By Richard E. Bleil
It truly takes a special heart to become a nurse.
Nurses don’t get the respect that they deserve. They do the dirtiest work, and usually get no respect for doing so despite the fact that they often know more about what is needed than the doctors. I’m not suggesting that nurses are smarter than doctors (or vice versa), but let’s face it; nurses spend more time with the patients than doctors do, and therefore often know what the patients need more than the doctors.
Their job is so important, but even the patients who need them the most often don’t give them the respect that they should. Nobody goes to the hospital for a vacation; they are in there because they are in pain, scared, unwell, and they take this out on the person nearest to them who is usually the nurses.
I used to teach at a medical arts college, with a large nursing program. I remember one of my students who was already a registered nurse working towards a degree as a Physician’s Assistant. She was working at the hospital with which the college was associated, and a day she was very upset and talking with me. She explained that one of her patients had just that day been given the news that her condition was terminal. Unfortunately, my student was very busy that day and didn’t have time to visit with the woman until after her shift was over. She stayed for some time once her shift was up to speak with the woman, but she felt bad she couldn’t visit earlier.
So I asked her a couple of questions, and came to find out that this woman’s family had been there, and spent the day with her until visiting hours ended. I congratulated my student on have the heart to spend time after her shift was up to sit with her patient, and pointed out that the timing was fortunate. During the day, with her family and loved once around, my student’s visit wouldn’t have meant as much. Not that the woman wouldn’t appreciate the sentiment, but in the face of family and friends, my student’s voice wouldn’t have carried much weight. But, alone, with family gone, facing her first night with the knowledge that she would never leave the hospital again, my student, the nurse, came as an angel in the night, a merciful voice to help quiet the fears she must have been facing.
I’ve written about my heart attack previously. I’ve always felt like nurses had very hard jobs, didn’t usually get the respect they deserved, and had had the greatest appreciation for them. Having worked with training them, I made it a goal to be as kind to them as I could be. I was sure to say “please” and “thank you” every time they did anything for me. It seems like they were continually apologizing to me. I am not sure if this is standard for them, but, for example, if they needed to put a needle in, or take tape off of my arm knowing it would pull hair, they always apologized first, saying it might sting, or pull my hair, or whatever the situation might be. In this case, I would always reassure them that it’s not their fault, I understand, and I thanked them for doing it.
By the time I left, I think I was their favorite patient. One of my favorite photos was taken by a nurse. My personal favorite nurse was pushing me in a wheelchair out of ICU to another room, and the second nurse wanted to take a picture, so, while we were stopped, I asked if we could switch, so, in my gown, it looked as if I was pushing her in the hallway.
Seriously, the heart attack was dreadful, and it certainly wasn’t fun, but the nurses are the ones that made my stay memorable. They felt like friends to me, tolerated my sense of humor (it was clean…just a lot of “dad” jokes), and really seemed to care about me.
My surgery was delayed (I went in on a Friday, and the surgeon said to me, quite literally, that they were waiting because nobody really wants to do any work on a Friday). Twice a day they took my blood to be sure my condition was still stable, once at night and once in the morning. After the blood test Saturday night, I went to sleep with everything fine. That night, I suddenly became excessively warm in a fashion that I assume is similar to the dreaded “hot flashes” women will get. I didn’t think much of it, and it passed. The next morning they drew my blood, after which I got up to take care of personal business. Coming out of the bathroom, three (count ’em…THREE) of my nurses were standing there, with a wheelchair, and very concerned looks on their faces. They lectured me about not ringing for help. If you are reading this paragraph thinking negatively about these young women, I would beg to differ. I can’t quite get the verbiage to get the feeling across that I would like, but they weren’t angry. They were just very concerned. I felt their concern like a warm blanket reminding me that I needed to take better care of myself for them.
I love nurses, and just want to say “thank you” to all of you who have the compassion, strength and heart to do this critical and very difficult job.