Talk about a profession we take for granted. How many hundred times in casual conversation have you heard people toss out dismissive references such as: “Oh, she’s a not a doctor, just a nurse. I think she works in ICU or the burn unit or something. Her hours must suck. She never comes out to parties or anything.” Or: “He’s a guy, but he’s a nurse. Isn’t that like a guy being a flight attendant?”
My recent six-day stay at Orlando Regional Medical Center forever ingrained in me something else. Nurses are angels, doctors, warriors and Jedi Knights all wrapped up into one. If you know one personally, bow down the next time you see her. Or give him a big kiss. Gender is irrelevant.
I was too loopy or doped up most of the time to remember most of my nurses’ names. The ones in the ER and various testing rooms were too busy to introduce themselves, anyway, but the care they gave me was steady and sure despite the overwhelming stream of patients they were swimming through. The floor nurses making repeated rounds to my room were able to converse a bit more. There was a nurse named “Shawn” whom I called my soul-mate because her correctly spelled name was the same as the misspelled name on my wrist band. I think, based on her accent, that Shawn was from Jamaica. All I know is that if I die, I want to go to any place where Shawn’s soothing voice and lilting laugh can be the soundtrack for eternity. Down in ICU, the two nurses assigned to me in shifts were Wes and Christina, who cared for me and checked in constantly. They’d bring me these fruit-cocktail-sized cups filled with colorful and precisely selected pills as casually and cheerfully as if it really just were a fun dinner party and they really just were serving me fruit cocktail. But then they’d tend to every single needle, sensor and tube that was stuck into my body with the furrowed focus of technicians operating the control panels at a nuclear power plant, or monitoring that giant 1970s-era screen at NORAD showing incoming Russian missiles (I hope Dr. Strangelove has updated that goofy-looking thing with LCD and Tivo for al-Qaeda attacks, by the way). I loved both of them, and so did my sister Ellen. A couple of times something came up where Wes or Christina had to call in a middle-aged ICU supervising nurse for consultation. Her name was Sabrina, and I remember thinking it was like bringing in Obi Wan Kenobe to the room, even though her presence was only required for a few seconds before she made a decision and gave the order. Then, back up on the eighth floor, my nurses stopped in every couple hours day and night to prick my finger with a needle for a blood reading, take my blood pressure, change the Talibandage on my head and check on my general comfort level. The one assigned most regularly to me was Sarah.
What these nurses really were was a distillation and perfect representation of the purest part of the health professions in general: Care. That’s another concept we toss around casually, but it’s a big word that means alot. It’s about much more than “giving a shit”. It’s about “giving”, period. It is something that is hammered into every level of the workaday culture that I experienced firsthand at ORMC, from ambulance driver to gurney pusher to X-Ray machine operator to administrative assistant to resident to neurosurgeon. I never saw anyone whining, banging around bedpans, or who seemed pissed off about their jobs in any way. I don’t know how they do it. But whatever it was, they did it to me and it helped me get better fast. And they renewed my appreciation for every nurse I’ve ever known throughout my life: Dad’s office nurses; Mom’s caregivers and hospice nurses; Pat Kelly’s mom; Rita Henry and her daughters; Liz, Angie and Amy Noland …and also Brenny and Kelly [who are firefighter/EMTs with the Orange County Fire Department, not to mention their mom Patty, who was an EMT in Charleston for many years. Meanwhile, Kelly just passed her paramedic exam].
A couple days ago I had to walk over to another part of the hospital complex for a routine blood draw, and I felt strong enough to venture back up to the 8th Floor just to see who was around, let them see that I was okay and thank them again. The nurses looked quizically up from their work stations, not recognizing me at first because in the interval since I had been discharged they had cared for scores more patients like myself. To them, I was a refugee from a lost civilization called Three Weeks Ago. But a couple of them eventually remembered me. And all of them were just grateful (almost shocked) that anyone would take the trouble to come back upstairs and say thanks.
Strange that it doesn’t happen more often. To me, it should be S.O.P.
COMING SOMETIME SOON: I’m almost caught back up to real time here, but even after my treatment commences Thursday, I’ll be mixing in some more experiences and observations about the kindness of siblings and former colleagues over the past few weeks.