36: In the Dark

36: In the Dark

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

In the Dark

In all troublous events we may find comfort, though it be only in the negative admission that things might have been worse.

~Amelia Barr

“Don’t let it close behind you,” I warned. Too late. The door clicked shut. With a sinking feeling I realized I was locked in a dark linen closet with Bob, the hospital maintenance man who called me Sweet Pea.

I had just become a registered nurse and this was my second week on the medical-surgical floor of a 100-bed hospital. I’d heard from other nurses that the head nurse, Rhonda, was a terror: demanding, unreasonable. According to legend, she ate new RNs for lunch. But I hoped I’d be such a super-nurse she’d never chew me up. I had successfully avoided confrontations with her so far, but that changed when the closet door locked.

There I was, unable to pass meds and complete procedures, stuck in a tiny dark closet with Bob. Bob, with his slicked-back hair and tight shirts, who patted his round belly and affectionately called it his “beer baby.”

I thumped on the door for help but he didn’t join in. I pounded harder and began to yell. Finally to my relief, and then horror, I heard, “Who’s in there?”

Rhonda. My visions of getting on her good side disappeared into the dark of the room. “It’s Carole, your new nurse.”

To my further agony, Bob added, “And Bob from Maintenance.”

Her voice was granite. “Whatever you’re doing in there, come out right now.”

In a voice as small as I felt I said, “We can’t. We’re locked in here.” I wondered if she knew the door locked from the outside.

“You’re what? Never mind. You should’ve told me that in the first place. I’ll send for Maintenance.”

Her heavy footsteps faded and I was alone again. With Bob. Making it worse, I heard him pulling sheets off the closet shelf and plopping them onto what little space there was between us.

“Might as well have a seat, Sweet Pea. This is gonna take a while.”

I shook my head. “No, it won’t. Maintenance will be here soon.”

“Maybe, but it won’t do no good. Only one key to this door, and I’m wearing it. Keep telling ‘em to get another one made, but they don’t listen.”

My stomach sank. I wondered if I’d be sane enough to complete who-knows-how-many incident reports when I was finally released.

Just then, I heard footsteps outside the door. I said a silent prayer it was Maintenance and that they’d heeded Bob’s recommendation to get another key.

A man’s voice boomed. “Bob, you in there with the key?”

“Yep.”

There was a pause and then the man said, “Sorry, Rhonda. There’s no spare.”

Rhonda sounded furious. “You only have one key to this lock?” She called through the door to Bob. “Slip the key under the door and we’ll unlock it.”

“No can do, ma’am. It’s too fat.”

With an icy fury, Rhonda said, “Call a locksmith.”

“Yes, ma’am. Pronto.”

She growled, “Next time, I hope you’ll be more efficient.”

I was thankful she was talking to the maintenance guy and not me. But my gratitude dissipated along with my deodorant. Minutes seemed like hours and I got hotter in that tiny lightless room where Bob’s too-heavy cologne was giving me a headache.

Bob blew out a deep tobacco-tinged breath and offered, “I can give you a hug if it would make you feel better.” Tears formed in my eyes. I was stuck in this linen-filled hellhole and once I got out, I’d probably be fired.

Still wading in my pity pool, I finally heard voices outside the door. Rhonda’s was the loudest. “Locksmith’s here. Carole, when he gets the door open, I want you at the nurse’s station stat.”

I had to swallow hard to get my stomach back in its rightful place. “I’ll be there.”

Once the locksmith opened the closet door, I murmured a quick thanks to my liberators. Without looking back at Bob, I dashed down to the nurse’s station on rubbery legs. Rhonda motioned for me to follow her to a vacant room. She closed the door and for a foolish moment I feared she would lock us in.

Words rushed out of my mouth. Apologies toppled over explanations and promises that I’d do better.

She held up her hand for me to stop. “I had to get others to do your job. Our patients couldn’t go without their care while you were in hiding.”

She made it sound like I’d done it on purpose. I wanted to protest her accusations, but she left me no opening.

She continued. “You haven’t been an RN for long and you’re new here, but those are not excuses. Everyone’s responsible for her actions. And a nurse’s actions here are to help patients to the best of her ability.” She leaned in toward me and in a low voice added, “I’ve got my eye on you. Now get back to work.”

I managed to hold myself together the rest of the shift, but as soon as I reached my car the tears fell hot and fast down my face. I was sure that Rhonda would find a reason to fire me within the week. I dreaded going back to work.

Arriving at the hospital the following day, I expected Rhonda to watch me like a hawk. Instead of picking apart everything I did, though, she offered suggestions for improving my nursing skills. By the end of the day, I’d learned more than I had in the previous ten days on that floor.

I had my coat on, ready to leave for the day, when I thanked her for her help. She harrumphed. “You’re surprised I helped you.” She paused and stared at the wall behind me. “I know what everyone says about me. I am tough, but only when I need to be. Even though you did something stupid yesterday, you’re a good nurse, not great, but good. Our patients deserve great nurses. And I think you’ll get better over time, even if you do need better organization and time management skills.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood there, my face a blank.

“That’s all. Go home.”

I rushed to the parking lot but when I got inside my car I just sat and thought about Rhonda. She wasn’t really an ogre. She cared about the patients and drove us nurses to provide outstanding care.

It’s been a number of years since I’ve moved past that job, but whenever I’m getting tired, or feeling like I can’t provide top-quality care anymore, I remember Rhonda. She inspired me to always do my very best, even in the darkest circumstances.

~Carole Fowkes

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