that slip of paper, long of my wallet, now stashed at the back of the drawer beside my bed, somehow slipped into obscurity, somewhere over the years.
it’s expired, they tell me.
while i was busy chasing crooks and fire trucks, a lifework i picked up along the way, that license to practice what i love, that stamp of you’re-okay from the state board of declarations, well, it got dumped by the wayside.
all those long nights in the library, all those hours at the bedside, washing the dying and the newborn, depending on the day’s assignment, it’s washed away. or at least on paper, it’s no good.
except for days like today, when all the pages and hours and hopes come rushing back. when i might as well sling on my cape and cap, haul out that ol’ stethoscope from the drawer.
i swing into nightingale action when the ones i love go down.
no board of examiners, far as i can tell, is hiding in the wings, keeping watch on how i do. long past are the skill tests on how to fold a bedsheet with hospital precision (though i still make a mean tri-fold corner).
i am left to my own deep sense of tending to my firstborn, who any hour now is going under, to have his four wisdoms taken out. those would be his teeth, of course. the only wisdom he’d ever relinquish.
and i, as the resident nurse on duty, i am armed, already, with prescriptions, ice and popsicles, the holy triangle of recuperation from oral surgery.
mostly though it’s the rare chance to once again slide into a calling that still calls out my name.
i am not ruffled, much, by blood or body fluids. comes with the territory. comes with reaching out and taking the hand of the one who’s hurting, or afraid, or losing hope. comes with saying–most often, without words–i won’t leave your side, i’ll get you through this valley, back to where the sun does shine, and where your mouth, your head, your tummy doesn’t throb.
i have counted, over the years, whole flocks of children who were mine to care for. children with terrible horrible cancers. children who died. children who writhed in pain. children who fell to the floor and lay there, shaking.
oh, i cried a lot. i held hands. and whispered prayers. i gave meds. hung transfusions. sat down on the edge of beds and talked the night away. i walked long halls with parents. shared cold cups of coffee, poured in styrofoam cups.
i drove to small towns for funerals. went to dinner with grieving fathers whose tears would not end.
i loved those years, those hard, hard, inconceivable years.
and now the children i’m left to care for are my own. don’t need a license. curiously. don’t even send us home with instruction manuals, when they are newly born, for crying out loud.
we are, all of us, left to what our mothers taught us about how to cool a fevered brow. how to hold a child retching in the toilet. we know that rubber bands go on glasses of a child with a cold. and ginger ale is the surest cure for a rumbly tummy.
but those of us who’ve walked through nursing school, we’ve got an extra edge: we rise up when our babies go down. we swell our chests, feel that thump again in our veins. we were schooled on how to heal the wounded, how to soothe the pain, and dash the rising fever.
it’s in our blood: we swoop on the scene, we make it right. or at least we do everything we can think of to try and do so.
and so today, any minute now, i’ll never mind the folks who say that i’m expired, who say my license doesn’t count.
i’m armed, and ready, and we are heading off to surgery, my firstborn and i. i get to be a nurse today.
not exactly the post-prandial walk in the woods, we were hoping for, but my man-child’s gums started throbbing, so i peeked in, and saw the stumps of wisdom teeth. and the ol’ doctor said he’d yank em out. today. all four. impacted. egad. not quite the soothing post holiday agenda. but we’ve readjusted, lined up movies and popsicles and plenty of ibuprofen. i’m dashing this off, and will be back for adjustments. in the meantime, hope your turkey day was calm and filled you to the brim. one way or another……