When Worlds Collide

In my day job, I’m a private duty pediatric nurse for medically fragile children. That’s a fancy way of saying I go to school with kids who need a nurse with them at all times. Kids with special needs get to go to school in the summer, so I work in New York while my own kids stay with grandma Yaya on Martha’s Vineyard.

On a typical day, I drive to my client’s house, load up their equipment, and make sure they are healthy and ready for school. Then we travel on the bus, spend the day at school, and finally travel back to their house. During the day I perform whatever medical care they require; basically, I am cross between a Sherpa and a mobile Intensive Care Unit.

The other day, I had a weird experience. My client’s class took a field trip to the library and while we were there I saw The Treasure of Maria Mamoun on a rolling cart, waiting to be shelved. It was the first time I’d seen the book anywhere out in the world. I couldn’t help myself. I blurted, “I wrote that book.”

The librarian stared at me, dumbfounded. “You’re kidding,” she said.

“No, really, I did. That’s me. I’m that person.” I pointed to my name on the cover, and showed her my nurse ID hanging around my neck.

The librarian got excited. She took my picture, she made me sign the book, she asked if I would come and do an author visit. Meanwhile, I got more and more nervous. My client was fine, never more than three feet from me, within view at all times, reading a book in a soft chair. But I was starting to shake. My separate worlds were colliding. None of the people I was working with knew I’d written a book. I felt shaky the rest of the day.

I like the anonymity of my nursing job. Most of the people I see through the course of the day don’t even know my last name. I am really just an extension of my clients’ equipment. When a client is in respiratory distress, I disconnect the circuit from the trach, apply the ambu bag, suction secretions, and reconnect the patient to the ventilator. I have to perform these functions quickly and calmly, before the oxygen in their blood drops too low. If a piece of equipment fails, I must repair or replace it with whatever is at hand, wherever I am. With my non-verbal client, I read the micro-expressions of their nearly immobile face, and use our binary decision tree to figure out and translate their needs. I enjoy working with these kids, in part because I like the way it enables me to disappear into my role. It’s the ultimate service. I exist for them, I communicate for them, not for me.

I wasn’t always this way. Over a decade ago, I had a very different, very public life. I was comfortable standing in front of a large crowd and speaking. Then through a series of strange events, I gave all that up and became a nurse. And I got very used to being a silent servant.

But I am not Emily Dickinson. I have not toiled in obscurity only to have my work discovered after my death. I wrote a book, and then sent it to an agent, and got it published. Here I am writing a blog. So obviously I don’t have (much of) a problem with sharing words I’ve written. I just seem to have a problem with sharing that I’ve written with people who know me in other capacities. Still, I am grateful to finally see my book out in the real world. Now, I just need to get over the shock.