When my oldest son was sick I spent 119 consecutive days with him at Blank Children’s Hospital. I quickly learned to aid his incredibly compassionate nurses with his staggering care regimen. In fact, I became so proficient in the jargon and procedures associated with pediatric cancer care that I was mistaken, more than once, for being a nurse myself.
When people made that mistake I would laugh out loud and exclaim, “Oh, I could never be a nurse!”
I could never be a nurse because I don’t have what it takes.
Don’t get me wrong, as an educator, my job requires flexibility and the ability to wear multiple hats. Most of the time I feel as though I do a decent job of juggling the challenges that arise in my career.
At the end of the day, however, I don’t have to make life or death decisions. I’m not routinely meeting people in their most terrifying moments, and I deal with very little blood. The nursing profession does not afford such luxuries.
We all know nurses work long hours, are on their feet for most of their shifts, and regularly skip meals and bathroom breaks. Even if that was all it took to be a nurse, I would still consider myself unfit for the profession.
Of course, it takes a lot more than stamina and a strong bladder to be a nurse. When you spend the kind of time with nurses that I have, you learn that the edges of their job duties are both blurry and limitless.
On any given day a nurse would come in our room with a handful of fresh linens for my bed then wash their hands and drop a nasogastric tube into my son’s nose with unbelievable speed and precision, all while updating me on the events of the outside world. In those 119 days my world had shrunk down to just the space inside the four walls of our hospital room.
They taught me where I could find a Diet Coke in the Pepsi-dominated hospital, worked tirelessly to create a diapering system that would not irritate my son’s raw bottom, offered suggestions for me to binge watch on my iPad, and allowed me the autonomy to feed my son – albeit through a tube – knowing I desperately needed to do something that made me feel like a normal mother.
It was a nurse who sat outside of my son’s hospital room for the entire four hours of his first chemotherapy infusion, staying close so she could quickly respond to any side effects that could arise. It was a nurse who noticed one morning that his breathing had become more labored and alerted the doctor to come take a look…stat! And it was three nurses, actually, who encouraged me to hop in the shower after my son finally responded to his laxative as they spent hours cleaning up.
And in all that time, I never once had any nurse tell me something wasn’t their job. If my son or I needed something, they provided for our needs without complaint or question – just an unmatched determination to make our horrific experience as tolerable as possible.
While it’s easy for me to isolate a handful of doctors who went above and beyond in service of my son and my family, I can’t do the same with nurses. It would be impossible for me to isolate just a few nurses that made a difference.
Some idolize actors and models, I idolize nurses. I place nurses on a well-earned pedestal. It seems as though going above and beyond is part of a nurse’s job description.
That job description is not only accurate for the nurses on the oncology floor at Blank; it’s also true for the nurses at my son’s cancer clinic who patiently guided me through the transition from inpatient care to outpatient care.
It’s true for the nurses at my daughters’ elementary schools who loved them through countless sore stomachs and headaches. And it’s true for the NICU nurses who moved a recliner right next to my youngest son’s crib so I could rest and recover from an emergency c-section but still stay close. And it’s true for the nurses at our general pediatric clinic who know exactly how to distract my kids so their routine shots don’t hurt quite as badly.
As a mother, I’m as thankful for the nurses who cared for my oldest son while he battled cancer as I am for the nurses who guided me through my youngest son’s most recent ear infection.
While I am confident that I could never be a nurse I am eternally indebted to the women and men who do have what it takes to thrive in a career where their duties defy definition.
May 6, is National Nurses Day. I want to recognize all the amazing nurses who selflessly serve their patients, day in and day out. Next time you’re at the doctor or in the hospital, take a minute to thank your nurse!