Hello World! Welcome back to my lovely literary blog. Lately, a new reader of mine (one of my firsts, actually) has planted a seed of an idea inside my head that kept me up for two nights in a row writing with a sense of fun and satisfaction I had been lacking for the past few months. First off, I have to say I’m pretty gosh darn flattered I’m starting to develop a reader base. If you’re reading this (which, obviously you are) then you are just freaking swell! The seed of the idea is the basis for my new blog segment. It will be based on my experiences as a college student. I have properly named this: Oops! I’M AN EXASPERATED STUDENT (ta-daaa!)
Keep in mind this is a literary blog and I will be throwing on the fiction rather heavily so just go ahead and assume it is all fiction. Especially the really embarrassing parts, as they are bound to be abundant. So here you are, the first scoop on the doop of the life of an exasperated student.
Chapter One: Ah, yes. Victory.
I sat in the chair of victory. Let me give that a few capitals. This was the Chair of Victory! I, Jenni Darby, had made it. Out of nearly one-hundred people, I- and fourteen others- had been accepted into the Radiography Program at Heartland Community College. Best of the best. Not that it hadn’t taken me three years to achieve such a feat, but I was feeling pretty proud of myself. At long last I had begun the final journey of my college career.
Yes, community college. I’m going to throw some facts about myself at you. This isn’t my first time in college. After high school I spent a year in Los Angeles chasing a very, very expensive dream. I was going to be in the movies. Well, after that dream deflated and became harsh reality, I tucked tail and returned to my hometown in Illinois. So now I’m a drop out, a lot broke, and a little bit of a loser.
But now, glorious triumphant success, I had a chance to be a winner again! I had worked hard for three years between my first college and the RAD program. I had become an EMT, a CNA, and had sat through several other miserable classes in order to be accepted into the program. All the while, I toiled in the retail store known as Hell-Mart. But I traded that crappy job for a position as a nursing assistant which I was beginning to feel pretty good about. I was doing something meaningful and worthwhile. I was helping people, and just a few more steps away from the grand prize; Radiology.
To be honest, becoming an X-ray tech was not my life-long goal. Obviously writing is and always had been. But the whole starving artist thing doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather have a nice job and support a family while working on my writing ambitions.
So after three years of busting my ass I was now in the winner’s seat. I had just spent the very last of my spending money on a few new clothes and new school supplies. I had a few goals for my last two years in college. First, I was going to give everything my all. No wimping out, no holding back. I was going to finish the program with distinction. Second, I was going to have fun doing it.
Both of those goals turned to shit before I even realized it.
That first day was like a dream. I wore new clothes, had my new school supplies, and sat with a fresh notebook and pen at the front of the class, eagerly awaiting instructions. I was the very first student to arrive. I’ll always remember that. I felt so good being the first to walk in. The teacher, Alice, a young Apostolic Christian, smiled at me and we exchanged a few comments of small talk. I really liked her right away. She had such a sweet demeanor. Her dark hair was tied up loosely and pinned down by a woven veil reminiscent of a doily. She wore a blue jean skirt that nearly touched the floor, only revealing the toes of her shoes. I think what I liked most about her was how, even though she wore no make-up and sported acne worse than my senior photos, she shone with an inner radiance I’ve never seen. She was a woman I could trust and count on.
I watched my classmates walk into the room that we would be learning in for the next two years. Some looked mentally disheveled, as though they hadn’t expected eight in the morning to suck so bad. All of them were very well dressed, even the ones in yoga pants. They were expensive yoga pants that showed off the many hours they obviously spent at the gym. The majority of my new classmates were very young and appeared thoroughly bored. I was twenty-four. In my older age I was already foolishly silly because I had expected to see at least one other eager face.
The one eager face I did see was one that belonged to Nick Flush. Nick and I had been Hell-Mart co-workers. He was a good thirty years older than me, already gray and weathered. He had worked at the store nearly his entire adult life but thought a change in careers fifteen years before retirement sounded like a good idea. I believe he got the idea to apply for the RAD program from me, not that it was of my conscious desire. He was a man fond of bull-shitting and laughing loudly at any joke whether it came from himself or a nine-year old. I’ll admit it; I was annoyed that he had joined the program the same year as me. I had worked for three years to get in, and he had only worked for two. I thought it seemed a little unfair, but I couldn’t deny that it was nice seeing a friendly face. He sat next to me and we exchanged a few whispers before Alice started the class.
I had been in college for longer than most people, so I was used to the way first-days go. There was always bad news and exciting news. Alice gave us the rundown of what we were to expect throughout the year. I was shocked to see I purchased the wrong books, annoyed to learn that I wasn’t even close to finishing with my expenses for the semester, and given the cold foreboding dread that I always feel when I learn of how much I’ll have to travel to complete the class. Radiography programs, like all healthcare schools, require students to spend many long hours in different hospitals and prompt care facilities. Clinical sites were all over the crazy city that I did not live in, and I’d have to figure out how to get there and how to afford the gas.
So the misty fog of blissful ignorance had been lifted a little by the first-day bad news session, but my excitement and sheer appreciation for the opportune situation I had worked myself into had not waned at all.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I began to look forward to my clinical experience. Class work was tedious and difficult when unable to put it into context. I had never once been given an X-ray and had no clue what it was all about. My unusual lab teacher didn’t make it any easier, either. By unusual I mean she was younger than me and was about as brilliant as a freshman cheerleader who just got a negative pregnancy test. She was maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet, and appeared as though she had more money than she knew what to do with. As a totally broke and slightly overweight student, I found right away I did not like my lab teacher.
Her hair, always neatly done up and primped, was perfectly colored and healthy. She always smelled like a clean salon, and her nails were manicured differently every week. Everything she wore was designer and totally in style for the week. Her voice, though she reminded me of my prior college roommate, was a bit annoying with how chipper she made it. She was a woman who had never known hardship or failed in the face of a challenge. Yup. I was freaking jealous.
Just to instill a solid reason in your mind why my lab teacher was an idiot, I will demonstrate an actual conversation we had one day while in class.
We sat in the chilly lab room, which was actually pretty impressive for a community college. There was a working X-ray tube, phantom body parts that we could shoot, and an accurate and new-looking control panel. We sat in the lab practicing one at a time mock exams. I can’t really remember how we got on the subject, but my lab teacher and two of the more popular girls in my class got on the subject of shitting their pants.
“I totally have the best story,” Tyler, a pretty farm girl who every day had a silly story to share during lab.
The lab teacher’s eyes lit up and she sat on top of the exam table and tucked one dainty foot under a pencil-thin thigh. The look of entertainment was only genuine on her pampered countenance while wasting class time with one of Tyler’s stories.
“My boyfriend, Jonathan, can only go to the bathroom at home, like number two,” she began. “And he plays baseball, and he did while in high school. While at practice one day he held his poop in for so long that while running the bases a little came out and he had a brown stain on the back of his pants! I was hanging out at his house later that day and his mom like held up the pants and yelled through the house ‘Jonathan, did you shit your pants?’”
The girls just erupted in giggles and laughter. Okay, so it is a little funny. Bare in mind I’ve only known these girls for a few weeks, and I’m not really acquainted with them very well. But that didn’t seem to hinder them at all. The other little popular girl decided to throw her poop story in, as well.
“I visit my dad in Springfield every few weeks,” she said. “One time I was holding in a load like no other but I didn’t want to stop because I was making good time. Well, I hit a pothole and it just bounced it out of me! I full on let it all out. I had to pull over at the next gas station and change into my pajama pants. I wonder what the clerk was thinking?”
I don’t consider myself a stick in the mud. But holy crap, these girls are seriously going to sit around and talk about… crap? My I.Q. dropped like three points just by listening to those stories. I suppose I’m a little condescending to think myself superior to them just because I don’t have shit-myself stories like them. I don’t flaunt that kind of thing. Maybe with my friends, but not with strangers. Of course, being stuck in the presence of my perky lab teacher put a damper on my good humor.
I guess I really got to know my classmates in lab. One girl, Beth, who turned out to be five years older than me, took a shine to me right away. She was smarter than me, I felt. Not book-smart, but intuitive and self-assertive. If I got stuck in the wrong part of town I would like to have her with me. She was smaller than me, as were all the girls in my class, and also better off financially, just like all the others. But she had one quality that all the other girls didn’t; Beth didn’t pass judgment on me. She would be the first to say if someone was a bitch or a skank, but Beth looked at me and completely accepted me for all that I was without a blink of the eye. For the first year of my experience at school, Beth was my only friend.
I liked all the other girls, no doubt. But I was more mature and a hell of a lot weirder than they were. Most of them came from well-to-do families. The one’s who didn’t, like Beth, were engaged to or dating a very well-to-do man. I wasn’t like them because I had been self-sufficient, independent, and the descendent of a long line of below-the-poverty-line people. I had walked a very different life than they, and our differences were like vast crevices separating me from them.
Don’t feel sorry for me or anything. I promise this story has a happy ending. Eventually.
After the first month of classes, the teachers unleashed us upon the hospitals to begin working as interns. I was assigned to St. Joe’s hospital. It was my preference. I drove the entire way that first morning of clinical so nervous I had to listen to Eminem in order to sack up. I gave myself a pep-talk in the car about confidence and being positive no matter what. I was determined to stand out amongst my peers and really shine.
Halfway across the parking lot I realized I forgot to bring my name tag, image markers, and my radiation badge. Jerry, my other teacher and clinical instructor, had made it a point to tell us we weren’t allowed to go to the hospitals without radiation badges. They sensed the radiation dose we received throughout our work. I knew what I had to do. I had to call Jerry. He was an older guy, close to retiring, and truly loved Radiography to his core. He was kind of quiet, always holding back a possible well of humor that I couldn’t quite be sure of. I knew he was either going to freaking kill me, reprimand me, or worse. I knew the worst was to come. I was going to get kicked out of the program. On my first day of clinicals! I was mortified.
My voice shook as I left him a voicemail at seven-thirty in the morning. I explained where I was and what I had done and that I knew how important all that stuff was. I told him I would stay at the hospital and if he wanted me to leave he could call me. I waited for the knife to drop for four hours.
When Jerry walked up I saw the quiet smile in his eyes and his rosy cheeks behind his beard. I was safe. He handed me a new radiation badge, said the other stuff wouldn’t matter, and called me a knuckle-head. I was okay with him. Whew!
Being okay with my teacher was a relief, but most important to me was impressing the X-ray techs who worked in the radiology department. Looking back as a survivor, I would describe the techs to be one large mass of angry bees. I was the dumb kid who threw a rock at their hive, and now they were buzzing around furiously, giving as many little stings as they could but unable to actually kill me or get rid of me. And I stood there and was forced to take all those stings.
Hospital staff eat their young.
At the time, however, I felt as though they were welcoming, sweet, and slightly funny group of co-workers. A few of the women were returning from maternity leave, others were on the verge of a wedding, and the guys seemed laid-back and cheerful. They blew around all day, busy in their work, trying to spare moments to get to know their new students. There were six of us at the hospital that semester, a full house. I was glad to have Beth at my side. She really was a pillar of strength for me.
There’s no such thing as routine in the hospital. And those who work there have completely forgotten that outsiders don’t know what they know. We students stumbled through our first exams, not knowing exactly what to do but trying to pretend otherwise. The staff was light hearted, smiling, laughing sometimes. I was doing my first exams totally alone my first day. My nerves were causing me to shake.
The thrill was indescribable. I was so joyous, invigorated, alive with the knowledge that I really, truly enjoyed Radiography. Thank God, because I was sticking to it no matter what.
After a few short days, the mood of the techs slowly shifted. Jerry and Alice weren’t coming to the clinical sites as often and we were unguarded. We began to relax a little more, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘them.’ I was still striving to be a shining star amongst the others. I respectfully stood the entire time. I made sure to do homework on down time, I always kept a vigil eye on my assigned room. I cleaned consistently. I always responded to any request with energy and enthusiasm. I was shocking myself with the positive attitude I was mustering.
But all the techs wanted to do was fawn over the tall guy in our class, Douche. I don’t like him very much so that is his name for the purposes of my story. Douche liked to make jokes about women’s anatomy and then make suggestive comments to the pretty girls all day. He was in his thirties with a daughter he never sees or talks about, while in school he lived off the government with some roommates and didn’t have a job. That’s Douche McGee! But the techs freaking loved him. They laughed and followed him around and showed him the best stuff.
When he was busy flirting with someone else or slacking off out of sight, they talked to my classmates about Big Brother, Jersey Shore, and what the hell is that other one… Bachelor something. Ugh. I would ask a question about X-ray stuff and they’d look at me like I had down syndrome and they hadn’t noticed it until recently. That kind of stuff I could put up with. I could deal with them not liking me, making catty comments, rolling their eyes, trying to degrade me and make me feel dumb in their subtle and whispering way. That was manageable. But one day…
Toward the end of the semester, I was starting to get my groove. I was doing chest X-rays alone and feeling good about that. But babies were another story altogether. They weren’t common, and I have no children of my own. I’m not comfortable manhandling someone else’s something-month old. Eek. But it’s all apart of the job so whatever.
The parents come in and I ask the sweetest of the catty techs to assist me as I was nervous. There is a dreadful device called a Pig-o-Stat that babies are strapped to for X-rays. We strap the baby in, I show the parents where to stand safely away from the radiation, and the baby starts to cry. Well, of course he’s crying. He’s unable to see Mom and he’s cold and in pain and immobilized. I might’ve cried, too. But the tech flips a lid, acts like a baby crying is the worst thing that could happen and starts to scream at me.
“Turn the knob! Set it to two point five! No, on the chart! Just shoot the picture, alright, just shoot it!”
Yeah. Professional. Well after the patient is done and the parents take him away, the tech gathers all the students into the room.
“I need to explain how to do chest X-rays since I’ve noticed it’s troubling some of you,” she says.
Little sting. Manageable. Since there’s six of us, only two can fit in the control room she’s demonstrating. Being one of six, I was not in the control room with three other people. The tech leans over and says, “Jenni, you need to get in here and watch this since you are the one who can’t work this thing.”
Ouch. That wasn’t just a bee sting, that was a freaking bullet. Just call me out, why don’t you? Make me look like an idiot in front of people who already don’t know what to do with me. She had no right to talk to me that way. Who was she, the most perfect queen of perfectness? She must have forgotten that once she was just like me. Just a student with no clue.
I’d like to take this moment to step on the low road and call her a bitch. Ah, that feels good.
I drove home that night with frayed nerves and no self-esteem. Yeah, I cried. I wondered what the hell I was doing. One of fifteen, but I didn’t belong with them. I was so unlike them, so much worse. I felt this immense dread, this terrible looming despair that I had once again joined a college for the wrong thing. I had wasted even more time and money pursuing a career I had no right engaging.
The last day of the semester I sat in the chair like a woman defeated. I listened to the ridiculous joke Nick Flush was trying to tell me and only gave him a polite smile. I had next semester to look forward to, but the thought was more threatening than hopeful. I’d be going to a new hospital. I’d be dealing with a whole new clan of bitches and snarling cats and buzzing bees. I didn’t know how much more I could take.
I had gone from this bubbly, excited, eager girl to this slumpy and bee-stung hag. My face still grinned and my grades still soared, but inside I was definitely not shining. Ah, yes. Victory.