded from us pitiful students.

Once on a Biology test I couldn't remember the entire answer to the main question, "What are the Stages of Mitosis?"

I panicked, racking my fatigued brain for the information, because I just flat out couldn't remember all the stages. I knew what happened first---and then I thought the process ended up with two sets of chromosomes---but for the life of me I couldn't remember what happened in the dadgum middle.

So I began writing the answer, describing the "prophase", the "prometaphase", and the "metaphase".....

... and then I left a blank line...

... and then I described the "telophase".

Finally, on the blank line in the middle, I added what I thought was a clever note: "Sister Kathleen, please have mercy on me. I can't remember that one little piece, the middle phase. But at least I know that it's where all the chromosomes split in half and then there's two sets, right? Hopefully I will get four fifths of the possible points for this five-part question?"

When I received back the graded exam paper, Sister Kathleen had written: "If you cannot answer the question in full, then it is a ZERO PERCENTAGE for the question's possible points. Perhaps if you stopped going to Joe's Bar and applied yourself more to your Biology studies, you would know the ENTIRE process of mitosis."

How the hell did she know about Joe's Bar?

It seemed the nuns knew everything--- even the fact that me and my delinquent cronies would sneak out of the dorm at the end of clinicals each day--- and then slip down the block to a seedy corner bar where we'd drink wine, eat boiled eggs with Tabasco sauce, stick quarters in the juke box, play pool with the guys from the auto-body repair shop across the street--- and I would perform my best nun-impressions to the hilarity of the bar's patrons. I could do a spot-on perfect imitation of Sister Bertrice giving a lecture on how to urinary-catheterize a male, an impression which never failed to bring the house down.

I'd demonstrate with a big banana, imitating Sister Bertrice's tinny nasal voice explaining how to "expose an uncircumcised member", and then I'd pretend the male became "excited" by the process--- and then I'd have Sister Bertrice get nervous and start flubbing her lines, saying things like: "Oh Good Heavens, what's happening? I think he's aroused! Oh dear, I'm all aflutter---but I shan't allow myself any impure thoughts! I must pray to Saint Peter for pure thoughts.... er...no, perhaps not to St. Peter in this case.... er...I mean.... go DOWN evil penis, go DOWN!"

(By this time my buddies would be falling onto the floor laughing themselves silly, nearly peeing their pants at the thought of the virginal Sister Bertrice praying to "St. Peter" for strength against impure thoughts about a male's anatomy.....)

Whenever I was in a difficult spot I couldn't resist trying to devise a way to fool the nuns, even though they were usually un-foolable. Once on an Anatomy test I couldn't remember the name of a particular part of the sternum, the "manubrium". Losing the point for this question would cost me my desired grade of 100%, and so I sat tensely in my chair, wondering feverishly what in the hell I could do.

I knew the name of this particular bone started with an "ma".... and I vaguely remembered that the word ended with an "m"...

And then I had a BRILLIANT idea! Ahah!

My logic was that I would simply write the word with the proper beginning letters---but then write the rest of the word in a squiggly flourish, ending the squiggles with a recognizable letter "m"--- causing the word to appear to be written correctly, yet in "sloppy" handwriting, in the vain hopes that the Anatomy instructor, Sister Kathleen, would be fooled into believing that I had written the correct word, albeit in a messy fashion!

Sister Kathleen was no fan of mine. I had once sneaked into her office and hidden a whoopee cushion under the seat pad of her office chair. Although none of us were there to witness the noisy result of her plopping her plump self onto her seat pad-cum-whoopee cushion, she did emerge from her office afterward in a particularly bad humor, so angry, in fact, that she had neglected to clean the white powder from her lips--- the residue of her daily habit of eating an entire bag of powdered-sugar donuts....

Where was I?

Oh yeah, I couldn't remember the word "manubrium" on the Anatomy test and tried to fool Sister Kathleen. Okay, so I wrote "man...squiggle squiggle...m" and handed in my exam paper, happy in the belief that I had secured my 100%.

But when I received that paper back, it was marked "98%. Less one point for incorrect answer. Less an additional point for poor handwriting."

So much for my 100%...

There were many agonizing nights where I lay in my bed crying my eyes out, praying to the Good Lord for relief from the torture of this horrid school. "Lord," I'd pray. "It's me, Bo. And I'm absolutely miserable with these damn nuns! They're worse than prison wardens! Now listen, Lord, you know I'm no quitter--- so I'm not going to leave this wretched place voluntarily. But.... um... could you perhaps arrange it so that they throw me out?"

And I meant it.

And on some nights my nightly prayers were interrupted by the sound of chairs scraping on the ceiling above my head. And, as always, I wondered why the acoustics were such that I would hear the girl in the dorm room below me as if she were above me--- since I knew it was impossible for anybody to be in the chemistry lab above me at night. And I would always feel annoyed that the girl below me felt it necessary to noisily drag her chair back and forth across her room so late at night....

I never gave it a second thought....

One morning I was so exhausted from studying all night long that I woke up still slumped over my desk. My buddy, Marla, banged on my door as she passed my room on her way to the staircase that led to the fifth floor classroom. "Get your ass in gear, Bo!"

I was so tired that I hurriedly pulled on my jeans and made a mad dash up the stairs to the classroom, worried that I would be late---completely forgetting to change out of my pajama shirt. And so that day I had to suffer the shame of sitting in class all day while sporting wrinkled jeans paired with a tattered Miami Vice "I Love Don Johnson" pajama shirt.

Some of us students needed extra cash. And I especially needed it to pay the monthly payment for my prized, cherry red 1982 Chevy Camaro. And so, like some other students, I signed up to work in the babysitting service the nursing school ran for the benefit of the hospital's medical staff. It was a good way to make quick cash for a student who didn't mind spending her precious little free time minding rich doctors' children. There was plenty of work to go around since most students were from local families and preferred to go home each weekend instead of staying at the depressing nursing dorm.

I was among the handful of unfortunate students who had to spend all my weekends and holidays at the dorm, having no home to go to. My parents, as US diplomats, were always overseas in various foreign countries. My buddy Marla also spent her weekends at the dorm since her father, a dashing pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, was never home--- and their home in Hawaii was too far to go to on weekends anyway.

So we "dorm orphans" babysat for doctors' children on the weekends. And this was not always a very fun experience because the particular doctors' children we babysat tended to be somewhat spoiled and demanding. Neither Marla nor myself had ever had much experience with young children. In fact, I've always been somewhat inept and confused around little kids.

But I needed the money.

My very first assignment for the babysitting service was to sit with the frighteningly precocious 6-year old son of one of the hospital's big cheese cardiologists. The Housemother looked at me somewhat ruefully as she handed me the assignment sheet, which should have clued me in that she considered me a lamb being led to the slaughter.

But I figured what the hell? How bad could an evening of babysitting be? It was only one kid---easy enough, right? Give the little fellow a snack, plop him in front of the TV for awhile, give him a quick bath--- and then boot his happy little butt off to bed for the rest of the evening, whereupon I could then get in some badly needed study time.

Everything went fine until the stupid kid said he didn't want to watch TV.

I was shocked. What did he mean, he didn't want to watch TV? Was he an alien from outer space? Was he mentally ill? What American kid doesn't like to watch TV? Now what was I going to do with him for a couple of hours? Because it was too early to put him to bed. So I asked if he wanted to play a game---he certainly had a zillion of them stacked on the shelves in his room.

I plucked a game box off the shelf. "This looks like a good one," I remarked, dangling the box in front of him. "It's the Let's Go Fishin' game."

"Okay," he replied stoically, his unsmiling face betraying the fact that he wasn't exactly waxing enthusiastic. But I figured I would win him over with my charm and wit...

So I set the stupid game up.

The game consisted of a colorful round platform that, when switched on, played music as a bunch of plastic fishies bobbed their heads up and down while opening and closing their mouths. You were supposed to try and "catch" the fishies, when their mouths were open, by using little plastic fishing poles equipped with magnets on the ends.

I handed the kid a fishing pole, took a fishing pole for myself, and then switched the game on. Circus music played while the dumb little fishies began bobbing up and down, opening and closing their mouths, tempting us to "catch" them.

But the stupid kid didn't even TRY to catch a damn fishie, and just sat there scowling, his fishing pole hanging motionless over the game.

But I wasn't going to let this little butt-head spoil my fishing, by golly, and in a few moments I caught myself a fishie.

"Look!" I squealed happily, dangling a lime green fishie under the idgity kid's nose. "I caught one! Heh! The fishies must be hungry tonight!"

And then.... the kid threw his fishing pole onto the floor and gazed at me with utter disgust.

And this confused me so much that I went silent--- and simply sat there, staring at him with my mouth open like an idiot, my fishing pole still clutched in my fist, the fishie dangling haplessly in the air over the game.

"What's wrong?" I asked. God, this weird kid was really starting to get on my nerves...

"Are you stupid?" he asked with disdain. "The fish are not "hungry"--- they are NOT ALIVE. It is only a make-believe GAME!"

So it was going to be like this, eh?

"Whatever," I replied belligerently, tossing my own fishing pole down and picking myself up off the floor. "It's bath time for you, kiddo. And don't worry---I know that your stupid rubber-duckie isn't alive, either."

A week later I was fortunate enough to get a regular Saturday night gig babysitting a perfectly delightful little 4-year old girl--- a sweet little moppet who DID believe that plastic fishies were alive--- and so I didn't have to see that unpleasant 6-year old anymore.

Which was good because I definitely needed the cash, as I was falling miserably behind on my Camaro payments.

Sometimes on the weekends those of us who had remained at the dorms would gather in the common room and watch TV together, silly comedies like "Friends", "Pee Wee's Playhouse", and "The Simpsons". We'd cook ourselves snacks of Top Ramen noodles and do each other's nails or hair. These few snatched hours of camaderie were a welcome respite from the perpetual doom-and-gloom atmosphere created by the nuns.

One day, while hanging out with Marla and some others in the common room, I heard something which caused my ears to perk up. It was something which one of the youngest students, a bright young 18 year-old named Cindy, was saying.

"Pammie says she heard the ghost last night," Cindy said while making herself a sandwich out of Wonder Bread and big slabs of Velveeta Cheese.

"Did you know that Velveeta has about a zillion calories?" Marla remarked.

"Ghost? What ghost?" I asked.

"You know, THE ghost," Cindy replied, sighing heavily as if I were a total nincompoop. "Oh yeah, Bo, you weren't on this floor last year---you were on the third floor. So maybe you don't know about it. But there's a ghost on the fifth floor."

"A ghost on the fifth floor?" I replied. "Are you nuts, Cindy? Who told you that? There's no such thing as ghosts!"

I still didn't get it.....

"Tell her, Marla," Cindy said, her mouth full of Velveeta Cheese sandwich.

"It's true," Marla stated as I turned my attention to her, my brows knitting together seriously as I pondered the fact that both my friends actually believed there was a ghost on the fifth floor of the nursing school.

I was stunned. Marla actually believed there was a ghost? I trusted Marla above any of the other students---she was my best friend, and she was extremely level-headed--- not prone to flights of ridiculous fancy. And so I was very interested in something she appeared to totally believe in.

And so Marla told me the story, and here it is:

Apparently, for many generations in the nursing school (ever since the horse-and-buggy days, like the picture of the Shadyside Hospital orderly and nursing students below) there had been hair-raising stories of ghostly occurrences happening up on the fifth floor of the nursing school building---and these occurrences were reportedly heard by the occupants of the fourth floor below or else witnessed by various school instructors, who had offices up on the fifth floor.

"Sometimes people hear furniture moving on the fifth floor at night," Marla said calmly. "The noises seem to come from the classroom.... or else the chem lab."

Now the hair on the back of my neck was beginning to rise.....

"But of course there's nobody up there moving furniture at night," she continued. "Because that floor and the stairwell leading to it are both locked after 5 pm. And yet people are constantly hearing stuff happening up there at night."

"What do you mean 'furniture moving'" I asked, hoping my face did not betray the anxiety I was beginning to feel--- because I was definitely having some new and frightening thoughts about the origin of those noises that I, myself, had heard at night, coming from over my head, coming from the fifth floor....

Marla continued. "People who have lived in dorm rooms under the classroom say they've heard desks or chairs moving up there. And up in the chem lab, too. And some of the teachers have reported strange things happening up there, too --- like when they unlock their offices in the morning and find that their desk chair has been moved across the room--- or else the sink faucet has been turned on, and is running water, even though the teacher is positive that she'd left the faucet turned off."

"And you believe this crap?" I asked sarcastically.

"Hey, I'm just telling you what people have been saying for at least 50 years," Marla replied. "If you don't believe it, just ask the school's Psychologist Nun. Because there's been some students who were so frightened by this stuff that they've actually gone crazy and left the school. Remember last year when Jenny and Linda left?"

"Oh hell, Marla," I replied, snorting with disgust. "People leave the school all the time. It's because they can't hack this frigging program. Don't you remember when Sister Kathleen told us that only 40% of the class will actually finish the two years and graduate?"

"That wasn't the case with Jenny and Linda," she persisted.

And come to think of it, I did vaguely remember something about two girls leaving the school under the cloud of the term "psychological discharge".

Marla continued. "Each of them left because they were so spooked about the noises coming from the fifth floor. Both of their rooms were under the classroom, and Jenny thought the noises was the janitor doing maintenance stuff at night.... that is, until she complained about the noises to him and he told her that it wasn't him at, that it's the ghost! She totally flipped out and her mother had to take her to a psychiatrist. And her best friend, Linda, left two weeks later because she kept hearing the noises and now knew that it was the ghost and not the janitor."

"Good grief, what a couple of 'fraidy-cats!" I laughed, trying to look nonchalant. "Some people are so 'suggestible'. Frankly, I think those two girls went nerts because these damn nuns drove them crazy. There's no such thing as ghosts."

But... the noises over my room didn't stop. At least once or twice a month I would clearly hear the sound of chairs scraping above me--- in the chem lab--- about 11:30 pm every night.....when nobody was supposed to be up there.

There's no such thing as ghosts....

But I had other things to worry about than ghostly furniture moving. I was so behind in my Camaro payments that I feared the bank would repossess it. So I had hidden the car a few blocks away from the hospital where nobody would find it. And sure enough, the day came when a Repo Man did appear at the Housemother's desk---and he chose a most unfortunate day to arrive. I was dressing for a special event when the Housemother called me on the dorm inter-com. She wanted to notify me that a RUDE MAN was asking for me down at her desk...

It was the day I was supposed to accept the coveted McClintock Scholarship for Academic Achievement.

I'd worked my ass off to get that scholarship---I badly wanted that achievement listed on my school transcript. And it was the tradition that whoever won the McClintock Scholarship attend an elegant tea party to be honored, while meeting--- and thanking--- the two rich old ladies who were the benefactors of the scholarship.

The nuns had sternly instructed me that I was to wear a pretty dress for this event--- and I was to wear it over "proper" underwear, meaning a lace "slip" (which, according to the nuns, was necessary to prevent the public from seeing the "outline of a lady's legs" through the dress fabric). And I had been threatened with sure death if I embarassed the nuns by committing any behavioral infraction such as not exhibiting anything but the most graceful of behavior, cussing, spilling tea, or engaging in some other oafish act which might offend the two philanthropists. Mother Superior had drilled it into my wooden head...

"I happen to know that, being the offspring of two US Diplomats, your parents raised you with the ability to display superior social abilities in Diplomatic protocol--- you were schooled in the most proper of manners and courtesies. You have even attended functions where you met Heads of State and the upper echelon of the Diplomatic Corps--- it is one of the reasons we allowed you entrance into our nursing school! And yet you continue to take a bawdy, stupidly sophmoric DELIGHT in acting the clown! But I warn you, Bo--- you MUST NOT FAIL US at the Scholarship Reception Tea! You must do your DUTY and uphold the proper, honorable, ladylike tradition of Shadyside Nursing Students by showing yourself to be a proper recipent of the McClintock Scholarship!"

My Diplomatic parents. Honor. Duty. Protocol. Good Manners...

Words which had haunted me all of my life...

The underwear thing bugged me. I have always hated wearing dresses---and I hate wearing under-slips even more. In fact, I was once heartily bawled out by a rude nun named Sister Generalda, as someone had witnessed me, in the Surgery changing-room, wearing "Underalls" pantyhose under my OR scrubs. Sister Generalda actually accused me of "going without panties".

"Look, Sister Generalda," I told her. "Haven't you seen the TV commercials? 'Underalls' are special pantyhose with built-in underwear. Thus, I most certainly was NOT going 'without panties'."

"Yes, you did!" she screeched. "For SHAME, not wearing panties! Haven't we told you girls that public nudity is a sin?"

"Public nudity?" I replied stupidly, seriously wondering about Sister Generalda's sanity. "For God's sakes, Sister Generalda, I was wrapped up like a burrito in there. On top of the Underalls I was wearing scrubs --- which were covered up by a thick OR surgical gown! And just who in the hell is the perverted stool pidgeon who's been spying on me in the Surgery changing-room?"

Not wanting to discuss it any further, she pronounced my punishment. "You'll do an oral presentation for the Freshman Class on Proper Feminine Hygiene," Sister Generalda stated as I signed heavily and rolled my eyes. "And in the future, you must wear regular panties under those so-called 'Underalls'."

Where was I?

Oh yeah, I had gotten an urgent call from the Housemother while I was dressing for the tea party at which I was supposed to receive the McClintock Scholarship...

"He's a very RUDE man," the Housemother was saying unhappily over the inter-com. I was trying to hold the intercom to my ear while simultaneously struggling to pull on a slip. "And he says he wants to know something about your Camaro! Get down here immediately!"

OH--LORD--HAVE--MERCY....my worst fears had come true--- it was the Repo Man!!

But, never one to faint in the face of adversity, I steeled myself for the confrontation. I looked at my watch---it was getting dangerously close to the time I was supposed to go to the Banquet Hall for the tea party---and so I rushed to the elevator so I could descend to the Housemother's desk and get the whole unpleasant scene over with...

Sure enough, there he was, a big imposing-looking Repo Man. And as soon as he saw me he began ranting and raving about me being late with my monthly payments yet again. And then he demanded to know where the car was. But I tartly informed him that I had "no idea" where my Camaro was--- because there was no way in hell that I was going to let him take away my beloved Camaro.

Unfortunately for me, in my nervous haste I didn't realize that when I had rushed down the elevator to the Housemother's desk, I had not yet finished dressing---nay, in fact I had emerged from the elevator decked out in all the glory of a flimsy white lace slip (borrowed from Marla), nylon stockings, a pair of white high-heels, and a lovely gold Crucifix necklace---but I'd forgotten to put my dress on....

The slip had pretty little pink rosettes sewn along its bodice---and since it was a rather old slip, one of the rosettes had come a-loose from its stitches and was hanging by a thread over my right boob. It danced a haphazard jiggle over my bustline as I stood there quarrelling with the Repo Man....

And as the Repo Man launched into a tyrade, I proceeded to match his every threat with a returning verbal salvo liberally laced with cuss words--- and both of our voices got progressively louder and louder--- as I continued to lie through my teeth by telling him that I'd "loaned the car to a friend" and had no idea where it was. In fact, I mused, I had no earthly idea when "this friend" would even return the car...

"I want that CAR!" the Repo Man yelled, his voice shaking with anger as he involuntarily stared at the rosette dandling about on my boob--- all while the stricken Housemother stood there gasping in shock, aghast at the fact that I was talking to a MAN while half undressed---but the poor thing wasn't able to get a statement out and just stood there, redfaced, with her mouth popping open and shut---kind of like those stupid little fishies in the Let's Go Fishin' game....

"If you think you can get away with hiding that Camaro on me, you're jolly well mistaken!" the Repo-Man hollered while shaking a finger in my face.

"Look, bucko," I argued, shoving his offensive finger out of my face. "I've got two babysitting gigs lined up for this weekend--- and after that I can make you a $150 payment."

"NOT GOOD ENOUGH!" he squawked. "I don't want a partial payment! I want the total due--$500--- or else I'm taking the car."

"Go to hell!" I retorted, as the Housemother struggled to speak. "You don't even know where the damn car is! And dammit, I don't have $500!"

I finally noticed the hapless Housemother's beet-red face and fish-gulping expression. And right about then she finally caught a breath good enough to make a statement....

"HOLY MOTHER MARY IN GOD'S HEAVEN, Bo, but you are NEARLY NAKED!" she screamed. "Get back upstairs and put some clothes on! What if....oh God forbid....what if Mother Superior saw you?"

But it was too late.

Because Mother Superior had already seen and heard everything.

All of us stopped hollering at once as we realized the horrible truth.... that Mother Superior had quietly rounded the corner and had already seen and heard most of the wild scene at the Housemother's desk, her voluminous black nun robes fluttering around her as she came to a stop---her face ashen as she silently beheld the hysterical Housemother, the rude Repo-Man, and my half-dressed idgity self....

I thought of how my parents would absolutely KILL me for getting thrown out of Shadyside....

I thought of how all my hard work would go down the drain if I did not graduate from Shadyside....

I thought of how, kicked out of school or not, I'd NEVER tell that damn Repo Man where my Camaro was....

I thought of the possibility that the Lord was actually in the process of answering my stupid prayer about how I "wouldn't quit but was hoping to get thrown out of school"--- but then I instantly thought that surely the good ole Lord hadn't actually BELIEVED me when I had prayed that silly prayer?

I thought of how I wished I hadn't eaten the Turkey Tetrazzini entree in the hospital's cafeteria that afternoon because it was so terribly fattening and Marla's slip was definitely a little too tight on me.....

Mother Superior's calm voice interrupted my erratic thoughts.

"Calm down, Housemother," she said to the hysterical Housemother.

Then she turned to me.

"Bo-He-Mi-An," she stated simply, pronouncing every syllable of my first and last names. "Go upstairs and put on your dress. And then go to the tea, which is just now starting in the Banquet Hall. And God help you if I hear even ONE negative report regarding your behavior there."

And I fled.

I put my dress on and went to the tea. I thanked the rich old ladies who awarded me the McClintock Scholarship. I even did my elegant mother proud by exhibiting only the most daintiest of tea-party manners while drinking tea and nibbling on pastries. I did not spill anything, not even when spooning sugar into my teacup. I didn't cuss once and I sat primly in my dress, even remembering not to cross my legs.

(The nuns forbad us to cross our legs as it is a body position which necessitates the "opening" of one's legs, an act which could be construed as "sexual", something the nuns were forever warning us could be a pathway to hell and damnation....)

* * * * * * *

I found out later that Mother Superior had paid the $500 to the Repo Man.

The way I found out was when the Housemother phoned me on the inter-com again---this time to notify me that I'd been assigned, until further notice, to work off the $500 as a nurse assistant on one of the hospital's cardiac wards. I would work there every evening after my classes and clinicals until 9:30 pm.

And so each night after a long day of classes, clinicals, and then working on the cardiac unit, I would arrive back in my dorm room, exhausted and barely able to study--- but study I did, until the wee hours of each night, until I was so tired I couldn't see straight. And then I'd fall into bed, limp with exhaustion.

But I wasn't the only student who was near physical or emotional collapse.

Marla had been experiencing "anxiety attacks" whereby she would burst into tears for no reason at all. One time it was while shaving her legs in the dorm's bathroom, and I found her there, on the floor, weeping hysterically and babbling some nonsense about how "the hair just keeps growing and growing!"

Another poor soul was young Cindy.... and what happened to her was horrifying.

Cindy, who suffered from chronic poor self-esteem, had foolishly gone out with one of the hospital's older, married, maintenance men--- a man who was held in distaste by most nursing students due to his habit of leering at us in a most vulgar, suggestive manner--- and, unbelievably, Cindy had allowed the guy to seduce her.

And then.... it happened. Cindy found out she was pregnant.

The night Cindy found out she was pregnant, Marla and I had told her to sleep on it for that night--- in order to give us time to think of a solution. Neither of us had any idea of what to do, and we'd each gone to bed in despair, knowing that Cindy was most likely going to have to leave the nursing school--- which would certainly kill her, as graduation from Shadyside had always been the utmost desire of her poor little heart.

That night I fell into bed too weary to change out of my clothes and put on my Miami Vice "I Love Don Johnson" pajamas. As I closed my eyes tightly in an effort to blot out my worries while trying to fall asleep, I once again heard chairs scraping the floor on the ceiling above me....

There's no such things as ghosts, I told myself....