I anxiously flipped my pen between my fingers, talking myself out of the feeling to pee. I was on hold for a half hour waiting to be a contestant on a popular radio show, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Tom Hanks was the guest host tonight and as I listened in, the famous comedians on the show were in full raucous dialogue. Hanks was unexpectedly raunchy and the live audience was thunderous when Faith Staley hinted she wanted a “Dark Woody.” They were in full sarcastic comedy mode and I looked forward to jumping in on the fun.
“Hello! Welcome to Bluff the Listener game! Who is this we’re speaking to?” Tom Hanks was still laughing over a comment made five minutes ago, trying to focus on me. I could hear the audience trying to get their laughter under control.
“Hi, this is Nina from Old City Philadelphia!.”
Hanks made a comment then asked me what I did in Philadelphia.
I lifted my voice and timbre. “I’m a hospice nurse during the week and an umpire on weekends!” Keeping it light and happy, I kept nudging myself.
Then it played out as it always does. Paula Poundstone said something like this: (whining)’ Oh man, this is supposed to be a happy, fun show. Now I’m bummed.’
I tried to say something but have no idea what came out of my mouth. I didn’t have time. I felt thousands of people listening and now I caused them to be bummed. I was ruining their party. A Downer. A Party Pooper. Why couldn’t I just say I was a goddam Nurse and not a hospice nurse?
Paula asked me which job is harder. I had nothing to say but of course had an answer was I was lying in bed an hour later. If I would have told her the truth, it would have been, “I became an umpire because I want to run around and be around people who are young, healthy and literally going somewhere. I want to be active, and when the athletes are sassy and pissed with a call, I am actually grateful I can be out there learning, growing, possibly advancing a sport I absolutely love.
As I run down the field ahead of the play, I often see a fan of one the players who is disabled or very sick. My heart swells with love for them. It would be poor etiquette and unprofessional to go over and chat with them, telling them how happy I am they are there. But they know that. I have to get the image of them being in pain while taking an hour to get dressed. I fight the image of the van they’re riding in hitting a pot hole or stopping jerkily; sending pain throughout their body. And I hope they’ve taken an emergency loading dose of pain med before they left for the game.
I see a father in a wheelchair whose bright yellow eyes, distended abdomen, and grey skin waving his daughter’s number, and I smile lightly when I hear him blurt out his daughter’s name. “Go Ariel! Woo-woo Patriots!” he yells hoarsely, usually eliciting a cough because he doesn’t usually yell this loudly. I know how much work it took for him to muster up the energy to push the air past his vocal cords and get those words out and I smile.
So umpiring reminds me of my love of the ability to move and interact, and serving the dying reminds me how precious and valued my health is.
I guess if I had another chance to answer Paula, it would be. “They’re equally hard and equally wonderful; I couldn’t ask for better teachers. I’m super lucky.”