The nurse with the dragon tattoo

A few weeks ago I told you I had an appointment for my pending retirement, at a medical office that I described as merde–the French word for shithole. And this week I returned to the same shithole for a second medical evaluation.

Nothing has changed.

Plain walls and a shiny white tile floor. There was no extreme medical office makeover since the last time I was here. No windows, skylights, or Koi ponds were installed. No cheap art — A Bowl of Oranges, Beach Dunes at Sunrise, White Doves Gliding a Blue Sky tacked on the wall. Not even a house plant wilting in the waiting room corner. This place was, after a second inspection, still a sterile shithole.

A heavy wooden door creaks open and a short, light brown-skinned woman in scrubs holding a manila folder appears.

“Mr. Armstrong.”

With Clark Able’s help, I pull myself up, take a breath, and wobble toward the voice. “Follow me.” As she leads me down a white hallway, I notice she is a head shorter than me. Even her hair, which was black and shiny, is short. On the nape of her neck is the scaly head of a dragon, breathing fire toward her right shoulder. The dragon’s head is attached to a thick, equally scaly neck that curves and disappears under the hem of her scrub collar.

Did this small nurse really have a full dragon tattoo on her body? Sure maybe a bare-knuckle cagefighter, but a nurse? Was the American Nurses Association aware of this? Was her father?

She stops at a doorway, turns, points, “In here.” Above her face mask is a pair of fierce brown eyes that would wobble the knees of even the bravest dragon-slayer.

Was this her lair? Is this where she devours mouse-men like me? And if she ate me, what would she do with Clark? Maybe use him as a toothpick to loosen my soft dad-flesh from her teeth?

Clark and I enter.

“You can sit in that chair. I’m going to take your vitals.”

The nurse with the dragon tattoo puts the manila folder on a small counter with a stainless steel sink. She opens the folder, pulls a pen from her pants pocket, clicks the pen, jots down something, clicks the pen again, looks at me with those fierce brown eyes again and says, “That’s a cool cane.”

I raise my eyebrows and look at Clark, “Thanks.”

“I never seen one like that. Why is it taller than a regular cane?”

“It’s a walking cane. The height helps me with balance.”

“Yeah, it’s very cool.”

As a middle-aged suburban man who reads literary criticisms for fun, owns three pairs of slip-on Sketchers, and enjoys falling asleep on the couch, “cool” is a word long gone from my vocabulary. Nowadays, I might call a sale on cantaloupes “cool” rather than think of myself or anything I own as “cool.”

She cuffs my right arm, takes my blood pressure, and I notice the dragon’s scaly tail sneaks from under her sleeve and curls to a stop on the back of her right hand.

I don’t have any tattoos. It’s not that I have anything against them. I wish I had the bravery and confidence to get one. Tattoos that are artfully done and symbolize or memorialize something or someone seem to age well. Tattoos that are products of teenage rebellion or hasty worship of a now-ex-lover tend to spoil quicker than those discounted cantaloupes.

In silence, we wait for my blood pressure results to flash on the digital face of the sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff).

I don’t tell her, but I haven’t felt very cool lately. Despite the cane, having a movement disorder is, from my experience, very uncool. My book editor recently called my writing “plucky.” And then she cleared her throat and asked if my condition ever sucks. The truth is, my condition sucks all the time. For the last 7 years and 10 months it has sucked–the waiting rooms, the MRIs, the fear and frustration, guilt and regret, the stumbles, the falls, the swollen joints, the 2 am internet research, the troubles with speech, balance, vision and the sudden end to my teaching career. My condition has instigated my most piteous, whiny, and sullen self. My most uncool self. Yet ironically, my condition has allowed me to find my best self. My most cool self. The self that takes tremendous joy in writing plucky stories to you. The self that is braver, smoother with nouns and verbs than he is in real life. The self that finds perspective, a thimble of wisdom, and does the hard work of laughing at himself. The self who realizes all of us are trying to live the best we can with a fire-breathing dragon on our back.

She peels off the Velcro of the blood pressure cuff, walks over to the counter, opens the manila folder, scratches something down, and says, “You have really great blood pressure.”

Was this how nurses flirted? Was my cane and my blood pressure too much for her blood pressure?

As cool as I can, I respond, “Thank you. I do what I can.”

“Great blood pressure and a cool cane. Maybe you’re the perfect man.”

But before I could respond, the nurse with the dragon tattoo opens the door, steps into the hallway, and vanishes from my life forever.

Be well,


PS: Okay, this is cool…my story, “The Get Up”is featured in the book, “Dear 2020: Letters to a Year that Changed Everything” by Chris Palmore. A collection of letters dedicated to the merde that was 2020. The paperback is currently available on Amazon for $4.98.

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Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.


Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and a former award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time. 

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