Jul 12, 2011

An Ode to All the Nurses

My mom is in the hospital. Again. As she is four years in to a three-to-five year life expectancy with pulmonary fibrosis, this is not an unusual thing. It has happened before and it will likely happen again. Or this may be the last time -- we just don't know. But her illness is one of the reasons I moved back to Michigan -- so my children could get to know and spend time with their grandmother and I am grateful for every moment they, and I, have with her.

This is not a story about my mom. I have told other stories about her, and will likely tell more as there are many stories to tell. This is about the nurses who have cared for her, with humor, with dignity, with grace, and with professionalism throughout my mother's medical ordeal. To them I say, thank you.

I know several nurses, my best friend is a hospice nurse. I don't know what kind of calling you hear that makes you want to deal with the things that a nurse does.  I'm not talking just blood, and other bodily fluids. Bedpans and catheters. I'm talking the death, the grief, the angry patients and angry relatives who, in their frustration and lack of understanding, take things out on you.

My friend Tammi has sat with hundreds of people doing everything in her power to ease people's transition from life to death.  She has cried with family members. She has prayed with them.  She has cleaned their bodies and their homes and done everything she can to show kindness and compassion.  Death is an ugly thing and what Tammi does is beautiful. 

I remember one story. I'm sure I won't get all the details right but the crux of the story was this: a man was dying. He was in his home, surrounded by the people he loved and who loved him. The end was near. Tammi was checking the man's vitals, holding his wrist to track his pulse. His wife of many years didn't want to release her husband, not for a second, so she held Tammi's hand, while Tammi held her husband.  And Tammi sat like that for hours, as a conduit between these two people as she counted down the seconds of this man's life.

I think that's amazing.

I have another friend, Lisa, who is an RN in the stroke unit of a hospital in California. The stress of what she must deal with on a daily basis blows my mind. In her world, she literally makes life and death decisions in milliseconds. The other day she commented on how she had catheterized a patient in 20+ seconds, saving a crashing patient.  And she brushes it off like it's no big deal.

I think that's a VERY big deal.

Throughout my mother's ordeal I have dealt with many, many nurses. They are all amazing. Every single one of them has cared for my mother as if she were their own mother. They have sat up with her all night when we were told the end was very near and kept her calm. And kept her company. And laughed with her. And cried with her.  They have answered my multitude of questions honestly and directly.  They have respected our decisions. They have hugged me and held my hand. They have gotten me blankets, and drinks, and checked to see if we've eaten.  They have cared for my mother spectacularly, and they have cared for me and the rest of my family as well.

These nurses, these professionals, they are overworked. And underpaid. They do the brunt of the work and take the blame when things go wrong, most of the time about things completely out of their control.  They are yelled at. They have been beaten, broken, bitten and bruised by drunk and disorderly patients or the mentally disturbed.  They have been pooped on, puked on, peed on and bled on and they don't miss a beat. They are still in there, fighting for life.  Anyone's life.  Everyone's life.

My mother also has wonderful doctors who have seen to her but it's the nurses who have cared for her. It is the nurses who have done the healing. And while my mother will never be healed, they have certainly not given up on her. These women (and men) are bigger than angels. They are deities.

I don't know when my mother's story will end. Or how it will end. But I know that when it does, there will be a nurse standing by, holding her hand, caring for her right until the very end.  And for that I say...

Thank you.


  1. As a nurse on a unit very similar to Lisa's, I am grateful for and humbled by your kind words.

  2. Mr. Dog: And I am grateful and humbled by your service. It isn't much, but all I have to offer you are my words of appreciation. Thank you.