Get Well Soon!: My (Un)brilliant Career as a Nurse is Kristy Chambers' first book – and it’s just right for readers with a taste for black humour (and a strong stomach). In this frank and often funny memoir, she tells why nursing is not a career for the faint at heart … though possibly perfect for budding writers looking for material. Her stories range from the sadness of watching patients you’ve bonded with die, to the kind of strange-but-true medical details you shouldn’t read over lunch, and a series of hilarious and often touching encounters with her patients.
In this edited extract, we meet Callum, a thief and junkie from a bad family, with surprisingly strong morals.
Callum had blond hair, blue eyes and was almost six feet tall, a gangly 18-year-old who looked sweet and innocent, but this choirboy had some serious track marks on his arms and burns on his neck where somebody had held lit cigarettes to him. He had been robbing houses since he was 12 and started using heroin when he was 15. His dad was his dealer and was one of the first people arrested for importing heroin from Asia in the seventies, Callum told me, a little proud of his family’s infamy. I guess it is nice to know that your dad was a trailblazer, even if it was for something like heroin trafficking and he wasn’t good enough at it to avoid getting caught.
Callum had just been released from a juvenile detention centre where he’d spent some time courtesy of holding up a corner store. He was charged with stealing, instead of armed robbery, because he had asked the cashier, ‘Could you please give me the money?’ and hadn’t demanded it.
He gave the cashier a choice, his barrister said, and she chose to give him the contents of the till. It had all been caught on CCTV, including the bit where Callum had apologised while he was holding her up, saying, ‘Sorry to do this to ya, love, but it’s just bad luck that you were working today. You’re not too traumatised, are ya?’
‘No, I actually feel quite relaxed,’ the girl had replied.
‘That’s good, love.’
Callum said that there were ways of doing things and just because you’re a thieving bastard and a junkie doesn’t mean you have to be a rude prick, too.
‘I guess that’s where having good manners really pays off,’ I said.
‘Dead set.’ He nodded. Next time, though, he was going to grown-up jail, guaranteed. Antiques were Callum’s favourite things to steal.
‘I’m really into antiques. I love ’em,’ he told me. I asked him how he knew where to find antiques worth taking, how he knew which houses to hit.
‘I’ve got connections,’ he said mysteriously.
‘What kind of connections?’
It turned out he had a pretty sweet arrangement. His friends were real estate agents and insurance salesmen. They gave him the address and descriptions of the valuable stuff, he did the breaking and entering, and they split the takings 70/30. Callum was taking the bigger risk so he got the bigger cut.
He gave me the benefit of his knowledge and expertise in burglary and advised me how to best safeguard my home from people like him.
‘That Crimsafe mesh is shit. Proper metal bars on the windows, that’s what you need. And forget about any kind of rolling door locks. Unless you’ve got a dead lock with a key, any other lock is a fucken waste of time. It takes me four seconds to get in, max.’
He was very enthusiastic about his craft. ‘Oh, yeah, and if you’re gonna do a ram raid, you’ve gotta head out of the city,’ he continued knowledgeably, before instructing me on how to break bulletproof glass and outsmart sensor alarm systems.
‘I love crime,’ he said, happily. ‘I don’t even do it for the money anymore. But I’m getting too cocky.’
He said that he felt bad stealing stuff sometimes, like when he and his mate had broken into a house to get an antique sword that had just been valued and insured. Callum could tell they were poor.
‘Everything in their place was shit. Like they had this tiny television and all the furniture was old, but not like antique old, just crap.’ He had an argument with his mate, who wanted to take the sword anyway, and Callum told him he could do what he wanted but he wasn’t taking it and climbed back out the window. His mate had followed him, reluctantly, and as they were walking back home at two in the morning, a police car had pulled up beside them.
‘What are you doing out here?’ the cops had asked.
‘We’re looking for a lost dog,’ Callum said automatically.
The cops split them up, and Callum told them he was looking for a labrador named Lucky and his mate said he was looking for a blue heeler called Chad.
‘You’re looking for different dogs, you haven’t even got your stories straight!’ the cops said when they brought them back together.
‘We’re looking for two dogs,’ Callum said, without hesitation. Lying was a reflex.
The cops searched them, found nothing, and had to let them go.
‘We know you’re lying, you little smart-arses. If we see you out here again, we’re taking you to the watch house,’ the cops warned them, and then drove off.
‘See?’ Callum said to me. ‘If we’d robbed the sword, we would have got done for it. That’s fucken karma,’ he continued. ‘You don’t steal shit from poor people.’
I looked over at the clock. ‘Dude, pick up the pace! We haven’t got all day. Hurry up and finish your food,’ I said.
‘Oh, yeah.’ He grinned at me, then reached for his first bowl of banana cake and custard and told me another dog story. He was a good storyteller and I was a good audience for him. It was a much more entertaining lunch supervision than most.
He had wanted half an ounce of weed and his dealer wanted a pedigree boxer puppy for her daughter’s birthday so Callum had arranged a swap, and told her he would get her a dog in exchange for the weed. He looked online, found a breeder and called him to ask if he could take a look at the new litter. The guy gave him his address, and Callum asked how much he was selling them for.
‘Five hundred each,’ the breeder told him. ‘I’ve only got a hundred …’ Callum replied and the guy laughed at him.
‘Tough luck, then,’ he said, and promptly hung up.
Callum called a taxi and when they pulled up to the breeder’s house, Callum told the driver that he was going in to get his grandmother’s puppy back, because someone had stolen it.
The taxi driver wasn’t keen on having a dog in the car. ‘We only allow service dogs,’ he had said uneasily, and Callum started crying.
‘But they’re going to sell it!’ he protested. ‘Please, you’ve got to help me! I told my grandmother I’d get her dog back! Please!’
The driver relented, taken in by Callum’s crocodile tears and seamless bullshit. ‘Oh, okay then…’
And Callum ran into the backyard, grabbed a brindle puppy and jumped into the back seat with it.
‘Go, go, go!’ he said, and the taxi driver went.
‘That’s a very nice dog,’ the driver commented, as Callum nursed the puppy on the drive home. ‘Yeah, he’s worth a lot of money, that’s why they took him. My grandmother’s gonna be really happy.’
He got dropped off a block from his dealer’s house and carried the tiny puppy to its new home. She gave him his half-ounce and he gave her the dog. Three days later it died of parvovirus. The dealer called Callum and demanded he get her another puppy.
‘No way! I already got one. It’s not my fault your dog died,’ he told her. He shook his head in disbelief. ‘She paid $300 for the immunisations and everything. Unreal.’
When Callum left the hospital a few days later, he gave me a hug goodbye.
‘I reckon you’ll remember me when I’m gone,’ he said.
‘Yeah, I think you’re right,’ I told him. ‘It’s been educational.’
He was going to start an apprenticeship as an electrician if his interview the next day went well. He was a smart kid, now seven days clean, but he was going home to his dad’s place, and his dad’s heroin, so his future wasn’t as bright as it should have been.
The next time he came into Detox, about six months down the track, he didn’t have the same enthusiasm for getting clean, or telling stories, and only stayed for a day and a half.
This is an edited extract from Get Well Soon: My (Un)brilliant Career as a Nurse by Kristy Chambers (UQP, 2012), published this week. It’s now available in all good bookstores.
Explore by area of interest