It’s that time of year again – Nurse’s Week! And each year at this particular time, I can’t help but remember my Dad. It was his cancer diagnosis, hospice admission, and a kind young African nurse with a British accent who winked at my Dad, removed his fear, and changed the course of my life.
Three days after we buried Dad in July 2004, I applied to nursing school, and never again opened my court reporting machine that I had been busy studying on in pursuit of a new career. I shut it, sold it on E-Bay a week later, and signed up for the next Anatomy & Physiology course at the local college. I never looked back. Three years later, I graduated from nursing school.
So often, but especially during Nurse’s Week, I still wish I could talk to Dad, and say, “Guess what, Dad! I’m a nurse!” But I can’t.
That simple wink at my Dad took every ounce of his fear away. I remember sitting there in his room, frozen, as if watching that exchange of winks between a nurse and her patient take place in slow motion. And I thought, “I can do that! In fact, I think I WANT to do that!” How I wish I could find that young lady and tell her how she changed my life. But I can’t.
I guess we never really know how big of an impact a small thoughtful gesture can have on someone. The nurses I work with think that their frequent small acts of kindness go unnoticed, but they don’t. We all watch each other. We all learn from each other. We all encourage each other. And we talk about each other, and the kind acts we witness that (some think) go unnoticed (but they don’t).
There are so many different personalities in nursing. Just typing that out makes me laugh, as I think of many of my colleagues. We certainly are all different than one another! But we have so much more in common than we have different – especially when it comes to our anatomy!
Yes, our anatomy!
We all have sore backs, tired feet, severely chapped hands, dry lips, torn menisci, bulging disks, heel spurs, bloodshot eyes, bladders the size of Lake Michigan, eyes that are constantly assessing (even when we’re not clocked in), and ears that hear what our patients are afraid to say.
That’s not all we have in common though. Most of us also have multiple pairs of shoes with too many miles on them, stained scrubs (and an extra pair in our locker for unexpected splashes and spills), favorite pens we guard closely, a twisted sense of humor and ability to talk about bodily functions and the characteristics of our last patient’s bowel movement while we simultaneously eat our lunch, an addiction to sugar-coated gummy bears, hand sanitizer in our purses and pockets (which we use promptly after shaking hands with anyone), the ability to diagnose C. Diff with one sniff (hey! that rhymed!), and we all flush public toilets with our feet. Yep.
I can’t tell my Dad that I became a nurse. And I can’t tell the young African nurse just how big of a thing that was she did for him, and that she changed the course of my life. But what I CAN do is acknowledge the day-to-day kindnesses I witness, and encourage those who I see care and love their patients. So now, in the middle of this year’s Nurse’s Week, I’d like to share just a few acts of kindness that I’ve witnessed over the years from nurses just like the young nurse who took my Dad’s fear from him with a wink – nurses I am so glad to work alongside and call my friends.
My friend Brynn bought a small Christmas tree, decorated it with lights and ornaments. She cut snowflakes out of paper and taped them all over the window. The young patient she was caring for knew that she was going to spend her very last Christmas stuck in the ICU before she would die.
Another sweet nurse I work with had a patient whose last wish was to go fishing. She gathered some odds and ends to create a make-shift fishing rod, cut paper fish and put them on the floor. She then had the patient dangle the rod over the side of the bed and catch the fish off the floor.
Amy kept supplies to make molds of hands in her locker. When her patient was dying, she made a mold of his hand for the mother.
A young male nurse I know drove after a 12-hour shift about 60 miles to a patient’s home to pick up his BIPAP machine and bring it back that evening. He had to be back to work the next morning, too.
Melissa brought in pink nail polish and gave the young Down Syndrome girl a manicure, and made her feel like a princess 😉
Another nurse I know walked into a room, walked right to the wife crying in a chair in the corner, got on her knees in front of her, took her hands, and asked, “How many years have you been married?”
Every nurse I work with will move furniture so that patients can see sunsets and sunrises instead of curious passersby peeking into their rooms. Every nurse I know tiptoes into rooms at night to place a warm blanket on an exhausted family member and tuck them in as they sleep in the corner of their loved ones’ room. They know just how to place every pillow to provide comfort in all the right places for their patients. And these are only a few of the thousands of small acts of kindness that may seem unnoticed, but very likely are not. There is a good possibility that just like that nurse who winked at my Dad, some kind nurse that I know may have changed the course of someone else’s life as well. Those are the kinds of people I get to work with and call my friends.
Happy Nurse’s Week to all my fellow nursing friends, and especially to the one who winked at Dad!