by Diane Stallings

Bleary and weary Thursday at dawn, I lifted my hospital bag, locked the door of my house, and crumbled inside my chest. What the heck? My heart trembled like a rabbit, but I was no rabbit. I was a strong veteran ICU nurse, saving lives every day, dammit.

Steady up. Take a breath and bear down. There. Stabilize. You’re fine, see? Are you dehydrated? All dried up from running twelve hours on the unit yesterday and the day before? Is your thyroid whacking out? Gotta find time to look into this. Second arrhythmia this week.

I inhaled the cool morning air, grateful. Eased into my car. I hoped to see at least some of my old friends today.

Shirley? Dave? Jill? Please be there—you lift my heart. These new kids are so freaking new, young damp chicks and roosters with their bouncy ponytails, all efficiency and computer savvy, but no experience. We constantly take them under our wings. They keep us way too busy. No wonder we’re all leaving if we can, overpowered by the invasion of youngsters.

I mourned the loss of Amy, Debra, Sam, gone to new jobs. Abandoned me, like so many before. Maybe I’d bump into them again. It could happen. That was the surprise in this field, this wide medical circle in our city. Always a pleasure to run into an old friend.

A friend. Somebody you could count on. Somebody who had shared your vital panic and frustration, drama, curses, caring, compassion. Somebody you could lean on, and they on you, through another harrowing day.

In fact yesterday an elderly doc dipped into my patient’s room. He looked so much like Dr. Bambas, whom I’d worked with decades ago. But he peeked in so quickly and rolled away so fast, I couldn’t get his name.

Wouldn’t that be something, I thought, as I drifted up the ramp of the parking garage. Wouldn’t that be cool, if mellow Dr. Bambas came back to my circle?

I pulled my car into a space. My chest fluttered. Not out of love and friendship. It was my heart rhythm freak-out again. I coughed hard, tried to make it stop. Turned my key and killed my engine.

Deep breath. Bear down hard. Cough. Heart jumping. Getting dizzy.

Rub my carotid artery, new protocol be damned.

Bear down, bear down.

Whoa, okay: again, bear down, cough. Starting to black out.

No, you can do this, deep breath, bear down, you’re okay. You’re okay. See?

And I was. Thank You, I felt fine.

The morning sun sparkled upon the trees beyond the garage.

I made a mental note to hydrate a whole lot better today. No more coffee for me. Gotta quit that stuff. Lifetime love of the bean juice. Not good.

I strolled the sidewalk through the sweeping lawn of our campus.

Dozens of nurses and therapists funneled toward the door together. I expanded with gratitude for this place, these people. Each of them more precious than they realized. Tough work, these 42 years, but worth it.
Every day we met crisis. Conquered it. Or not. I felt proud of us. Proud of me, too.

Should I mention my little episode to the charge nurse this morning? Get checked in the ER? But then we’ll be short a nurse. Maybe I’ll just swig more water. I feel okay.

Chaos hit as soon as I stepped into the unit. The moment I passed Dave’s room, he yelled, “Grab the code cart, her eyes are rolling back!”

I dove for the nearby cart, but it was stuck. Tiffany shoved it from the other side and we whisked it over to Dave. The room filled up with nurses, somebody pumping the lady’s chest, somebody bagging air for her.

Gosh, the guy doing CPR looked so much like handsome Peter, whom I knew years ago at St. Luke’s. He hadn’t aged a bit.

Tiffany slapped the extra monitor leads onto the chest and charged up the defibrillator.

I glanced up to see Dr. Bambas himself at the doorway. Not the guy from yesterday, but for sure it was Bambas, looking like he was still forty years old.

“We’re charged to 200 joules.” Tiffany pulled the paddles and placed them on the lady’s chest. “All Clear!”


The zap slammed me to the floor.

What? I caught my breath, rolled and stood up.

Everything around me dissolved. The patient, the bed, the walls, the staff. Except for Peter and Dr. Bambas, both grinning at me. I saw sort of a doorway to this odd space, and more light behind it.

In walked my old friend Kitty. I knew she had died years ago after a heart surgery. Now she traipsed in holding Dave’s patient’s EKG strip. “You saved her!”

* * *

“Am I…where am I?”

“Well Honey.” She wrapped her arm around my shoulder. “Your body is still in your comfy car. But you were so determined to work today, we just went with it. One last whirligig.”


“Yeah.” She gave me that wink. “Okay, let’s show you around!”

◊ ◊ ◊

Diane Stallings
Diane lives in the lush desert foothills just beyond the Phoenix metropolis. Her stories have appeared in The Flash Fiction Press,Indiana Voice Journal, Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul. She’s into energy healing and biophotons – that light coming out of your hands. Check out Diane’s blog at joystreamhealth.wordpress.com.

20 thoughts on “Whirligig

  1. Marvelous, fast/paced, compassionate. Very well done. I appreciate in detail now what I hadn’t thought much about before.

  2. What a powerful, emotion-filled look into the heart and soul of a beautiful person! Lorell

  3. Interesting. On first reading I wasn’t sure about this. I liked the way you dropped in the detail but with the pace and the internal monologue it felt a little jumpy like I was watching an episode of tv show rather than reading a story. On a second reading it seemed to all fall into place and I liked your feeling for the character and her circumstances, as well as the way you brought it to a conclusion.

  4. Fresh. I loved the fact that I didn’t know where you were taking me with her health and the writing was so good that I was willing to follow!

    1. Thanks, Dian! Glad you liked it. (I did have all interior thoughts in italics, but somehow it didn’t come out that way here – – still, I guess it was coherent enough.) Thanks for your thoughts

  5. Diane, Loved your story. It was great to get inside the emotional feelings of your main character and how she felt about her work, friends, life. A strong woman that cared more about others than herself. It is fresh because you surprised me completely. Always love your stories.

  6. And Marika read it too. Thought it was very well done. We were both surprised with the ending. Good job girl!

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