By Barbara Bartlein
From the time I was four years old, I announced to anyone who asked, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a nurse.” My parents tried to nurture this dream. They would surprise me with little nurse’s kits. Contained in a small plastic case latched at the top was all the equipment needed to be a nurse: a thermometer permanently marked to 98.6, a pill bottle filled with candy (which would be gone in two hours), a stethoscope that didn’t work and, best of all, a syringe.
I loved that syringe. I would spend hours filling it up with water and “injecting” my little sister. I would “inject” the family dog and a very reluctant cat. No other single function represented nursing to me as well as giving injections. To me, giving shots was the epitome of what nurses do.
You can imagine my excitement, therefore, when we reached the part of my nurses’ training where we learned injections. I studied the techniques carefully and practiced on peaches. I practiced so much that the fruit at my house had little water blisters all over that looked like scabies. I participated in the “return demonstration” with my fellow nursing students. I always claimed that my partner’s injection was painless so that she would make a similar claim when it was my turn.
The following week, I began my emergency room rotation at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs. One day, a handsome, tanned construction worker was admitted with a large laceration on his right arm. About six feet, five inches tall, 250 pounds, he had huge muscles and a grin to match. “I just sliced this a little with some sheet metal, Ma’am,” he reported. He lay on the exam table while the doctor sutured him with a dozen stitches. He listened intently while the doctor gave instructions for wound care.
And then the magical moment occurred. The doctor turned to me and said, “Nurse Bartlein, would you please give this gentleman a tetanus shot?” My big chance! A real injection on a real patient. I practically floated on air as I scrambled to the refrigerator and took out the tetanus vaccine. I carefully drew up the prescribed amount and returned to the patient. I meticulously swabbed the site with an alcohol wipe and then expertly darted that needle deep into the deltoid muscle. I aspirated as taught and slowly injected the vaccine.
With a grin, the construction worker said, “Thank you, Ma’am” and stood up. I winked at him, and he winked at me. He stood there for a minute and promptly crumpled to the floor unconscious. Oh, my God, I killed him! My first injection and I killed the patient. My impulse was to run out the door as far into the mountains as possible. Forget about being a nurse, forget about injections, I’ll live off the land. No one will ever find me.
Everyone else came running and slowly helped the patient to his feet. The doctor could see that I was quite shaken. He reassured me with a smile and said, “Don’t worry, he’s fine. The big ones always faint!”