Episode 56: Visiting with Sheri Smith of Bloomington-Normal, IL and her story, “Code Red”
SSPP ep 56 SHERI SMITH “CODE RED”
In today’s episode, Sheri Smith from the Bloomington, IL 2021 That’s What She Said show joins Kerry and Jenette in the studio to discuss her story, “Code Red”. The ladies talk about what Sheri gained from the experience and how humor and humility helped her family cope during the pandemic.
ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women’s voices. One story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:26 Welcome back to another episode of The She Said Project Podcast where we are recording live in the studio with our friends at WILL, Illinois Public Media. I’m your host, Jenette Jurczyk.
KERRY ROSSOW 00:39 I’m your co-host, Kerry Rossow.
JENETTE 00:41 That makes me so happy to hear that! We’re matching today. We got the memo. We’re twinning, we’re twinning.
KERRY 00:47 That’s right.
JENETTE 00:48 You’ve joined us because you want to hear from another amazing woman who has graced the She Said stage and we’re gonna deliver today.
KERRY 00:55 Oh, we asked and boy did she deliver, she delivered.
JENETTE 00:59 She’s delivered a lot. In fact, [Kerry laughs] we’re talking about our friend and She Said speaker Sheri Smith, who does deliver because she has been an OB/GYN nurse in labor delivery for many, many, many, many years. And that was part of her talk. I just had to clue you in so you guys were all in on the joke with us.
KERRY 01:18 Har-har-har [imitating laughter]
JENETTE 01:19 Now we’re in on it together. Let’s get Sheri in on this because she is on the line. Sheri Smith. Hi, sweetheart.
SHERI SMITH 01:25 Hi, girls. How are you?
KERRY 01:27 Right? Did you like our delivered jokes? Do you get those a lot? Or do we just think we’re original?
SHERI 01:32 Yes. Can I say my claim to fame?
KERRY 01:34 Let’s hear it!
SHERI 01:35 Can I say it?
JENETTE 01:36 Of course!
SHERI 01:37 That I believe that I have seen the majority of vaginas in McLean County [Kerry laughs].
KERRY 01:46 That’s what he said! Wait, what?
JENETTE 01:48 So that came out in her story,
SHERI 01:52 I believe… Yes.
JENETTE 01:55 As a labor and delivery nurse, you have seen your fair share of the, the lady bits. [inaudible] So Kerry, I have to tell you, that’s actually how we got Sheri to be in the show. She was in the audience at the 2019 performance of the premiere of That’s What She Said in Bloomington, Illinois. And she called me shortly after that show and said, I want to know everything, I want to know more, I want to be part of your show. I said, well, tell me about yourself. Tell me who you are and what you do” And she shared her experience with the majority of vaginas in McLean County.
KERRY 01:55 The Whoo Haa Majority
JENETTE 01:56 Booyah. And I said, would you say that out loud on a stage in front of a couple hundred people, called her out right on the spot! And she said, of course I would. I said, “you’re hired!”
KERRY 02:18 So Sheri, what you don’t know is so when Jenette and I are – I’ll say ‘researching,’ but it really just translates to stalking people. We call each other up, and we just give the lowdown sort of, the skinny on the person that, that we would like to have in the show. And that was the story. She called and said this line, I don’t need to tell you anything else about this woman. I know you’re gonna want her just based on this joke she made, and in our circles that is her claim to fame.
SHERI 03:08 Oh, my God, I’m glad I couldn’t think of a better one. You know, people would stop me. And I don’t know, I must have one of those faces where people want to talk about their lady bits, or even just their male bits like people want to tell me about their business. So yeah, I feel honored.
KERRY 03:25 Well, if you stay on after the podcast, I have a few things to say.
JENETTE 03:29 I have a few things to show you.
SHERI 03:34 Oh, my God. No worries! I’ve seen it all!
JENETTE 03:36 Actually, Sheri, You and I had many conversations about what your story would be. And let me tell you, K-Ross, the stories she has to share about the bits and baubs of all the people. I mean, she’s seen. She’s seen a lot. She’s experienced a lot. She has some really, really, really funny stories. But the one that we settled on for she said was very personal, very poignant, and very timely; because it was our first live show back after the pandemic, the rage of COVID-19. And, you know, Sherry, we we knew we knew you had to share the more recent story, but the one that was so relevant to what everyone had been going through, you had to be bold and brave and pretty vulnerable when it came down to it. How are you feeling today?
SHERI 04:30 I feel good. I feel like, you know, time heals. But there’s so many parts of the story that either bring me laughter and joy, but also made me pretty angry when I think back to some of the nonsense that went on. But overall, you know what, God has a plan and my father’s where he’s supposed to be.
JENETTE 04:53 In tribute of your father, and despite all the nonsense that you had to go through, let’s hear it from Sheri herself. As she shares her story entitled, “Code Red.”
SHERI 05:04 How’s everyone tonight? [applause] My name is Shari Smith. Some of you might recognize me, because I have been a nurse in this community for many years, specifically a labor and delivery nurse. What that means is I’ve seen almost every vagina in McLean County. [laughter]
05:31 Hey, you look familiar! [laughter] Aren’t you patient 54617? [laughter] You look fabulous. How’s your baby? [laughter] So, I’ve been a nurse a long time. As a matter of fact, some of you might not know this. But Florence Nightingale and I were in the same graduating class. [laughter] She was a much better student than I was. During clinicals, she went the extra mile serving all the military men, you know what I mean? [laughter] Let’s just say I caught her sneaking into our dorms, late at night, looking pretty tired, with someone else’s fatigues on. [laughter] All joking aside, I’ve had the best career in nursing. Nursing has been very good to me. Never in my wildest dreams did I even think I would be a nurse. But I love it. I remember vividly my first shift, my first clinical, my first job, making what I thought was tons of money. $7 an hour. [chuckles] I went to the unit, all dressed up. I had a nice little white dress on, little Bobby socks, cute shoes. And I thought, “oh my god, this is my first shift.” So I get there and I approached the desk. And I say, um, can you tell me where my preceptor is? The nurse kind of grumbled at me. And they’re like, “Oh, she’s in 346.” So I proceeded to 346 really excited about my first clinical experience. What they neglected to tell me is the patient was on a bowel prep and couldn’t make it to the bathroom. [laughter] So I bang open the door, and I close it immediately and run to the bathroom and puked all over the bathroom stall. [laughter] So, instead of having my first clinical experience, I had to clean the stall for eight hours. Afterward, I said to this older nurse, to this woman in charge, I said, you know, I won’t be a nurse longer than six months, like don’t worry. And she goes, “Well you better think about that.” So, here I am. 35 years later still learning and practicing. [applause] Okay, so all of you know, nurses have the best stories, right? Best stories? Yes, I have seen things stuck inside people, stuck on people, ingested; I have walked in on people in the shower together. I even saw someone – not someone. I saw a couple having a conjugal visit on the title floor! [laughter] And one of my famous stories is: I delivered a baby in a birthing tub. After the woman pushed, ladies, you know what I’m talking about – some stuff comes out. And the husband was in the pool with the wife and they were both naked. You know, luckily, [Sherri chuckles] I haven’t had a lot of stories about being a patient. But the word in the nursing community is we are bitches, [laughter] it’s a fact: we are the worst patients, and even worse when it comes to our families.
09:15 So in December of 2020 my father calls me and he says, just like he was telling me what he had for lunch, he says to me, “I’m gonna have open heart surgery next week.” I’m like, what? I start laughing at him. I’m like, that’s impossible. There’s a pandemic going on. He said the doctor told him he needed it immediately. So the following day, little did my father know. I called the doctor. After we spoke for a few minutes, he says to me, “Where did you go to high school?” I’m like, What the hell? [laughter] We’re talking about my father. So I remembered he lived two blocks away after he told me the geography. I couldn’t believe that this guy remembered me. So obviously, he must have had mad love for me. [laughter] You know, I still got it [laughter and clapping]. After having more of a conversation, he explained that my dad really needed the procedure. And in turn, I go try to tell my father, like, explain, in layman’s terms, they are going to cut your chest open, like this is the real McCoy. And my father says to me, “Why didn’t you marry him? He makes a lot of money.” I’m like, what the hell?! My father is trying to play matchmaker and not even thinking about his open heart surgery. The surgery went great. He did fine. However, they put him into rehab. And he started to feel sick. But guess what? They sent him home anyway.
11:09 So he was released on a Sunday. By the way, he lives in Chicago, in Morton Grove. And the following Thursday, he gets a call from the Illinois Department of Public Health, telling him he has COVID. So two days after that he was having difficulty breathing and we immediately sent him by ambulance to the hospital. Okay, so two days later, I’m up north by myself thinking, ‘woo-hoo.’ And I started to have symptoms. So what do I do? I call everyone in Bloomington Normal. And I say to them, “what should I do?” [laughter] I was getting sicker and sicker. And I knew I had no choice. And the last thing any nurse wants to do is go to the ER and wait five hours. So I knew I couldn’t drive. So again, I’m calling the Morton Grove fire department to come and get me. The ambulance arrived immediately. And I was trying to grab things to bring to the hospital. Like I haven’t been in a hospital since 17 years ago, when I had a baby. So the guy says to me, “ma’am, just get on the cart. I’ll wrap you in a warm blanket.” I looked up at him. And I looked at his big blue eyes. He was so darling. So I forgot my name [laughter]. Seriously, I was so delirious that I left my phone on the counter. I get to the hospital, and I’m feeling like a wet noodle. Like I’m sore. I couldn’t walk. I felt awful. So the doctor says, You know, we’re gonna have to admit you. Because you have MS. Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. I have this horrific condition who likes to rear its ugly head when something bad is going on. All I’m gonna stay tonight about this dreadful disease is that I have MS, but it doesn’t have me. [applause] So, my dad and I were two rooms away from each other. And of course, the staff won’t let me go see him. And the nurse says to me, because he has COVID. I’m like, “Dummy, he gave it to me!” [laughter]
13:35 So a few days later, my brother calls me and he says, I know you’re really sick. But we have a really big problem. By the way, he lives in New Jersey. The Cook County Sheriff called him and asked him if he knew Sheri Smith, because someone filed a missing persons report because they couldn’t find me for four days. [laughter] He tried to explain that I was in the hospital with COVID. And the Sheriff was like, Uh huh. So we were trying to figure out who reported me missing and we pinned it down to our aunt. So the sheriff suggested to us, Do you think you can call and tell your aunt what’s going on? We hang up the phone. And all of a sudden I hear this clinking walking down the hallway. And guess who’s at my door of the hospital? The sheriff! You know, reality is so much better than fiction. I can’t make this stuff up if I tried. So the sheriff came in, sat down, took out his notepad and started questioning me. And after about 30 minutes, he says, “oh, I think we can drop the case because you were found.” Oh my God, what was my aunt thinking!?
So now we’re going to fast forward. Five days later, I get to stay in the hospital. I’m feeling a little better. It’s early in the morning and the nurse comes barging in and says to me, “Are you ready to go home?” I say to her, “I have been wearing the same clothes for five days. I have no shoes, and I have no coat.” She looks at me and says the most dreadful comment in any hospital: “Ma’am, we’re going to have to call the social service department to get you some assistance.” [laughter]
15:37 I was mortified. Me, of all people. I’m like Imelda Marcos. So I tried telling her about how many pairs of shoes I had at home. And she looked at me and she’s like, “I’m sorry, but that won’t help us now.” So after about six hours of waiting, someone brings me a pair of someone’s old nursing shoes. They were dirty. You could tell they were worn. So I put em on, and I’m flapping around the room like a clown. And I say to the nurse, “Do you think I could take a shower?” So she goes in the bathroom, and she immediately comes out. She’s like, “Nope, the shower is broken.”
I said, “Can I go to my father’s room and take a shower?”
“That’s against the policy.” So she says, “I’m gonna have to call maintenance.”
I’m like, “Oh, okay. How long do you think that’ll take?”
She looks at me and says about a week.
So I say to her, “You’re telling me I’m going home smelling like a dirty animal? No shower, dirty clothes and someone else’s old nursing shoes?”
The nurse looked at me and she said, “You know what, I guess so.”
Immediately after that, the technician comes in and brings the wheelchair. She goes, “Are you ready?” I’m like, “I have no coat.” No coat. Like, this is it: a t-shirt and old pajama bottoms? Like, and she says to me, “Here put this on,” and she gives me a hospital gown. Like that’s gonna help!
As I’m being wheeled out, I’m like, “Can I stop and say goodbye to my dad?”
“Nope, you can’t see him. It’s against the policy. He has COVID.”
I’m like, “Okay,” so we get to the front door and the technician says, “I will go out and get the cab. Stay here.” It’s a blizzard in Chicago this day.
So I’m dressed in a hospital gown with someone else’s shoes on. And the cab driver takes one look at me and he’s like, “Oh my God. Did she escape from the mental health unit?” [laughter] So guess what – I got in the cab anyway. And I said to the driver, “Hi. I want to warn you. I smell like ass.” [laughter] “I have no money. I’m wearing dirty clothes that I haven’t changed in five days. I haven’t had a shower and obviously no coat. But I’m not homeless, I swear to you.” So I said, “If you drive me to this address,” (which is written like on a piece of scrap paper,) “I’ll go in and try to find your money.” He looked at me like I was insane. But he drove me anyway. So I went into my dad’s condo, found his secret stash, of course, took $40 and I come back to the driver and I say to him, “Oh here. Happy holidays.” He turns around, he’s like, “Ma’am, I don’t celebrate holidays.” I looked at him and I’m like, “Happy Whatever!” [laughter] Could this situation get any worse?
So, I recovered. However my father didn’t.
19:05 A few days later, the hospital called me and told me to get my family together. So I called my brother. He came on the next plane to Chicago. I picked him up and we went straight to the hospital. My dad was in such bad shape, gasping for air. COVID had like pretty much eaten his lungs. You know, nurses talk about that stuff all the time. Anyway, he was in the ICU. So of course, being the nurse, or being the senior nurse now, I said, “Can I speak to the nurse taking care of him?” Here she comes, you know, three-fourths my age. And she says to me, “Oh, you can look at your father through the glass.” But I couldn’t go in the room. She turns around and says to me, “Have you ever heard of COVID?” So I turned back and I said, “No, what’s that?” [laughter] So now my brother whispers to me, “Don’t start!” But in the meantime, I start putting on the blue gown, the face shield, the gloves, the whole get up. And she says to me, “If you proceed into the room we’re gonna call security.” So I said to her, “You know what? Do me a favor, can I borrow your phone? I’ll call security on myself. My dad’s gonna die, and I’m going into the room.” So she watches me. And I walked in the room. And I told my father that we loved him. And I held his hand for a while then I came out. The entire nursing department watched me in silence, as I removed my gown, gloves and eye shield, like, ‘Oh, she’s a bad girl.’ So I said to the nurse, “You know what? Can I talk to you for a minute?” So we went into the family waiting room. And I said to her, “It’s so funny that you asked me if I ever heard a COVID – not because I’ve been a nurse longer than you’ve been alive, but I’ve been hospitalized here, you could have looked at my chart to see that I had COVID last week.” I said to her, “By the way, you know, I’m the nurse investigator for the Department of Public Health. I’ll be discussing this with your nurse manager tomorrow. I said to her, “You know what? I’m so proud of you. Like you guys really adhere to all the rules and regulations.” I’m like, “It’s like an army camp here.” I said, “but sometimes the rules are meant to be broken.”
So as my brother and I start to leave, we hear an alarm, an announcement “Code Red”. My brother looks at me, he goes, “What the hell is that?” I said, “Well, Code Red usually means that there’s a fire in the hospital.” So we both proceeded out the door. And we look up and we see smoke billowing out of the hospital window. And we see a lot of fire trucks and all the chaos going on.
21:51 And then we realized we just said goodbye to our father. And now we’re standing watching the firemen put out the fire. But my brother turns around and says to me: “Do you think Dad will get cremated before he gets cremated?” [laughter] So we burst out in laughter. We must have looked like a bunch of idiots standing there laughing in the street until we started crying. Yes, we lost our father, our best friend to this terrible virus. We realize that so many people have lost so many things this past year. And yet we’re goofballs. We’re standing there laughing. You know laughter can be really healing. When you can laugh through difficulties life throws at you, they begin to feel less scary.
Tonight, I realize everyone faces challenges and struggles. And you probably have losses or close friends or family that have been lost because of COVID. But be there for each other and find the laughter.
I would tell you to hug each other, but as a member of the Department of Public Health and CDC, [laughter] I need to tell you that ‘Masks Inside, Stay Six Feet Apart.’
And please, wash your hands [laughter].
JENETTE 22:40 Sheri, you know your way around a medical facility. You are a very experienced nurse and for you to go through that with your own father as the patient and for you to watch the medical world as it got affected by this horrible virus. You were experiencing it professionally, you were experiencing it personally. And I just want to start by saying thank you for bringing your story to the stage because we know so many people have been affected. And we wanted to find a way to share, to let people know that it’s everywhere, and you’re not alone. You really did it. You had us laughing and crying with your own touching story. So thank you.
SHERI 23:58 Oh, my God, it was my pleasure. And I gotta be honest, I wouldn’t have done it, or I couldn’t have done it without the support of Jenette and Kerry and the whole cast, or all the people that were involved with That’s What She Said. Because you know what, it made me a better person and truthfully, I can’t even say enough about how passionate I feel about the whole project.
KERRY 24:25 Well go ahead and try! [Kerry and Jenette laugh]
JENETTE 24:28 We’re listening!
SHERI 24:30 No tears. The whole thing is remarkable. And you know what, it really gave me a broad understanding of what people are, like, not just snapshots, but a very deep understanding of what people’s lives entail. And for that, I think you ladies very much
JENETTE 24:47 Sheri, you are so welcome.
SHERI 24:48 And I would do it again!
JENETTE 24:48 You would, of course you would. You have more stories to tell, but you also, you did have a phenomenal cast; a really strong group of women who were there for each other, who all showed a different vulnerable side of life, and they all fell in love with you. I think everyone there that night fell in love with you. Because you’re such a natural storyteller, you light up with joy, you had everyone rolling.
KERRY 24:49 And I gotta tell you, I thought for a long time, I thought, ‘You know what, maybe it was just the timing.’ We all really needed to be together, we really needed to laugh, we really needed to do all the things that you, in one piece, you, you hit all of the markers. But then I went back and watched it again, when we were talking about today, thinking, you know, maybe it’ll land differently. And nope, you’re funny. You’re sassy. You, your timing was great. I had all the same laughs and like, pretending not to cry moments that I did from the live show. It’s you were just you were meant to be on stage.
SHERI 25:44 Well, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you ladies, seriously, and all your encouragement, because you know what? It was the furthest thing from my mind. But as I started getting into it, it really, really, really made a big dent in my heart. It was about how much I love, love, loved it. And it just came out of my comfort zone. And I thank you for that.
JENETTE 26:04 That is one of the goals,
SHERI 26:06 No tears.
JENETTE 26:07 No tears. It’s always a goal to ask these women to step outside their comfort zone to push themselves a little bit. Because by you standing there and being bold and brave and vulnerable, you give other women permission to do the same. Did you hear any feedback from friends and family that were in the audience about the story that you chose to share and your performance in general?
SHERI 26:28 Well, of course, you know, I had my biggest critics there, my besties and my friends and family. And you know what they all thought they couldn’t believe it. They actually were shocked that I got up and did that. Not because I couldn’t do it. They just, I never was so candid and honest. And I think that they were just pleasantly amazed that I got up and said what I said. Even, my husband.
JENETTE 26:52 Even your husband?
SHERI 26:54 Yeah, he was surprised she couldn’t believe how well I did. I’m like, listen, bring it on.
KERRY 26:58 Yeah, you were like, yeah, baby, we still have surprises. I still have secrets. [Jenette chuckles].
SHERI 27:03 Oh my God. So many more. You gotta look at life like the glass half full.
JENETTE 27:07 And you truly do. Honey, you are a joy to be around. I think we could have an entire evening of The Sheri Smith Show – like the stories that I got to hear from your experiences were all just as ridiculous and enjoyable all at the same time. Kerry, you always tell me what a challenge it is to find someone who is willing to talk about the difficult stuff and make you laugh.
KERRY 27:32 Yep.
JENETTE 27:33 And that is what Sheri did.
KERRY 27:35 I think in reality, you know, we always have that guilt. Like we think we can’t do both. But in reality, like I think of like some of the hardest parts of my life. And I couldn’t help it like I would drop some inappropriate joke, you know, and it was like, your brain can only take so much. So when you were speaking and it was serious, and it was hard. And it would have been easy to stand up there and wag your finger about COVID protocols. You made it personal and real and non judgy. And, and funny. Like who knew the COVID comedy tour.
SHERI 28:04 There’s an old adage in nursing: “You’d better laugh or you’re going to cry!”
KERRY 28:08 Yep.
SHERI 28:09 And it’s really true. I try to use that in my life every day.
KERRY 28:12 And we’re so grateful that you shared so much with us and that you gave in that night just that you gave so many people that great evening and permission to laugh and cry and be together again. And we’re so grateful.
JENETTE 28:24 And we’re grateful you came back.
SHERI 28:26 I’m grateful.
JENETTE 28:27 And we got to chat with you one more time because you are a gem, and we appreciate you so much.
SHERI 28:32 I just want to say that if anyone’s contemplating or thinking about doing something like That’s What She Said, go for it. Because you know what, it’ll liberate you. You will just feel so much positivity for yourself. And I really think that everyone should have a chance to let their voice be heard.
JENETTE 28:48 Here, here!
KERRY 28:49 Amen and amen!
JENETTE 28:51 Thank you for sharing and for the encouragement. All right, sweetie, we’re gonna let you go, we’re gonna let our listeners go and they’re gonna go and listen to this episode one more time. Because your story is that good you shine on the stage and you shine a light for women in your community. And we’ll continue to do that for women everywhere we can. So thank you for listening. Thank you Sheri for joining us and we’ll see you next time on The She Said Project Podcast
KERRY 29:16 Over and out.
ANNOUNCER 29:20 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to https://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
KERRY 30:08 Bye Sheri!
JENETTE 30:09 Thank you Sheri.
SHERI 30:10 Bye you guys!
In today's episode Sheri Smith from the Bloomington, IL 2021 show joins Kerry and Jenette in the studio to discuss her story, "Code Red". The ladies talk about how Sheri's life has changed since the show, and how she continues to embrace life and loss with love and laughter.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.