I’ve been looking up some tips/tricks for doing NaNoWriMo, and today’s prompt was, What is your character wearing? Why did he or she choose this? What does it say or not say about your character? Here’s my just-over 1600 words (NaNo daily goal) about what my current main character wears
I wake up and take a quick shower – our apartment is dry and my skin becomes scaly and red if I stay in too long – before taking a look at my closet. At my job, at the infusion center, I can wear scrubs or business casual. Jeans and cancer-fighting-slogan tshirts on Fridays. It’s a Wednesday. My favorite scrubs are blue and washed so much that they’re soft like slim leather. I don’t remember if they are faded and soft because they’re high or low quality material, but it doesn’t matter. I love them. It’s like working in my pajamas but slightly less provocative. Nobody seems to notice how wonderful these scrubs are, that’s another thing I like about them. They’re my secret scrubs. Patients notice if I wear holiday scrubs – Christmas trees and Hanukkah menorahs and Thanksgiving turkeys and red hearts for Valentine’s day – but nobody comments on my soft blue scrubs. They’re light blue. Dark blue seems to highlight blood, black is morbid, pink is far too perky for me (the exception being the breast-cancer pink scrubs we all buy for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which our office manager tells us should be every month), yellow seems juvenile like a LPN or what a student would wear. Light blue suits me. Sometimes I wear green, but it makes my skin look sallow. Another thing the office manager warns us about – looking too healthy or not healthy enough. There is an entire wall of windows in the infusion room, and the patients look alternately better and worse when they get infused on that side. If they’re really ill, small and sickly in their clothes and blankets, the harsh light only serves to highlight and create an image of impending death. They all look bleak and tired and unwell. If they’re unwell – and occasionally we get a seemingly healthy person, like someone with a stomach condition who isn’t absorbing iron, so they’re not all unwell – you can usually see it more clearly when they’re against that wall. If they’re on the other side, the side with the walls and the equally harsh (in my opinion) fluorescent lights boring down on them, you can still see. But not as much as with the natural light.
I have various shades of blue scrubs, but the soft light blue ones are my favorite. I wear them once a week, sometimes once every other week. I try not to wear them too much, and I also try not to save them. It’s a delicate balance. Luckily we don’t work with children or I’m not sure I could handle those types of scrubs. Cartoon characters, smiley faces, animals – those would freak me out, especially in a center where most people have cancer. I prefer my straightforward monochromatic scrubs. I think purple would be okay too. I haven’t come across a pair of purple scrubs that seem appropriate or something I would like – they are either too bright or too deep, too close to the color of blood. If I could find a nice mauve pair, I’d buy them. I usually wash my scrubs several times when I buy them – they’re so stiff and unyielding that it’s like wearing cardboard for the first few days. I hate that. Which is why I love my blue ones, I love soft. I also have a brown pair, but I scrutinize myself to make sure I don’t look like I’m wearing poop. Another thing we have to deal with. Or to make sure I’m not the same color as the infusions themselves. We have infusion drips that are brown in color, although at least we don’t have brown butterfly needles. Our butterflies are yellow or blue or green or purple; they can be very colorful and pretty in a weird sort of way, if you notice that. I had a patient once who always asked for a certain color. She wanted a different color each time. She was only getting ten infusions so it wasn’t very hard, but I struggled with her over which color connector would count. Each tube has multiple connectors, and she made some rules about which connector counted toward her color scheme. The possibilities are truly endless. You can have a red connector with two blue ends for tubing. You can have yellow with red – you can even have different shades of the same color, like green. Most people don’t care. I liked the patient who wanted different colors, she was different. She didn’t take the chemo too seriously. She didn’t even seem to think about it much. She knitted scarfs and hats for her grandchildren while I infused her.
A lot of the older women knit, and some younger women as well. Some do cross-stitch. Some crochet, although one of the women told me that crocheting is considered not as high class as knitting – I couldn’t believe it. As if people care about that sort of that thing, but she said they do. She had a book called, “Happy Hookers Stitch and Bitch.” I cracked up every time I saw that title. She was a tiny old lady with non-hodgkins lymphoma who looked about 80 years old although she was spry. She showed me pictures of her grandchildren and her children. They lived nearby, she told me, and took care of her although she hated their cooking. I pointed out that sometimes things taste funny when you’re having chemo, so maybe the food wasn’t so bad. She laughed and said it was truly that bad, that her daughter never used enough salt or seasonings, and her son-in-law overcooked everything. I agreed that was pretty b ad.
Some of the men knit, but mostly they watch TV. The younger men, in their 30s or 40s or 50s, tend to watch ESPN sportscenter or Court-TV documentaries or History channel or PBS. The women watch Lifetime or Bravo – I’ve noticed a real uptick in the amount of Real Housewives watching during the day. Some people read. Some listen to iPods – until a few years ago it was CD players. Now a lot of younger people – and by younger, I mean my own age – play on their cell phones. They bring in their laptops.
I like most of the doctors at the infusion center. They’re hematologist-oncologists. Not a very cheery profession, but most of them are kind and easygoing. We get the occasional resident or intern. The doctors give their orders to the nurses, who type them up and email them to us, and we prepare the infusions. It usually moves fairly quickly. The longest time is starting a line, or flushing a line. Sometimes we get someone who has an allergy we don’t know about until after the first round is finished and they start getting itchy or having difficulty breathing. We give them Benadryl or zofran or both, and we make large notations in their chart. We flag them. One of the doctors doesn’t like to give iron infusions unless the patient is half-dead; he’s convinced that half the world is allergic to iron. I’ve only seen that once. Most people seem to tolerate iron pretty well, and they feel better after a week or two of infusions, especially the pregnant women who aren’t absorbing any orally thanks to the parasite inside them, as one of the docs, a cocky guy in his late 30s, likes to say with a head shake. I once said to him, “Most pregnant women don’t consider their babies parasites, you know. Most of them are pretty happy to be pregnant and don’t mind it.”
He smiled, not in a totally condescending manner, but in a somewhat thoughtful manner, and told me I was right. “But, from another point of view, anything that steals valuable nutrients from its host is a parasite.”
“It can be a symbiotic relationship. The host is getting something too.”
“Dirty diapers and sore nipples and sleepless nights? Doesn’t seem too beneficial for her.”
“Oh, I think there’s a little more to it than that,” I tried to sound vague.
“You don’t have kids, do you?”
I half snorted, half laughed. “No. Not me. No kids.”
“I don’t either. But a lot of my friends do, and you’re probably right, there is something a little more to it than bodily functions.” Then he got called for a phone consult from another doctor at the large teaching university a few hours away.
Kids are not allowed in the infusion center, although they can wait just outside and watch TV. We run into that situation once in a while, where a mom doesn’t have a sitter and needs treatment. FMLA works, but only after the husband has taken all of his vacation time – and it’s unpaid. Recently a mom brought her daughter, a sweet girl of about eight, with her to get treatment, but the office manager made the daughter wait in the waiting room just outside the infusion room door. The daughter was fine – we turned the TV on to Disney, and gave her some crackers and juice and cookies while her mom got treatment. I actually think she might have enjoyed it. The mom checked on her several times, but she was just sitting there, with her knees pulled up to her chest, watching Hannah Montana or The Suite Life of Zack and Cody or something new that I didn’t watch as a kid but I’ve read about in People Magazine. The patients can walk around if they want, dragging their IV pole behind them or next to them, although most just sit watching TV or knitting or reading. This mom was up and down every ten minutes or so, although I kept checking on her daughter myself and she was fine. Later the office manager reminded us that if the situation came up again, we were not to give any children cookies without their parents permission. I know I gave her at least one package, and there’s always five or six nurses on the floor at any time, so she may have gone home with a stomachache.