Alphabet Challenge: S

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

S: San Francisco

Emergency runaway ramp

We left the Grand Canyon in early afternoon. As we began our descent into Death Valley, the sun slid behind the hills. The car started to pick up speed. Penny screamed, “the brakes aren’t working.”  She gripped the wheel, giving all of her attention to keeping the car on the road. On one side of us loomed the granite facade of the mountain. On the other a drop-off to the valley below. As the car continued to accelerate, Carol Ann and I grasped hands and prayed. Miraculously, Penny jerked the car off to the right onto an emergency runaway ramp. We slowed down. When the car stopped, we sat silently as we realized we hadn’t died. 

Penny, Carol Ann and I had graduated from St. Peter’s School of Nursing a year ago. We promised that we would work as hospital nurses for a year and then move to San Francisco to live. We left New Jersey in Carol Ann’s second-hand car in September 1963. We had driven cross country along Route 66 from New Jersey. On the way, Carol Ann’s old jalopy had to be serviced many times: two flat tires, overheated engine and now, after our close call, a garage in Lone Pine, California, where the car was towed, would fix the brakes.

We arrived in San Francisco, our final destination, on a sunny autumn day. Our bags were in the trunk. We were headed to the YMCA in the Tenderloin district where we had rented the “penthouse.” 

On the first hill in San Francisco, the car stalled. Penny was behind the wheel. She couldn’t seem to put the stick shift into gear. We sat looking down the steep decline in front of us. I sat in the middle of the front seat and Carol Ann sat next to the door, just as we had as we careened down the mountain days before. My hands started to sweat. Carol Ann must have felt as I did because she opened the door and jumped out of the car. I followed. Standing beside the car, we both watched helplessly as Penny sat frozen. The cars behind her started to honk. I knew I couldn’t climb back into the car to help. Neither could Carol Ann.

Poor Penny was behind the wheel again. Before we could figure out what to do, a guy standing on the sidewalk sized up the situation. He jogged over and opened the driver’s door. Wordless, he grabbed the wheel. When he put his foot on the brake, Penny slid out of the car. He slipped into first gear and drove the car down the steep street, waiting for us to join him at the bottom. 

The next day Carol Ann sold the car.

Penny began dating the fellow who came to our rescue.

I decided I didn’t want to live in San Francisco and, after a few months, went home—by plane. 

Humor Noir/Black Humor

While I was looking for something to read to my writing group, I came across this story. It brings back memories of how green I was when I started nursing school.


imagesRight before Patsy’s turn to share her thoughts with the group, she smiled coyly at me. Oh no! She wasn’t going to tell that story again? Not to the whole group? At almost every reunion since we graduated from Saint Peter’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1962, Patsy retold the same story. Now, at our 40th reunion, less than half of the forty-four graduates were in attendance. And for the first time we all sat around a large circular table. Was Patsy going to tell the whole group the embarrassing story of what happened in our first year of nurses’ training? Well, I always thought the story funny, but only when the four of us were reminiscing together—Gloria, Patsy, Julie and me.

(I caution my readers that the following is humor noir or black humor)

Patsy and Julie were roommates, as were Gloria and I. We would stay together during clinical rotations throughout the program.

One day, during our very first clinical, we each were assigned to one patient on the medical unit—practicing giving a bed bath. Eager young women in our teens, we wore starched white aprons and bibs covering light blue striped dresses with white starched cuffs mid-arm. Our white shoes were spotless.ca2a257635cc69e1fb1116481b9b5ca4

That day, Gloria and I had finished giving baths and making beds and set out to see if Patsy and Julie could join us for lunch. They had patients in the same semi-private room at the end of the hall.

As Gloria and I entered the room, Patsy’s patient, a thin, older man, abruptly sat up in the bed and forcefully vomited bright red blood all over his clean white sheets. Patsy grabbed a kidney basin—a small curved metal bowl—and shoved it under the man’s chin. Julie pulled the curtain around her patient but not before grabbing his basin. Julie took the blood-laden basin from Patsy and gave her the empty one. She then passed the full basin to Gloria who stood close to the bathroom and dumped the contents into the toilet and flushed—we hadn’t learn, as yet, that we needed to document how much blood the patient had lost.

While Patsy, Julie and Gloria passed around the full and empty basins, I ran out of the room. The nursing station looked so far away at the end of the long hallway. Rather than run down the corridor, I stopped and yelled. “WE NEED A NURSE.”

I don’t remember, but I suspect a “real nurse” came to help us. What I do remember is that the man eventually died and that the family was angry because in the midst of our inept effort to handle the emergency situation, we had emptied an emesis basin full of blood down the toilet—along with the patient’s false teeth.

And I remember that Patsy didn’t tell the story to the whole group, after all.





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