With all the attention being given to Teacher Appreciation Week, you might have missed the fact that the first week in May was also National Nurses Week.
Unlike teachers, nurses haven’t been trending on Twitter, though U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, a nurse, did send them a shout-out tweet.
I might not have known the double-duty nature of this week either if not for the nurses who replied to my recent column about teachers.
“Please take some time to recognize nurses,” one wrote. “We work 24-7, holidays, weekends and summers!”
“An almost forgotten, sometimes almost invisible group of highly skilled, dedicated people,” wrote another.
So, in the spirit of equal appreciation, here are a few words about these women and men who spend their lives dealing with our hearts, blood, breath and bones.
If you’re thinking, “But I don’t know any nurses,” don’t worry. If not yet, you will.
You’ll meet them when you get sick or when someone you love does, and when you meet a good one, you’ll learn how much a good nurse can ease the pain.
“Nurses are a part of a life throughout the continuum,” wrote one nurse, describing some people she’d cared for. “The family I guided through the death of their child. The patient I gave a manicure who passed away suddenly the next day. The nursing student who performed a procedure for the first time and was successful. My memories of my patients, my students and my peers is something I cherish.”
When I was growing up, girls who wanted to work outside the house had only a few choices. Chief among them were secretary, teacher and nurse. I could imagine being a secretary or a teacher, but a nurse? That seemed a calling for a different kind of girl.
Those girls were more patient than I was. They had a higher tolerance for strangers’ body fluids. They were also the kind of girls — competent but kind, slow to panic — you’d want around when something went wrong.
Nurses specialize in what’s gone wrong.
(Quick fact: Not so long ago, almost no men went into nursing. Today, 13 percent of nurses are men and the number is growing as the demand for nurses grows.)
Did someone just raise a hand to say, “But what about the bad nurses?”
I’m sure someone did. After I wrote about teachers I heard a few people sniff, “But what about the bad teachers?”
To which I can only say there are bad teachers, bad doctors, bad journalists, bad lawyers, bad baristas, bad fill-in-the-blank. Every field comes with the good and the bad. Most of the nurses I’ve met have been good.
There was a time, not so long ago, that I hadn’t had much direct experience with nurses. Then several people I loved got sick and I spent a lot of time sitting next to their beds, watching nurses bustle in and out, reading monitors, delivering medicines, asking questions, listening.
Listening to heartbeats, to complaints, to fears. Nurses spend a lot of time listening.
The best nurses I’ve met have a talent for making patients feel heard and seen. Based on my experience, nurses also have an above-average sense of humor.
I don’t remember the names of most of the nurses I’ve met sitting at the bedsides of people I love, but I do remember one. Nancy Diane. She cared for my mother with the personalized kindness we all hope our parents receive in their final time.
Nurses like Nancy Diane are summoned to witness details of living and dying that many of us work to avoid. They know how to comfort.
“Most of us go into the profession as a vocation,” one nurse emailed me. “Most of the time we are so busy there isn’t any time for breaks, lunch or even a bathroom break. We are very protective of our patients and are their first and sometimes only advocate. We really do care.”
Now that she’s retired, she said, she’s been “on the other side of the bed,” where she has come to appreciate nurses even more.
Here’s to having a nurse with that kind of dedication when we’re on the receiving end of the bed.
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