I walked towards my car parked in the creepy (potentially Zombie hiding) end spot under the garage at work. I briefly watched a coworker try to hack away at his ice-covered truck. Uh. Oh. I quickly realized I couldn’t drive home tired, like I had just worked the entire day. And day before. Inside the thick walls and windowless rooms of the emergency department. Tonight, I would not get to casually listen to music and occasionally stare up at the moon following me home. On this messy winter night, my eyes would be fixed on the road before me. My hands clenching the wheel, my posture hunched over uncomfortably. The whole drive home. I wish I could just fly home. On nights like tonight.
Towards the end of my shift, co-working friends walked past me cleaning toys. A job I happen to take enormous pride in, despite the monotony and the annoyingness of the fumes and the gloves. And the tiny toys. And weird hairs, crumbs and gunk. Nosocomial infection? Not on my watch. Hopefully, one day my autopsy doesn’t reveal that yes, in fact, I died of inhaling too much of the powerful odor that kills most every germ known to human.
In between de-crumbing bins (leftover lunchables) and rearranging toys, I tend to get pretty annoyed with Ken. He’s lost his pants. Again. I’m perplexed. Why is he ALWAYS losing his pants? Where are they? Or why is someone constantly stealing Ken’s pants like they’re something special? Are they? I just can’t put his naked Barbie-loving self back in the clean toy bin. I should probably Sharpie some underwear on him. I feel more like I have a Bacheolor’s in Sani-wiping toys and a minor in alphabetizing movies on days like today. Despite my love for my job and especially the friends I see two days a week, I’m ready to go home.
I pull onto the ramp to enter the highway and notice the enormous Kansas City Fire Department truck reversing into the station. Backing that bad boy up. Now that takes practice. And skills. I could never do that. Reversing, at night, into the narrow open garage. Unfortunately, I think that truck will be out again shortly, before the engine even cools off.
I hate driving home on icy, snowy, rainy or foggy nights. After midnight. I joked with my coworkers earlier about needing to write my name on my body since I have temporarily lost my wallet. I don’t have it for my drive home. One of my friends occasionally tells me to zip up my purse, so they can identify me if I get into a wreck. Kind of a gruesome yet thoughtful gesture which is par for the emergency room nurse.
I’m creeping along on the highway. Not too slow. Not too fast. On nights like this I can hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “pump the brakes. You’ve got to pump the brakes…” And that freaks me out. I don’t want to have to pump the brakes. I want to just coast my way home, never making a sharp turn and avoiding laying my big right foot on that brake pedal.
Suddenly, I notice several cars lined up, pulled over on the shoulder up ahead. This is uncommon after midnight. It’s too early for Monday morning rush hour traffic. My stomach starts to do a little dance. Not a happy one. The nauseating, freaked out, spinning kind of dance. This is not good. There’s a snow plow truck or salt truck blocking the middle lane. And two cars smashed facing the wrong way and there’s people out on the highway. “Please, God.” I start praying. “Help them. Be okay. Be alive. Please.” I hear the sirens coming. I pray for the first responders. For their speediness and bravery and strength. I want to throw up. I don’t want to keep driving home. I start biting my nails. All off.
How quickly life, even just a routine drive home, can be slammed into perspective. I’m certain I will not be able to sleep for awhile tonight. But I will get to sleep in my own bed. I will get to wake up and see my kids’ sweet faces in the morning. And I truly feel overwhelmed for this gift. That I’ve received every late-night, early morning drive home from work. So often overlooked. And under appreciated. I’m grateful for my job. Even the sani-wiping and half-ass alphabetizing. And I’m grateful I made it back home. Safely.
It’s a lively and stubborn combination: the work adrenaline mixed with the drive-home adrenaline, topped off by the leftover caffeine circulating through me from the coffee I desperately needed hours ago. It will wear off eventually. It has to. Hopefully before the sun peeks into the windows and before three little boys excitedly wake me saying,
“Mama, what day is it? Do you go to work today?”
And I will snuggle them, in a tired yet grateful state,
“Nope. I don’t go to work today.”
In my sleep-deprived state, I will slowly yet excitedly say the words.
I’m consciously grateful to be alive and home, yet so exhausted. It’s a Saturday-kind-of-Monday.