In my life, I’ve been a patient in a hospital bed, and a provider, standing by the hospital bed. In both cases, the person I most need next to me is a nurse**.
There are a million important roles in the hospital, all working together to make people well; doctors, midlevel providers, respiratory, physical, occupational, speech and nutritional therapists, lab, OR and imaging technicians, environmental and nutritional services, IT people, the list goes on and on***. It takes an enormous village of caring people to make a hospital run. For most providers and ancillary staff, your time with a single patient is limited. You’re rounding on a huge list of patients every day. It’s heavy work.
Nurses, and nursing assistants, have a limited number of patients****, but the care they provide to those patients is limitless. For patients, the provider who means the most to your mental and physical health while you’re in that hospital bed? Hands down, it’s your nurse.
Nurses are the gate-keepers, the translators, the allies, the intimate knowers, the experts, the hand-holders, the first responders, the enforcers, the intuitive observers, the bedside brains, hearts, and hands of the hospital. They combine their deep knowledge and technical skills with intuition, wisdom, keen observation, negotiation skills, and profound empathy. They spend the most intimate, tender, challenging, time with their patients and their families. They know them, defend them, challenge them, advocate for them, sacrifice for them.
Not only is nursing a physically and intellectually exhausting job, but it asks for so much emotional labor. Nurses negotiate the myriad egos in the hospital hierarchy. They monitor every medication and therapeutic order for accuracy, efficacy, and side effects, all while having to communicate concerns with great agility. They have to pick up on social and cultural expectations of their patients, family dynamics, vulnerabilities and embarrassments and biases and history that might influence the current moment. I’ve seen a nurse chatting apparently nonchalantly while she picked up a knife and cut the meat of an elderly man whose pride would have left him and his tremor sitting there starving before he asked for help. I’ve seen a nurse go head-to-head with a Head surgeon in defense of her patient. I’ve seen nurses sprint down the halls to run a code, to catch a falling patient, to give a hug before a patient finally discharged home after weeks in the hospital. I’ve seen nurses physically holding patients as their bodies give out, as fluids run out, as anguish and hope fall out.
At the expense of their own comfort and safety, nurses hold us up. Nurses are the people who have always been at our bedsides and who are there for us now, still, amidst this terrifying threat, offering their skill and compassion, offering themselves. I am thankful and proud to know so many nurses. Mr. Rogers said that when we’re scared, we should look for the helpers.
Nurses really are the shit.*
*I mean, seriously, THE SHIT.
** Nurses have saved my ass-as in potentially my job/license/reputation, and also my actual human person squishy thing upon which I sit.
*** If I forgot you, it wasn’t on purpose, unless you’re just an administrator who doesn’t know a wink about patients/care, then it might have been on purpose
**** Typically too many for the responsibilities assigned and assumed