Wednesday, May 11, 2011

In Praise of Nurses

I recently discovered it's National Nurses Week. Having been on the receiving end of the work that nurses do, I could think of no better way to honor them than to write about why nurses hold such a special place in my heart. It isn't just the fact that they tirelessly perform many menial tasks that most people could not or would not perform. It is the fact that the motivation behind these efforts is to do what they can to help others heal. Often, this does not just refer to physical healing.

It was June of 1990 and I was thirty-eight weeks pregnant with my first child. My doctor diagnosed me with pre-eclampsia and ordered me to the hospital to induce labor. He explained that complications could jeopardize both my life and the baby's if the condition were allowed to continue.

Arielle was born the next day after a failed induction and c-section. Within a few hours of her birth, she began to develop breathing problems. Her health went downhill very quickly from there. Because she was born in a hospital without a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and she needed an infusion of white blood cells to fight what we later learned was a Group B Strep infection, she was transferred to a hospital several hours away in Iowa City. My doctor managed to get me transferred there as well so my husband and I could both be there with her. What I didn't know at the time was how very sick I was. My thoughts were all on my daughter.

The infection overwhelmed Arielle's weak immune system very quickly. In the end, her heart kept stopping. They continued to restart it, but the time between episodes began to decrease. They knew eventually Arielle's heart would not restart. A doctor, accompanied by a nurse, came in to ask if we wanted to have Arielle brought to us the next time her heart stopped. It was a nurse, with tears in her eyes, who brought Arielle's small, blanket-wrapped body to us so we could say good-bye.

The strength I had when Arielle was still fighting for her life died out with her death. I could barely even move. The doctors kept me in the labor section of the maternity ward because each room had a dedicated nurse. I don't remember much about that time. At some point, my mother arrived, flown in from out of state. I also remember my inlaws coming in to see me and mourn with me. What stands out most about that room, however, was the nurse.

I don't remember her name or what she looked like. What I remember was the tremendous care she gave me. I had just lost my first, very wanted child. I was sick, I was bloated and I could barely move. My body ached from the throes of the birthing process, and my arms were empty. And there was the nurse--checking on my condition, giving me medication, speaking softly to me, asking if there was anything I needed.

At one point I remember her giving me a sponge bath. It had been days since I had showered, although I wasn't thinking about that as I grieved. As gently as if I had been the newborn baby, she washed off the dirt and grime and trauma of the past few hours and made me feel a little more normal again. She was just doing her job, yet I could feel the comfort and compassion coming from her as she performed this mundane task.

I have tremendous respect for nurses and the many jobs they do. Nurses have cried with me, laughed with me, comforted me, joked with me and taken wonderful care of me. They take orders from sometimes ungrateful doctors and have to deal with flack from unruly patients. Still, they perform their tasks tirelessly and with great compassion, all in the name of healing. Whether we acknowledge them or not, nurses make a tremendous impact on the world, and for that I am very grateful.     

No comments:

Post a Comment