Treat me in St. Louis

 Polly Walton, Registered Nurse, NYU Medical Center
Income: $48,000
Health Insurance: provided by employer
Rent: $960/mo.
Utilities: $40/mo.
Phone: $100/mo
Food: $600/mo
Transportation: $160/mo.

Polly Walton's biggest expenses are her plants, her turtles, and her boyfriend. She owns about 100 plants, because she cannot go near a plant store without buying a petunia. Her three red-eared slider turtles eat only the finest foods—mango, asparagus, and shrimp. Her boyfriend is an independent filmmaker, which can be expensive because he does not make any money so she has to house and feed him.

But he's not a gigolo or anything. "We've been sweethearts since we were two," Walton, 25, said. "In grade school we passed notes and played catch-and-kiss. Though we were with other people on and off in third and sixth grades." On the wall of her apartment is a black-and-white photograph taken one afternoon in 1974. Walton is standing in profile, chubby in those days. She is staring at Jamie Yerkes, in overalls, who is at the center of a group of children. Fifteen years later the relationship entered adulthood on a night with a full moon. They have been living together full-time since Yerkes came to New York University to go to film school and Walton followed him to get a B.S. in nursing, also at NYU.

Though Walton has a degree in French from Dickinson University, she wanted to be a nurse ever since she went on house calls with her stepfather, a doctor, in the small town of Lyndonville, Vermont. "I did an internship with him one summer. I just loved it."

For the past two years, Walton has been an RN on NYU's general medicine floor, dealing with patients who have long-term illnesses—cancer, AIDS, heart problems. "I chose being a medical rather than a surgical nurse because you deal more with the patient, not just the problem. If someone has a hip replacement, you focus on the hip, but a person who just had a mastectomy is going through more psycho-socio issues—how are they going to deal with this in the long term?"

Every day, while Walton's boyfriend is attending to his filmmaking—most recently standing at the kitchen counter in their West Village apartment putting videotapes of his film, Spin the Bottle, in envelopes to send off to film festivals—Walton puts on her cotton scrub pants, slips her yellow-polished toes into her white John Fluevog clogs ("I've gotten a lot of flack for them"), says goodbye to the turtles, and walks to the NYU Medical Center at 33rd and First to join three other nurses on the four-to-midnight shift. They tend 34 patients, a job that includes wiping "sometimes 30 bottoms a night" and "often seeing people die who I have come to know."

What does her boyfriend think of her work? "Jamie doesn't know what I do on an average day because he's phobic about it. I come home and he tells me to be quiet because he can't stomach it."

Being a nurse can also mean overtime without pay. "Before the start of every shift you have to do a narcotics count. Only registered nurses can carry the keys to the cabinet. Once there were two Xanax missing. The whole shift had to stay two extra hours while they investigated where the Xanax went."

But soon Walton's life is going to change. Only days ago her boyfriend got a $34,000-a-year teaching position in film at Webster University in St. Louis beginning in the fall, and of course she will move with him. The news was bittersweet, she said. They will be sad to leave their friends, but the good side is they will not have to pay a $140 rent increase in September. And Walton will be able to take a little time off, perhaps to hit the plant stores in St. Louis, while her childhood sweetheart pays the bills.

 
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