Sunday, September 13, 2009

Let's Remember That Nurses Provide
The Backbone of Healthcare Support

Nowhere amid all the bloviating coverage of "healthcare reform" can I recall ever, even once, hearing or reading anything about nurses and the crucial role they play in the entire healthcare system. That's as unbelievable as it is depressing, because anyone who has ever been in a hospital or even visited a friend or loved one there can't miss noticing that nurses are the real backbone of everything. I was reminded of that truism when I sent this Washington Post article to a friend named Kim, a nurse and a writer (her as-yet-unpublished novel is a gleaming jewel). She responded with a note whose gentleness and loving regard for her patients blew me away. I read it several times since, and teared up each time. I share it with you all with her kind permission:

After reading this I was immediately transported to my nights as a nurse on the oncology floor. I've been blessed to have those connecting moments with patients. As a new nurse I was terrified to take the dying patients. I didn't know what to say, felt awkward, and just downright sorry for everyone. The longer I worked there the fonder I became of this type of nursing. I started to request the dying patients and didn't mind if I had three or four at a time. It was a gift to be able to care for them during that sacred time. People are so vulnerable and afraid. I found that the night-time was the hardest for them because there were no distractions. Most families were gone and the only person to give them any comfort was the nurse assigned to them. Sometimes you would meet the patient for the first time and a few hours later you would be helping them through a crisis or even their death. I once had a patient assigned to me that I was told was having end of life issues. She was afraid to die because she was unsure if she believed in heaven. She had been struggling with this for a few days and had been visited by the hospital chaplin, various family members, etc. She was one of eight patients I was assigned to that night, several of which had a lot going on that would need my direct attention. I felt led to go see her first, even though I could have easily started with another task. I walked into her room and found the seventy year old sitting up quietly in her bed. I pulled a chair close and introduced myself as her night nurse. I then reached for her hand and gently talked about what I had been told from the other nurse concerning her possible death. I shared some of my thoughts about death, asked if there were any questions she had, and if I could help her in anyway. She gave me the most peaceful knowing smile and said, "No sweetie, I'm fine now." I asked her if there was anything she needed and she declined. I left her and went on to check on my other patients. It took me an hour and a half to see them all before I could go back to check on that first patient. When I did I found she had quietly died. It is in those moments that I feel God reassuring me that I chose the right profession. I could go on and on about the many people I have cared for. This particular one is high on my list. Thank you for sharing. I am going to email my mom the article. She's a nurse as well.


At 11:51 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hospice nurses and careworkers were around for both of my parent's dying. My dad, the retired doctor, when he was dying of cancer, was a favorite with his nurses because he shared their sense of gallows hospital humor, and always made them laugh.

If you ever want to know what it's like to discover angels serving in hell, follow nurses in the ER or on the dying wards. There are no better angels among us. I love them all.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Angels is indeed the right word, Art.Thanks for adding your testimomial.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger WriterMarie said...

This is a great blog John...and thank for your kind comments on mine!

At 11:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Marie.

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Jane Levesque said...

Good nurses (like your friend, Kim) go far beyond caring for the physical needs of a patient. They treat the person as just that -- a person. Kind words, a listening ear and a compassionate heart can be as beneficial as the physical care they give.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

There's an old phrase from Christianity known as "the laying on of hands" that is also sometimes associated with the nursing profession. While the docs mostly zip in and out of patients' lives, it's the nurses that do much of the real work in health care. That includes, as you rightly note, the crucial part of the job focused on helping make patients emotionally comfortable enough to heal. In that way, they do play a significant spiritual role in care as well. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Jane.

At 11:27 PM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

I have three sisters and a sister-in-law who are nurses. They, and along with the hospice nurses provided excellent care and advocacy for my father, who died of cancer in December 2004.

My father was never left alone during his last months, and he was able to die at home. We were all grateful for that one little comfort in a mountain of sorrow. He died in his home of the past 53 years, in his bedroom, where he loved my mother, where he created his family...and where his family gathered as he labored in his letting go.

I miss him.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Four nurses in the family? Lucky you. Amazing how many people have family experience with hospice care. Those people are angels brought down from heaven, aren't they?


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