Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 19, 2009

Nurse Appreciation Week

It’s been quite a few years now, but there are some things you don’t ever forget.  Some things stick in with you, no matter how many sands fall through the hourglass.  No matter how many pages are shed by the calendar, the pictures never fade.

It was the middle of the week.  Back in those days, Dusty and Karen were still married, and we were close friends.  We dined together two or three nights a week.  Karen had a number of dishes in her repertoire , but tonight she had made her stand-bye: rosemary chicken with wild rice.  It was an entree I was destined never to review.

Not Mine, But Same Model

Not Mine, But Same Model

I used to ride a motorcycle.  I called it my personality.  Without it, I’m just another keyboard banging cubicle drone.  My last motorcycle was a Honda Pacific Coast, the 1990 model year.  She was candy apple red with a silver undercarriage.  Only 800 CC’s under the hood, sneered at as a scooter on steroids by serious bikers, she was an unusual bike in the American market:  a practical commuter.  The last of three bikes, she carried me over the salt marshes of South Carolina, through the piedmont area near North Carolina, and over the Hills of Tennessee.  She took me to school, to work, and to my wedding.  I still miss her. I figured it up.  In my undergraduate days I had a 20 minute commute and a girlfriend who lived in Virginia.  By the time I took my last ride, I had a over a quarter-million miles in the saddle.

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”″%5DI’d finished the workday, in my cubicle, providing my quota of key-bangs, and I wanted to go home to change clothes before I went over to Dusty and Karen’s.  That was the first wrong decision.  As I came out the door, I looked up.  The sky was the color of new steel, fresh from the forge.  A light rain was falling.  It was cold, but nowhere near freezing.  I pulled on my rain suit.  Grey with red trim.  Heh.  Vanity.  It matched the bike.  Honest, it was just a coincidence.  The gray and red ones were on sale.

Early on in a light rain is the worst time for riders.  You see, normal traffic drips oil, transmission fluid, and other lubricants constantly on the road.  In a heavy rain, the loose grease and oil washes away.  But in a light rain, early on, the loose road residue floats on top of the film of water, making what is quite possibly the slickest road surface in the world.  Anybody formally trained knows this, and knows to stay to one side or the other of that center slick.  But sometimes we outsmart ourselves.

I was going just under the speed limit as I crossed the Henley Street bridge over the Tennessee River.  That was when I made my second mistake.  There’s a short but steep hill just over the bridge and to the right.  The road narrows to a single lane.  Water runs down the hill, and all that grease and oil runs down to the bottom of the hill and pools under the bridge.  So I decided to go straight up the highway and take the second right.  It should have taken me to the “back way” to my house, safely past the single lane underpass.  Instead, just as I drew level with the gas station, a driver who “didn’t see me” pulled out in front of me to cross the highway.

I had just enough time to think, “This is going to suck,” and lock up my brakes.  I remember the bang, but I don’t remember feeling the impact.  I know that when I left the saddle, I cleared my faring and windshield.  I know because when I later looked at the wreck of the bike, the windshield was intact.  It was two feet tall.  I apparently cleared the entire hood of the giant older car and lawn-darted my head into the pavement in the center of Chapman Highway.

The next thing I remember, I was lying on my back, looking up into the rain as it splattered on my helmet’s face-shield.  And every muscle in my body hurt.  Good news, actually.  The first thing that came to my mind was that I had just taken the same fall that Christopher Reeve had taken.  And he’d done it at around twenty miles an hour, onto turf.  I was going almost forty miles an hour, and onto asphalt.  And I knew that the man who had been Superman was now a quadriplegic.  The pain was a good thing.

I knew I shouldn’t move, but I could see the double line of the highway out of the corner of my eye, and all I could think was that, whatever else was wrong with me, getting my ass run over wasn’t going to help.  I rolled over and spotted a comforable looking gutter.  Plan A was to roll over, crawl to the gutter, and wait for help.  I figured a five-thousand dollar bike embedded in the left front fender of somebody’s grungy land barge would be noticed by somebody.

I managed to roll over and I started to low crawl toward the gutter, and she appeared out of the rain.  She was blonde, tall, and wearing very sensible white shoes.

There’s a voice they have.  It’s warm, caring, confidence building, and commands immediate, absolute obedience.  It’s the Nurse Voice.

“Don’t move, sir.  You’ll hurt yourself, maybe badly.”

“I’m afraid I’ll get run over.”

“It’s okay.  There’s a large car parked upstream of you.  Nobody’s going to run over you.”

“Then this piece of asphalt feels very comfortable.”

“I’m a nurse at Baptist Hospital, and I’ll stay with you until the ambulance gets here.”

“Am I bleeding?  I’m getting a taste of iron in my mouth.”

“A little.”  She cleaned my face with napkins someone brought her from the local convenience mart.

And she stuck with me until the meat wagon showed up to haul me off.  Funny thing, about ambulance sirens.  They are piercing, painful,  and annoying.  They design them like that on purpose so that they command your attention.  Once you’ve heard one and thought, “That’s for me,” with a feeling of warm comfort, they no longer sound like that at all.

The point of all this, though, is that the first person to see me when I hit the bay at the University of Tennessee Emergency Room was my case nurse.  For the rest of the night, wandered in and out, and so did any number of technicians and assistant.  But my case nurse stuck with me from the moment I arrived until the night was done.  She had a firm, confident voice, strong hands, and a professional manner that did more for me than the entire level one trauma team in terms of making me feel better.  As I laid there on that backboard, with no movement, she held the center of my treatment together, and gave me the confidence to believe that, when next I sent a telegram to my arms and legs, they were going to answer me.

Doctor’s came and went through my case like kids through a school’s revolving door.  The Trauma Team was especially interesting.  The old trauma bay I was worked on in was tiny. About like two cubicles stuck end-to-end.  There were at least five doctors on the team, and maybe as many as seven.  I’m not sure; I was paying more attention to the assorted indignities they were purpatrating upon my person.  (Note:  they stick fingers in very unexpected places to look for internal bleeding.  I will say no more.)  The technicians punched in and out with all the efficiency of crewmen at an automobile assembly line other than Chrysler.  I felt, for the most part, like a damaged machine being put through it’s paces.  Or I would have, if it hadn’t been for my Nurse.  She explained each step in each procedure to me, patiently and with a smile.  She told me exactly what they hoped to discover with each test, what any possible side-effects might be, and touched me on the shoulder and arm.

The ceiling of the old UT ER corridor was nine ceiling panels wide.  Each square inch of the panels had, on average, four large holes and seven small ones.  The lights had four flourecent tubes each, and were four feet long.  On average, every fifth fixture had a dim or dark tube.  My neck was in a cervical collar and I could not move my head.  The rest of my body was literally strapped down to a plywood board seven feet long and almost an inch thick.  I couldn’t move, and even if I could, I was afraid that any movement at all would cause a sharp bone fragment to sever my spinal colum I was strapped to that backboard for so long that my butt-cheeks went numb.  I could see nothing but the ceiling, and bits of large, mysterious medical equipment at the edges of my peripheral vision.  The voice of my nurse and her hands on my shoulder and arm gave me human contact is desparately needed, and gave me an anchor for my sanity that was badly needed.

Those of you who know me know that I walked out of the ER that night on my own two feet.  Due to the money spent on a top-of-the-line helmet and my own thick neck, I got away with no lasting injury other than a slightly disfiguring facial scar.  So I can’t really say that those two nurses saved my life.  But they kept the terror at bay.

If I have any regrets from that night, they’re regrets of human contact. I don’t know her name.  I also didn’t get the name of the Baptist nurse who kept me from the chance of self-injury on the highway.  I know it’s shallow of me, but I was a little self-focused at the time.  I pray, and my nurses remain in my prayers to this date.

I would ride again tomorrow if I could.  I miss my personality.



  1. When Art had his motorcycle accident (a year ago on the 30th), he was lucky enough to be riding with his best friend (an army medic going through medical school) and wife (nurse). In the car immediately behind them was an off-duty paramedic, and in the car behind THEM was another off-duty nurse. He got better care from them than from the ambulance team and most everyone at the hospital. His ER nurse also had us in stitches to keep him from being too irritable and me calm.

    A month after the accident, with him still walking and moving slowly (and sometime needing a cane), we bought a new motorcycle. He drove it home.

    • My last ride ended with me catapaulting from the saddle at 35 miles an hour. While I miss having a personality, I no longer ride, at the request of my wife, Kelly. She has made many, many changes for me. I can make this one for her. But if she dumps me or dies on me, I’m going to look for console myself with another 1990 model year Pacific Coast.

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