Photo Essay


Yea, though I walk...

I graduated with a BSN in 1991. I worked for 7 years in the 20-bed ICU of a local community hospital. I was CCRN certified and the nurse other nurses asked for when the ones they loved found their way to ICU. I was the nurse the surgeons asked for when their patients were coming back from OR split wide open with chest retractors in place. Career on track.

I am normally pretty easy going except when it comes to stupidity. I do not suffer fools gladly. The environment is ICU for God sake. Patient's lives are on the line. Step it up a notch people. David was one of the people. David wasn't supposed to be an ICU nurse but apparently no one told him. Therefore, I did not suffer David gladly. David was completely incompetent but insanely competitive. That's an oxymoron of sorts isn't it? Anyway, he determined that I was his biggest threat in the vertical climb so he started laying the groundwork for my extraction. He watched me like a hawk and badmouthed me every chance he got and he ratted me out no matter how trivial the infraction. Really, it was only a matter of time before we squared off.

That day arrive. David was on me from the moment I stepped through the doors... just pickin' and jabbin' and dancin' around me and my module. I could feel my pressure valve hissing and knew, absolutely, what came next. So did David. He'd been working towards this moment for months. He cocked his head to the right, skillfully reached in and pressed the final button.

Now... David's god was one of the heart surgeons. He followed him around like a little lost puppy. How better to exact the final blow than to attack his hero. I tightened up the space between us, then opened my mouth and out it came... a raging river of completely inappropriate and slanderous remarks about the good doctor. Then I just stood there waiting for David to spontaneously combust. David did not disappoint. His face went beet red, the veins on his forehead and neck bulged and he started spitting on me as the raging left his mouth. "Take it back", he said. I countered, "F*** you". And so it went, back and forth. Nothing more. Just those words. We sounded exactly like a cracked CD until David finally struck the desk with a seismic blow and screamed, "You're goin' down".

He meant what he said. He went to the manager and unit director. He told everyone in the unit plus the good doctor himself and I was summoned to the office. I was told to rebut the charges in writing. I did it. I owned it. I wrote the truth and I was quite unceremoniously fired for it... as I should have been. All that was left was the aftermath of consequence.

I clearly remember the drive home. I was sobbing and shaking. Somewhere along the route, I blew a stop sign and was pulled over. My explanation, "I was (sniff, sniff) just fired". Did the officer cut me a break? Of course not. Why should he? My mess. Not his.

When I got home I was relieved that no one was there. In those moments alone, the faux peace of denial settled on me like a sweet salve. I lived in these sunny days of abnegation for a week or so and then the rage began to spew out. This was real. David was to blame and I wanted some payback. And conjure I did. I called my nursing buddies from the unit to see if David was being crucified. He was not. My nursing 'buddies' began shutting me out by refusing my calls one after another..

So I turned to God. "Please God, fix this. I stand contrite before you. I swear I have learned my lesson... please, please, please, please, please". But God isn't in the business of removing consequence. Thus bargaining gave way to depression? I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't engage. I just laid there festering in the cesspool I had created. And finally, when I'd learned all the required lessons, I limped my way into acceptance.

It was only then that I felt shame for my words and behaviors and responses. One evening, I called David to apologize. I told him I didn't want this 'thing' suspended in time and space above us and I offered an apology. He did not response. He couldn't. He was only a phantom of my past... a place that was no longer accessible to me. My vision at this moment was 20/20 as I stared through the shattered pane of regret.

We have all known consequence and regret. At these times we 'wear' the expressions and body shapes that mirror it.

Image Application:

On our way to Chicago, our friend and owner of the condo where we stayed called to tell us that one of the balcony windows was broken. After we unpacked, I went out on the balcony to relax. The shade was down and from where I was sitting, it looked like water had seeped in between the layers of glass. It wasn't until I opened the shade, day 2, that the cracks were actually visible.

The sun was setting and the golden hour was flowing through the cracks creating prisms and all sorts of strange shadows. Instantly, the photographer kicked in. How cool is this. Shoot it backlit from inside. I have wanted to submit an image to 'Create a Filter' for a long time but was just too lazy. But this, THIS was a filter... original and beautiful, so I snapped away. Then I ran inside and uploaded. I was right. The images were every bit as cool as I'd hoped they'd be. Still, something was missing. The shots needed a person. So I drug Tom out on the balcony and directed the scene through the open door.

After I uploaded the people version I was even more excited. So excited in fact, it took me a couple hours to fall asleep as an additional shoot was taking shape in my brain. Tom indulged me the next morning before we headed out. Later that night I viewed them quickly, was really pleased with the work but did nothing more with them until we returned home.

As I started processing the images, I saw a story within the collection. The lines and shapes and sunlit cracks were powerful. Normally, I make an instant image connection to something in my brain hoard... a song, a quote, a bit of prose, a memory. But with this, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It was so incredibly familiar... so very personal but I just could not connect the dots. I wrote two stories and even posted one completely, then deleted it along with the images. None of it was right. Frustrated with myself, I finally just put it away.

Then, one morning on a Starbucks run it occurred to me that the poses I asked for and shot through the shattered window were the expressions and shapes of the consequences, grief, and losses I have known. I struggled to name it because it was something I had lived but not observed. I have many, many stories about my part in consequences. I think we all do. I feel no shame in sharing them. The aftermath of each consequence has always included personal growth.

I see myself within these images. Perhaps you will as well.

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12 responses

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (8 Aug 2012):

    Oh yes, I see myself with regrets. Wonderful, searing story & great images, Bailey! BRAVO!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (8 Aug 2012):

    Thank you Michele. When slices of my life are extracted, at someone else's hand or by my own doing, the reaction is always the same. I want a do-over. But there are not too many of those in the game of life. What we are given in exchange is a moment of clarity that hopefully results in human or spiritual growth.

    I appreciate you sharing that this is familiar to you. It is never easy dragging out any moment of shame. Love you my friend.

  • Christina Soto

    Christina Soto said (8 Aug 2012):

    Thank you for being brutally honest! Your images tell a story. Very powerful!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (8 Aug 2012):

    Christina ~ Thank you for taking the time to view this. I so appreciate it. Some people relate to 'brutal honesty'. Others do not. I need to keep things 'real'. It sounds like you do as well. A good thing from where I'm sitting. Again, thank you for your generous compliments.

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (9 Aug 2012):

    I applaud you for this story, especially the honesty of it, but for being brave to say exactly what you thought, I applaud you even more.

    Bravo, voted!

  • Brendan Kelly

    Brendan Kelly (Deleted) gave props (9 Aug 2012):

    Reading this I began to feel the tension build around my neck and in my chest. Not sure if I was reliving moments and/or feeling your anger. I do however feel your heart and soul in this piece. I give plenty of complements to our fellow artists here on JPG, but this, this is the best essay I have read and yes the images lead you into the story. Your shots add a feeling of belonging that simply increased my dark thoughts about David. I’ve learned to control my anger a bit better these days. But, I will not stand nor allow stupidity in my world, I can accept ignorance, at least it gives me the opportunity to inform a person and perhaps guide them to a better place.

  • Brendan Kelly

    Brendan Kelly (Deleted) said (9 Aug 2012):

    I am happy that you were able to get this out and hopefully release this time and let it be simply a memory. Thank you for sharing, I feel quite honored.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (9 Aug 2012):

    Roxana ~ First, thank you for the nomination. This photo essay is a bit unorthodox so the nomination is quite unexpected. This is not something I am proud of. My behavior was unprofessional and unacceptable in every way.

    When you become 'good' at something, arrogance and ugly behavior can follow. I needed to take a hard look at who I'd become and get back to basics. I'm not sure I would have ever learned this lesson any way but the hard way. That's often the only way your can live into 'acceptance' and change.

    Again, thank you Roxana.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (9 Aug 2012):

    Brendan ~ I think the downside to telling this story as I have is that David becomes the bad guy. In actuality, I was the true bad guy. I was full of myself and started believing I walked on water. The moments in my life that have mattered the most are those that humble me and return me to the best me I can be.

    I saw David several years later. I accepted a position at University of Chicago Hospital where he was working. I didn't know he was there until I looked up from the cafeteria line and saw him staring at me from across the room. As soon as our eyes locked he almost fell trying to run away from me. That was a great moment. I often wondered if my apology was sincere... if I had changed because of it. My reaction was affirmation. No adrelanine rush, no racing heart, no flushing, no shaking. What I saw was his little boy afraid and running and my heart went out to him. Somebody did something to David that destroyed his self-esteem (probably when he was a child). I added to that pain before I was fired. I deserved what I got.

    By your words, I know that you have been here in some way. Anger is a killing thing. I have an extremely long wick, but when I go, it's nuclear. I want blood, I want pain, and I know where to go to get it. But the years have tempered that, mostly through the lessons that came to me by my own hand.

    I knew you would relate to this. Very similar creatures, you and I. It is such a pleasure knowing you. And here I am, thanking you again. Love you Mr. Kelly. You 'da man.

  • Litz Go

    Litz Go said (15 Aug 2012):

    Bailey, I always love reading your post. I not only see images that moves me, but at the same time I am captivated by your eloquently written words! My elder sister is a practicing registered nurse. She, like you is so dedicated with her profession that sometimes her dedication is extended beyond the four walls of the hospital.

    I'm glad that after all this years, that sub conscious feeling finally came out and you have come to terms with David. Who knows, your creativity now is a result of those that happened in the past. Congratulations!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (15 Aug 2012):

    Litz ~ Thank you sweet girl for the nomination and your kind commentary... about the images and my words. Sometimes I think people see more of my drivel and I imagine them putting their fingers in their ears then saying 'la, la, la, la, la'. I must warn you however... tossing me cookies only serves to urge me on (grin).

    Your sister sounds like she has the 'heart' of a healer. Those are the exception, not the rule. She deserves all of our respect. Give her a hug around the neck for me.

    I believe it is necessary to say these things outloud and ask for forgiveness... from those you have offended and for yourself. It can never be 'undone', but it can be restructured into something positive.

  • Tom Harvey

    Tom Harvey gave props (23 Aug 2012):

    Bailey, as always, a beautifully written, thought-provoking story, raw with honesty and emotion. I love your work. Well done. Voted.

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