Poem: Good Luck, Infection Control!

The Backstory

Every work site has its Brian.

The prankster. The jokester. The comedian. The disrupter.

Brian, an early-thirty-something-going-on-age-eight, loves his practical jokes. He calls the nurses’ station from a corner of the room and pretends to be a difficult family member, demanding information from the nurse, twisting her words and her thoughts until she becomes flustered and frazzled, whereupon he gives himself away with his hoots of laughter. The conversation always ends with the nurse slamming down the phone.

He squirts vials of saline across the room, the saline arcing overhead in a fluid stream to hit an unsuspecting nurse. She looks around in surprise, only to see everyone industriously charting. Including Brian. His presence makes any nurse instantly suspicious, however innocent he may appear.

He dons fake accents and pretends not to understand English. For hours.

And hours.

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Poem: Happy Birthday to the Best Mom on Earth!

The Backstory

My mom Margaret is truly amazing.

Start humming any old song and within seconds, as she figures out what key it’s in, her hands are flying up and down the piano keyboard, rocking out the song in a rich outpouring of sound and rhythm. Is the song too high or too low? No problem, she’ll just transpose it on the fly.

She can spell any word, and likely inform you of its etymolgy too. She will correct your usage of lielay, laid, and lain. With a passion for animals, she eagerly watches webcams of falcon chicks, and excitedly informs you as they are about to fledge. She educates everyone who will listen (and even those who won’t!) that rat poison is bad for hawks.

Reader: Do not use rat poison! It’s bad for hawks! (See Mom? I’m helping!)

(Reader: Seriously, rat poison kills raptors. Find another way to get rid of rodents.)

She follows politics and current events. She attracts people to her wherever she goes, resulting in a busy social life of choral events, luncheons, book groups, movies and plays, activism, and laughter. She takes long brisk walks. She has traveled far and wide with two of her best friends, Kathie and Betsy, who also happen to be her sisters. Those Snyder girls have always had a good time together.

And she makes puns.

Really bad ones.

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Poem: Shoneen

The Backstory

Shoneen is one of those special, irresistible people. With her dancing eyes, generous smile, bubbly personality and genuine sweetness, you love her the instant you meet her. At least, that’s what happened to me – and, as far as I could tell, virtually everyone else we went to school with. Being around Shoneen just makes you happy.

We met at Cunha (“COON-ya”) Junior High School; through eighth grade and high school, we shared our secrets, talked nonstop, and got the giggles. I felt lucky to be among her best friends.

Together we learned that Peppermint Schnapps taste very yummy at the time, make your head oddly woozy soon after, and probably wasn’t worth it the next morning. Hey, maybe Bailey’s and Cream would be different! (It wasn’t.)

Our high school chemistry study sessions invariably turned into chemistry parties. We would meet at one of our houses, ostensibly to grapple with moles and gas pressure and molecular equations, but really to make and eat lots of Snickerdoodle cookies.

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Poem: “Honk” said the Cow!

The Backstory

I had the three-year-old right where I wanted her: eyes ablaze, staring indignantly back and forth between me and her bright red shirt.

I repeat myself cheerfully: “Yessiree, I just love your blue shirt!”

She can’t stand it. “Noooo!” she bursts out. “It’s not blue!”

“Oh?” I feign surprise, peer closer. She waits patiently, helpfully holding out the bottom of her red shirt so I can get a better look at the color. “Why, you’re right!” I exclaim. She looks relieved. “It’s green!”


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Poem: Happy Again

The Backstory

Other than the months surrounding placing my dad in the care home, I’d only been persistently sad, day after miserable day for a period of months, one other time in my life. It was my first year in college, my first experience away from home. I was living by myself in a drab apartment, in a new town, taking difficult math and science courses.

I was lonely and overworked and overwhelmed. It rained incessantly. A beloved grandmother-figure died.

I struggled hard to find my usual sunny disposition, and eventually gave up. I resigned myself to numbing unhappiness in a joyless world.

Calendar days marched by. I went to class, I came home, I studied. I lived in a dreary grey cloud of unhappiness and hard work.

And then one day, as I trudged down the sidewalk towards the bus stop, head down, eyes unseeing, I suddenly realized I was humming a song.

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Poem: I’m Trying

The Backstory

After we placed my dad in the care home, I expected my cheery mood to bounce back. After all, the acute trauma was over: all those months of sleepless nights, constant caregiving, frustration and anger (and its accompanying guilt), the exhaustion of always being on edge and on alert, all finally culminating in the exquisitely painful need to move him out of the house – it was all over. Dad was safe and looked-after. I had my life back. I could be happy again!

But I wasn’t.

I settled into a grey and joyless world. I went to work, took the dogs on walks, talked to friends. I struggled to find my usual sunny disposition. I tried “to be good to myself,” tried to snap out of the funk. I tried and tried!

Nothing seemed to work.

It turned into a difficult winter.

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Poem: Sorrow

The Backstory

We had to place my dad in a care home.

Just a few simple words, holding nearly unbearable pain.

My dad had Parkinson’s disease. We helplessly watched his inexorable decline, from a strong and fiercely independent do-it-yourselfer to a frail and unsteady man whom I barely recognized as my dad.

He became confused at night, getting up frequently and often aimlessly, sometimes staying in bed only a few minutes at a time. My brother and I started taking turns being on “night duty.” We assisted him to the bathroom and made sure he didn’t do anything weird, like fill up all the waste baskets in the house with water, or decide to pull down a ladder to paint the house at 3 AM.

It was constant. All night.

Our sleep was completely disrupted.

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Poem: Abbie’s Having a Son!

The Backstory

Abbie is one of those really great nurses. She never seems frazzled. She never rushes around frantically. She always seems perfectly in control: smiling, chatting, calming gathering her medications or supplies like she has nothing else in the world to do, except this one little task that she’s doing right now.


Because nurses always have something else to do.

One day while travel nursing in Colorado, on a fine morning around 11:00, I got a phone call from the lab, saying the blood was ready for the patient in room 622, and would I please come pick it up so it could be transfused? That phone call came as the patient in room 618 was impatiently awaiting his discharge (family all gathered, ready to take him home, just waiting on me to go over instructions), plus the secretary had just paged me that the patient in room 617 had been incontinent, and was lying in a large pool of liquid stool; he clearly needed to be cleaned up immediately. And room 612 needed pain meds. Oh, the surgical admit was on their way, thanks.

Blood, discharge, poop, pain meds, new patient. All at 11:00 in the morning.

At the same time. Right now.


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Poem: Dakota and Katy

Dakota and Katy

Dakota and Katy

The Backstory

“I’m never getting married!”

Dakota, my husband Martin’s best friend, had made the assertion his entire life. From the time Dakota was old enough to take an interest in girls, he said it: I’m never getting married!

He enjoyed many long, stable relationships over the years, but was always firm and unwavering in his resolve: I’m never getting married!

And then one day, he met Katy.

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Poem: Jenni the Hairdresser

The Backstory

I was under strict orders: No talking for four hours.

Not. One. Word.

That’s not easy for me.

I was sitting in a salon chair in a stark exam room. My little sister Jenni was a candidate for her hairdresser’s license; I was her model. Seven other nervous candidate-and-model pairs were spaced throughout the room. For four stressful hours, Jenni had to demonstrate her skills, techniques, and knowledge of safety to a scowling and unnerving exam monitor. The monitor was suspiciously watching our every move.

Possession of a cell phone was grounds for dismissal. A simple piece of paper, forgotten in your pocket, was grounds for dismissal. A murmured word of encouragement from the model was grounds for dismissal.

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Poem: My Nice Dry Cabin

The Backstory

Martin and I were literally about to leave on a trip to Alaska when my friend Erica quipped, “I hope you didn’t rent a dry cabin! You’d be in for an unpleasant surprise!”

As we boarded the plane, I was still laughing at the thought of some hapless renter’s honest but disastrous mistake. And that was it. This poem just wrote itself.

In case you were concerned: We stayed in very nice cabins, thank you.

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Poem: Happy Birthday, Janet

The Backstory

Janet is one of those rare, amazing nurses who can do it all.

She is our “lunch relief” nurse. Her job is to show up every day at 11 AM, check patients’ blood sugars, and watch each nurse’s patients while the nurse takes a half-hour lunch break.

It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds.

As we rush around in the morning, falling further behind, we start glancing at the clock. Is it 11:00 yet? Is Janet here? And as soon as she steps onto the floor, she is bombarded.

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A Birthday Surprise for Martin: Moaning Cavern

The Backstory

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to take a moment and reflect on how you got into a particular situation.

That’s exactly what I was doing, as I dangled by a thin rope above an enormous cavern, my heart pounding right out of my chest. I looked down, past my feet kicking helplessly at open air, at the tiny grains of sand far below. Those pinpoints of light were the headlamps of people at the bottom of the cave, looking up at me.

Actually, I thought hastily, my heart hammering away, best not to look down.

I had eased myself down through a small hole in the roof of the cave. I stared fixedly at the rope, my only lifeline. It chafed gently against the rough rock.

What, in god’s name, was I doing?

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Poem: Getting to Know You

The Backstory

My little sister Jenni was pregnant. For the baby shower, we were all told to bring a favorite children’s book and write a personalized inscription on the inside cover.

Awesome idea!

I thought it might be fun to write a snappy little limerick. Something fun and different. So I got to work.

As it turns out, I am not good at limericks.

I struggled. I flailed around. I started multiple limericks, scratched them out, tried again. I worked for days, trying to come up with one single halfway decent limerick, and only succeeded in filling up sheets of paper with garbage.

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Poem: Teaching In Samoa

The Backstory

I was a 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, teaching human biology and general biology in Samoa, a coconut-tree-fringed, green dot-of-an-island in the middle of the gloriously blue South Pacific ocean.

I loved it there.

I loved the turquoise lagoons and lush vegetation and brilliantly colored flowers. I loved the papaya and mango and banana trees, laden with delicious fruit. I loved all the chickens and pigs wandering freely around, scratching and rooting through people’s yards. One resourceful hen took up happy residence in my bedroom, laid a clutch of eggs, and proudly hatched out ten fluffy chicks. I loved it.

I loved watching Samoan boys shimmy breathtakingly high into coconut trees to pluck its fruit. I loved watching Samoan girls skillfully and artfully weave baskets and placemats from coconut fronds. I loved the food. I loved the people. I loved the languid pace, the warm nights, the silvery-peachy color of the lagoon as the morning sun rose above the water.

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Poem: Cassie The Wonder Dog

The Backstory

Cassie is one of those special dogs.

Exuberant. Sweet. Smart. An agility champion. A devoted companion.

A very, very serious ball-chaser.IMG_2913_01

Put a tennis ball in your hand, and Cassie’s whole demeanor changes. She freezes. She cocks her head, fixes the ball with her eyes, lifts her foreleg in a classic German Shorthair Pointer stance, pointing with her whole body, starting with her nose. She quivers. She wants that ball. She will chase that ball. And if you don’t throw it fast enough, she starts to yip.

When I say “yip,” I don’t mean cute little puppy noises. I mean ear-splitting, brain-piercing, eye-watering, high-pitched shrieking noises that jangle just about every nerve in your body.

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Poem: Ode to B.S. – I Mean, Dr. Stock

The Backstory

Dr. Stock is an excellent surgeon. If you are so unfortunate as to require the services of a surgeon, you want Dr. Stock. He’s highly skilled, very competent, and really smart. He’s a no-nonsense man: he tells you how it is in a brisk, business-like, and professional manner.  By patients he is well-respected and well-liked. By nurses he is well-respected … and somewhat feared. He wants things done right. And if they’re not done right, he lets you know about it. He’s been known to throw charts, raise his voice, huff off the floor.

You do not want Dr. Stock to be angry with you.

One day as I was charting nearby, his wife sneaked up behind him and kissed the top of his balding head. Unaware of who had committed such an outrageously inappropriate, utterly  unacceptable, and highly presumptuous act, Dr. Stock’s face suffused with a thunderous rage. His eyes bulged as he drew in a sharp breath.

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Poem: A Wedding Toast

The Backstory

Sydnie Hess is one of our nurse’s aides.

She is playful. Silly. Child-like (I almost said childish). An often-loud, bursting-with-enthusiasm bubbly free spirit. She is also very responsible. Dependable. Committed to her work. She takes care of business.

She kind of reminds me of … well … of me.

Scott Hergerton is a mechanic, Sydnie’s boyfriend. He is quiet. Reserved. A little shy if you don’t know him. Great fun when you do. The type of long-suffering guy who patiently bides his time while his girlfriend teases him mercilessly, and then when she’s least expecting it – wham! – gets even in a big big way.

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