I love, respect and admire a whole heck of a lot of nurses. They just so happen to be some of my most favorite people. In the world. A sister, an aunt, a cousin, best friends, babysitters, and coworkers. And also the ones who have taken care of me. In my own experiences with surgeries and hospitalizations, the nurses who have cared for me have often held the power to build me up or break me down. Many times, they had no idea how much influence their interactions had on me. It’s a tough, stressful, physically demanding and exhausting job for even the thickest skinned person. Lives, both physical and emotional, are literally at stake. I have become so attached to some of my compassionate, shame-reducing, guilt-extinguishing and encouraging nurses. They often carried knowledge about my emotional state and overall well-being that even my closest family members didn’t. The good ones were safe. They saw me vulnerable, weak, and dependent and showed me, a complete stranger, self-less love. I would often dread the approach of the end of their third shift. “When will you be back?” I would ask, selfishly. Because let me tell you that there are some phenomenal, life-giving, utterly selfless and sacrificing nurses, and there are irresponsible, unkind and wreck less nurses too. You have to experience the worst to recognize and appreciate the best, right? I have relied heavily on my nurses in so many ways when I have been in the hospital. They advocate for me, encourage me, clean me up, hold my hand, listen to my story, and comfort my family. These characteristics don’t begin to address the medical side of nursing. All throughout the day they push aside their own discomfort, problems, tiredness, etc. to take care of me. They barely ever get to pee or eat some days. I didn’t even recognize everything they did for me a lot of times, until I was out of the hospital. When I witness, firsthand, some of the most amazing nurses in action, that I have the privilege of working with, I get it. A little.
These nurses that I’m raving about get down on their patient’s level. They listen. They explain. They gently touch their patient’s arm, shoulder, or hair. They possess an unexplainable energy that exudes hope, understanding and love. They do all of these instinctual little things that truly add up to make a huge difference. They feel, and they sympathize with what their patients are going through. They get spit on, peed on, thrown up on, pooped on, and then they change their clothes and go back into their patient’s room. With a genuine “I already forgave you” look on their face. They don’t ever minimize what a patient or family is going through. They recognize that every single person and family is unique. They want to do what’s best for the patient, not what’s most convenient for them. They love and respect people. They don’t judge. They relate. They sacrifice all-the-live-long-shift long. They don’t get to process their day until they’re done. So, when they clock out of work physically, they’ve completed their twelve-hour (plus) shift, but mentally and emotionally their shift begins. They don’t get paid for all of the hours spent processing their day. Thinking, worrying, wondering, hoping, crying, and praying for the people they’ve invested their energy, skills and hearts into helping that day.
Nurses, like many other self-sacrificing, emotionally and physically exhausting, helping careers don’t get paid nearly enough for all that they do. They don’t get to take large amounts of vacation time. They work crazy hours, evenings, weekends, and holidays. If one of their own family members dies, they get one week to grieve. Just one week. Seven days before they armor back up to come save lives. Lives of those they’ve only just met, who have no idea what they’ve endured outside the walls of the hospital.
So, if you know a good nurse, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Thank that nurse, hug that nurse, appreciate that nurse. They deserve so much more than one week of recognition a year. They often don’t get built up, refueled, recharged or thanked by their patients. Or even their management. But that’s not why the good ones do what they do. They do it, I think, because they understand that they possess a gift of connecting, strengthening, encouraging, and loving a complete stranger in a way that can leave a life-long impression that there is good in this world. Through the unfair, unfortunate, horrible, and painful parts of life, nurses are often the first genuinely caring face displaying empathy, kindness, hope, perseverance and strength.
Go on and love on a nurse today. And maybe next time you are in a hospital, just press the nurse call button to genuinely say, “thank you so much for everything you do.”
Then, maybe you can ask for that coffee with sugar and cream.