Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gratitude - Ask A Nurse


After spending as much time in hospitals as I have this year, I’ve had a lot of conversations with nurses.  Nurses are great to talk with for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that they’re in the trenches taking in more detail than any one body could ever possibly assimilate. They’re the complete package and if it doesn’t become glaringly obvious, I have the greatest respect for nurses of all stripes.

If you want to know what is really happening, talk to a nurse. A doctor will typically hedge around what’s going on rather than commit until a decision has been made. When joking about what is TMI (too much information), doctors will say, “You can’t tell us too much information,” while the nurses will open their eyes just a tad wider and mouth out, “Uh, yes…yes, you can.” Yeah, they still really do want to know everything from the color of your sputum to the consistency of your poop and they have a wonderful way of asking you about it!

I won’t idolize nurses here, but I will be very up front again in saying I hold most nurses I’ve worked with in the highest esteem. I can’t tell you exactly what makes a great nurse, but it just seems that the profession seems to attract the most amazing collection of attributes wrapped up in a heart of compassion that never stops amazing me with the limits it stretches. That’s not to say that there are people who shouldn’t be in the field and I’ve worked with them as well. In rare cases, there seems to be some sort of self-policing already in place and the conscientious nurses tend to shield the more sensitive patients from, shall we say the rare underachiever.

And that’s not to say the good ones don’t make mistakes. We all make mistakes. I had an instance where a nurse overlooked one small detail and even though it wasn’t serious enough to even register on a test, it required that I stay an extra day in the hospital. This person felt so bad about it that it brought tears and this person whom I honestly felt had it together couldn’t face me until the following day when there was an out-and-out apology. How many people do you know take on the importance of their job that fully and emotionally? Sure, you trust certain professions with your life and without doubt, medicine is one of them, but it would be just as easy to become jaded over time to emotionally protect oneself from the trauma of that responsibility.

After multiple inpatient stays involving many, many days with the kind of minute details with overlapping medical teams that have involved the complexity of leukemia not to mention the myriad of unexpected hitches along the way, there have been other mistakes, but they have honestly been minor and because I and those around me in caregiving roles pay close attention to everything that is happening, I’ve been able to get resolution on everything before moving forward – without exception. No nurse has given me a sigh about my questions. If anything, I’ve been cheerfully informed down to the most routine pill every time I’ve been handed one and encouraged to ask all manner of question right down to my relationship with that nurse - and that did come up in one instance early on, but again, not serious and not personal.

Unless you’ve been hospitalized for any length of time, you’ll not have experienced the acute loss of modesty and dignity that come part-and-parcel with anything debilitating.  Nurses have a way of stripping the embarrassment away and helping you just heal as best your body can. Some medications do funky things to you. They take away your ability to take care of basic bodily functions, make you say st-OO-pid things, and turn you into someone else for a time. I’ve experienced this quite a few times, but in extreme terms when I was in the MICU; the nurses there just smiled and helped me through it, especially when there were the foreign looking appliances you only see in medical supply store ads for the elderly.

And then there have been the most compassionate, sweetest things that elicit tears even today. Nurses actually saw me for who I was through my weakness. They listened to my kvetching or fear in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep or during those long chemo/IV sessions. A couple that stand out as examples were during my initial hospitalization in February and March earlier this year. I was struggling through this cancer diagnosis mentally and hadn’t really processed it. I mean, what do you say when you don’t even know the questions to ask? When a doctor gives you a 90-day death sentence, there’s not much more beyond the here-and-now. My guilty indulgence has been chocolate my whole life, so once every so often, I stop by my favorite coffee haunt and grab a mint mocha coffee which makes the rest of the day unassailable. I awoke in my mechanical hospital bed one morning to see a venti Starbuck’s mint mocha on my tray with “Don’t Give Up” written on the cup. I found out later a nurse had brought that in for me. Timing couldn’t have been any better. When I finally had my first emotional meltdown of this illness, it was a nurse in-training (the VA system calls them ‘health techs’) who brought me a warmed blanket, tucked me in bed with practiced gentle hands, and then let me regain my dignity back.

They might be simple things otherwise considered ‘gestures’ by anyone else, but to me at that time, they were huge. They were what I needed at the time and these two were perceptive enough to pick up where no medical protocol would have prescribed anything. Perhaps it’s that compassion combined with intuition – that space between the symptom and the intangible – that makes a great nurse from someone pulling a shift. I still can’t say, but I know I’ve experienced some great nursing and I can say without a doubt that I have had some world-class care that without these incredible nurses, would be a very sterile experience.

I’ve made a point of dropping off gifties to the nurses stations I’ve been attended by, but there’s really no way to extend how genuinely grateful I am to nurses for the kind of care I have received – and continue to receive throughout my treatment. I’m pretty vocal about telling people to thank cops, firefighters, and veterans, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t add nurses to that growing list.

To all the nurses, health techs, and others that attend me and my host of infirm campadrés, my heart-felt thanks to you all. You deserve far more than you get and should be paid far more than you’re compensated.  You’re definitely worth your weight in gold.

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all…and if you do find yourself un-well, I hope you see just how awesome nurses are.

Today’s music from George Michael – Heal the Pain
Let me tell you a secret, put it in your heart and keep it
Something that I want you to know
Do something for me, listen to my simple story
And maybe we'll have something to show
You tell me you're cold on the inside
How can the outside world be a place that your heart can embrace
Be good to yourself
'Cause nobody else has the power to make you happy
How can I help you? Please let me try to
I can heal the pain that you're feeling inside
Whenever you want me, you know that I will be
Waiting for the day that you say you'll be mine
He must have really hurt you
To make you say the things that you do
He must have really hurt you
To make those pretty eyes look so blue
He must have known that he could
That you'd never leave him
Now you can't see my love is good
And that I'm not him
How can I help you? Please let me try to
I can heal the pain, won't you let me inside?
Whenever you want me, you know that I will be
Waiting for the day that you say you'll be mine
Won't you let me in, let this love begin?
Won't you show me your heart now?
I'll be good to you, I can make this thing true
Show me that heart right now
Who needs a lover that can't be a friend
Something tells me I'm the one you've been looking for, oh
If you ever should see him again
Won't you tell him you've found someone who gives you more?
Someone who will protect you, love and respect you
All those things that he never could bring to you
Like I do or rather I would
Won't you show me your heart like you should?
How can I help you? Please let me try to
I can heal the pain that you're feeling inside
Whenever you want me, you know that I will be
Waiting for the day that you say you'll be mine
Won't you let me in, let this love begin?
Won't you show me your heart now?
I'll be good to you, I can make this thing true
And get to your heart somehow