Every day my head nurse, Mindy, was mean to me. She always gave me the hardest assignments — the patient who yelled “help me” constantly, or the one with explosive diarrhea. Every night, I cried myself to sleep as my boyfriend snored, unaware.
Mindy was only 26, but she was climbing the ladder, skipping rungs. Even the older nurses let her boss them around. Because although Mindy was a know-it-all, she really did know it all.
Mindy could tell when a patient was having a not-well-known side effect from his chemotherapy. She could get an IV in when nobody else could. Mindy’s composure in a Code Blue could not be duplicated.
Amy, Jessica and I had started on Mindy’s floor a few months previously, fresh out of nursing school.
With military precision, Mindy detailed our inadequacies. She chastised me about my atrocious organizational skills, which led to unapproved overtime. One reprimand took 23 minutes; I was 23 minutes late clocking out.
At end-of-shift report, in front of everybody, she said I’d never make it as a nurse if I didn’t learn to manage my time. She said Amy wasn’t exhibiting bona fide empathy and compassion for her patients. She said Jessica was timorous. We looked it up. It was not a compliment. But we already knew that.
Jessie, Amy and I dissed Mindy in the locker room as we changed out of our scrubs. We said she was the most horrible person ever, nursing was not for us, we needed to find a new career, we were going to give our two weeks’ notice. If ever one of us did it, really quit, the other two would follow suit. But we all kept showing up.
“Kim! Amy!” Jessie waved us toward her, and we snuck into the locker room. “I saw Mindy without her makeup this morning. I didn’t recognize her.”
“Did she look ugly?” I asked.
“Actually, she looked better without it. Maybe a little pale.”
Amy said, “Mindy doesn’t wear makeup to look pretty. It’s war paint. Every day she battles us.”
“Maybe we should wear thick makeup, too,” Jessie said, “slop on foundation that doesn’t match our skin tone, to prove we’re worthy opponents.”
“Sounds good in theory,” I said, “but I have to get up at quarter to five as it is. I’m not setting an alarm at four-thirty to paint my face for a war I’m not going to win.”
“Mindy’s gained a lot of weight in the last few months.” Amy told this like a secret, but it was glaringly obvious. Everybody else who worked on our floor was thin. We did at least 15,000 steps in an eight-hour shift.
“I’ve seen her eat a cupcake or two,” Jessie confided.
Amy asked, “What do you think, Kim?”
Mindy had told the old brown-noser nurse — (she was 42) — in strictest confidence, who had let it slip to one of the aides, who had repeated it to Amy in passing, that Mindy’s husband didn’t want children.
I said aloud what we all were thinking. “She’s pregnant.”
Mindy announced it at end-of-shift report. Her speech sounded rehearsed. “I don’t want an epidemic of gossiping on my floor, so I will tell you that although Jeff and I are now very happy about our baby, my pregnancy was not planned. The pill is not one-hundred percent.”
After report, I dawdled until only Mindy and I remained in the room. There was no way I could care for a human being with tiny flailing arms and legs when I was floundering myself.
I said: “I thought if you were on the pill, you didn’t have to worry.”
Mindy sighed. “Keep taking the pill like you’re supposed to, Kim, and you won’t get pregnant, okay?”
“Now go clock out before you get overtime.”
Mindy and I were alone in the nurses’ station. Amy, Jessie and I thought she was planning to work until her water broke, then take the elevator up to labor and delivery on the fifth floor.
I was charting like she taught me when a tall man, who obviously lifted tons of weighty weights, stormed into our private area. He flung a small cardboard box onto the counter Mindy was sitting behind.
“You’re a conniving liar.” He didn’t yell, he whispered, but the nurses’ station transformed into a walk-in freezer.
Mindy reminded me often that I had a long way to go, that I was still naïve in many ways. But I knew this was Mindy’s husband. And I knew that what he’d flung onto the counter was a factory-glued-shut box of birth control pills.
Mindy started to cry. She quickly covered her face with her hands.
I prioritized. I was closer to the man, so I walked toward him. “This is a restricted area. You should leave.”
Jessie followed Amy into the station. Exhibiting bona fide empathy, Amy rushed over to Mindy and engulfed her huge body as well as she could.
“Jeff,” Mindy said, “you’ll feel differently the first time you hold our bundle of joy in your arms.”
Jessie walked in front of me, pointed out the exit to Jeff. “Go now,” she said, and there was not a hint of timorousness in her tone, “or I’ll call security.”
Jeff backed up. He left.
As the three of us were clocking out later, Amy said, “I can’t believe Mindy cried like a real person.”
I said, “I can’t believe she didn’t throw those pills away.”
Jessie said, “I can’t believe she said ‘bundle of joy’.”
On January 20, 2020, Mindy gave birth to an eight-pound two-ounce baby. News from the fifth floor was that Mindy and Jeff reconciled and named their beautiful girl Olivia.
Amy, Jessie and I no longer talked about quitting.
“I’m proud to be a nurse,” Amy said.
“I feel confident, too,” Jessie said.
I added, “We’re ready for anything.”
It was the day I first heard about the new coronavirus.
Jan Allen’s short stories have appeared in The MacGuffin and fellow-writer-voted Sixfold.