Monday, July 10, 2006

Old Nightmares....and Why I Bought the Jeep

Home sweet home... Alas, but I'm going through a melancholy period here. Perhaps it was the dentist, or perhaps it was the subsequent vsits to a doctor for other issues (which I won't bore you with), but suddenly things have caught up with me. And when I get into this "melancholy" mood, I start reflecting on the past. That behavior may or may not be healthy, depending upon the reflection. For example, I realized that I always talk only about my present-day assignments. And with that realization also comes my feelings of just how lucky that I am to work where I work these days--versus some of the other work territories that I've worked. (As an aside here--remind me also, some day, to tell you of my years in emergency rooms--but for now I'll only talk of my experiences as a Road Nurse.... )

I don't know if I've admitted it here before, but Texas is not only my home-- but it is also my refuge. I have come here to escape the past..... but the past has a nasty way of haunting one's dreams....

I do love Texas. My father was born near here and my mother was raised in a "neighbor state", Louisiana. My father was a true Texan Gentleman and my mother is a beautiful Southern Lady.

Texans are my people, and now I'm here for good. But it was a long time coming because I haven't always lived or worked here. There were the other times..... I have been married a couple of times and my ex-husbands' jobs (one worked for IBM and the other worked in construction) took us all over the country-- and so I've lived and worked in many other states of the United States. As for being married multiple times--well, as a little twist on that old country western song: "All my ex'es DON'T live in Texas".....heh heh... After my latest divorce I decided to finally come home and settle near my mother, here in Texas.

In the last couple of days I've had some time to reflect on the awesome natural beauty of this area. Of course I'm prejudiced because it's my home-- but I'd still like to mention that on those days when I slow down enough to take a few minutes out of my manic routine to look at my lovely surroundings and the gorgeous scenery-- it really does make my heart sing, especially when I think back on the jobs I mentioned above in other territories--where there no such luxuries... For example, today, while driving through the countryside I watched while on several farms the spring colts "were running" with their buddies, scampering up and down through the pastures as their mothers grazed and watched nearby. Just happy-go-lucky colts as beautiful as they come, i.e. ponies, thoroughbreds, or Arabian babies---although I prefer those gorgeous paint ponies. Anyway, I love to watch them. I love to watch the young spring colts actually kick up their heels--kind of like the way donkeys do--simply because they're having fun while cavorting out in the tall Texas grasses.

To me, there is nothing more precious than to catch a glimpse of a young horse running through the green Texan pastures--running in the wind, the sun shining off its coat, with its mane and tail flying wildly-- racing with one or two of it's buddies.... And if I'm fortunate enough to catch a sight of those magical paint ponies running in the wind together..... aaah....then I have been truly fortunate to have seen what I consider a Postcard From God. I am always grateful for such sightings in my travelings--and I watch for them. The wildlands of Texas have many beautiful creatures to behold besides the horses, including the various types of cows, the sheep..... ducklings following mother ducks...calves following their mothers....raccoons and armadillos hiding in road ditches. There's also the shy deer, with their baby fawns, cautiously feeding in woodland thickets. And plenty of chipmunks and squirrels scampering away from my Jeep. And yes....I'll allow that even the baby donkeys can be cute.

I've even come to love the menu at my new drive-in--it's pretty graphic-- and you can pay right there while a car-hop comes to bring you your food:

But lest I get too maudlin or melancholy here, I will go ahead here and tell you about some of my former, less fun, experiences that I endured as a Road Nurse in other states. Those times I mentioned above when I worked in other areas.... Once upon a time, I worked in the Kansas City area for years.

Kansas City is a town where the state line runs right down through the middle of the city. On one side there's Kansas and on the other side there's Missouri. The thing about being a Road Nurse there was that you had to be very flexible---and I mean veeeery flexible. And extremely street-wise. And very cautious....and I mean veeeery cautious. Because one minute you would be assigned to see patients in the very dangerous inner city, but the next minute you could be way out in the corn fields (on either side of the state line) into the farm lands. Going out into the cornfields to see patients was nothing, because that was considered safe--but the inner city was a WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY ENTIRELY.....

And the whole reason I bought the Jeep was because of one of my experiences in the inner city of Kansas City. Kansas City is a wonderful town and I truly loved it-- but unfortunately there is a "dangerous inner city" area there---very dangerous. The area I'm talking about is mostly located on the east side of town, and its "gang territory" stretches for miles and miles to the east, across the state line, all the way to Independence, Missouri.

And I spent about 4 years being a Road Nurse there. And I'm proud to say that I lived to tell the tale....

To be honest, Road Nurses there had to be pretty brave (veeery brave) and resourceful to boot. You had to be able to "check the scene out" when you arrived at a location to make a patient visit. And if the scene on the street "didn't look right" or your instincts caused you to get goose bumps, then you'd best not do the visit and come again some other time. More than one time my company's nurses experienced some "close calls". We received frequent lectures from the police about how to get more "street smart". (Actually, one of those cops who talked to us made the statement: "You'd have to be a damn idiot to go in there.") Alghough we were always grateful for the cops' lectures, we knew that we STILL had to get in there to see our patients!! There was simply no choice. We Road Nurses knew about the dangerous areas-- and so the way we used to deal with the situation was this: we simply performed our patient visits only during certain hours--the time frame which we figured that the local "criminals" were asleep---which was between the hours of about 11 am and 2pm.

That's a pretty narrow window for getting your patient visits in for the day but we abided by that rule religiously. And if you were on-call and a call came to go to that area at night---fuhgetaboutit (or in a slightly more polite phrase: forget about it) because you wouldn't even consider going into there at night. But even following these prudent behaviors didn't always save us from danger.... One day I was in east Kansas City seeing an elderly couple of patients who I was very fond of. They had once given me a kitten from a stray cat's litter--who had deposited her babies under their own hedge. (I named her "Little Baby" and my ex-husband still has her-- and he frequently puts her up to the phone to talk to me every now and then for "visitation rights".)

Anyway, the bad incident occurred after I had finished the visit on the patients-- and I was in the process of walking through their front yard while waving goodbye at them as they stood on their front porch waving goodbye at me in return.

I was heading for my current vehicle at the time, an Isuzu SUV. (The Isuzu SUV didn't have four wheel drive. But it was such a big SUV with impressive snow and mud tires that I had bought it anyway, figuring that I wouldn't really need 4-wheel drive.)

Anyway, there I was, strolling away from my patients towards my Isuzu, turning around to "wave goodbye" at them as they stood on their house's porch. At that exact same moment, a female mail carrier was just coming up their walkway to put their mail into their mailbox. All of a sudden we heard screeching tires and a car-engine gunning--

and then the shots rang out,

practically bursting my ear drums.

It was a drive-by shooting.

Someone in that vehicle had leveled a double-barrelled shotgun out of the vehicle's window and fired it off in the direction of the house next door to my patients' house--but they missed!

And do you want to know how I know that they missed? Because you know how when a double-barreled shotgun is discharged that there's those little puffs of smoke that come out of the shotgun's barrells? Well that shotgun had been fired from such a close distance to my head that the little puffs of smoke wafted through the air at my eye level-- not 6 inches from my head. If the shooter had been "off" his mark by just about six more inches--well they say here in Texas, I'd be a daisy!!! When the shots rang out, my poor patients hit the deck and flattened themselves on their porch---and that poor lady mail carrier dropped her mail bag, scattering letters and mail everywhere--and she took off, and I never knew where she ran to. To this day I have no idea what happened to her. I've always wondered WHEN she ever came back to get her mailbag. (Or IF she ever came back...) I don't blame her for getting out of there, though---because that was a terribly dangerous neighborhood. I wouldn't stick around after a shooting, either. Because there's always the chance that the shooters will come back and "check" to see if their target has been eliminated. When this happened, it shocked and traumatized me. I'd always known that I was working in a dangerous place but dang it--I didn't imagine that someone could be such a dang bad shot that they'd accidentally shoot ME, my patients, or an innocent mail carrier in whatever dispute they had with somebody else. For God's sakes, I don't understand the concept of inner city drive-by shooters "missing their marks" and shooting innocent bystanders. Because I'M FROM TEXAS--WE ARE ALL GOOD SHOTS AND USUALLY DON'T MISS!

....Oh heck----and durn it and sigh..... and yes, I realized my gaffe as soon as I typed it......Okay, yes, some of us have "missed" on occasion...... Yep, I admit that I definitely and totally left myself open about this one will try and go on with my story anyway, as gracefully as I can.... (...trying to slink out of the above paragraphs quietly and humbly....) (and being VERY glad that he doesn't read my blog.....)

Anyway, when Texans get into a dispute, they usually settle it by a good ole fashioned, fair, fist fight.....

So anyway here's this yay-hoo criminal shooting blindly out his car window, narrowly missing killing some poor innocent Road Nurse, a mail lady, and my poor patients waving at me on their porch. What kind of animal goes around blindly shooting out car windows? And I ALSO don't believe in drive-by shooters shooting their intended "targets", either---I don't believe in violence in any shape or form---I don't want anybody shot! Why can't people just get along with each other? I just don't understand street violence and I never will. This episode haunts me. It frightened me badly. I wondered what it would be like to live in a neighborhood where you had to worry about drive-by shootings all day long, right in your own front yard? And another thing that makes me mad---Because GEEZ-OH-MAN, Mr. Criminal, I was just there trying my best to take care of people in YOUR neighborhood. I was there to HELP.

Sheesh, if you kill me--then who's going to take care of your sick people? I mean, REALLY? Yes, I was indignant. But it frightened me greatly and I jumped into my Isuzu and tore ass to my own town, kissing the ground when I got there. (Yes, I really did---I kissed the concrete of our house's drive-way.) But yeah, I do remember those years that I worked the streets of Kansas City.

One night I was sitting there having dinner with my husband of those days and that show "Cops" came on the TV. And guess what neighborhood they were in that night? My Road Nurse territory! Which startled the heck out of us both. I almost dropped my fork right into my goulash (Hey, I make excellent goulash. I got the secret recipe from my mother, who got it from her mother.) (The secret is what you do to the celery--but I'm sworn to secrecy like the Chili Beans Dog, Duke, is....) And speaking of the TV, another morning I was having coffee with my husband while we watched the morning news--and they were showing yellow police "Crime Scene Tape" around certain buildings in our own apartment complex. I thought: "NOW WHAT?" (And we lived in what was supposedly to be a "safe" neighborhood.) Anyway--back to the reason I bought the Jeep. I bought it because one winter (and Kansas has some extremely ROUGH winters) I got stuck in a ten-foot patch of ice and snow right in front of the same patients' house where I'd almost been shot in that drive-by shooting. And the nervous hour I spent waiting for a tow-truck to come rescue me convinced me--I needed a Jeep. And so I bought one. I bought one which came with a brochure that said: "General Patton drove this same Jeep through World War II". So I figured that any vehicle that could drive through northern Africa and Europe during World War II must be a halfway decent vehicle for going over/under/around obstacles-- no matter WHAT the weather was--even including ten-foot patches of ice. And I bought the Monster Jeep--and it has extras---it has a 4-wheel drive system that will "shift on the fly" while you're still driving. It has a completely separate electrical system just for ice storms in order to power the back windsheild's defroster and its fog lights in the front. I have totally equipped this Jeep for home health nursing on all terrain and "my daily routine". It even has tow hooks.

On the inside I've got dashboard cellphone holders, coffee cup holders, CD disk holders, file-folders for my patients, cellphone charger cables, ear phones for the IPod, a cord to charge the the Jeep's battery if needed, an ice scraper----this thing isn't just a Jeep--it's like a small tank. It even has floor drains in it so that if I ever have to go over water and some of it gets into the interior--the water will simply drain out. This Jeep is a Monster and has never failed me. Never. (Heck, I've even towed other people out of icy ditches with it myself.) But I don't regret the times I worked in east Kansas City. I loved my patients there. It wasn't their fault that some of the neighborhoods were rough. I remember this one family that had a teeny tiny little chihuahua dog which would perch on my shoulder like a bird while I'd examine his owner. But Kansas City was dangerous on a daily basis there. A Road Nurse there had to be prepared to go into homes where there may be drug or gun dealings going on. And when you knew that, you'd just have to go into the home with a singleminded purpose, showing them that your only interest was to take care of the patient-- and then you would do it--all the while MINDING YOUR OWN BUSINESS and turning your head away from whatever illegal activity was going on--and that was it. There were days when I went into slums and was tending patients who lived in or next to drug houses where there were "pawners". The "pawners" were drug dealers who accepted goods that were worth money in exchange for drugs. It was always so strange to me to be tending a patient in a poverty-stricken slum--while I watched a parade of rich looking lawyers, doctors, or other business people come in and out of pawners' homes to exchange home appliances or other things for drugs. I mean, there I'd be, tending a sick patient in a filthy back room of a tenement apartment (where people were so poor that they barely had enough food to eat and the children were barefooted in the winter snow)---and there'd be rich guys arriving in Mercedes, wearing suits, coming in carrying microwave ovens and blenders to trade for drugs! I remember thinking: "Man, if I was that guy's wife and I came home to find my damn microwave oven or Mr. Coffee Machine gone, I'd snatch him BALD." Oh, gosh, those days were a trip. Eventually you'd get into the "routine of it". Many of your patients' families would try their best to "protect" you. I'd call them prior to my visit and let them know I was coming-- and they'd stand guard at the front door to make sure I made it into their front door safely. They'd station somebody's kid at my vehicle to protect it while I was inside making my visit. Then someone would always escort me back to my vehicle to make sure I made it out of there safely.

Anyway, these are just some ramblings I have in my head--reflections of the days in the inner city. And so I'm very glad that I'm in the place I'm in, now. Somehow, it almost makes facing mean bulls a little less frightening.... And so for now, I keep saying (like Dorothy did) "There's no place like home...there's no place like home".........


Jeannie said...

Howdy, Bohemian Knitter. I have enjoyed your blog for some time now. Even though I am a born and raised Californian, I come from a long, long line of Texans (Tioga and Sherman) and share your deep love of what I consider my real home state. I remember that my grandpa had a ceramic plate on his wall. On it were depicted two angels relaxing on their clouds. One angel said to the other:"And if we're good, we'll go to Texas".

That says it all.

Also, my German husband tells everybody "My wife is a Texan".

Therefore I have called my blog Deep South Knitter.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You'd think after a past life experience like that, the dentist would be a piece o' cake! However, being every bit as big of a dentist spazz as you have described MYSELF, I can still totally understand STILL being that scared. Even with the nitrous oxide - which doesn't make me sing, but definitely does make me relax and let them do their job...and occasionally laugh about it while they're in there.

I see where the family sayings that I was raised with come from - "snatch him bald" is one of my go-to phrases. I was raised in California - but my great-grandparents were from Texas.

Any progress on that oh so very cool pink and grey sweater you've been making?

Hope you're feeling better soon!

Clare said...

Reading about your experiances in that city is very surreal to me. I am a country person through and through and I realize that I have NO idea about cities. Even my state capital, Melbourne, scares me shitless. I can drive through if I know where I am going.

America feels like another reality, the contrasts and contradictions are mindblowing. How do you rationalize the extremes?

I take my hat off to you, nurse. Your dedication and well guts, must surely put you above the general rabble.

Keep on knitting! for tomorrow is another day.