Wednesday, September 21, 2005


A friend at work loaned me a copy of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. I'm up to the part where she's working in WalMart, and she just had her shift changed. She's wondering if she should take one or both of her closely-monitored 15-minute breaks before the dinner hour, or afterwards.

Do I take both before dinner, which is usually about 7:30, leaving an unbroken two-and-a-half-hour stretch when I'm weariest, between 8:30 and 11:00? Or do I try to go two-and-a-half hours without a break in the afternoon, followed by a nearly three-hour marathon before I can get away for dinner? (Page 163 of the paperback.)

She wonders. I laugh. Hah! I say to your break dilemma.

I get a "lunch" break sometime during my 12-hour shift (which often stretches to 13 or 14 hours,) if I am lucky, and if I only take three or four phone calls during "lunch" I consider myself luckier still.

Usually I go from a little before 7 a.m. until about 2 p.m. (7 ceaseless hours of incredible stress,) before I am able to report off to some other starving entity and slip into the back room, still on the unit at which I work, and cram down a quick meal. Then I'm off for another 5 hours of being in four places at once until the next shift arrives.

The "covering nurse" does nothing for my patients while I am away shoving food down my gullet while fielding calls to radiology and the cath lab, because they are busy enough with their own assignment. But if one of my patients throws an embolism and codes, they come get me. That is what is meant by "coverage."

Often I am called from my pleasant repast to medicate a patient for pain, send one off to a procedure, or otherwise interrupt my unpaid meal time.

I come back from lunch with 20 minutes of tall fresh weeds growing up around me.

After reading Ehrenreich, briefly I ponder the sheer luck of WalMart associates, for they get breaks.

(On later edit: the link expired, but originally it was to a story about Wal-Mart workers bringing a legal case against the company for making them work through breaks and also making them perform unpaid overtime work.)

Then I pause to consider that they make $7 an hour, and I make something like $30 before calculating the value of my various benefits. It's a math thing.

What a depressing book. How I wish I could do more for my fellow working-class Americans, but to chastise them for their stupid and timid political leanings. But to tip well, which I do unerringly. But to treat them with utmost linguistic respect under all circumstances.

Sigh. But to mourn my working-class college-deprived parents. (They met in their freshman year, got married, dropped out, and bought 4 or 5 houses on 1960's wages, back when we as an affluent society actually rewarded people for their work.)

I am so glad that I am not a Republican.


may said...

i'm glad the hospital i work with is strictly following the state laws here about lunch break. we have what we call a Meal Break RN.they do everything while one is on break. they medicate, because legally, one who is out on break, should not be taking meds out of the pyxis...stuff like those...hopefully your hospital will catch up soon.

kat said...

I have been a neonatal nurse for 24years. As I get older my bladder is getting weaker...I wish I could have two breaks a day just for the bathroom. I have to beg to have someone "watch" my patients. I have had 4 bladder infections in 4 years. I hardly drink fluids during my 12 hour shift so at least I don't have much urge to go...we only have one specialty nurse per shift and the other nurses are reluctant to watch the nursery for me to pee...I got docked .10 cents last year on my pay raise for punching in 15 minutes they told me do not punch in 15 minutes early anymore, but punch out "no lunch"...thats 30 minutes... Wonder if I will get docked .20 cents on my pay raise this year?? It makes no "cents" to me. Now they will have to pay me the extra 30 minutes which could run into overtime by the end of the week. Well good for me...cause now I can have an extra pee break at home before I leave for work...Signed, Burning Bladder