Scrubs Magazine has been quoted as saying that “nursing is a work of heart” and no statement has ever been truer. May 6th is National Nurse’s Day in the United States and leads directly into National Nurse’s Week, the week created to make sure nurses know they are appreciated, respected and valued. It is a time to say thank you to nurses for delivering quality care with a side of compassion. Nurses cushion the sorrow and celebrate the joy of every day while doing their job. They are with us from the first moment of our birth and are there at the end to comfort us. They know that every day they go to work, they will touch a life or their life will be touched in the line of duty. At one time or another, each of us will develop a special memory involving the kindness or compassion of a nurse. This one is mine.
When I was growing up my mother was frequently ill. She spent more time in the hospital than at home with the family. For this reason, I came to know what a nurse was at a very young age. Nurses, at that time, wore white uniforms and funny looking shoes with a thick sole. They smelled like astringent and were always very busy. Most of the time, I would be sitting in a chair out of the way when they came bustling by with a tray, a chart, or a patient in a chair. Growing up in a hospital, wishing my mother was at home, was hard on me and turned me into an emotionally fragile child. I had experienced anxiety, stress, and depression at a very young age.
One evening, after my father loaded us up for the trip to the hospital to visit my mother, I had reached the end of my emotional fortitude. My mother was scheduled for surgery the next morning and I simply couldn’t take the additional stress. After giving my mother a hug, I walked out to the waiting room with my brother and sister, climbed up into the uncomfortable blue chair, and sobbed like there would be no tomorrow. It wasn’t a quiet sob. It was a full-body, heaving sob complete with large fat streams of tears and copious amounts of nasal mucus. I shuddered, I rocked, and I sobbed. Even my brother and sister backed away from me, retreating to the relative safety of the opposite side of the waiting room. They were young as well and, quite frankly, I was a mess.
I am not sure how long I sobbed before one of the nurses approached me. She was a smaller woman with short, brown hair and very kind eyes. She looked at me for a moment then leaned down, scooped me up, sat me on her lap, and pulled me into the biggest hug I had ever received from a stranger. She didn’t try to stop my crying. In fact, it was just the opposite. She held me and allowed me to sob while she gently rocked me side to side. She never said a word. She didn’t have to. She was just there for me because I desperately needed someone. Eventually, I ran out of tears and subsided into stuttering, dry sobs. I remember burying my face into her shoulder but no longer remember anything after that point. I can assume that my father collected us and we went home. Eventually, my mother came home as well and life continued.
Before that time, I never really understood what being a nurse meant. I knew about the charts, trays, and thermometers but I didn’t understand that a nurse was so much more than the tools of her trade. That nurse was kindness, compassion, and empathy. She was a rock solid foundation, a port in a tumultuous storm, and a safe-haven not only for her patients but for their family as well. That particular nurse had the hug that a child desperately needed but, most importantly, she was willing to deliver it.
I don’t think I ever knew the nurse’s name but I can picture her and clearly remember the calm she projected even after the passing of all those years. I remember that she held me with compassion and let me know that she truly cared. She made me feel better at a particularly rough time in my life. I think of her every year on Nurse’s Day. She made a difference in my life. Maya Angelou said it best: “They may forget your name but they will never forget how you made them feel.”