Off The Record: Nursing Miss Gwendolyn

March 30, 2004|HERB BROCK

Since I was an orderly many code blues and bedpans ago, I have always respected nurses, but I never aspired to be one. Too much chemistry. Too much training. Too much caring. Too many hours.

But, for the second time in my life, I have been forced into nursing. For the second time in my life, I am moonlighting as a nurse, albeit on a unofficial, unregistered, private-duty basis. The patient in both cases is named Gwendolyn.

"Miss G" entered this world with multiple health problems, including illnesses that affected her eyes, ears and lungs. Once she was released from the doctor's care, it was my job to see that she received her many medicines, all of which had to be administered daily, some two or three times a day.

The little girl finally overcame her brush with death to develop a zest for life. She grew up to be a small but active young lady, always with a big smile on her little face, intense curiosity in her mind and a mouth so motorized that I nicknamed her "Chatty Cathy."


My first, unpaid duty as a nurse paid off many times over as she has provided me with a treasure chest overflowing with love and laughs, fun and frivolity, excitement for life and escape from the real world.

And plenty of games.

One of her favorite past-times is to get into my sock drawer, take several pairs and deposit them all over the house. When I get home from work, it looks like a burglar has ransacked the house. Tired and ready to drop, I want to head for my easy chair but instead have to postpone that short trip to go on a longer one - going from room to room picking up my socks, muttering Gwendolyn's name in vain while stooping my aching back to pick up each pair. While I cursed, she'd hid behind a chair, chortling.

But the epithet-spewing never lasts long. The frown on my face is wiped off by the smile on hers. How can you get angry at someone that brings a lot more good things to your life than bad ones. And perhaps the best of the many good things about "Miss G" is the way she shows affection.

Since she was a little girl, she has made a nightly ritual out of saying good night - one almost as corny as the famous room-to-room Walton family nocturnal nighty-nights. Just as I nestle my head into my pillow, in the bedroom comes Gwendolyn to give me quick peck on the lips. She then goes off to her room, and I go off to sleep with a smile almost as big as the one she always beams.

The smiles on both of our faces have been missing recently, as well as the sock burglaries, chattiness, fun, frivolity and everything else that has made the sun shine on my house every hour of every day since "Miss G" moved into my home.

Gwendolyn again is seriously ill, suffering from kidney and liver problems. And I again am her nurse. But this time the medicines I must administer are a little more complicated, and a couple even require syringes.

Despite the seriousness of the matter, we both try to bring a little levity to her care.

As sick as she is, she still tries to play games - like hide the pill. While I am successful most of the time in seeing to it that she swallows each pill, she occasionally is able to spit it out while I'm not looking. Just the other night I thought I had uncovered three M&M's under my pillow and started to throw them away, thinking they were stale leftovers from my annual Halloween candy binge. But they were some of "Miss G's" pills.

When I realized they were her pills and not candy, I was, at first, worried that she hadn't gotten the medicine she needs but then smiled in recognition that, despite how poorly she feels, she still could muster the energy to play games, especially her favorites - games at my expense.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, Gwendolyn is not your normal young lady. To give you a hint, I give her her morning meds the same time I take my heart pills. I'm always afraid I will goof up and give her mine while I take hers, in which case I might start meowing. To give you another hint, she was born in 1995 but is not a young lady of 9 years of age but an aging female who is 63 in "human years."

Yes, "Miss G" is a cat, a somewhat diminutive, 10-pound calico who is cuddly as well as calculating, cleaving as well as clever. And always, no matter how ill, she is as sweet as the sugar she craves in her favorite treat, banana cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

I would violate her diet and buy her the biggest banana cake that Burke's could bake - and risk a lecture from the wonderful, caring folks at Nash, Cleveland and Godfrey veterinary clinic - if she were to survive her latest serious condition. Of course, that would mean I'd probably have to administer a diabetic medicine in addition to the four she already is on.

But I hope that all the medicines and care do bring her back to a semblance of the cat she used to be, even if it were just for a few weeks.

I miss getting those little, good-night pecks on the lips. I even miss picking up all of those socks.

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