Kristin Laurel

First, forget everything you have learned, and
trust your gut. You will follow reasonable orders,
pass out pills, push drugs into veins, push bodies in carts,
in wheelchairs, to x-rays. You will draw blood, dump urine,
hold buckets while people puke, hand out washcloths,
ice packs, crutches, papers, armbands, attach tubing to noses,
into penises, vaginas and veins, up noses, into rectums.
You will dress wounds, hold pressure, clean up crap,
learn to breath through your mouth so you don’t have to smell,
wipe blood off the floor, wash your hands, and run to the next buzzer,
listen to the next set of complaints, take another blood pressure,
temperature, ask do you have any allergies, do you have any allergies?

What brought you to the hospital?
As you try to listen to the lady with a purple scarf
in her hair, distended neck veins, three moles on the side
of her cheek who tells you, I don’t need to tell you all of this,
you’re just the nurse, but she does tell you — about her dog
who happens to be a Weimeraner, and she really likes
Weimeraners, it’s her third one she’s owned, and
they are like children. Last night she tripped
over her dog’s leash and aha she hurt her ankle, asks
Do you think I broke it, as she stands first in line in the crowded
waiting room, with people coughing, sneezing, fingers bleeding
to get into this place and that little voice that’s been saving your ass
for the last twenty years says, get the lady with the back pain at the end of the line,
so you excuse yourself, tag the back pain lady, tell the ER Doc,
order an EKG, go back out to the mass of waiting people,
to the now angry Weimeraner lady with the purple scarf,
relieved you brought the back pain lady back because
she’s having a heart attack.

As you can see, idealism won’t last long.
Cynicism will keep calling, leaving messages.
You’re not going to save the world, but you are getting paid.
Sometimes people tip with a smile or “thank you,”
sometimes they throw things and say “fuck you.”
You may actually save someone’s life,
or at least stop someone else from making them worse, or
killing them, including yourself: Pay Attention!
You will hold hands as people die, and help keep people alive
who want to die. You will become comfortable or uncomfortable
with your own mortality; learn there are much worse ways of living
than dying. Before you go to work and after you get off work–
hug your kids, tell everyone you love, you love them.
Never pass up an opportunity to hold a baby in your arms.
Look into everyone’s eyes, especially the elderly
(of course, only if it’s culturally acceptable).
Everybody’s got a story, when you’re not running your butt off,
stop and listen. Keep laughing, even if it’s dark.
It’s like an old man who was dying of cancer said,
Well, I started out in this world wearing diapers,
I guess I’m going to leave in them too.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself, it’s ok.
And if you’re co-dependent, it might be helpful. Who else would do this job?
Befriend your co-workers, they are your family for this shift, or a lifetime.
Medical people make great friends, with the exception of a few narcissists.
Stay away from them. Don’t define yourself by what you do for a living,
but what you do as a person. Never forget, it’s the little things, like a warm blanket
that can make all the difference. Don’t be afraid to touch, to hug.


You are going to see the best and the worse of the human race
and if you get sick of sick people coughing, vomiting,
dying, crying, screaming, laughing, baring their souls to you;
if your feet and back ache, and your head spins because
you’re tired of people getting drunk, stabbing, shooting, and raping each other,
smoking and drinking and eating their way to death, and you’ve read
When bad things happen to good People and you’re still sick of the human race
and want to go live on an island, or be a writer…cut down your hours.
And if you ever get to the point where you feel you’ve just about seen everything,
you just about know everything, or you really don’t care anymore,
hurry up and get out of the ER and close this manual!