Don't Curse the Nurse!

Sharing support with stories & humor

For Your Consideration

on April 6, 2015

Dear Blog family,

I am about to send the piece below off into the wild world of critics/ lovers of fiction. First I am going to drop it here. You’re family. I’m thinking you’ll help me one way or another; a sweet comment, a personal reflection, and possibly a nudge out the door



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                   “Start over!”

                   “No.” I know what is coming, a declaration that we have missing cards, she has one too many, or something like that.

                   Callie pauses and purses her lips. I ignore her. It’s hard to do when your Canasta opponent is a bald-headed- ten- year- old wearing bright orange pajamas and Donald Duck slippers. Last year it was Goofy slippers, just like a pair I’ve had since I was a kid. I told her about them, and we’ve been friends ever since.

                   As I watch her face, I can see Callie picking her next words. She’s eying me, waiting to see if I’ll crack. I get more comfortable among the bunched up blankets and sort my cards.

                   “I don’t think you shuffled well enough.” Callie says in her naturally squeaky voice.

                   I give her my I’m not messing around look.

                   “It’s Canasta sweetie. You’re gonna have all sorts of matches no matter what. Now wrap your tiny paws around your cards, and lay your melds on the table here.”

                   Callie gives me a harrumph and a bugged-eyed look before redirecting her attention.

                   For Callie, I normally would reshuffle the deck, but I’m planning to meet friends after work, and if I want to get out on time, I can’t dawdle. One person in the group is an old friend — to be more exact, a hot guy that I regret casting aside. I’ve been dateless for four long months.

                   Callie slaps the bedside table with her hand so the stacked cards tumble sideways. I can’t help smiling. When Callie’s trying to be obnoxious, she just gets cuter and cuter.

                   “Temper, Callie.”

                   While she’s straightening out the deck, I start to lay a row down, but I’m distracted by a flash of purple on the inside of Callie’s right arm — the beginnings of a bruise right in the bend of her elbow. Around the edges it’s pink and green.

                   “What the…?” I reach for her wrist, but she’s already snaked her arm back under the blanket.

                   “Why didn’t they use your port, Callie?”

I point to the spot below her collar bone where the quarter size implant protrudes from under her skin.

                   “My Chlorambucil was still running and they said they didn’t have time to come back.”

                   The way medical jargon tumbles out of her mouth — for a second I forget she’s only ten.

                   “Call me next time, O.K?” I say it casually. I don’t want to be overbearing. Callie’s parents are major helicopters, hovering over every single staffer. Callie confided that she finds it embarrassing.

                   When I was twelve, I had Mono and was in the hospital for six weeks with my mother making everyone nervous.

                   I get it.

                   We resume playing.

                   Swish-swish. Thump-thump.

                   The speed of our card slaps gives our game a hip-hop rhythm. With each card I pull, Callie adds body moves by bending at the elbow and drawing her fanned out deck to her chin.

                   We pull and discard as fast as we can until there are two in the deck, Callie’s got three, I’ve got four, and it’s my turn to draw. She’s wiggling around on her bottom and singing before I get the card in my hand.

                   “I’m gonna win. I’m gonna win,” Callie chants.

                   I drag one of the two remaining cards slowly toward me and hold it to my chest before looking. With a deliberate “hmm,” then an “ah,” I add it to the pair of fours in my hand and with a grin, lay the threesome on the table. “I win,” I announce.

                   Callie responds by sticking her tongue out at me and scrunching up her nose. I’m thinking about what I want to wear tonight.

                   Then she leans over and grabs my forearms. My resolve crumbles.

                   “Please. One more round. Come on Aubrey. You’ve only been here, like, like, twenty minutes,” she whines.

                   I resettle at the foot of her bed and deal new cards.

                   Soon the tempo of card slaps and swooshes returns until Callie’s oversized Kidoozie clock alarms.

                   It’s 3:00 pm.

                   I snap my head up and put my cards down. “Callie, I have to go.”

                   “But the game?”

                   I think the crestfallen look on her face is a little much, a tactic she uses. Guilt creeps up from my subconscious but I push it away. Tonight is too important. Callie’s too young to understand. Jumping up from the bed and walking towards the door, I talk fast. “I’ll see your tomorrow. If I win again, I get your slippers!” I hike up my scrubs belligerently, mocking the threat. Callie smiles and I know we’re okay. I run over, give her a quick hug, and leave.

                   A lab tech passes me in the doorway and I think about Callie’s bruised arm, but I want to get ready. I’ll leave it for tomorrow.



Everyone I pass is quiet. Not I haven’t had my coffee quiet, but the kind of quiet that demand immediate pause. I quicken my pace and reach the unit just as housekeeping walks out of room 467.

                   Callie’s room.

                   “…clot…pulmonary artery…,”I hear, and then nothing but the ocean pounding in my ears. Thirty minutes later, I sit on the bathroom floor. My boss gives me the day off, but by the time I’m in my car, I’ve decided to transfer.


Adult Oncology. Three months. I do overtime in the radiation lab. If I learn the medicines, I’ll fit in, I think. It’s not working. When I’m in a patient’s room and his grandchildren are there, I feel displaced, like an outsider.

                   I set up a meeting with my old manager.


                   “Hi, I’m Aubrey. I’ll be your nurse today.”

                   The twelve-year- old sitting cross-legged on the bed has a deck of cards in her hand. She has an Osteosarcoma and will have surgery in two days.

                   “Playing Solitaire, huh.” The triggered memory shakes me.

                   “Yeah, but I’d like to have someone to play with. You could fix that.” She says it to me matter-of-fact. I avoid eye contact. I don’t want her to see my eyes getting red.

                   “Can I sit and talk to you while you play?”

                   “Sure. Wanna play Crazy Eights with me?”

                   “Sure.” It’s only one word, but it sticks in my throat.

                   I just stare. She probably thinks I’m nuts. “Yes” might be moving forward or back, I don’t know which.

                   She cups the deck in her left hand, then grabbing a handful in her right, I watch her position her thumbs to fan out the cards. They fall with a dull thwack when she arches the piles back between her thumb and index finger.

                   “That wasn’t very good.” She lets out a sigh of exasperation and pushes the cards to where I sit gingerly at the edge of her bed. “Here. You do it.”

                   I miss Callie.

                   “No, I think you should do it.” I pick up the cards and place them back in front of her.

                   “Split the deck and try again.”

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Chen Song Ping

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