I think it’s wonderful that this magazine tips its hat this month to the best and brightest doctors, but for my money (or should I say co-pay), nothing tops a great nurse.
Let’s start with how smart they have to be to do the job. A million years ago when I was a student at H.V.C.C., I tried to date a lovely young lady who was a nursing student. Notice I said tried to date, because despite the fact that she was a straight A student, the nursing curriculum she had to master was ridiculous.
Anatomy, pathology, radiology and a whole bunch of other things ending in “logy” were just appetizers on a buffet filled with more medical data than a chief of surgery needed to know. Here I was failing in the easiest science course available, Meteorology 101, (Teacher: “Mr. Gray what’s the difference between a Cirrus cloud and a Cumulus cloud?” John: “Um, when you tell a joke the Cirrus cloud doesn’t laugh.”) and here she knew every bone, muscle and artery in the body. The only time I could see her was when I agreed to help her study with flash cards, and let me tell you nobody wants to make out while learning about the lower bowel.
Once nurses graduate they can go in one of a hundred directions and all of them are equally important in my book. I’ve seen nurses working around the clock at the Children’s Hospital at Albany Med taking care of preemies that would die if not for constant supervision. The average person is afraid to breathe on these tiny infants, yet these nurses are aggressive, but tender, and almost psychic knowing just what the child needs to grow strong.
Move down the hall and you’ll find a different type of nurse, one who goes to work knowing some of the people she cares for will not make it to Christmas. These are the cancer patients who are so afraid and grasping for any scrap of hope. They find it in the eyes of those nurses who stay long after the doctor and technicians leave, reassuring them that they can beat this. And when the prognosis is not good, they are there just the same to adjust a pillow, listen to a story or just sit quietly because they know the sick person in that bed doesn’t want to be alone right now.
Its nurses who don’t know the meaning of the phrase “The kitchen’s closed” and find an extra meal for someone in the family who hasn’t eaten in 24 hours.
It’s that same nurse who brings the extra blanket and pillow and tells an exhausted spouse or sibling or parent not to worry about visitors’ hours tonight.
The minute we pop into this world they are the first to lay hands on us and make sure we are breathing and that the color of those tiny toes is just the right shade of pink. They are the ones who distract us in the doctor’s office when the needle is coming for all those inoculations through our school years. If you end up in the hospital, they are the ones playing Santa Claus checking the doctor’s orders twice to make certain we get the right meds. And of course, when we reach the end of our long walk, it is they who take care of us again at the nursing home making sure we keep our dignity.
I can’t say enough about nurses except we don’t pay them enough. We can’t. It must be a thankless job some days where the compensation can’t come close to the sacrifice. I couldn’t do it and not just for my inadequacies in science class. The abuse from patients who are scared or just mentally gone must be terrible. I think that only whales have thicker skin. And no matter how tough a shell you develop, surely there is no armor that can protect the heart. Whether you lose an infant born three months early, a cancer patient who won’t respond to treatment or an elderly person who you’ve taken care of for years, it has to hurt. And volunteering your heart for that inevitable pain is a sacrifice no paycheck can equal.
All of that said, they are also a lot of fun. I had a friend who worked as a school nurse in Albany some years ago and on a Saturday night when I had no plans she convinced me to come to a house party full of nothing but nurses. OH MY GOD. They give new meaning to the phrase “cut loose”. Not in a bad way mind you, just a group of gals who worked hard all day and knew how to unwind at night. I’ve never felt safer eating chips and dip at a party. I mean, if I started to choke there were 30 people in the room who could save me. Come to think of it, a lot of them were cute. Why didn’t I fake a little seizure just for the chance at “mouth to mouth”? Oh wait, a seizure is when they shove a ruler in your mouth to keep you from swallowing your tongue. See, I told you I was terrible at this medical stuff.
In closing, I’ll leave you with two anonymous quotes that I just love. “Nurses are angels in comfortable shoes”. And always remember that LPN stands for “loving person near”. Truer words were never spoken.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org