Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

The graveyard shift

Catholic hospitals and how they interpret church teaching have been in the news lately (David Gibson's Catholic Hospitals vs. Catholic Bishops?) and that made me think about a job I once had in a hospital. It didn't pay well (there was no special medical training needed) but it had good benefits, interesting hours (the graveyard shift), and I didn't have to dress up (scrubs). The hospital was a Level I trauma center ..... that's why I worked the graveyard shift, as one of the two surgeries was open 24 hours a day.

Aside from me, the regular staff was made up of an anesthesia aid and two nurses. Most nights were quiet and sort of boring .... I'd wash dirty instruments, wrap them for sterilizing, put away supplies in the sterile core, wash gurneys, set up surgical suites, etc. But when it was busy - usually on the weekends and especially in the summer there would be shootings, stabbings, car accidents - then everything was insane .... doctors and nurses were woken up if they were sleeping in, and others were called in, and often we'd hear the dreaded whump of the life flight helicopter coming in for a landing on the roof of the hospital with a patient. Things would really hop when someone was close to dying or had just died who was an organ donor .... docs and nurses would be flown by jet from all over the country to get their body parts.

Some things I'll always remember. I wish I could say they were heart-warming or illuminating moments but they were more just odd. Once, on a night when some bad guys had been in a shoot-out with police, one was brought in brain dead and "parted-out". I'd never seen how very strangely concave a person's body looks after most of the organs are removed. Once, I had to carry someone's amputated leg down to pathology - eek! And there were the smells .... the pools of blood that had to be cleaned up after one patient's aneurysm burst during surgery, a bowel resection, adipose tissue being hyphercated .... it's a good thing peppermint oil's kept in the surgery. The thing that bothered me the most was when a patient died during surgery and the nurse and I had to fix him up so that the family could view him before he was sent down to the morgue - we covered him in blankets and combed his hair. After the family had left and we had wrapped him in a plastic shroud, the nurse told me that she was proud of me because I had shown no emotion. Crystal, sociopath in the making :(

I came away from the job with some thoughts - that dead people are not scary, that people and animals are pretty much the same when they're all chopped up (more grist for the vegetarian mill :), and that alive-ness and wholeness matter despite or maybe because of all the senseless injury, illness, suffering and death that can seem so prevalent in such a job.


Blogger Susan said...

Interesting, Crystal. And so well written, as always.

9:02 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Susan,

I wish you would write on your blog about some of your past experiences - I want to hear about vacations in Bermuda. and tofu factories, and all about living in New York for starters :)

12:45 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

Okay, I can do that. :-)

Thanks for being interested!

6:33 AM  
Anonymous richard said...

Thanks for sharing this new insight in to the life of Crystal. Fascinating as usual. Happy New Year. Rich

1:25 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

Belated happy new year to you too :)

3:16 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Thanks, Crystal. I do enjoy it when you share about your own life. I served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Portland for two years, 1971-73, before coming to Seattle. I still get there from time to time. I think it's a good place.

Also liked the picture :)

2:20 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Denny. I did like it in Portland except for the rain. The air always smelled fresh and as you probably know, they have a great bookstore - Powell's.

2:45 PM  

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