This week (May 6th to May 12th) is Nurses Appreciation Week. I am always torn about xx Profession appreciation week. The cynic in me says that if we paid teachers and nurses and caregivers better, we would truly show our appreciation as a society. But, we can still show our appreciation on a personal level. One way is to vote in local elections, and look at the candidates- what do they say about health and care givers? Is it part of their platform?
And a second way in which we can show our appreciation is to make visible the many faces of nursing. Because, let’s face it, it’s doctors that get all the glory, and a lot of nurses’ work happens in the background. It’s not glamorous and it’s often not part of TV shows, but nurses’ work is a large part of what makes patients healthy. They come and check your vitals. They help you get in and out of bed. They make sure you get your medication, and they set you up for after care. They help me navigate the myriad labyrinth of insurance, and they administer my remicade every eight (soon six) weeks. They rarely are made visible, but they are people with stories, hopes and dreams.
I have encountered many nurses, but some stand out.
When I was four, one of the first nurses on the pediatric ward was Nurse Julitta. She was young, wore thick glasses, had chin length brown hair and had a friendly smile. I don’t remember much of that time, but I think her presence was a help to my parents, especially since she let them read my chart secretly (in the eighties, it was not common that patients or their parents were allowed to have direct access to their charts). When I was nine, I was in the hospital again, and Julitta was there again. One day, after my parents had left, I was feeling so lonely and was crying. She came, hugged me, and sat with me, long after her shift ended. When I was 13 and in the hospital, Julitta walked in the door, and me and the girl who was sharing the room with me cried out! WHAT? She had cut her hair short, dyed it black and blue, and gotten a nose piercing. I often wondered what made her have such a radical make over- a relationship change? Or did she just want something else? I still don’t know.
Another nurse I repeatedly encountered was Nurse Petra. She had a roundish face, straw blonde hair, and always wore earrings in the shape of a star. She was calm and quiet and never treated me like a child. She let me read my books, never forced me once to go to the playroom, and when I told her that I wanted to be a writer, she smiled and said, “ I have no doubt you’ll be.” Years later, I saw star shaped earrings in a store, and immediately bought them. Mine are silver, hers are gold, and I rarely ever wear them, but they do make me smile.
I remember the nurse after my first surgery when I was 16. I woke up in the ICU and was scared, and she calmed me down. I never knew her name, but I remember her and I want her to know that I appreciate her.
There was also the nurse in Indiana, who, after a doctor was rudely dismissive of my pain (kidney stones), cranked up my pain meds and said “I know how these suckers feel, don’t worry, you’re not crazy”. She made me feel validated and heard.
Then there was dear Gracie, who had her first week when I was recovering from my surgery three years ago. Gracie was kind and sweet, but the nurse assistant (a young man) was not obeying her, or doing what she was telling him to do. So on top of her regular nurse duties, she also had to do his work. And then she had me as a patient. I don’t remember it, but I apparently gave her a speech one day, about feminism, that she was in her mid- thirties, should stand up for herself, and not let that stupid assistant nurse walk all over her. According to my husband I told her to slap the nurse assistant. A day later Gracie was helping me make my first steps out of the bed, never once mentioning my outburst.
Nursing, as well as teaching and care giving is often portrayed as a noble profession- and it is, but for different reasons. Yes, there are students that will forever be grateful to the work I have done, and I am sure that there are patients that nurses remember fondly, that were grateful for their work. However, there are also asshole patients that constantly complain and yell at you. Drug addicts telling you lies to your face. Drunk frat boys that will throw up all over you. People who think that because they have a lot of money get to dictate your day. Men bringing in their wives who have “fallen down the stairs.” In short, nurses get to see the dregs of humanity, and still help them, and treat their patients with dignity, no matter their own feelings towards the person. That’s the real nobility.