A nurse smiled sweetly and returned a wink to my Dad. That smile and that wink took away Dad’s fear. Finally, he was able to rest.
And even after NEVER having given a first thought to becoming a nurse – That wink changed the course of my life. And that’s why “The Wink” was the very first chapter, in my very first published book. I wanted to take people’s fear away. I wanted to comfort those who were sick, maybe even going to die. I wanted to hold the hands of frightened patients.
I wanted to do what she did for Dad – A kind, simple, loving gesture that brought him peace, and for me a new career.
A year later, my very first patient in nursing school was an elderly African-American man. I gave him a bath with a classmate, and he passed away just a few minutes following that. I journaled that night, how glad I was that he had not been alone when he passed away. I still have that journal, and I still write the memories of my sweetest of patients there. It’s just for me – So I remember Dad, and why I became a nurse.
I used to write in that journal often. There are stories about hands I’ve held, about World War II veterans who were never thanked, and cried when they spoke about their experiences. There is a story in there about a Holocaust survivor who showed me the tattoo on his arm, and his wife said that I was the first person in all the years they were married, that she ever heard him talk to about it. There is a story in my journal about a man who reconciled with his two daughters after ten years of not speaking, just a few hours before he died. One of my favorites was when a family sang Irish folk songs around the bed as their Mother, an immigrant from Ireland, passed away on a midnight shift. And there was one very sad story when my patient wrote out a note to her two daughters, telling them which pieces of jewelry she wanted them to have, and that she loved them very, very much. I had to give that note to those two women after their mother died while I held her hand. I’ll never forget it.
I only write the most meaningful, sweetest of stories in there. Every now and then, I get discouraged, and I find myself flipping through the pages recalling the unforgettable smiles on the patients I’ve loved.
I need that – To keep going. I do. I need to be reminded of the peace and comfort that a wink brought Dad, because sweet stories worthy of journaling, I’m afraid, are becoming fewer and fewer, and lately, I’ve been wondering why.
After a “challenging” shift today, I walked to the parking garage with a colleague. “Why do so many of our patients and their families, verbally abuse us so often?” I asked. (She’s been a nurse much longer than I have.) She replied, “Rita, people have figured out that the more they complain and demand, the more they get.” I thought about that on my way home, and I think she hit the nail on the head.
I’m glad I became a nurse – Really glad. And if Dad were alive? He would be glad too – maybe even proud of me!
But I need some more stories, I really do. No one prepared me for what is becoming the “norm.” No veteran nurses ever told me. No nursing instructors warned me. But maybe they too, didn’t know that people would “figure out” and that “people” would change……..
I’ve never been afraid to “get real” with my patients, especially when they are dying. “Is there anyone you want me to call? Is there anyone you need to forgive? Can I help you do that? Anyone you want to say you are sorry to? Or that you love them? Tell me what I can do….. Tell me what you need………… You did a good job raising your kids. They are going to be fine. You should be so proud…….”
I LOVE the days I can ask these questions, reassure and encourage my patients. I drive home more satisfied than I can describe…. And it is worth it, (but probably not for too much longer). It ALMOST makes having to wrestle a thug drug dealer back into bed, to keep him from hurting himself, worth it. It ALMOST makes getting recognized that week, during “Nurses’ Week” with the gift of a ………… (wait for it)…….. a PROTEIN BAR, worth it. (Nah. Being threatened by the thug definitely wasn’t worth the protein bar – but the memory of laughing about it sure was!)
You see, lately, there are days when I STILL want to “get real” with my patients and their family members, but I have different questions now, and much more often………
“Please. Tell me why you brought your loved one to THIS hospital if you think it is the worst one in the state? In fact, why did you bother bringing them to ANY hospital at all, if you think that all registered nurses attended several years of college so that upon graduation, they could try to kill your loved one?” (No, really – You REALLY think we want to kill your loved one?) You should really have them transferred to your Google Hospital!
“I completely understand your reasons for being sooo incredibly suspicious of me, and that completely justifies your reasons to have to remain in the room while we clean up the mess from your loved one’s hourly bowel movements. However, have you EVER given ANY thoughts at all to the possibility that your loved one just might……. maybe………. possibly……. want just a wee little bit of dignity and privacy?” (Just sayin’!) Oh, and by the way – Your suspicion of me, coupled with your passive-aggressive, (but mostly aggressive) attitude makes me just want to be in your room all day! (Not!)
“Yes, this white liquid in a bottle IS the same medicine that Michael Jackson overdosed on. And no, we are not trying to kill your loved one like the doctor on TV.”
“I am sorry that your loved one has been diagnosed with such a frightening virus. But really – I didn’t give it to him. In FACT, I have been on vacation for the past 7 days, so really, it’s not my fault.”
“Oh, and about that Vaseline on your loved one’s lips that you seem so overly concerned about that you must call every hour on the hour? (In between the phone calls from all of your cousins, aunts, uncles, and clergy)………… Really not as big of a concern as your loved one’s vegetative state. Really, it’s not.
“Oh, for the love of God – the filthy linen hamper IS NOT, (I repeat), IS NOT A bistro table for you to set up your lunch on.” (What’s wrong with you??)
“Yeah, they’re ALL fighters up here…………” And you and your unwillingness to wear a mask and wash your hands, are the reasons why viruses like this one your fighter is trying to fight – is spreading!
And my favorite……..
“Who was it that turned your 800-pound brother at home EVERY HOUR? Was it ……….. Wait…….. Let me guess……. It was you! It was you, wasn’t it?”
I apologize for my sarcasm. But please know, if you have a friend or family member in the hospital…….. this is not just a “job” for a nurse. Nurses are CARE GIVERS! The orifices we have to get up close and personal with, the body fluids we have to clean up, the smells we have to rub toothpaste in between two masks over our noses to drown the stench from, the 12-hour shifts often with no break, the long days away from our families, the torn ligaments, and bulging disks from being your loved ones CARE GIVERS are not activities we signed up for because it paid well and sounded easy or fun!
There isn’t a registered nurse I know of, who doesn’t go home and lie awake at night wondering if they missed something during their shift, if they did everything they could have done, or how the night is going for their patient. There likewise isn’t a nurse I know who hasn’t woken up in the night and called the unit wondering how their patient from the day shift is doing. We care. We care a LOT. If we didn’t care, we would work in an office somewhere, wearing cute outfits, short skirts, blingy jewelry, and high heel shoes. So please. Stop! STOP abusing us!
But most important of all – Please relax. Your loved one is in good and caring hands……
Yes. Tonight, this is really how I feel………
Oh, I really need to read that old journal tonight………. And I really need some new stories……………..