The Right Way, the Wrong Way and…

I had two bosses in an operating room I worked in. Sophia had a poster on her office wall of a turtle reminding you that the turtle only made progress when it stuck its neck out. On the other hand, Betty had a little cubby hole office with a poster of two vultures sitting on a tree in the desert. One bird looks at the other and states, ” Wait for something to die? Hell, I’m going to go kill something!”

The posters neatly summed up the two supervisors’ attitudes and offered hints about managing complaints, issues, and problems within the department. Even the chief of anesthesia walked carefully around Betty, preferring to deal, if possible, with Sophia. I, of course, mostly worked with Betty.

Betty was a coastal brat from Maine and knew I could tell the difference between literal and littoral, being another coastal brat from a Merchant Marine family. She was also a former Navy nurse, and being I was former Navy, we worked OK as a pair. I put on my best petty officer routine for her, did things the “Navy Way,” and life was easy.

Now, please understand no recruiter would ever seek me out to re-up. I was not the regular Navy type. But I could play-act it during work hours to get through the day. Just as long as I wasn’t going home in uniform, eating on the mess decks, or deploying for six months. I was OK.

A few other folks in the OR got querulous of me and accused me of sucking up. I just offered to show them how to run a buffer, properly swab with a mop, wear dress blues with panache, and act serious while receiving a series of ludicrous commands from a snotty ensign. Now, mind you, it was the last that got me in trouble while enlisted. I had difficulty keeping a straight face.

My colleagues in the OR were not amused.

I guess everything could have gone on as they were, but the day came when things started changing. It was a long case, and my back ached. Now stretching to arch your back while holding retractors in a patient’s abdomen must be done carefully, but Betty gave me a soft massage to help with the tension. After the case, she came over and helped me remove my gown, and I could have sworn that her hands lingered a bit on my neck.

Walking into the lounge, I noticed snickers, grins, and laughter hidden behind hands. My friend Marilyn asked with a grin if Betty’s backrub had been up to Navy standards. A few people cracked up at this. Later over a few beers, my friends told me that there had been a betting pool to see when Betty made her move. She’d mentioned to Sophia that I was “cute and respectful.” Being cute and respectful might make it for Betty, but I was not interested in snap inspections or early lights out with a former Navy Luitenant Commander as a girlfriend. 

Over the next couple of weeks, it became clear my friends had the right of it. Betty had me in mind for the position of Mr. Betty. There was no circumspect way to get around it. When frustrated, she had a volcanic temperament, and I had set up the entire situation by giving her what she wanted the way she wanted it. Betty was talented, brilliant, beautiful, and totally willful. The first three traits were very tempting in a mate, but the last was scary. My over-active imagination could envision the sorts of Navy-style “non-judicial punishment” she might dish out if I incurred her wrath. I wasn’t that type of guy.

Ultimately, I handled it like a true sailor; I jumped ship. I found another job, gave my notice quietly to Sophia, and slipped my moorings one afternoon.

From a distance, I kept tabs on Betty. She married another former Navy guy, a retired chief petty officer who worked in hospital administration. She had kids, moved to the Tidewater area of Virginia near a Naval base, and seemed to live a happily Regular Navy-style life ever after.

To those who might think I missed out on the love of my life, I’d like to share a bit of Naval wisdom with you. Regarding life in the Navy, we used to say there was “The right way, the wrong way, and then there was the Navy Way.”

I’ve said my piece.

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