Often lately I go to a local restaurant in the mornings to have coffee with whatever book I’m enjoying. The waitress knows I like the corner booth – the one tucked behind a tall plant where I can remain unseen for an hour. I like to read, and I like it quiet – but not too, too quiet…. Just enough noise to enjoy being among people, and that corner booth is just right.
During my most recent visit to this local neighborhood diner, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation from a table close by. A woman had visited her friend in a nearby hospital. Apparently, that hospital is the worse one in town. She spent the better part of two of my chapters hammering the place for what I have no idea were legitimate complaints and concerns or not, but I did wonder if she had anything pleasant to say. I happen to have worked at the very place she was talking about. I also happen to know many of the nurses there currently – they’re pretty amazing, and so are the nurses at the hospital I work at these days.
For a moment, all I wanted to do was defend every nurse I’ve ever known who has had a family member or friend of a patient complain about them. (If it hasn’t happened yet, just wait for it. It will). But even more than that, I wished I had the guts to pull up a chair and encourage her.
I closed my book, and I knew her complaints were coming from a place of fear for her friend’s health, a sense of love because she cared deeply and didn’t want to see her friend suffer, or worse yet – lose her.
After I stopped reading, I sat there and thought about all of the things I would tell her, if I had had the courage to pull up a chair and join these two women. I thought about all of the amazing nurses I have worked with, and those I spend my long shifts with these days. I thought about a conversation I had just the other day with someone in the locker room after she shared sad news with her patient’s husband, and I thought of many things I would have liked to say….
I wish you could see the list of your nurse’s patients, their medical problems, the long list of medications to be distributed to eight different rooms – that’s eight different people, at almost every hour of her 12-hour shift.
I wish you could see how many phone calls your nurse has to make in order to get your pain medication increased, and how long she must wait for the call back from the doctor, and the time it takes to get that ordered, approved by pharmacy, and delivered to her.
I wish you could see how gentle your mother’s nurse is when she turns her. She knows how badly her wounds hurt, medicates her first, and tries to distract her by asking about her grandchildren – and it works long enough to get her cleaned up.
I wish you could see how fast your nurse moves to grab an emesis basin for the patient in the room next to yours when they say they’re about to…….. and your call light is on, and you’re waiting.
I wish you could see your wife’s nurse break down in the locker room because your wife has breast cancer that has spread everywhere – and that’s how her mother died three months ago.
I wish you could see your nurse walk slowly with another nurse all the way to her car, only to stand for another 30 minutes consoling her friend who lost her first patient today.
I wish you could hear your nurse crying all the way home wondering if there was anything else she could have done.
I wish you could see the nurse who stops and gets a Starbucks coffee for each of her patients every morning.
I wish you could see the young nurse at shift change holding the elderly man’s hand because he was afraid to die alone. And he didn’t, because she never left his side. I wish you could have heard her when she said to me, “I’ll never forget him.”
I wish you could see the 75 pairs of filthy shoes that line the walls of our locker rooms – all with urine, blood, and God knows what else spilled on them.
I wish you could see the nurse who made a make-shift fishing rod for the patient who wanted to go fishing one last time – and little cut-outs of fish on the floor that he could pick up with it. Or the nurse who brought her own pink nail polish in to paint the finger nails of the frightened young girl with Down syndrome. Or the nurses who made paper snowflakes and taped them all over the ICU window for the young girl who would never see snow again because she was going to die soon. Or the nurse who paid for the hotel room for the family from out of town.
I wish you could see the nurse who brought in the little Christmas tree for her patient and the gifts she collected from staff for the patient who would never leave the hospital.
And the list goes on…..
You can teach anyone how to do a task. But kindness, thoughtfulness, gentleness, and compassion? Those things cannot be taught – they just can’t.
I really wish I could have encouraged those ladies. And I really wish they could have seen their friend’s nurse during the kind, thoughtful, gentle, compassionate moments I am quite certain took place.