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American Black Creative Nonfiction

On the Job Training

Picture it: I have known what I wanted to be since I was ten: a nurse…

My mother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at sixteen. For the most part, she had things under control. Type 1 diabetics are insulin-dependent. It snowed overnight, and nothing was moving or open for three days. My father had a pulpwood business, and his logging truck would plow through. When the town reopened on Saturday, Mom asked Dad to pick up her insulin. I don't know if the communication got lost in translation or if he got distracted by his boss. He left home before eight, heading to his boss's office, the bank, and the drugstore. Things turned serious when he didn't return by three p.m. I walked into the kitchen to find Mom passed out, and I didn't know if her sugar was low or high. All I knew was she needed medical treatment ASAP. Ten and scared, I found the strength to get her in the car and drove her to the hospital. I had only moved around the yard with Mom, but Dad was a drinker, and I wouldn't say I liked being stranded in places, so I had driven us home a few times. Thank God for a drunk driving lesson or two. We lived thirty minutes from the closest town, but I had to get her some help. Mom had nicknames for every vehicle we owned, so I put her in Betsy, the Caprice with a heavy-setting V-8 that she said was as strong as Dad's truck with the power to stay on the road in the snow. On the way to the hospital, I passed Dad's favorite drinking spot but didn't care to look over. At the second red light in town, I blew past a cop who attempted to pull me over, but I couldn't stop. Before leaving our driveway, I knew enough to turn on the headlights and hazard blinkers. I can't say I knew the name of the blinkers back then. When the policeman realized I wasn't stopping, he followed and sped up to escort me to Greensville Memorial Hospital ER. Which was good because I would have gone to the wrong entrance. At that time, I had never been in the ER for anything, as I could remember.

The policeman helped me get Mom inside, and I was in no shape to talk after saying she had diabetes and collapsed about an hour ago. They put her on a stretcher, flew down the hall to an exam room, and I crumbled into a ball in the hallway. I was scared that I would be in trouble for my actions, not knowing what to do or if I did enough.

It turned out that Sgt. Bradley knew me, or at least my parents. I would see him almost every day when his daughter got on the school bus at the last stop of the elementary run. I would look up sometimes when he said good morning to Mom. He stayed with me and said I probably saved her life. Where we lived, there was no doubt that waiting for an ambulance would have been detrimental. This was 1976, and the E-911 system was still in its infancy. We still had a party line. At the risk of showing my age, a party line is a landline phone service that allows neighborhoods to have shared telephone company poles, and each customer has a unique phone number to keep down residential costs. It got the nickname party line because anyone could pick up the phone and eavesdrop on the neighbor's calls. Getting someone to cut their call short for you to make a call for an emergency wasn't happening!

Fast forwarding to my high school days…

I couldn't wait to learn about health services classes offered at GMH, the same hospital where we raced to that scary November Saturday evening. I only needed a few core classes at the high school in the afternoon. So, I took the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) class from nine to noon to satisfy my elective requirements.

Then the bottom fell out of my plans…

I got pregnant and had to choose homelessness. My teacher, K. Owens, noticed a change in my attitude and attention span. She pulled me aside one morning and asked why I couldn't stay awake until the second hour of class. We discussed it, and she said I must get it together. After three more days, she started giving us a break every hour. On the Friday morning before the Thanksgiving break, Miss Owens offered me a job, and I am the person I am now because of her. I became the first assistant to the Director of Nurses (D.O.N.). She didn't need me as much as I needed her. I was a babysitter in her home and a paper pusher at school. She taught me that you must learn to work within the walls of a crude system.

Had she not helped…

My oldest son may not have been born healthy. I would have been forced to return home or to abort him. Call her my teacher, employer, mentor, or savior… they all are genuine. She won't say that… she'd tell you she just wanted the full attention from everyone in class from nine to noon every Monday through Friday. She would say that we represented her outside of the classroom. I passed the CNA class with an A+ and planned to continue into the LPN program, taking the prerequisites during the summer months.

I began having health issues that gave Miss Owens concerns that maybe I was in over my head. Everyone else wondered the same thing until I was hospitalized for a week and became the youngest patient to need Gallbladder surgery at 17. I had to leave the program because I couldn't lift more than five pounds afterward. I had seventeen stones, which made me love nursing a whole new way.

November 01, 2023 22:29

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7 comments

Tom Skye
21:16 Nov 08, 2023

Great stuff Kimberley. Sounds like a tough time. You capture everything in a way that is very exciting to read. Great work. Thanks for sharing.

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Kimberly Walker
07:38 Nov 09, 2023

Thanks for the kind comment. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Mary Bendickson
19:56 Nov 02, 2023

Another amazing story of your fortitude. Have you published your memoirs? They would read like a novel with plenty of character arc.

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Kimberly Walker
21:56 Nov 02, 2023

Yes, it is called Blessed Beyond Belief: From Childhood to Death and Back.

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Mary Bendickson
02:48 Nov 03, 2023

Wow! I need to look that one up.

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Kimberly Walker
11:51 Nov 03, 2023

There are three books on Amazon. Unfortunately, I put the "cart before the horse," some would say. I self-published them all.

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Mary Bendickson
15:12 Nov 03, 2023

I will look them up.

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