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Wake up, it's time to go to bed.

At the time I was plighting my troth, or troughing my plight, however that goes, a young man's choices were pretty well limited. There was the homebody skilled in the art of cooking, dusting, and raising kids, or there was the rare career girl, whose range of careers ran the gamut from schoolteacher to nurse.

In opting for the nurse, I never stopped to think-honestly-that the schoolteacher works only nine months out of the year as opposed to the nurse's opportunity of working seven days a week year round. Or that some nurses work two shifts year round. Or that until I got on my literary feet, however wobbly, this extra income might come in handy.

It had crossed my mind that by joining plights with a nurse, I would be locking in free nursing service for the rest of my life, or un death did us part, whichever came first. I mean, here was a woman who would coddle me at every hangnail, show compassion at every headache, run for a Band-Aid at every razor scratch. And just between us-I wouldn't want this to go any further had heard a rumor that for passion, no mammal on earth could hold a candle to the Homo sapiens female nurse.

To all of which I now say, "Ho wash!" with a capital "hog."

Taking last things first, the passion theory went down the drain when she came sagging through the door after her first post-marriage eight-hour shift. Turned out that after eight hours of tending to the demands of sick sapiens, she was up to here with sapiens, both feeble and in fine fettle.

And then there was the Hippocratic oath, which commits every nurse to the dumping of a bucket of disinfectant-also known as hospital cologne-over her head before leaving for home. One whiff of that stuff is enough to bank the fire of a man's passion for at least the next 24 hours.

The free nursing service I'd been counting on was shot down the morning a can of Alpo rolled off the kitchen counter and landed across three of the best toes on my naked right foot, already blue from the cold linoleum. I figured that before news of the pain could reach my brain computer terminal, she would have assisted me to the nearest chair, drawn a bucket of warm water, rustled up the Epsom salt, and had her arms around me in case the pain would cause me to begin hopping around and possibly break a leg.

If she had any such fears she managed to mask them behind a facade of ear-splitting laughter. Between shrieks she cried, "You should have seen the fellow we had in traction yesterday .... Both legs in casts clear to his hips .... Did you hurt your toes?"

No fooling-I could come into the house with my head hanging by a thread, and she would still leave it up to me to find the Elmer's glue. And while I was applying the glue she would tell me about a guy coming into Emergency that day carrying his head in a Wal-Mart shopping bag.

In the confusion of choosing the appropriate wife, I had failed to consider that a nurse might be bringing her work home with her. Especially at mealtime. Especially when we were having stew. Whereas a schoolteacher would be discussing the proper positioning of a predicate adjective, a nurse says, "I saw my first evisceration today."

With my first slurp of stew poised in midair, I say, "That's nice-what's an evisceration?"

"They took this guy's insides out. Would you please pass the steak sauce?"

I managed to eat a few crackers, but they didn't go down easy.

Even having overlooked these major surprises, I still had to consider the no-small matter of what I choose to call plain old creature comfort. What you choose to call it is your business.

You know how nurses in the movies and on the tube are always showing up in the patient's room to coax him to have a slug of orange juice, fluff his pillows, rub his back, pull up the covers, and coo, "Now you try to get some sleep," and then tippytoe out of the room? All that solicitude, believe me, ends at the patient's door.

One of the greatest pleasures in the life of a married nurse is catching hubby napping on the sofa at the end of the nine o'clock movie, jerking the pillow out from under his head, and cackling, "Wake up-it's time to go to bed!" If my nurse ever tippytoed when I was sleeping, I'd know I was still dreaming.

Then, however, thanks to a bleeding ulcer, it became my turn to take up residence in the Bloomington (Indiana) hospital. Have you got a minute?

Through exercise and diet, I had managed to reduce my baby fat by ten pounds and was about to receive my reward by stopping at the Spencer Dairy Queen for a Hawaiian Blizzard. Naturally, I was feeling good-God was in heaven, the hillside dew pearled, that sort of thing. But no more had we stepped through the door than I said to my dear wife-nurse, "You'll have to order; I've got to sit down." Which I did, laying my head on the table.

The next thing I knew, the table was covered with blood, blood was running off on my new white shoes, my wife was trying in vain to sop up the torrent with paper napkins, a boy was hurrying with a mop, and patrons right and left were suddenly losing their appetites. My nurse later said I had no pulse; the ambulance people could get no blood pressure. Had I been in the mood for conversation, I would have asked how anyone could register blood pressure when the last of his blood was ruining his new white shoes and the stream was already inching toward the door.

But instead of experiencing the great adventure of death, I wound up in the emergency room with a nurse coaxing me to swallow a plastic garden hose intended to siphon off the last few drops of my vital juice. Another nurse was busily engaged in stripping me down to my shorts.

When my dear wife showed up, I managed to mumble, "This girl took off my pants. Do you want to say anything to her?" To which dear wife replied, "I've taken the pants off a lot of men." This brought all activity in the room to a screeching halt until my red-faced mate explained that she also is a nurse.

I won't bore you with the details if I haven't already-of how the doctor exposed my innards with a flashlight, how he discovered what he said was a big ulcer, leaving me to speculate that it must be about the size of a regulation Frisbee. Turned out to be the size of a quarter. Big enough, anyway, that I spent the next four days languishing in the hospital, surviving mostly on gelatin, and trying to forget that gelatin comes from horses' hoofs. And trying not to think where horses' hoofs have been.

What I'm getting at-and it has certainly taken long enough, I'm sure you are saying-it was during this stay that I would learn why a nurse-wife has eccentricities unlike those of, say, a schoolteacher-wife.

In taking the oath upon graduation, a nurse evidently swears that neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night will keep her from waking a patient at least four times during her eight-hour shift. No matter that sleep might do the patient more good than the pill she is serving in that little plastic cup the pill must go through. The blood pressure people cleverly time their intrusions to fall midway between the pi,' servers. One nurse woke me one night -no kidding-just to ask how I was feeling.

In an effort to outsmart the night owl Nightingales, I tried sleeping during the day. Tried is the definitive word. The parade of doctors, nurses, nurses' aides, candy stripers, flower arrangers, gelatin stewards, custodians, IV replacers, and TV adjusters through my room made a beehive by comparison look about as active as a muskrat house in the Sahara.

How I was allowed to sleep long enough to dream on my last night there is a mystery. But I'm sure heads will roll because of it. Have you got another minute?

In this dream a prospective patient would save money by not routinely accepting admittance to the first hospital where the ambulance people delivered him. If his wits were still intact, he would ask for their price on whatever he had that needed fixing, then have the ambulance driver take him to other hospitals in the area for comparison shopping. So in this dream, I was occupying a bed in the hospital of the lowest bidder.

To keep the prices low, the hospital was on a cost-cutting kick. To save heating costs as well as nurses' time, two patients with the same problem were in the same bed. I was in bed with a fellow ulcer sufferer so both of us could eat from the same gelatin bowl. In the next bed were two men with their legs in traction, one right leg, one left, both hoisted on the same trapeze.

Convalescents got their therapy by helping out around the hospital and cut their hospital bill at the same time. Female patients were cleaning bathrooms, making beds, stirring gelatin, carrying trays, doing the laundry. Their male counterparts flexed their muscles polishing floors, emptying trash, washing windows. I dreamed I had been assigned the windows on the sixth floor, outside, and I was standing on a scaffold and trying to see through my hospital gown, which the wind was whipping over my head.

On one of the windows I saw posted the hospital's business hours: "Open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 noon; closed Sunday. In case of emergency, especially ulcers, try not to bleed until you can get in line on Monday morning."

When the nurse awakened me for my 2 a.m. pill, I might have kissed her except that she had already stuck a thermometer in my mouth.

On my dear wife's daily visit, I reversed tradition and gave her a bouquet, one I had spotted in a deserted room on my therapy walk that morning. Dear wife, of course, was overcome with this display of affection, especially when I explained it was my way of apologizing for her nursing nonchalance at home. She was even more overcome when she happened to find a card tucked away in the foliage, a little card that read: "Get well soon Boss. I miss you." It was signed, "Your best friend, Spot."

I'm not sure that a schoolteacherwife's reaction would have been any kinder or gentler. She very carefully placed the flowers on my chest, then ever-so-gently folded my hands over the stems. It was only a little thing, but the gesture will no doubt influence the rest of my natural as well as unnatural life. Especially on those nights when I am awakened on the sofa and dragged off to bed. A
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Title Annotation:life married to a nurse
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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