In 2000, the summer after I retired from teaching nursing, I took my first writing course. It was with Carol LaChapelle at the Newberry Library in Chicago.
She assigned us to write a character sketch. I had no idea what that was. As she went on to explain, I thought, Oh, that’s just a head to toe assessment. As a nurse, I certainly know how to write that up. The assignment evolved into my first publication: “The Woman in the Red Polka Dot Dress” (Chicago Tribune, January 14, 2001).
I went on to take more courses from Carol and to work with her privately. If you’re looking for a teacher and writer to help you write your personal stories and more, she can be reached at email@example.com
Carol has published one of my stories in her book, Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories: 167 Ways to Tell Your Life Stories (pp. 167-168). On the fifth anniversary of the event I wrote about, I asked her for permission to reprint it here.
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I don’t usually invite blue-uniformed men into my bedroom. But that changed early one morning several months ago.
The night before, I’d fallen on a city sidewalk and thought I’d strained some ligaments in my right thigh. So before my husband left for work the next day, he’d placed my rolling desk chair next to my bed in case I’d need it. When I woke up in our 17th floor condo, I had to go to the bathroom. Normal enough. I inched my legs over the side of the bed. Fire-hot pokers shot through my right groin. I edged myself onto the chair and pushed backwards the 10 feet to the bathroom.
When I woke up the second time, I was still in the chair, half-way back to the bed. Cold sweat pasted my lavender knit nightgown to my limp body. I must have passed out. I’m a nurse, I should know.
Maybe I also should’ve known not to diagnose myself. After my fall, a police officer, a homeless man, and the shook-up couple behind us had all implored me to wait for an ambulance. With my husband’s help, I struggled to stand, then slowly moved my right leg around in a circle. “See,” I responded, “I have full range of motion. I’ll be fine, just hail a cab.”
My husband shrugged, “She’s a nurse. You can’t tell her anything.”
Now, rising from the chair, I gripped my right thigh to distract me from the groin pain and tiptoed the five steps back to bed. A second later, my 30ish daughter called. I cried, “I’m so sick. Call Dad and have him ask the doorman to bring me up some juice.” Maybe I was simply lightheaded.
Minutes later, Louis arrived, then handed me a glass of tomato juice, saying, “You don’t look so good, Ms. R_____.”
I took a sip and upchucked a gallon in the top sheet I’d quickly cupped to form a basin. The dresser in front of me danced on the wall.
Louis held out the phone. “You better call 9-1-1.”
Before I could press the three numbers, I deposited another quart of tomatoey liquid onto my husband’s side of the bed. I wanted to even out the decorating.
When I hung up, I immediately heard sirens. They were coming for me. I felt silly—I’d never been an ambulance patient.
Next thing I knew six uniformed men had surrounded my bed. One asked what happened, another started an IV, a third asked where I kept my garbage bags.
I continued to urp into a garbage bag. Nurses don’t behave this way, I told myself. But an hour later, I no longer felt silly for calling 9-1-1. The ER doctor told me, “I’ve got bad news. Your hip is broken.”