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The House that Built Me

Ever showed up for work, wondering…who’s got the house? Nurse managers don’t wonder, of course, they just pray…Oh God, don’t tell me I have the house tonight.The one-house nurses found their career home right after school, and stayed there. Other nurses, like me, were peripatetic, wandering from house to house. We found something to take away from each house, something bigger than the tape rolls and alcohol pledgets that rode home in our uniform pockets: often it was the love and trust of a special patient. Ever seen the house when no one was at home? I did, once.

A campus-style psychiatric hospital I’d worked at had just closed. Before it was battened down against trespassers, I took myself a long walk through it one evening. No patients. No staff. No cars. Lots of echoes though, my own footsteps and sounds from birds and field animals bouncing around the pretty Tudor-style cottages. The sun’s long, setting rays slanted into my eyes.

I was asked afterward why I hadn’t been afraid to walk around the place alone like that. After all, it had been home to sixty years’ worth of patients wrestling their demons…wasn’t I afraid the house was haunted?

Of course it was haunted. By the mentally challenged old man who slept better with a good night kiss on the forehead from me than with any PRN known to man. By the bald, toothless, cancer-eaten woman who kissed me on the cheek for breaking all the rules and letting her have that ‘one last cigarette, please’…and it very probably was her last.

I guess they are the ones who have the house, now.

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