Day 72 – Florence Frickin’ Nightingale

This one’s for you mama….

My mom spent her working years as a nurse. A member of that noble-hearted profession of caregivers, nurturers, comforters of the ailing. My mother also has a rather warped sense of humour. To this day, if you ask her how my dad broke his toe (something that happened well over 30 years ago now), you’ll get such a fit of tear streaming breathless giggles you won’t ever really get the story, but you’ll get that my mom finds the witnessing of bodily injury funny.

Florence Frickin’ Nightingale.

I can still remember coming home from school one day, my mom, breathless with laughter, trying to tell me about the neighbor up the ladder trying to paint the trim on his front window; ladder, neighbour, paint all slowly sliding down the wall into the rose bushes. The neighbor, and the mess, were long gone, but my mom was still laughing.

Now, my mom’s not heartless, but she’s seen serious stuff, and if it isn’t serious, she can’t take it seriously:

My brother (about 10yrs old) comes rushing into the house:

Mom, Gordie fell and hit his head!

Can he walk? –  Yeah.

Can he talk? – Yeah.

Well, tell Gordie to go home and tell his mom he hit his head.

Better yet, 20 some years later she’s sitting beside my at the ER while I wait to have my broken elbow treated. Now this was quite frankly probably the worst pain I’ve ever been in in my life (you know the kind, where both passing out and puking are on the menu and you just can’t decide which). After several hours of waiting, I was beginning to lose my sense of humor, and said as much to my mother. But as I was remembering the kid they wheeled in with an acute asthma attack, I was trying to keep my own suffering in perspective. I said to my mom: but I’m trying to remember it’s not terminal. My mom (who knows very well triage is about separating patients into three categories) says with a dismissive pfffft of her lips:

It it was terminal, they’d leave you in the hall. If it was life threatening, they’d be in a hurry to treat you.

Florence Frickin’ Nightingale.

And my dad’s no better. A good chunk of his early career spent working in ambulance and X ray, he’s seen some pretty messed up stuff too. No sympathy there. I woke up once in the middle of the night, my eyes on fire. Got up looked in the mirror only to discover they were swollen shut, crusted over with pus – when I did try and pry the lids apart I saw what should have been the whites of my eyes blood red. Probably not good, probably something I should see a doctor about. Clearly couldn’t drive myself. When my dad came to pick me up, I grinned up at him and blinked through threads of pus: isn’t this the grossest thing you’ve ever seen?

Meh, I’ve seen a guy thrown through a windshield, that was gross.

Damnit! In a NORMAL family I’d get sympathy for something like this!

Of course growing up in a family like this means a rather undramatic response to any kind of injury. When someone else’s mom might be freaking out when the family cat gets hit by a car, my mom is calmly digging through the wood pile to find a splint to bind the cat’s broken leg (come to think of it, should be really glad my mom didn’t just go out to the woodpile when I broke my arm).

My brother’s got it as bad as any of us. When I was 15 he and I were out in BC. I broke my leg (skateboarding down a mountain road – the wipeout was SPECTACULAR – all the crying after, not so cool). Now my big brother was responsible for me, and granted, once he got I was seriously hurt did take me to the hospital, but there were no hysterics, no: Oh my baby sister! Just a calm phone call to my mom, asking what my health care number was. Why? – my mom wanted to know. They need it to pay for the X Ray. What X Ray! – my mom REALLY wanted to know. Never one to overstate a situation, he was just aiming to get the information he needed.

As an aside, a year later, there’s another late night phone call to my parents, this time they’re out of town, and I’m in trouble again:

Where are the the spare keys? Val’s locked herself out of the car.

Well, they’re here, she’ll just have to leave it.

But the car’s running.

Well, I guess it will just have to run ’til it’s out of gas, we’ll deal with it when we get back.

But her licence is inside.

Well she won’t need that if she can’t drive the car.

Yeah, but the police would like to see it.

Sympathy’s hard to come by in my family, but a good hearty laugh at whatever you’re going through is plentiful. It’s good, it means I can throw myself a good pity party once in a while, but know I’ll never get stuck wallowing in it. The people who love me, just won’t let me.

One time, while sick in bed, I heard the answering maching pick up. It was my dad:

You’re mom said you were having a rough go of it, though you might need a Poor Val.

Pooor Val.


and now that this is recorded on the machine you can play it whenever else you need one.

Florence Frickin’ Nightingales the lot of ya!

One thought on “Day 72 – Florence Frickin’ Nightingale

  1. I’m a strange combination of a Florence Frickin’ Nightingale. Just ask my kids. On the occasion that they are sick or injured I go into objective caregiver mode and attend to the wound without emotional drama. I have to do this to survive because at heart I’m a blood and gore wimp. I hate the sight of blood. I consciously put a wall up so that I don’t go into an emotional panic. I sometimes go into the emotional drama afterwards in the privacy of my own room. But it’s easier to do keep calm when I deal with someone else’s wound. When I get a serious injury it’s another story. I’ve even fainted because of the pain and panic I incurred once.

    When my kids are sick I also go into this efficient caregiver personality. I take their temperature, offer them appropriate meds, provide homemade broth and let them rest quietly in their rooms. I don’t hover, hug, or anything of the sort. Which is really weird because I have the reputation of being an overprotective, huggy kind of person.

    My kids seem to be pretty resilient. In fact my fourteen year old can seem pretty cold at times when I’ve been ill, and yet she thinks that she wants to be a pediatric surgeon. She says she want to balance out the neutral, sometimes distain, she has for kids with a compassionate career to help them. And my second oldest went through some pretty grueling experiences in the hospital at one time and survived with some wisdom about his own health. My oldest has a potentially life-threatening allergy but just shrugs his shoulders and lives life to the max. Maybe my ability to turn off the emotional drama has my kids become resilient. I just hope they don’t lose their humanity or compassion because of it.

    I suspect that your resiliency and sense of humour about your health issues partially comes from the way your parents display their compassion. Really when it comes right down to it, when I feel pukey, sweaty and gross, I don’t want someone fawning over me either. I just want to know there is someone close by who cares who might be willing to bring me the barf bucket or a cup of tea when I need it. And in most cases, as a mom, that is pretty rare. I tend to do those things myself. If fact after giving birth to my youngest, after a pretty yucky labour and cesarean, I declined the offer from a well meaning nurse, “Would you like to hold your daughter?” In fact I think my exact words were, “Nope, just give her to her father. I want to sleep.” I don’t think that I held my much desired daughter until very much later that day.


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