In mid-June the temperatures here in North Carolina are rivaling those we usually see later, in July. I gather tools and my floppy hat to work in the garden. The mosquitos are out in full force and so are the ants that built homes under the cardboard I used to suppress the grass threatening my flowers. These tiny insects are merciless and bite me repeatedly despite citronella candles and the insect repellant I use diligently. Gardening in the cooler tank top seems like asking for trouble. I should wear a loose shirt over this.
Leaving my tools on the patio, I retrace my steps back to my bedroom; open my closet door and stare for a moment. All my work shirts are heavy, made for working in the cool of early spring. I rifle through my cardigans. Like my work shirts, they’re all too heavy or too nice, not something I’d want to wear in the garden. As I peer deeper into the closet, I spot something white. What’s this jammed in the middle of the closet? Ah, my scrub jackets. They’ve gotten a little dingy after being stuck in here for the last few years.
I haven’t thought of these for months, not since March when I stopped working even part time, fully embracing retirement. Scrub jackets are loose fitting, designed not to bind or curtail movement, and these are long-sleeved with a knit cuff at the wrist. This could work. Slipping the jacket over my tank top, I go out and tend the flowers. Without thinking, I slip the pruners into a pocket. Periodically, I take the pruners from my pocket to shape an errant plant. I smile as I find a small toy left by one of my grandchildren and slip it, still unthinking, into my pocket and on I go, working in the garden.
As I sit down on the patio to take a break, I realize the pockets of my scrub jacket are bulging against the sides of my wicker chair. Smiling to myself, I remember how these pockets once overflowed with alcohol prep pads, pens, post-it notes, my stethoscope, or connections for IV lines. Important things, as I cared for others as a nurse. In those days, I never knew what I would need at a moment’s notice and everyone needed something from me in those days. I look through my pockets and find a small red sports car favored by my grandchildren, copper stakes for identifying plants given to me by my daughter, pruning shears, and a Sharpie.
In this moment, it seems strange that I no longer carry bandage scissors or hemostats, that I’ve relegated these things to a display case holding other memorabilia from my nursing career and I ponder never working again as a nurse. It’s bittersweet, as I remember patients, some of the great people I worked with. The pride I felt as a patient recovered, or I learned a new skill. But then there are other memories. Ones where systems work against those of us providing care. The bits of nourishment my soul received were small against the overwhelming tide of the demands I faced.
As I prepare to return to the peace of my garden, I slip the pruning shears back into the pocket of my scrub jacket and smile. Happy I had that nursing career, it helped shape who I am and allowed me to provide for my family. Still, if possible, I’m even happier, now that I have this time in life which nourishes my soul and fills me with such deep contentment.