My Journey Ch. 05 – Katherine

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A/N– I hope you continue to enjoy the story of Katherine and Mary Beth. It is one of true love, life, trust, power and encouragement. It is also a story of acceptance, discovery and understanding.

Please forgive the delay in this submission. Life, challenges and reality are interrupting my writing plans.

All my love to you, KAD.

September 1986 – Katherine

It was well after dinner time when I pulled into my apartment parking lot with relief having finished this journey for the last four and a half months. There were high and lows, successes and challenges and a few surprises that still have me tingling inside and smiling on the outside.

The love of my life Mary Beth shared with me amazing moments this weekend that will warm my heart for the rest of my life. As well as those little things in a relationship that make it special. I noticed one of my old shirts had appeared again in my suitcase when I was packing up. Mary Beth must have slipped back into my suitcase. I knew she took it but I didn’t mind.

I am going to assume that she replaced it by taking another from my suitcase. It’s ok I am actually thrilled to see how much something so small means so much to her. It is an additional way for us to stay connected. She just melts my heart.

I made a few trips up to the apartment emptying the Jeep. Once everything was inside I called Mary Beth. We chatted for forty-five minutes but then she bid me good night. It was her way of telling me how much she loved me but also knew I had been driving all day and she wanted me to take care of myself.

I was starting the midnight shift tomorrow but my new nurse manager, Maj Peterson wanted me to stop by in the early afternoon, “If I felt up for it.” Army code for ‘You don’t have a choice’.

Ehh it was no big deal to me, I would swing by to see what she needed.

I called my parents and let them know I was home safely and would start on midnight shifts. It was a brief but nice conversation with them. I was honestly thrilled to hear my father inquire as to how Mary Beth was doing.

I unpacked and settled into my apartment. I wanted to get on a sleep schedule for the night shift, so I stayed up as long as I could. Reading mostly but when I found myself nodding off I took to task creating a list of what would need to be completed when I moved from Georgia to Washington D.C.

That specific task, which I was excited about as it brought me closer to Mary Beth and home, included a game plan for the holidays this year. Gifts, cards, and my work schedule were all included. I wasn’t thrilled that I would spend the holidays in Georgia, but I would be closer to home soon enough.

I also started on a list of items to pack in my Jeep and those to ship I prepared to move to Washington D.C.

Eventually, I turned in ensuring I had enough sleep for tonight.

***

I was making notes to myself and prepping for the meeting today with Maj Peterson. I recalled that Colonel Bland told me he spoke with the Chief Nurse, Col Krajnek about my new orders and assignment. I wasn’t certain how things would feel or if there would be any animosity when I returned to the hospital today. Frankly, I was prepared for the worst.

My new ICU Unit Manager, Maj Peterson, was nice. She knew how the Army had its politics. She asked that I work hard, never giving up on my patients. I assured her that would never happen. Maj Peterson assigned me to a no patient load shadowing a more seasoned ICU Nurse the first week, after that it was ‘baptism by fire’. I assured her I was up for the task; and I was.

I started that night and coupled with my newly obtained academic training and clinical skills were questioned and challenged right away. Even while shadowing the Charge RN and my new mentor, I was constantly questioning myself but they both felt I was spot on. There was some coaching but I didn’t have any issues, yet.

Things flowed well in the first weeks of my new position. Most of the patients we saw were older in age, retirees mostly. It was early October that two younger soldiers arrived in the ICU. We had heard about an accident and the two injuries on the previous shift and we were wondering when they would arrive here. They were involved in a major traffic accident while they were on duty.

They both served as Military Policeman (that is their official title, I mean no gender related issues by the term) on the installation. They were t-boned while driving through an intersection by a large pickup truck. The driver of the pickup truck ran the red light hitting the MP vehicle on the passenger’s side door. Rumor had it that the driver, another soldier, was in a different ward in the hospital. Again the watercooler chat was that he was highly intoxicated when the accident occurred and wasn’t as severely injured.

The Chrysler K-car that the MP’s were in didn’t stand a chance. From what I learned from the MP’s that came and visited them, those cars offered zero protection.

The istanbul travesti male MP suffered and was treated for a severe spinal contusion, back and neck issues and had his right leg, right shoulder and arm were crushed from the impact of the crash as the larger vehicle hit his side of the car. He didn’t have a skull fracture from what testing showed. He was in critical condition having issues keeping his blood pressure stabilized. He had already had two surgical procedures and was under a close and constant watchful eye.

The female soldier, K. Ambrose was assigned to me. I felt horrible for her. She was recovering from having a splenectomy; sadly she also had an emergency hysterectomy. She also was dealing with a ruptured kidney, which they were not sure would be viable and may need to be removed later, several broken ribs on her right side, due to the trauma of the accident and a rather significant head injury. She was unconscious and on a ventilator breathing for her.

She was the driver and sustained her injuries from the blunt force impact and the rollover that occurred after impact. She also remains in a coma.

The MP’s were kind, stopping by during every shift to check on their fellow Law Enforcement Officers. I firmly believe she was the worst patient I had seen so far in my nursing career. Both still unconscious, family members arrived from their respective homes in Florida and New Hampshire.

After shift change and morning report on Ambrose, I got home around 7:20 a.m. and saw my blinking light on the answering machine. Mary Beth had left for the YWCA but would call me at 6:15. She told me she loved me and that she couldn’t wait to be together with me again.

We chatted that night but I didn’t say anything to her about my patient, Ambrose. I didn’t feel the need to bring work into her life. I must admit I wasn’t my normal self, playing it off that I had just worked out when she called and was a little strained mentally. The truth is, I was sad and didn’t feel like talking too much.

***

Halloween and Veterans Day came and went. We decorated the Nurses Station and the rooms with as much as we were allowed. As you can imagine, Veterans Day was a big deal on base and in the hospital for those who were on active duty, like me and those retired who were being treated here.

There was a growing comfort in my life but an absence that was scary. There was a hole in my heart and soul. It was filled with kind words, with time spent on the phone but the wound which was healed with a bandage was soon opened again when the line disconnected. I missed my Mary Beth so much.

If my heart was hurting I could only imagine the hellish tribulations that Mary Beth felt. In reality our calls at times were just conversations of nothing. Of dreams, of wants and pure gibberish but we were together, that is all that mattered to us.

My love for Mary Beth had deepened so much that there would never be a thought of another. This time with her truly defines our little mantra of “mine and mine alone from now and until the end of eternity.”

On Sunday after Veterans Day, R. Hogan, male MP, was now awake and responding. He was moved to the step down unit as he was progressing. His last set of scans came back. His level of consciousness had returned to normal as well as his blood pressure.

Ambrose, my patient or Red, as the staff referred to her, because of her bright red beautiful hair, was still in her coma and there was newer and growing concern about potential brain injury. MRI’s CT scans and other tests were completed routinely with no major changes, it was a sad waiting game.

We decorated as best we could for Thanksgiving trying to bring a little joy to the families and significant others that visited the patients.

Maj Peterson had a memorandum posted explaining she was looking for us to fill in and volunteer for the scheduling of Christmas week. If we wanted to let her know our preferences, she would appreciate it. My thoughts were easy, I wasn’t with Mary Beth, and I would work. Let those who had families and loved ones with them enjoy the holidays.

Mary Beth and I had several conversations about Christmas and New Year’s but with my work schedule, we both agreed that we would have time together soon enough. What she didn’t know was the plan I had up my sleeve for her Christmas present. This time I would ask my father for assistance, not making the mistake going to Rich and Jilla. Although I am certain with the support from them I was gaining, they would assist. I wanted to play this on the safe side.

December 1986

I had flipped over to my day shift schedule again, which I prefer. I had just finished bathing and redressing Red when her mother walked in. Mrs. Ambrose was a delightful woman; over the past months she was here a few days every week, flying home on the weekends to see her husband in central Florida. She was very kind and quiet, a gentle soul. We exchanged istanbul travestileri greetings and I stepped from the room giving her some private time.

Stepping into the hallway but still able to see the bed and monitor, I noticed Mrs. Ambrose started crying again. After a few moments, I created a reason to go back into her room. Knocking gently on the closed all glass doors, I stepped in. I checked her IV and monitor then cleared my throat.

Mrs. Ambrose started to apologize. “Ma’am, you have nothing to apologize for.” I said walking around to her side of the bed. “Red is a strong woman, a good soldier. I pray for you both and pray she will wake up.”

I was being positive as I always was with her but I didn’t want to promise her mother the world.

“I will never be a grandmother now.” She sobbed. “I was fine with her joining the Army but she promised I would still be a grandmother.” She continued sobbing. I just rested my hand on her shoulder. “She is our only child.”

“Ma’am, can I get you anything? I can have some coffee or water brought up. Anything Mrs. Ambrose just let me know.”

She declined. I left the room going back to check in with my Charge RN. Maybe the Chaplain could stop by and visit today. I mean this sucked, this really sucked. I felt so bad for Red, her mother and father.

The Chaplain did stop by a few hours later; it seemed to brighten a few spirits.

I went home, changed my clothes and went for a good long run. It was chilly so I dressed in a light tuque for my head, light gloves and of course sweatpants and a shirt or two under the zip up jacket.

I came back, showered, started dinner and ensured my uniform was ready for the morning. I needed to speak with my mother and my father so I called them. I needed to have this conversation before Mary Beth called me at 6:15.

Mother answered the phone. “Mother, I am sorry to bother you at dinner time but I was hoping to speak to you and father. I need a little Santa Clause help.”

“Of course, let me get him!” She sounded excited.

I heard a few clicks of the phone then some background noise, which is typical in our home. “Katherine!” He was jovial.

“Father, mother, I need some help with a gift for Mary Beth and was wondering if you would help me.”

I lay out to my parents, my plan and what I was thinking and they absolutely loved it. My father thought it was very “well thought out and smart” for me to think this through.

“Katherine, I am proud of you. Not only as your Army career is moving forward but how much maturity you show me every time we talk.” He said. I could hear his voice cracking in the background.

“Father, you have access to my savings account, please take the money you need.”

“Okay, we will see Katherine, we will talk later.”

And with plans made and the scheme set. I relaxed waiting for Mary Beth to call. My mind kept flashing back to how precious life is and how it could be gone in a flash.

Right at 6:15 Mary Beth called. “Hey” I felt okay emotionally; I was excited about my surprise plan but also had thoughts of Red in my mind. Mary Beth sounded concerned when she questioned me.

“I have had this patient for a few weeks now, well almost two months, she isn’t getting better and today her mom, who has been visiting from Florida sort of broke down when it hit her she wouldn’t be a grandmother.”

Mary Beth was listening intently, being kind and understanding.

“I guess it hit me also, like um,” I stuttered, “Like about me having a baby or us having a baby and a family. I mean, well, um …”

I paused, didn’t say anything then broke out full in tears. “I need a tissue and a hug God Damnit.” I almost screamed.

“Kathie, this is an important topic. Maybe we should table this conversation until we are alone together and you aren’t so upset.” She paused; I could hear the struggle in her voice, “Okay baby?”

“I am sorry Mary Beth, I am so sorry.” I just continued crying.

She started just talking to me in generalities. Telling me how wonderful of a person I am and how good I am as a nurse. It just felt good. We chatted for maybe another hour or so, and then I admitted I needed to get ready for bed as tomorrow would be another early day.

“I am sorry I just feel down. Mary Beth, why don’t you eat dinner and call me before you go to bed. It’s okay if I am asleep, please call me.”

She promised she would, we exchanged our love for each other and hung up. I sat around the apartment a bit then crawled into bed. Mary Beth called wishing me a good night as promised. I checked my alarm, yep set for 4:30, in time to make it to work and fell asleep.

I walked out of the elevator on the 6th floor at Wynn Army Hospital and I could sense something wasn’t right. I badged into the secure ICU area and I saw Maj Peterson there already, not uncommon but not normal.

“Lt Dougherty, a moment please.” She asked and I followed her into her office.

Our travesti istanbul Charge RN, Cpt Barry Rickett, was sitting in the office, he looked up at me with sadness in his eye, and his expression said everything. I burst into tears. Maj Peterson had closed the door and put her hands on my shoulders.

“Katherine, Red passed away last night. She coded and didn’t respond. We are guessing a brain bleed.”

She held me until I sat down in the chair next to Cpt Rickett, balling like a little baby. I suddenly realized how unprofessional I was being. I tried to stop.

I stood apologizing, “Ma’am, Sir, I am sorry I just, um, I just.” They were both nodding their heads in understanding. “I never, I mean this is the first and um…”

I stood tall, like a professional soldier and officer. I wiped my eyes and stopped my tears. “My apologies for my reaction. I am sorry.”

This time it was Cpt Ricketts that spoke up. “Lt Dougherty, please have a seat. We understand it’s difficult and we know it is your first one here on the ICU so we get it. You are a human and a compassionate nurse and yes a soldier in the Army but it still hurts.” He paused, wiping his tears away, “Trust me it hurts.”

Maj Peterson and Cpt Rickett were both just so wonderful. Over the next twenty minutes the two of them spoke to me with compassion, professional love and kindness. They offered that I take the day off as we were not expecting any new patients but I told them no. I needed to learn and deal with death as this was my first it certainly wouldn’t be my last.

I thanked them and stepped out to the nurses station where I was met with hugs and soft sad smiles by the whole crew, RN’s, LPN’s and staff alike.

Three days later, we sent a sympathy card to the family. There were over sixty-five signatures on it. Our hope was that we could bring a moment of solace to their pain and suffering.

That night when Mary Beth called, I told her everything. We cried until she started telling me silly dumb “Knock-Knock” jokes. I knew what she was trying to do and it worked some. We ended the evening reminding each other how much we loved each other and that we needed to plan soon for my move to Washington DC in February.

I got up the next morning and went to work. There was a new patient, it was a new day. It was time to focus, back to being a professional nurse. Back to caring for and nursing another critically ill patient.

Trying to get into the holiday spirit in a hospital is challenging but in the ICU is very challenging. There are so many emotions and feelings for the family members and frankly the staff. We try to do our very best for the families and patients but it is still a hospital and this is still an ICU. We “nursed” very sick people back to health every day. That is what I signed up for and knew what I was getting into.

A few of my patients were unconscious or unable to speak well when taking care of them. When they regained consciousness they were easier to treat and assist. Once stable, and were sent to the PCU or Med/Surg Unit afterwards. I was learning so much more being with patients hands on than when I was learning in a book. This is what I was meant to do.

I flipped to the afternoon shift starting on Saturday the 20th and as I volunteered, I worked through Christmas Day. I got to the hospital in plenty of time for the afternoon shift on Christmas Day.

I hadn’t spoken with Mary Beth or my family yet, we all agreed to talk later that night after my shift. My mother and father agreed that we would talk much later as I would finish work at 10:00 and be home by 10:45 but I would want to talk with Mary Beth if she was awake.

Calling my mother and father in the morning before my shift would be too much for my parents. They had attended midnight Mass, then would try to sleep after being Santa Clause, if Erin and Will still believe, then Christmas morning lastly, they would also host Christmas dinner.

In the hospital you could sense a cheerful atmosphere in the air. The staff was happier, patients seemed happier and so did their family members, not all of them or rejoicing as a good many we’re still separated from their families.

I wasn’t certain when my parents would see Mary Beth but if my suspicions were correct it would be at Midnight mass. They would certainly slip it to her without her parents seeing it.

I knew Mary Beth was going to Midnight Mass based on our phone conversations earlier. With me on the afternoon shifts or calls are limited and some days they’re just answering machine messages because.

I was excited to gauge Mary Beth’s surprise when she opened her gift from me. My parents knew they needed to be absolutely discreet.

I returned home after a not so eventful shift seeing the red light on the answering machine blinking. I took a deep breath and pressed play.

“Katherine!” She shouted.

Oh no, she used my full name, Katherine, I was worried right away.

“This is the most amazing Christmas gift I have ever received in my life.” I heard her crying. I could hear the love in her crackling voice. “What am I going to do with you? Please call my apartment. I love you! She paused for a moment, “mine and mine alone, now and forever until the end of eternity.”

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