From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose


Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.

Victor Hugo

It was almost Halloween and I didn’t know what to wear. I had been working at Emanuel Rehabilitation Center for several years and always managed to come up with a clever costume, so now it was expected of me. Last year, I went as a member of the “backup team” and wore my son’s dress clothes backward, with a mask of a handsome man on the back of my head. I got a lot of laughs walking down the hall.

I pondered what costume would again cheer up the quadriplegics I had been caring for.

Tom, a good-looking twenty-four-year-old quad, was constantly yelling, “Jean, come here. Please rub my nose. Jean, scratch my head. Jean, dial the phone for me.”

Then Mary, across the hall, joined him with her demands. They knew they were not supposed to yell “Jean” when they needed help, but were to bump the paddle on either side of their head to turn on the call light. But calling out my name expressed their urgency and got quicker results. So they called and called and called. That’s when I had a great idea: I’d dress up as a call girl!

From the drawerful of my daughter’s discarded dance costumes, I retrieved some sheer burgundy tights and covered them with black fishnet stockings. I donned a slinky burgundy top, then, over that went a pink, loosely crocheted dress that came to midthigh, covered by a short, pink, see-through, sheer skirt. My husband, Al, thought I looked quite authentic and gorgeous with my reddish-brown wig and fake leopard jacket. Across my chest, I fastened a big sign: YOU CALLED?

“This ought to make even Grumpy Bob chuckle,” I said, imagining the old quadriplegic man who had been so depressed. I inspected my reflection in front of my full-length bedroom mirror. “Hmm, not bad,” I teased my husband. “Maybe I shouldn’t have become a nurse. If only I were thirty-some years younger . . . ” I shimmied around in front of the mirror, my dangling earrings bouncing and the sheer skirt swishing.

When I arrived at work at 3:00 PM the Halloween party was in progress. Everyone howled with laughter when I arrived. The wheelchair salesman greeted me with open arms.

The social worker said, “This wouldn’t be so funny if you weren’t so out of character.”

“I’m glad you said that,” I said. “This reception is more than I was mentally prepared for.”

“Jean! Jean!” I heard Tom’s familiar call.

“Jean!” Mary echoed.

With a sigh and a smile I slithered into Tom’s room first, smacking my gum. “You called?”

He burst out laughing.

“You gave me the idea to be a call girl since you know you’re always calling my name,” I said.

He laughed harder than I had ever heard him laugh, probably harder than he had since his accident. “I can’t believe I have a call girl for my nurse!”

Patients laughed all evening as I went around answering lights and doing care. An old male stroke patient who couldn’t talk flashed a crooked smile and I noted a glint in his twinkling eyes. Even Grumpy Bob laughed each time I saw him. “Jean, you’re really something!” Seeing him so jovial made the whole thing worthwhile.

Every Halloween after that, someone would beg me to wear that costume again, but once was enough.

When I retired in 1994, one nurse said, “Jean, don’t you still want to work ‘on call’?”

Jean Kirnak

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