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  9. Just a Little Smile

Just a Little Smile

I’ve always had a streak of perversity that pops up when someone wants me to do their bidding. That’s why I fought constantly with my mother, why I insisted on speaking broken Spanish to a Venezuelan official whose English was flawless, and why I refused to smile one night at work when I was starting an IV.

When the nurse on the unit had trouble starting an intravenous, they called the supervisor for help.

This particular call was about a woman in her fifties whose veins were tiny and rolled easily. Entering her room, I said, “Hi, Mrs. Anderson, I’m Joan, one of the night supervisors. I came to start your IV. I’m so sorry you have to get stuck again.”

From the get-go she was chatty and had all sorts of questions for me while I got the supplies ready.

“How long have you been doing this?”

“Almost ten years.”

“How many IVs have you started?”

“Thousands.”

“You seem very efficient.”

“Thank you.”

“But how come you don’t smile?”

At that point my hackles rose. I just ignored her and continued to get things ready.

She persisted, “I’d love to see a smile.”

I pretended she hadn’t spoken and said, “This will be tight,” as I fastened the tourniquet around her arm.

“C’mon, just a little smile!”

“There’s going to be a stick now.” I kept my eyes on what I was doing and my expression stony.

“I don’t know what it would hurt for you to smile at me!”

By then I was stiff as a board and wouldn’t have smiled if my life depended on it.

Instead of responding, I silently hooked the IV to the tubing, started the flow and taped everything in place.

“OK, all done. Good night – hope you can get some sleep.” I turned and walked out of the room.

As I was at the desk doing my charting, I could hear the patient exclaim to the nurse, “She certainly wasn’t very friendly!”

This is one of the many incidents in my life that I remember with shame.  Why did I have to be so stubborn? As the patient said, what would it have hurt me to smile and be friendly? All she wanted was support. It might have made her less anxious and would have cost me nothing.

Wherever you are, Mrs. Anderson, I send you my sincere apologies.

Joan Greland-Goldstein
Denver, Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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