This is a preview to the chapter Chapter Fifteen from the book PERSONAL BAGGAGE by Margaret McMillion.
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An October wind whistling around the house delivered a whiff of winter as Tuesday afternoon’s forty-degree temperature plummeted toward the unseasonable freeze predicted for that night. Running later than usual, Penny hurried to her Chevette and steered out of the driveway through a flurry of tiny snowflakes blowing in all directions. A plastic bag swooped along in wind gusts and caught on a naked tree, whose skeleton extremities reached out as if to grab at her car.
Except for cedars and pines, most of the trees along the interstate were bare, and up ahead a hawk perched precariously on a high swaying branch of sycamore. Penny lifted a finger to touch her hawk’s eye pendant.
Circling behind the Jacksonville hospital, she spied a rounded brown bag at the back of the staff parking lot. On alert since the fetus incident and since reading about a newborn found in a paper bag at New York General, Penny parked near the suspicious-looking sack and walked over to peer inside, much relieved to encounter only the remains of someone’s lunch.
She had never been this far back from the hospital. To her left was a two-story building—probably Maintenance. A stringent odor of dank humus and wet leaves rose from the wooded area in front of her, where tree trunks were overgrown with kudzu vines, their branches weighted down with Spanish moss.
With a surge of panic, she checked her watch: she had five minutes before she must clock in—after that she would be late, and three late clock-ins constituted an Occurrence. Ominous sounding rules, listed in Jacksonville’s nursing handbook but never enforced in the past, had become big issues lately. Almost anything could turn into an “Occurrence,” and after three an employee would be placed on probation—maybe even fired.
Nurses had no job security; just last week the hospital had laid off twenty-four employees: newly-hired office and lab personnel and five nurses. Rumor had it that Administration planned to close the Psychiatric Unit and everyone was jumpy. Sweat prickled Penny’s skin as she sprinted up the stairs to look for the time clock, which had been moved.
In the nurses’ lounge, Barb, already dressed in scrubs, bowed her head over the Kardex while a glow from the overhead florescent fixture highlighted blond streaks in her hair. Concentrating on her notes, she did not look up to welcome Penny. “I’m keeping the three I had last night, and I took the patient they admitted today, okay? That gives me four. If you take the other two plus the new admission we’re getting, you’ll be totally buried, believe me.”
“How are you tonight?” Penny paused at the table, trying to think of anything she might have done to offend her friend, while butterflies hatched at the top of her stomach.
Barb glanced at Penny and smiled with one side of her mouth. “You’d better get dressed. I’ll tell you later, if we have time.”
After Report and the transfer of narcotic keys, Penny planned ahead: she would assess her charges and load the information into the computer. “I’ll get vital signs on my patients, Maria,” she told the unit secretary. “I’ve got to be in their rooms anyway, so if you’ll set up for my new patient and get the admission vitals, I’ll do the other two because you’ll be busy with the paperwork.”
and all the others, when you
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