Ode to a Nurse

[Content Note: Description of injury.]

I have been fortunate to have some very competent and kind doctors in my life, particularly around care regarding my constellation of back problems. When I had spinal surgery in 2001, the neurosurgeon who did the procedure was great, though I barely saw him during my five-day stay in the hospital. The people who provided most of my care were nurses. Fabulous nurses.

I realize, because I have a passing acquaintance with human behavior and diversity, that not all nurses are great, and I've probably had the occasional not-great nurse throughout the parts of my life that necessitated depending on their care, but I don't remember them. I remember, with gratitude, all the great nurses who have provided me such excellent compassionate care.

My primary healthcare provider for many years was a nurse practitioner, whom I liked very much, and I have among my family and friends a handful of nurses, who share stories about their jobs that make me know with undiluted conviction I could not do what they do.

My ex-husband is a nurse — although he wasn't when we were together. He only figured out later that nursing was what he wanted to do with his life, following in the footsteps of his mother and aunt.

When a mutual friend told me that P had decided to go to nursing school, I said, without hesitation, that he would make an excellent nurse. "Do you think?" asked my friend, not with doubt, but perhaps with some bit of surprise at my immediate certainty. "Yes," I said. "And his patients will be lucky to have him."

P and I were in the process of divorcing, still living together as roommates, when I had to be admitted to the hospital for spinal surgery. I could barely walk, because the lower part of my sciatic nerve had been so damaged that I could not feel my foot, and the upper part was so rigid with pain that it had seized my leg into a curl. It was P who drove me to the hospital.

The next bit is a blur. My memory picks back up with P visiting me in my room and my breaking down in tears because I was dirty. I hadn't been able to shower in days — I stunk, and my hair fell around my shoulders in greasy ribbons. I was mortified that I was to go to surgery in the morning without having bathed. I recall thinking: I can't be fat AND dirty, too. This was before I was okay in my own skin. I felt double gross.

I sobbed because I wanted a shower, and I couldn't get myself there. I poured all my embarrassment and all of my fear into those sobs, which P accepted without judgment.

I don't remember if I mustered the wherewithal (or audacity — it was I who'd asked for the divorce) to request his help, or whether he volunteered. I just remember his sliding his arm around me to support me on my heaving stumble to the bathroom, where I sat on a built-in shower bench while he helped me undress and then helped me bathe.

I have rarely been in a moment more vulnerable, and the profound humanity of his assistance allowed me to retain my dignity in a most undignified circumstance.

It was one of the great kindnesses of my life. And it was the reason I knew, instantly and certainly, that he would make a wonderful nurse.

The best nurses I have had embody this magnificent balance between gentle compassion and fierce competency. They have looked me in the eye, and they have listened to me, and they have patiently explained what I need to know about my care, and they have provided that care with efficiency and decency, and they have respected my agency, and they have made me laugh and made me well.

It is a difficult and demanding and necessary job, often without sufficient recognition, done by lots of amazing people.

This week is National Nurses Week. If you know a nurse, please tell them thank-you for their service. If you are a nurse, thank you.

Thank you, P.

Originally posted May 8, 2013.

[Commenting Guidelines: Please note that this is a nurse appreciation thread, and if you want to tell a story about a bad experience with a nurse, this is absolutely not the time or space to do it. Stories about awesome nurses welcome! Thanks.]

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus