When nurses end their shift

Here’s a piece I submitted to a writing contest at NPR.  It has nothing to do with healthcare save for the first sentence which NPR supplied.  In case you are wondering, my 12-step program is progressing nicely.

The nurse left work at five o’clock.  A twelve-hour shift—only lost one, better than some nights, worse than others.  Two hours before sunup, the icy wind gnawed at her ankles.  With her caffeine gauge on empty, she ducked into Starbucks, glancing waywardly at the plethora of coffees posted overhead on the menu board.

“Do you guys actually pay someone to think up all this stuff?”  She asked rhetorically.  The still groggy looking twenty-something guy behind the counter ignored her, not a bright move on his part.  His hair looked like it was cut with an ax; an errant flap of it skittered over his right eye with each movement of his head.  His right ear lobe was pierced in three places, although he only wore one earring.  The nurse noticed a barbed-wire tattoo around his left bicep.

Intent on continuing the conversation, even if it was to remain one-sided, the nurse inquired, “I suppose you guys have a marketing think-tank to invent the product names.  That word “Grande,” that’s Italian, right?”

Twenty-Something occupied himself by steaming a pot of skim milk.

“So, help me think this through,” she implored.  “Since Grande is the one in the middle, it must be Italian for medium.  And, “Venti,” that must mean large.  Right?  So, here’s where I’m confused.  The one labeled, “Tall.”  Something tells me that doesn’t translate to small in any language.  If you take a small cup of coffee, and make people order it as a tall cup of coffee, maybe they will actually think it’s larger than it really is.  QED.  Quod erat demonstrandum.  That’s Latin for cut the crap.”

The nurse knew she was jousting in soliloquies with an idiot.  Nonplussed, Twenty-Something merely rolled his eyes and asked her what she wanted.

The nurse was usually not a half-caff, double mocha, skimmed latte kind of person.  In fact, it troubled her that some people were—troubled her a lot.  The person she had hogtied and left in the trunk of her car was one of them; he hadn’t known when to shut up, so she had done it for him.  By the time she had checked on him during her break, he’d frozen solid.

“Any ideas?”  The Twenty-Something foolishly pressed the nurse.

“What do you recommend for somebody who just wants a cup of coffee?”

“Do you want regular or decaf?”

“What’s the strongest you have?”

“Ethiopian.”

“Give me your largest.”

“Shall I leave room for cream?” asked Twenty-Something.

She looked at the prices.  Two dollars for a cup of coffee.  Why would anyone pay that much and then hide the taste of the coffee with cream, she wondered?  “No cream.  Instead, give me a latte grande with skim milk.”

“One grande latte,” Twenty-Something replied, correcting her syntax.  “Is that all?”

“Better give me a large orange juice.  That’s what’s it’s called, isn’t it, or is that also a grande?”

Her wit was lost on Twenty-Something.  “Large,” she murmured through her teeth.  “And a bagel, plain.”

“Toasted?  Cream cheese?”  She knew he was toying with her.

She’s had enough, grabbed the coffee, and headed for the door.

He hollered for her to pay, but the look she gave him told him to let it go.

Too bad the trunk couldn’t hold two.  She’d come back tomorrow to visit the boy.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

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