Here is a love letter to nurses everywhere, especially you, Maureen Garvey, Connie Garvey, and Terry Fitzgerald to whom I am proud to be related, and the nurses who have cared for me in this time, surgery after surgery.
Yesterday it was Sara who came in and introduced herself, efficient and kind in her blue top and crocs. She went through all of the pre check things and when I seemed to be getting ahead of her, she glanced up. “It’s my third surgery for this cancer,” I told her. She put her checklist away and looked at me. “Wow, that sounds really hard. How are you feeling today?”
And right there, she used her magic nurse wand to turn me from a patient to a person.
Last time my nurse was a young Irish woman, first a little abrasive (she was Northern Irish and didn’t like my assumption of Irishness) but over my 30 hours in the hospital she began to call me “Love” and admitted that she had only been in this job three months and New Zealand was wonderful but tricky to get used to. The night nurse was an Indian woman who called me “my dear” when she checked my vital signs and got me a cup of tea and toast with plum jam before dawn. I noticed that my mood rose and fell with these nurses, that they had the power to ramp up my anxiety or comfort me when I was afraid, to make me feel like a number or a human.
I am grateful for the small acts of kindness, for a nurse who pulls back my blankets when I’m shivering to put a pre-warmed blanked next to my skin. For the nurse who notices when I’ve been waiting a long time and comes to keep me company. I’m grateful for the acts of kindness to others, like the nurse who tucked in the blankets with care around the unconscious body of a patient in the recovery room. Each of these is a moment in someone’s life, but it’s a moment that expands into a feeling, a memory, an overall sense of well-being and care.
At discharge yesterday, my new nurse Sheleigh, looked at me, gobsmacked, when I told her that the drain I have this time (first surgery with a drain of these three) made me nauseous. “I guess that doesn’t make sense to you,” I said. “But there’s a reason you’re a nurse and I’m not.”
“Drains don’t bother me at all,” she told me, still a little bewildered at my reaction (she would see things every day that were so so so much more gross than my drain). I’ve only come to nursing late in life, though.”
And she told me her story. She wanted to be a nurse at 16 but she wasn’t good enough at school (“I could learn things, but I was slow and needed to hear them a few times first.”). So she became a bank teller and then a book keeper, and then did a variety of jobs around the family business for a while. She raised her kids and then got an office job which she described as “mindlessly boring.” When an old friend reminded her she always wanted to be a nurse, Sheleigh went along with her to the information session. Then she took the 12 month part-time class to become a nurse’s assistant and discovered that she wasn’t such a slow learner as she had feared. When her friend brought her the forms to enter the three-year-nursing degree, Sheleigh signed them, almost not thinking about the implications. At fifty-one and a half, she became a registered nurse. “I love nursing,” she said. “I was born for this.” And now, ten years later, she was my nurse for just an hour on a rainy Tuesday morning. She gave me care and comfort, even in that little time, human to human.
Sheleigh and Sara and the others have each brought me tea and comfort and a smile during these dark and frightening and painful times. While I hope to never be back in that hospital again, I am incredibly grateful for the way they have made me feel more whole in these times when I am literally coming apart.
Wherever you are today, perhaps you can take a moment and be a little kinder to those who serve us in countless ways, but particularly the nurses who make our lives better in some of our most difficult times.
I go home today and await the histology that will tell me whether this was my last surgery or whether I need a bigger one next week. Stan says my chances of being finished are “better than 50/50.” He removed a lot of tissue, and all of it looked healthy, but he reminds me that we are fighting microscopic disease. Today, while I give thanks for my nurses and for Stan and Keith and the team of doctors, I also give thanks for the lab technicians who will carefully judge my tissues cancer free (or, unhappily, not), and for all the doctors and researchers who have made this all possible and who have saved my life so far. Long may that continue.
PS the picture today is of the spectacular dawn yesterday and, bonus, the rainbow that lit up the sky post surgery last night. With surgery bookended by these colours, surely that is a good sign, right?