Pip couldn’t feel her toes anymore. The realization should have scared her but her mind had numbed to the cold too, shutting out any residual worries she had regarding being questioned about Mr. Westin. He was dead plain and simple; and soon enough, she would be too.
She crouched hunched over, her feet tucked under her and tried in vain to rub her wrists where a dull pain had started. She didn’t know where she was, nor how long she’d been here. She was leaning against something – a tree? Small, neat snow drifts surrounded her in igloo fashion. A curtain of heavy falling snow obscurred her vision; and even if it hadn’t, the wind had snatched her glasses, reducing her vision to blurs at best.
Her knees hurt from being bent for so long. But she didn’t even feel she had enough strength to change positions. Ironic, she thought. She had nursed Mr. Westin out of his pain and misery. Honored the wishes that his family refused to acknowledge. Yet she couldn’t muster the energy to help herself. If her face muscles could still move, she would probably be laughing right now.
All she really wanted to do was sleep though; she was so tired. Desparate to get to York Road, she’d kept trudging on against the whirling wind and snow. Staying at the hospital because of the mandatory code yellow status had not been an option. Now she was trapped in a vast winterland – the snow falling so fast and so thick, even the buildings had disappeared.
She tried to sniff a couple of times and all she got was cold air and snowflakes, the aroma of bacon and coffee now just a memory. Was it ever a reality? She wondered if they had found Mr. Westin yet. They must have and were probably looking for her to be in the hospital somewhere. Her mind smiled for her frozen features. They wouldn’t get her this time.
Why should she have stayed? So she could make it easy for them to throw her under the bus again? They hadn’t bothered listening before. Just audited her nurse notes, and sent her straight to Shepard Pratt for a psych evaluation.
Things changed in her mind after that. She had always held herself in high esteem as a nurse; dedicated and committed to give patients what they need to get back on their feet again. After Shepard Pratt’s diagnosis that she could only work with patients again if she took psych meds for the rest of her life, she felt flawed; imperfect.
As the wind continued to whip snow up against her now, her body convulsed as she felt the cold settle into her bones. She didn’t want to stay here, but the blizzard held her hostage. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the good days. On cue, like it was yesterday and not 20-some years ago, she could remember just how excited she was when she graduated from nursing school; when Havenworth Medical Center hired her as a full-time nurse and how important she felt dressed in her white nurses uniform. She could almost feel the admiration from co-workers and patients when they saw how pressed and clean her uniform looked everyday she worked. She was proud of the standard of excellence that she set and took care to maintain it with a dedicated ritual at home.
She’d check her white stockings first; they couldn’t have any holes or runs in them. A few clips of her toenails and passes with the pumice stone minimized that. Then she’d don her carefully starched and pressed nursing uniform, a shirt and skirt – making sure that the creases were sharp and the white was devoid of stains. In her full-length mirror she’d take stock of her reflection. She was Nurse Epiphany to her patients; a symbol of pride, comfort and hope and she had celebrated that status.
But as time passed, traditions retired and the nursing profession started feeling like just a job to her.
Somebody decided that Epiphany was too long for patients and for her badge and she became Pip. Next to go were the all-white uniforms that were “intimidating to the patients.”
Scrubs became standard attire for healthcare professionals; and everybody wore them. From the nursing staff to the cleaning crew, Havenworth was staffed with employees who all dressed alike with no status distinctions and she felt lost in the crowd.
Who was she supposed to be now? She had tried to find herself in her work but Nurse Epiphany was long gone. Nursing had gone through a transition and in her opinion, ended up lost in a world of newfangled nursing. She didn’t feel like her work as a nurse meant anything anymore. She doled out meds and documented; trying to make sure she keyed in the right information on these computers. She barely had the time to connect with her patients anymore. They only needed her drugs, not her.
“Can you tell my nurse I need pain medicine please.”
“Is Pip around? I need my sleeping pill.”
“Could you tell Pip this pca pump ain’t workin?”
She felt like nothing but a glorified pill-pusher most nights.
But Mr. Westin and Mrs. English before him, had given her back a piece of herself; helped her to feel like Nurse Epiphany again – at least at work.
At home though, nightmares of an ever-widening cold, dark pit grabbed her by the wrists and pulled her in whenever she closed her eyes. She’d wake up screaming and sweating, dark marks wrapped around both of her wrists. It was her work that gave her a little bit of normalcy, so she faked her dislike of the way things were and focused on ways to help her patients.
Mr. Westin had been easier than Mrs. English to satisfy. He was 91 years old and his family had expected that he wouldn’t be around much longer anyway. The only thing she needed to do was make sure he didn’t suffer in any way.
The sleeping pills took care of that for her.
It wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. Although at first Pip wasn’t sure that he wasn’t confused. Then she walked in on him the last night and saw that he had sliced through his left wrist with a plastic knife. He was shaking, crying, bleeding all over his sheets and poised to slice the other wrist.
Pip cleaned him up, bandaged his wrist and ordered the sleeping pills from pharmacy.
Two hours after administering the sleeping pills, she walked into his room and closed the door behind her. She didn’t bother turning on the light. His eyes were closed and his body was still. She picked up the pillow and held it over this face. She felt his body stir so she pressed harder.
It had been easy. With one act of kindness, she fulfilled his wishes and boosted her own self-esteem again. But soon after that high a new low had crept in. One that couldn’t feel the magic of the falling snow anymore; nor imagine a future where patient care lifted her spirits. Her psych medications might have helped but Pip believed they were part of the problem, so she’d chucked them into the nearest garbage can.
She never thought they were powerful enough to stop the nightmares or stop her aching wrists that had escalated into pain while she was hunkered down here nearly buried in snow. She tried again in vain to rub her wrists with gloved hands too frozen to cooperate. Next she tried just moving her hands so that her wrists rotated – more pain. Ouch!
She tried to open her eyes again; her lids struggled to separate as if snowflakes had bonded them together. She tried a few more times and finally gave up. She was just too tired. For the first time since the blizzard trapped her in this spot, she wanted to scream but now nothing would come out. She felt hypothermia shutting her down and she welcomed the peace she couldn’t seem to find anymore.
If only she didn’t have to die alone …..
The patient in Sheppard Pratt’s room 2504 had been screaming since her body returned to its normal temperature. Maintenance crews had found her three days ago, passed out deep in a snow drift, with only a faint pulse – only 50 feet from the front door. On a bed with only a bottom sheet, the patient lay strapped in four-point leather restraints – the ones circling her wrists rubbing in permanent dark marks.