Nurses 2/21/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Not everybody is cut out to be a nurse.  It takes a special heart to do this thankless job.  They are given difficult and unpleasant tasks, are treated like waitresses by patients and with disrespect from the doctors.  But ultimately, they usually know more about their patient’s conditions than the doctors, and without them the medical profession would collapse.

During my heart attack, I was always very careful to be as kind and pleasant to my nurses as I could be.  I realized that they see people who are frightened and in pain, and who will lash out at those closest to them for this very reason.  So, I always said “please” and “thank you”, and eventually they started apologizing to me, saying things like, “I’m so sorry, but this is going to hurt.”  I always reassured them that I understand and don’t mind, and thanked them for whatever it was that they were doing to cause me that discomfort. 

Working in a medical center as a professor, one of my students came to see me.  She was particularly flustered because of her performance the night before.  She already had her nursing degree and was working as a nurse as she was studying for her physician assistant degree.  If you don’t know, a physician assistant is much like an old-fashioned country doctor.  They always work with a medical doctor, but in small communities that don’t have the population to support the salary of an MD, they hire PA’s (or nurse practitioners depending on the state).  Usually their load (both) is less than for an MD, so they tend to take more time getting to know the patients as people and connecting with them.  I’ve worked with both, and would gladly take either over a full-blown MD.

This student told me that during her shift the previous night, one of her patients had been informed that her condition was terminal, and she would not be able to go home again.  My student felt terrible because the night was particularly busy, and she didn’t have time to go and visit with this patient until after her shift was over.  Her shift ended not long after visiting hours had ended, and it came out that this patient had spent the day surrounded by family and loved ones all day while my student was working. 

Ultimately, during her shift, the patient would have appreciated but largely ignored this student as she no doubt would focus on her family and friends.  After her loved ones left, and this nurse’s shift ended, my student took her own personal time to go back and sit with this woman who was facing her first night with the knowledge of her own mortality alone.  Once I pointed this out to my student, she came to realize just how generous, and important, this act of kindness must have been to this patient.  Instinctively, she was there for the patient, and felt bad that she could not have done it sooner. 

This is the kind of heart it takes to be a really good nurse, and the reason that they are so dear to me.  In the hospital, my nurses took a shine to me.  I spent several more nights in the hospital waiting for the procedures than usual.  One night, I became rather excessively hot.  I imagine it’s similar to a “hot flash” in women, so I threw off the covers.  Once I cooled back down, I put the covers back on, and didn’t give it a second thought.  The next morning, one of the nurses came to get my blood for the daily lab work.  As she left, I got up and went to the bathroom.  When I came back out, three of them were in my room, waiting for me, glaring with their arms crossed and tapping their feet with a wheelchair.  When I asked what was up, one said, “did anything happen last night?”  I didn’t think so, but I explained the hot flash.  “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ANYBODY?” she blurted out. 

As it turns out, I had had a cardiac “event” that night, which showed up in my blood enzymes.  After my bypass, when I was moved out of IC an into a regular hotel room, the nurse that took me was my favorite.  Very sweet and infinitely cute, this petite little lady stole what was left of my broken heart.  So, I have a picture of me pushing her down the hallway in the wheelchair instead of the other way around.  Of course it was staged, as I was simply using the chair as support for me to stand as she sat in it for the photo, but it’s one of my favorite pictures. 


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