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Behind Closed Doors - My Back-to-Work Shopping List
Must-have items for the tastefully appointed surgical nurse.
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: October 3, 2012   |  Tags:   Opinion
back-to-work shopping list NOT EASY FINDING GREEN Some choices are so traditional that few choose them anymore.

By now the kids have been back to school for about a month. I was in a Wal-Mart that first week and, passing the wreckage of the school supplies aisle, felt relieved I didn't have to deal with that anymore. As a traveling nurse, however, I guess I do, seeing as how I seem to have a back-to-work shopping list whenever I start a new assignment. Maybe those of you who stay in one place also take this time of year to restock your nursing needs.

• Scrubs. I've been an OR nurse since barbers handled both crew cuts and gallstones, but I've never actually had to buy my own scrubs until now. So it's off to "Scrubs R Us" for my uniform in the school color, which for this particular hospital is old-school surgical green. I discovered that this color is so traditional, most uniform stores don't stock it for retail sale — it has to be special-ordered — although you can pick up any other insanely bright and cheerful pattern under the sun.

• Shoes. OR footwear has evolved. You once had a choice between white nursing shoes or canvas tennis shoes the same color as surgical green scrubs (which, believe it or not, were before my time). Then came clogs, Birkenstocks, running shoes and Crocs, which were more expensive, but way more comfortable. I'm in favor of anything that makes long hours standing on concrete floors bearable, and nothing about white nursing shoes was comfortable. Even their looks were torturous. I like Crocs, but a lot of places find fault with the holes in the tops and the fact that they don't have backs. I found another kind of clogs that do, though, and they're candy-apple red. I keep clicking my heels, but I'm still here at work.

• Socks. White, all of them white, so I don't have to worry about matching. And plenty of them, enough to be able to put off doing laundry for a while.

• Lunch carrier. Box or bag? I have a canvas lunch tote. But because I don't waste a lot of time getting out of Dodge when my shift ends, I usually forget it in the lounge fridge. So I'm usually carrying my lunch in a plastic grocery bag, which works just as well. Now, will I get a break during the day to eat?

• Writing implements. A lot of facilities have switched to paperless records systems, and more are planning to do so. But no matter how much gets computerized, you just know we'll still need pens for all the double-charting, triple-charting and extra labeling we'll always have to do. I like a particular type of pen, and there are always 3 in my pocket. There's power in 3s, and I believe in having a pair and a spare of anything. And I'll chase down anyone who borrows one and absent-mindedly walks off with it.

• Other comforts. Some things you just feel better having on hand. One of my friends swears by cloth hats. If she is forced to wear a disposable bouffant, she says, every case she does will go down the tubes. She also must have chewing gum. For each procedure, she chews half a piece of gum behind her mask. When the case is over, she spits it out. New case begins, another half-piece of gum.

Another friend says she has to hear a certain song at the beginning of the first case of every day. She walks into the room and turns on that song, and it seems like nothing can go wrong. Me, I just need a clock by my bed that is always 30 minutes fast to maintain that kind of illusion. Back-to-school isn't a year-round feeling, but every day is another opportunity to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and perhaps score the extra credit this time.