I COUNT THE HEARTS in the tiled floor as I walk post-op patients until they pass gas; 20 feet between each. I clean the urine, shit, vomit and crusted blood that they can’t wipe up themselves. Patients depend on my young stamina to get them back in shape so they can return home and not come back to the hospital. Ultimately, I clean them when they die, allowing their families to come for a final view before I ship them to the morgue. This is my day job: health care.
Am I nuts? I might be. It’s not easy being the little guy on the intermediate care unit of a fancy private hospital, and with every shift it just seems to get prissier. We’re always short-staffed, snarky attitudes fill the ward and the nurses sit like queens while I run from room to room doing all of the physical labor.
"You should be a doctor," an elderly patient said to me, a woman who became quite fond of my story as a writer working in health care. "We need more people like you in the medical field: the hardworking kind."
"I’m more drawn to publishing and media. It’s my passion," I reminded her.
"I think it’s better if you start thinking of a career here," she said, taking my hand in hers, a veined thing reminiscent of a grandmother’s touch. "Dreams are nice, but careers are what are in demand at the moment. You need money to live. You’re such a nice boy."
Since when did being "nice" have anything to do with career motives? If that was the case, the world would be quite askew—if it isn’t already. Most people are not nice, and you don’t need me to validate that fact.
"And where did you graduate from?" Her questions just kept coming.
"Baruch." "Great school. Known for business." "Yes, but I studied journalism and creative writing."
Imagine it: City boy, born and raised in Queens—accent and all—dreaming of dripping ink onto ruled paper and filling Microsoft Word documents with beautiful words while he bangs his head against a wall working at a hospital. I’m like Batman disguised in scrubs, practicing this lovely vocation on Long Island.
Nothing against it, but coming from where I was raised, I love mass transit. To drag my pathetic Volkswagen on the Long Island Expressway every shift, watching my beautiful borough fade away as I head east, passing the same dented guard rails and the one smashed street light that has yet to be fixed, is a chore. Nobody gets why I do this to myself, and I don’t expect them to. Not everyone is driven by their dreams. But like I was told, I need money to live. Such is life.
Then the lady patient waved her finger and waggled her eyebrows, like worms cut in half, from some apparent shock and horror as we turned to head back to her room: I had let my seedy secret slip and decided not to elaborate, but she pressed me to talk.
"Remember, we have to do 120 feet," I said to her. "You just had a colon resection."
"Don’t change the subject. I want to know the other thing."
"I do dabble in the dark arts," I joked. She shook her snaky hair and flashed her big blue eyes at me as I held her torso so she wouldn’t fall down—that’s all I needed, to get fired for letting a patient hit the ground. A top priority at the hospital is to never let a patient fall: it’s their mantra or something.
"Oh! I know—like Stephen King, right?" she said as if a little light had gone off in her head, all of a sudden commercializing the dark.
"Not exactly," I said, giving up the conversation.
Stephen King should share some readers, I thought, or I’ll be working at the hospital for a very long time.