When I was little, I was in and out of the hospital a lot. My kidneys never seemed to work right until I was about nine or ten.
I remember one time when I was about five, I was there by myself, sitting in the hallway in a wheelchair and my neighbor who was a young nurse in her 20s at the time, sought me out and sat beside me. She patted my arm and looked me in the eye and made me feel safe.
I remember sitting in that wheel chair, feeling the warmth of her hand on my forearm and looking at her white hose and nurse cap. Even at five, I was overly self-reliant and a stubbornly brave soldier, but I remember the feeling of relief wash over me at seeing her familiar face. I think from that day, I’ve always had a respect and admiration for nurses. They represent something to me that feels like security.
This afternoon, I had the honor of attending a program at my hospital recognizing excellence in nursing. I call it “my” hospital because there are many hospitals in my area but this is the one I choose even though it is in a terribly inconvenient location for me. Ergo, it is “my” hospital.
I have had the privilege of having a number of my spare parts removed at this hospital over multiple occasions and each time the care I received from the nursing staff and the patient care technicians was beyond excellent. And each time I wrote a letter to the hospital president to bring this to his attention, naming names as I am prone to do. And each time he responded promptly and personally with a note of appreciation which told me that the culture of excellence in patient care starts at the top in this hospital. This is an organization that prizes the human-to-human dynamic. And that’s the kind of hospital you want to be in should the occasion arise.
As I sat in the auditorium, I watched different nurses come to the front to receive recognition awards in various categories. I thought about how being a nurse is one of the very few careers where you can really make a difference in the life of another human being; the rest of us are just pushing paper from here to there. Nursing is one of the few jobs where you put your hands on another human and you look them in the eye. Not everyone can do that. There is nothing impersonal about nursing.
I thought about the nurses who cared for me after each of my surgeries, who did things for me that only my mother should have to do, and did so with respect and dignity, who when they came to my room to attend to me, made me feel like I was the most important person in the world, who were terribly concerned that my pain was manageable, who would explain everything and empower me with information, who knew when to give sympathy, when to cheerlead and when to prod – who would look me in the eye and pat my arm and make me feel safe. Nurses who cared not just for me but about me, a human, rendered vulnerable and helpless by circumstances beyond her control.
If you know a nurse, remember to tell them from time to time how much you appreciate what they do to make the world a better place. And if you’ve been cared for by an excellent nurse, take the time to write a letter and let someone know.