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Is There a Nurse in the House?

April 26, 1998|Dave Gardetta

When you have worked as a theater nurse for as long as Lucy Waldschmidt has--it's now 16 years that she's made matinee and evening rounds at the Music Center--you can guess the nature of the emergency calls by performance time and patron's location.

If the call comes from the parking garage a half hour before curtain's up, it's likely that two patrons in cummerbunds have engaged in a fistfight over a parking spot: bruises and cuts. If it's intermission in the lobby, chances are you're looking at food poisoning from a pre-theater meal: nausea, vomiting, cramps. And if a performance has just ended and you are summoned to a staircase in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, you can bet a well-dressed classical fan has become entangled in her evening gown and taken a fall: sprains, dislocated limbs, possible hematoma, severe embarrassment.

It takes something like suffering respiratory arrest during the Academy Awards--it has happened--or asking an usher for an aspirin to realize that theater nurses exist. (Jumping your car over the curb and through the Music Center's cafe, as one motorist recently did, also works.) They are low-profile. Waldschmidt's station sits beneath the Dorothy Chandler's lobby, a nondescript, ochre-colored room with two hospital beds and a wall-mounted television. She is rarely there, however, due to the medical requests 6,000 theater fans can make in one evening. Yet even among the pre-show crowd, dressed in her white uniform and white tennis shoes, carrying her black nurse's bag and ever-present walkie-talkie, Waldschmidt blends in.

This is, in part, because she loves theater. Surrounded by death--"Everyone dies at the end of the operas," she says--Waldschmidt favors Andrew Lloyd Webber over Stephen Sondheim's triage-happy "Sweeney Todd." "You've never seen 'The Phantom'?" she asks a visitor. "Arghh!" And then she lists the trapdoors and chandelier scenes her favorite musical featured, and wonders out loud why she never treated Michael Crawford.

Waldschmidt maintains her fondness for theater-goers, even though she has treated garage attendants sideswiped by angry patrons. She stays dexterous in the face of visiting physicians who, in black tie, still bellow out orders as if they're in the O.R., not the loge. She keeps a steady hand treating electrocuted bartenders. And after ministering to the half-dozen or so people who passed out during the spinal-tap procedure in every performance of the play "Miss Ever's Boys" ("You could watch them drop like flies"), or victims of fistfights that broke out through "Angels in America" ("I had a guy who dislocated another guy's shoulder"), she still believes the show must--and will--go on.

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