On February 25th in the New York Times, two stories appeared about nurses. Both sobering. Both timely. Both essential.
In my last post, I celebrated the fact that although the pandemic is killing scores of people and putting a strain on resources, including health care personnel, nurses have been in the forefront of the media getting the recognition that they have long deserved. And more nurses are speaking out by telling their stories. Long overdue.
However, the two stories in the NYT need to be read/viewed. One is by Theresa Brown who I have many times spot-lighted here because of her accurate assessment (my view) of nursing issues. A nurse herself, she has been calling attention to the nursing profession in the media and through her books.
Brown’s piece: Covid-19 Is “Probably Going to End My Career,” is an exposé of what is terribly wrong in the profession and what should be done. She writes bravely and honestly about the precarious state of organized nursing.
The second article, One I.C.U. Two nurses with cameras, is written, not by a nurse, but by a photojournalist. He filmed a fifteen-minute video that is raw footage of two nurses working with dying Covid patients in the ICU. Unvarnished, compelling and poignant. It’s a must watch that shows exactly what nurses experience during their shifts.
I’ve attached the links to both essays. The fifteen-minute video is imbedded in both.
The World Health Organization designation of 2020 Year of the Nurse and Nurse Midwife has taken a back seat to the sensational political news alerts that fill our lives as if nothing else is important. This post is just a reminder that nurses still are on the front lines of COVID-19 and make a difference in our lives every day.
A deep thank you to my friend and fellow writer Michele Murdock who sent me the first Star Nurses publication, which documents the collaborative effort between the Washington Post and the American Nurses Association (ANA) to nominate six nurses from across Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia who “go above and beyond.”
Hopefully, we will have more collaboration between the ANA or other nursing organizations and news media in order to spotlight nurses who make a difference. What a great way to educate the public about what nurses really do. As you can see, the six nurses selected for the first Nightingale Awards practice in diverse settings and have varied backgrounds.
The Washington Post and the American Nurses Association Announce the 2020 STAR Nurses Award Winners
September 2, 2020 at 1:51 p.m. EDT
The Washington Post and the American Nurses Association (ANA) announced the winners of the 2020 Star Nurses Awards, recognizing registered nurses in the Washington, D.C. area with the Nightingale Award for excellence in their field. The six winners, who were nominated by patients and peers and were selected by the American Nurses Association and a panel of fellow RNs, are recognized for their achievements across a range of criteria including compassion and positive community impact. Below is the list of 2020 Nightingale Award Winners:
A veteran registered nurse on the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Winchester Medical Center, Lisa Dellinger is still passionate about her profession—and loves sharing her enthusiasm with new graduates.
Lisa Dellinger, RN
“I like admitting hearts,” admits Lisa Dellinger, a Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) registered nurse (RN) at Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Va. “We come together with procedural precision, and everyone knows their jobs without being told. That still lights a fire in me.”
Admitting a heart is the process of receiving a heart patient following surgery. These critically ill patients do not go to a recovery room. They come directly to the CVICU, where a team of healthcare providers ensures that all their lines and drips are accounted for and they are transferred safely.
“It’s like solving a puzzle,” Lisa added. “It’s a puzzle I can unravel, and I can keep my patients safe.”
From an early age, Lisa was always a problem solver. Although she dreamed of becoming a pediatrician, she knew she could not afford college. Instead, she joined the military and gained experience as a medical technician. It was during this time that she decided to become a nurse. “I realized that nurses get to spend more time with patients, so I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” she recalled.
Today, after 24 years in the field, Lisa is still passionate about nursing. In fact, she is most inspired when helping new graduates navigate the challenges of the profession.
“I love working with new grads. I love being able to pass on some of my knowledge—and hopefully some of my enthusiasm,” Lisa said. “I always tell new nurses that I would rather they ask me a hundred questions than do something to harm a patient.”
Lisa strives to teach new nurses what really matters. While she expects the nurses she mentors to be very attentive to the medical details of patient care, she thinks it is even more important that they get to know patients as people. Learning a patient’s personality can help nurses motivate them to get out of bed and get better, she explained.
“Ultimately, it’s our job to be our patients’ advocates—to be their voices,” Lisa concluded.
Lisa is a strong voice and an even stronger force. She is all heart.
As a pediatric oncology nurse researcher at Children’s National Hospital, Pamela S. Hinds, RN, Ph.D., FAAN, helps young patients find their voice and make sure it is heard.
Pamela S. Hinds, PhD, RN, FAAN
Sometimes they want a back rub. They might want to chat about their fingernails. Most of all, they want to be heard. They are young cancer patients. And they have a strong advocate in Pamela S. Hinds, RN, Ph.D., FAAN, a nurse researcher at Children’s National Hospital.
Pamela performs pediatric oncology research that enhances patient outcomes and improves nursing practices. Over the course of her long career, she has had many emotional experiences with young patients and has really learned to listen to them.
“There are so many children whose faces and stories stay with me,” Pamela said. She recalled one young woman who had acute lymphocytic leukemia and experienced several recurrences requiring multiple bone marrow transplants. “I would end each day with a few quiet moments with her. It would soothe her so much when I would just rub her back,” she remembered.
Pamela also recollected a teen girl with a rebellious spirit and an extremely aggressive form of cancer. The girl tried desperately to find something positive. “She would say to me, let’s talk about the one part of my body that’s normal: my fingernails. So we would talk about her fingernails,” Pamela recalled.
For Pamela, the diverse stories of the many children she has treated are what motivates her research. As the principal investigator for a number of federally funded grants, Pamela can amplify children’s voices to help them get better, more compassionate care.
“For many years, we didn’t ask children questions,” noted Pamela. “We never asked them what it was like to be receiving cancer treatment. We just delivered the treatment.”
Pamela and her team created a comprehensive set of questions to help care providers talk to—and understand—seriously ill children. The questions are now available for use across the country via the National Cancer Institute of the United States.
Speaking of the emotional challenges of her field, Pamela admits, “It’s very painful. But I believe in the power of love. And I see love every day—the love of a parent for a child, and a child for a parent, and also of staff to children and children to staff. That’s an amazing thing.”
As a school nurse, Viktoria Holley-Trimmer is responsible for the health and safety of every student in her building.
Viktoria Holley-Trimmer, MS, RN
You have to start somewhere. Good days start with a nutritious breakfast. Good students must first be healthy students. Viktoria Holley-Trimmer is making sure that students in the District of Columbia start healthy and stay healthy—as a D.C. public school Registered Nurse.*
“I always tell people that I didn’t choose nursing. Nursing chose me,” says Viktoria of how she came to the profession. During the nursing shortage of the 1980s, Viktoria was offered a full scholarship to attend nursing school. She took it, and she has never looked back.
At Francis Scott Key Elementary School in D.C., Viktoria is helping young people achieve their best possible health, so they can thrive as students. “The day in the life of a school nurse includes something new every day,” she said. “Kids are just so amazing.”
From bandaging scraped knees to coaching scared kindergartners to helping kids manage serious long-term illnesses, Viktoria is responsible for the health and safety of every student in her building. She also does regular education sessions with the children, teaching everything from proper hand washing technique to healthy eating habits.
A big part of school nursing is taking care of the broader community. And Viktoria is certainly committed to strengthening her community. Every year, Children’s National Hospital holds a cereal drive to provide breakfast options to underserved children during the summer months. Viktoria is one of the leading contributors.
“Last year, I collected more than 11,000 servings of cereal for children in D.C.,” said Viktoria . “I talked to the parents and the teachers and rallied them to the point where they brought me cases of cereal.”
Even with schools shut down due to the Coronavirus crisis, Viktoria is continuing to care for her community. She is currently working as a contact tracer for D.C., fighting the community spread of the virus one phone call at a time.
From her cereal drive efforts to her day-to-day work in the school, Viktoria is ensuring that children in the District know that someone cares—that someone is committed to giving them a strong start.
Cherissa Jackson is the Chief Medical Executive at AMVETS (American Veterans), a registered nurse, a veteran and a proud post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) survivor.
Cherissa Jackson, RN
Cherissa Jackson has covered a lot of ground. She traveled thousands of miles to complete her tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Back at home, she has logged hundreds of miles running—in an attempt to outrun her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As the Chief Medical Executive at AMVETS (American Veterans), Cherissa is using her skills as a registered nurse and her personal experience with PTSD to help other veterans recover.
As a single mom to twin daughters, a veteran, a nurse and a leader, Cherissa has overcome some major obstacles—but none has compared to PTSD. Cherissa served 23½ years in the U.S. Air Force, many of them as a nurse. She served as a battlefield clinician in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 and in Afghanistan in 2011.
“I treated soldiers for PTSD. I knew the signs,” Cherissa recalled. “When I started experiencing some of those same symptoms, I hid in silence for five years.”
When her daughters left for college, Cherissa stopped hiding. “I had a PTSD break. I knew I had to get help,” she explained.
Years later, Cherissa has learned how to manage her PTSD. She uses a tried-and-true regimen of faith, meditation and exercise to keep her disorder at bay. Exercise is key. She said, “I tell people all the time that when I run, I sweat like crazy. That’s me purging those bad thoughts and feelings. That is me getting rid of what I experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Cherissa has shared her struggles with PTSD in several national magazines, and she wrote a best-selling memoir, “At Peace, Not in Pieces” about her experiences. “I strive to inspire others not to live in silence,” she said. “There is a way to be functional and not be ashamed to admit you have PTSD.”
When she joined AMVETS in 2019, Cherissa began running the organization’s HEAL program. HEAL, which stands for healthcare, evaluation, advocacy and legislation, aims to reduce veteran suicide, unemployment, homelessness and hopelessness by providing vital resources.
In addition to her work with HEAL, Cherissa is concentrated on elevating the issues that women veterans face. She created the Women Veteran Journey Map, an online tool that illustrates the unique experiences of women service members.
Cherissa may have suffered in silence for far too long, but she is sharing her journey with PTSD and advocating for other veterans now. She’s covered a lot of miles, and she is determined to leave markers to help those who follow.
In addition to teaching, Jonas Nguh, Ph.D., RN, a professor of nursing at Walden University, is deeply committed to serving marginalized communities—and inspiring his students to do the same.
Jonas Nguh, PhD, RN
When Jonas’s phone rang in the wee hours of the morning, he was startled. The voice on the other end of the line was frantic, screaming, “Thank you, thank you!” Jonas Nguh, Ph.D., a registered nurse and professor of nursing at Walden University, inspires these reactions from his students.
The caller went on to explain that she was one of Jonas’s former students and that she had just passed her board exam to become a registered nurse. “She told me I was one of the only people who never gave up on her and that kept her going,” Jonas recalled. “She called me before she even called her husband!”
“It’s just amazing to me that I can use my abilities to improve the lives of others, whether that is the people in my community, my students or people around the world,” Jonas added. “I love working with people and for people.”
It is that genuine love of people that brought Jonas to nursing and that makes him such an accomplished educator. The youngest of five children, Jonas grew up in an impoverished community in Cameroon. He has three older sisters who are all nurses.
“I think I was born into nursing,” he said with a smile. “Now I get to prepare the next generation of health care providers.”
In addition to teaching, Jonas is deeply committed to serving marginalized communities—and inspiring his students to do the same. Jonas does several mission trips every year with his students or his faith community.
In 2010, following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, Jonas facilitated a hand washing initiative. Jonas and his students visited D.C. area hotels and collected the complimentary bars of soap left behind after guests checked out. They found a vendor to disinfect and repackage the soap. The class then delivered the soap to communities in Haiti where hygiene products were scarce.
“Sanitation is the first basic element to prevent infection,” Jonas said. “I’ve always been committed to looking for the little things that can help. This was practical and feasible, and it helped.”
Jonas is proof positive that little things quickly become big things in capable hands. Jonas is not just competent; he is gifted. And he is always willing to share his gift. “This is a calling, not a job,” he concluded of the nursing profession. “It’s a mission. It’s the whole purpose of my existence.”
Sarah Rose, a registered nurse unit supervisor at Inova Alexandria Hospital, is committed to listening—and really hearing—patients and frontline nurses.
Sarah Rose, RN
Sarah Rose is a good listener. As a registered nurse unit supervisor at Inova Alexandria Hospital, Sarah makes sure that patients’ voices are heard and respected. She also ensures that the nurses who work at patients’ bedsides have a voice in shaping health-care policies and practices.
As a child, Sarah wanted to be a veterinarian. She loved animals, so it seemed like an obvious career choice. Her parents had other ideas. One summer, they convinced Sarah to volunteer at a local hospital. She was able to directly interact with nurses and patients on a daily basis. A new nurse was born.
“I always had a calling to help others, and this junior volunteer program allowed me to see how much nurses were helping,” Sarah recalled. “That started me down the path to become a nurse.”
When Sarah joined the staff at Inova Alexandria, it didn’t take long for her patients and co-workers to recognize her aptitude for caring. She received the hospital’s Nursing Excellence award in 2015, 2016 and 2019.
Most recently, Sarah was recognized for her efforts to promote shared governance. Shared governance empowers nurses at the bedside to work with leadership to formulate policies and to express concerns drawn from their day-to-day interactions with patients.
After just two years as a staff nurse with Inova Alexandria, Sarah was promoted to unit supervisor in October 2016. Her unit provides step-down care for patients with serious cardiac issues.
“I strive to lead by example,” Sarah says of her role as supervisor. “I want to show new nurses that we can take the time to make personal connections with patients—to use the patients’ names and engage in small talk. Those simple connections make a big difference.”
Even when faced with difficult patients, Sarah remains dedicated to listening first. “It’s not just about letting them speak and then not hearing what they are saying,” she said. “You have to acknowledge what they are feeling. You acknowledge their concerns and then you explain what you’re able to do to help with the best possible outcome.”
Sarah listens. She pays attention. And she connects. By really hearing her patients and her staff, Sarah Rose is helping improve lives and enhance her profession. Sarah’s hearing promotes healing.
My Blog, Nursingstories.org, was selected by Nurse Buff: Nursing Humor & Lifestyle Blog as one of the best 100 Nursing Blogs and/or Websites in 2020. While I am honored with this selection, I am also so impressed that we nurses are now publishing our stories on the internet in impressive numbers.
Rather than add an URL I am listing all 100 on my site for your review.
Why It Matters: The Nursing Site specializes in posting about the latest topics regarding the nursing profession, boasting a wealth of content available for multiple different audiences such as newly licensed nurses, student nurses, and even seasoned or veteran nurses.
Great Read: “Healthy Eating for Nurses Who Work Long Hours” is a great article for nurses who may be neglecting a healthy diet because of their long work hours or erratic schedules. It also talks about how nurses should also prioritize taking care of themselves in addition to taking care of others.
Why It Matters: Elizabeth Scala is a nurse who is confident in her knowledge regarding nurse burnout. She is also a Nurse’s Week online program host as well as a bestselling author who often partners with nursing schools and associations in order to help bring about a positive change in the nursing field.
Great Read:“The Physical Benefits of Positive Thinking” talks about how important it is for nurses to think positively and the various tangible benefits that could come as a result of that. Some examples of this are patient pill compliance, appreciative inquiry, and other general physical benefits such as lower stress levels and better cardiovascular health.
Betsy, a writer friend, emailed me the story she had read in our workshop since I had to miss the class. She knows I hang on every episode of her life in Ireland where her second child was born and she negotiated the daily vicissitudes of a different culture. In this episode she had left the hospital with her new baby girl. She happily accepted the offer to have a nurse visit her and the baby at home.
Her daughter is in college now but Betsy still remembers how helpful the nurse was—and knowledgeable and reassuring, which, in turn, made me remember the article I read not too long ago by David Bornstein, The Power of Nursing (NYT, May 16, 2012) about nurses who made regular home visits to at-risk pregnant women and continued these visits until their children reached the age of two. The program, Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), conducted studies that demonstrated the visits improved both child and maternal health and financial self-sufficiency and provided a five to seven point boost to the I.Q of these children. Plus many more positive results.
NFP, which has been around since the ‘70s is implemented in forty states, empirically proves what many of us already know: nurses REALLY make a difference. Training paraprofessionals to do the nurses’ job didn’t yield the same outcomes.
We nurses do make a unique contribution. No one else can fill our shoes.
Frieda Paton, RN, a writer for Nurseslabs, an education and nursing lifestyle website geared towards helping student nurses and registered nurses with information for the betterment of their nursing careers, wrote the following in June, 2019:
WHO Confirms 2020 as International Year of Nurse and Midwife
Governments from around the world endorsed 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife during the World Health Assembly. The global celebration is in recognition of the indispensable role of nurses and midwives in bringing health care to people everywhere.
Spotlight on the role of nurses and midwives
In January this year, the Executive Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed that 2020 be designated as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife because of the vital contribution of nurses and midwives towards achieving universal health coverage. 2020 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.
Member states endorsed the proposal during the 72nd World Health Assembly on May 24. This is the world’s most crucial decision making a body for health policy.
‘WHO is proud to nominate 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. These two health professions are invaluable to the health of people everywhere.” said Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO. ‘While WHO recognizes their crucial role on a daily basis, 2020 will be dedicated to highlighting the enormous sacrifices and contributions of nurses and midwives, and to ensuring that we address the shortage of these vital professions.”
Nursing Organization’s reaction
The idea of 2020 as Year of the Nurse and Midwife was initially suggested by the global, three-year Nursing Now campaign, which runs until 2020 in collaboration with the ICN and WHO. Lord Nigel Crisp, Co-Chair of the campaign, emphasized that rapid and cost-effective improvement in universal health care could be achieved by investing in nursing and midwifery.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity for governments to really show nurses and midwives how much they are valued,” commented Crisp. “Not by empty words, but by effective, decisive action to give us the human and physical resources needed to get the job done.”
Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses, commended Ghebreyesus for supporting the idea of highlighting nurses’ contribution to healthcare and thanked the members of the WHA for endorsing this vision.
“Florence Nightingale used her lamp to illuminate the places where nurses worked,” said Kennedy. “I hope the designation of 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife will provide us with a new, 20-20 vision of what nursing is in the modern era, and how nurses can light the way to universal health coverage and healthcare for all.”
Every nurse can play their part
Within their individual circle of influence every nurse, across the world, can help to place the spotlight on their profession.
We will need to seize the opportunity of the Year of the Nurse and Midwife to communicate to decision-makers and the public alike who exactly we are and the vital contribution we make to society in the modern world.
Now it is up to us nurses to make the most of The Year of the Nurse and Midwife. From the American Nurses Association: “Nurses are encouraged to use #yearofthenurse and follow us on social media as we celebrate nurses in 2020. To stay connected throughout the year and join the celebration, click here.”
Pope Francis Calls Nurses, “Experts In Humanity” – Thanks Nurse Who Saved His Life
By Angelina Gibson
VATICAN CITY, Mar 3, 2018 – “I thank her and I want you to know her name: Sister Cornelia Caraglio,” said Pope Francis as he remembered the nurse who saved his life at 20 years old.
“When, at the age of 20, I was on the verge of death, she was the one who told the doctors, even arguing with them, ‘No, this isn’t working. You must give more,'” the Pope said during a meeting with thousands of nurses – members of Italy’s national association of nursing professionals.
“And thanks to those things [her suggestions], I survived,” recalled the Pope.
The Pope Thanks Nurses
Pope Francis thanked all nurses in attendance, “you are there all day and you see what happens to the patient. Thank you for that!” he continued, “many lives, so many lives are saved thanks to you!”
He spoke about the importance of the nursing profession and the unique relationships nurses form with all members of the healthcare team – patients, families, and colleagues. Pope Francis stated that nurses are at “the crossroads” of all these relationships.
Furthermore, Pope Francis acknowledged the “truly irreplaceable” role nurses play in the lives of their patients. “Like no other, the nurse has a direct and continuous relationship with patients, takes care of them every day, listens to their needs and comes into contact with their very body, that he tends to,” stated Pope Francis.
The Pope called nurses, “promoters of the life and dignity of the persons.”
He spoke about the sensitivity they acquire from “being in contact with patients all day,” and addressed the healing power of listening and touch. Calling touch an important factor for demonstrating respect for the dignity of the person.
He praised nurse’s continuous and tiring commitment to their individual patients despite the patient’s societal status. Calling a nurse’s care particularly important in a society which often leaves weaker people on the margin, only giving worth to people who meet certain criteria or level of wealth.
Pope Francis called the nursing profession “a real mission,” and referred to nurses as, “experts in humanity.”
When speaking of touch, Pope Francis told the story of when Jesus healed the Leper through touch. Encouraging the nurses, “we must recognize the importance of this simple gesture,” Pope Francis said. “Mosaic law forbid touching lepers and banned them from approaching inhabited places. But Jesus went to the heart of the law, which is summarized in love for one’s neighbor,” stated Pope Francis.
While acknowledging the difficulty of the nursing profession, Pope Francis encouraged patients to have patience with nurses, to not demand things from nurses and to smile more at their nurses.
The Pope reminded nurses, “a caress, a smile, is full of meaning for one who is sick. It is a simple gesture, but encouraging, he or she feels accompanied, feels closer to being healed, feels like a person, not a number.”
Pope Francis encouraged nurses, to not forget the “medicine of caresses.”
I was one of about thirty authors who attended the program, Authors in Your Backyard: A Celebration of Local Writers, held at my neighborhood library on a Sunday afternoon not too long ago. I arrived with copies of my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic, and the syringes
to lure readers to my table. I didn’t know to bring a pretty colored cloth to cover my part of the table that I would share with another writer. Before the program started—a keynote address by a well-known mystery writer and five randomly selected readings—I roamed the room meeting the other authors.
At the very first table by the door, a woman about my age set up her books beside a poster publicizing her work. She had brought a table cover onto which she pinned a large sheet that announced: “Nancy Panko, author of Award Winning “Guiding Missal.” Her display could have been inside a book store. She had done this before.
While Nancy’s book was not about nursing, we soon discovered we were both nurses. She became a nurse in her late 30’s. She has been published 10 times in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her 11thwill be in the next Christmas edition.
Nancy Panko epitomized the type of nurse I have long promoted. One who writes about her life as a nurse. Plus, she is an older woman. A great role model.
So, I asked her if I could spotlight her in my next post.
Here are two of her Chicken Soup stories and a link to her award-winning book: Guiding Missal.
At the end of the stories, Nancy answers two of my questions:
Why do nurses need to publish their stories?
What has nursing done for you?
A Journey of Healing
On a sunny July day, my younger brother Terry was killed as he attempted to cut down a tree. He died instantly of traumatic head injury. In the blink of an eye, I no longer had a brother. He wouldn’t be in my life to tease me, give me advice, or to make me laugh. He was just gone, leaving a huge hole in all our hearts. The pain was unbearable.
As I grieved, I found I wanted to pay tribute to my brother’s life. At the age of 14, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a nurse. As I grew up that goal got pushed aside, I got married and had children. I prayed that somehow I could find a way to go back to school to realize my dream of being a nurse. My husband and children were very supportive and we all prayed that God would show us the way…and he did.
I enrolled in nursing school, achieved good grades and made Dean’s List. In my Junior year, I began carpooling with Jeanne, one of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) instructors. Driving fifty miles a day, we shared confidences and family stories. She became a mentor and a friend. I explained how Terry’s death affected my decision to return to school and how fragile I was just thinking about treating a traumatic head injury patient. She listened intently and seemed sympathetic.
The day before our senior year ICU clinical experience, Jeanne, my mentor and car pool friend, assigned me a traumatic head injury patient. I was in shock and disbelief. I prayed silently for help. I could not let my emotional, personal experience interfere with giving this patient the best care possible.
Upon entering the ICU, I learned that my patient was in surgery, having his second operation to relieve pressure from a blood clot on his brain. The doctors had given him little chance of survival. Terry had no chance at all, but this guy does, I thought. He’s still here, fighting for his life, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help him. I prayed for my patient and his family in the waiting room.
That afternoon and evening I studied the patient’s chart. His name was Sam, he was nineteen years old, the youngest child of a large close knit family and his accident was eerily similar to Terry’s. He worked for a tree-trimming company and while strapped in his safety harness perched in the tree to trim branches, he was hit in the head by a falling branch. He hung upside-down in the tree for nearly an hour before being extricated. He suffered a fractured skull with a large blood clot on his brain. A device was in place to relieve and measure the pressure inside his skull. A ventilator helped him breathe, he had arterial lines, IV’s and a urinary catheter. He had been given The Last Rites. Twice.
The next day, just after dawn, I saw Sam for the first time. His head was swathed in bandages, he was unresponsive and motionless. His tall frame completely filled the length of the bed, no sign of awareness in that young body.
My knees were weak, but I knew every detail about his physical condition, medications, procedures and his monitors. In ICU, the details can mean the difference between life and death. I can do this, I said to myself. All my hard work to this point comes down to this day and this patient. I laid my hand on Sam’s arm. “Good Morning Sam. I’m your nurse for today, my name is Nancy.” I told him the day of the week, the date, the time, what the weather was like. I chattered on while gently caring for him. There was no response. After morning care and charting I took time to speak to his family.
Out in the waiting room, I approached a tired-looking woman and introduced myself to Sam’s mother. She told me all about Sam and the family. I asked her to join me in a plan to stimulate her son and, hopefully, lighten his coma. I asked her to bring in a radio to play his favorite music and family pictures to tape in easy-to-spot places around his cubicle. I shared my nursing care plan with her and she felt included. This plan was also a prayer. Sam’s mother had a glimmer of hope and was pleased that she could help.
Each day we carried out the plan. I talked to Sam and played his favorite music. While completing all my nursing duties, I told him about the leaves changing colors and about the apples and cider for sale along the roadside. His vital signs were stable, no signs of infection but there was no response. It was hard to see this young man remain so still.
One day, as I struggled to put one of his heavy, long legs into his pajama bottom, I said, “Sam, it would be great if you could help me. Can you lift your leg?” His leg rose five inches off the bed. I tried to remain calm. “Thank you, Sam. Can you raise the other leg.” He did it! He could hear and follow commands, he had bilateral lower extremity movement, still, he had not regained consciousness or opened his eyes.
The next morning, I was told that during the night Sam had started breathing against the ventilator. As I came into his cubicle, I put my hand in his and told him I was there for the day. Sam squeezed it! I grabbed his other hand and asked him to squeeze again. He obeyed. Both hands and arms working on command. Praise God! I encouraged Sam all day. By the afternoon, he was breathing totally on his own and no longer required the ventilator.
Still his eyes remained closed. As I worked with Sam the next day, he turned his head from side to side to follow my voice wherever I was. I brought his mother into ICU. “Sam,” I said, as his face turned towards me, “Your mom is here.” A tear slid down his cheek. “Sam,” I repeated firmly, “your mom is here. Please open your eyes.” We watched him struggle to lift his eyelids. Finally, his eyes fluttered open, but he looked toward the sound of my voice. “Sam,” I said, walking around the side of the bed to stand behind his mother, “look at your mom.” Suddenly, recognition dawned in his eyes as he gazed at his mother’s face and began to sob. The staff and my instructor, Jeanne had gathered to watch this miracle unfold, they were all crying. I partially lowered the bed’s side rail for a long awaited mother and son embrace. I felt so blessed to be a part of this journey of healing.
Sam continued to improve rapidly and was soon discharged from ICU to the Rehabilitation Unit where he had to learn to walk, talk and perform all his activities of daily living. His mother was at his side every day.
In caring for Sam, I had dealt with my grief, loss, fears and emotions. I was able to do for Sam what I couldn’t do for my dear brother, Terry. Against all odds, Sam survived.
A few weeks later, while walking through the Rehab Unit, I heard someone call my name. It was Sam’s mother. We hugged, she was smiling. I saw a tall, handsome young man standing next to her. His formerly shaved head had grown a crew cut beginning to hide the many scars. I barely recognized him.
“Hi Sam, how are you?” I said. “Do you remember me?”
He cocked his head and spoke haltingly. “Your voice sounds so familiar.”
The lump in my throat only allowed me to respond, “I was one of your nurses in ICU.”
His words came out haltingly, “You..are..Nancy..My..mom..told..me..all..about..you.”
Here was a true miracle standing before me. For two weeks, my life was intertwined with Sam’s as we each experienced joyful healing.
One day, while Jeanne and I were driving to school, I gathered the courage to ask her why she blindsided me by assigning me a traumatic head injury patient, when she knew my story. She explained that she believed in my nursing skills and even more so in my character. She wanted me to face my fear while she was there to watch over and support me. I was emotionally touched to feel her kindness.
A few months later, at my graduation, I received flowers from Sam’s family. The card said,” To our Angel!” On this journey of healing, I believe that both Sam and I had the divine blessing of someone watching over us.
Chicken Soup for the Soul—Find Your Inner Strength, November 2014, 303
A Cast of Characters
It was the first week of September, a beautiful late summer evening that made you glad to be alive. I wanted to be outside, but I sat at the kitchen table studying for a biochemistry exam. George was relaxing, reading the newspaper. Our fourteen-year-old daughter was attending the first high school football game of the season and our seven-year-old son was in the front yard playing soccer with a friend. Suddenly, a blood-curdling scream outside had us jumping up and racing toward the sound. My gut churned hearing the agonizing howl of pain coming from our child.
George and I burst through the screen door running toward our boy who was lying on the ground screaming, “My leg, my leg.”
Rushing to his side, I cradled his head and told him to lie still and not move. Tears streamed down his face, as he reached toward his contorted leg.
“Call 911,” I said to my husband. I was sure his leg was broken.
At the first sound of sirens and sight of flashing lights, many neighbors flooded into the street. The ambulance and EMTs pulled into our driveway and promptly got to work. They splinted the lower half of Timmy’s body and moved him onto a stretcher.
A nurse neighbor approached me and offered to call the surgeon she worked with to meet us in the ER. Gratefully, we said yes. Timmy was loaded into the ambulance. We followed in the car.
The ride was a short one and the surgeon was waiting for us. Technicians whisked our frightened seven-year-old off to x-ray, George and I trailed alongside the litter, holding his hand. Minutes later I stood next to the doctor as we looked at the films. “A spiral fracture of the femur is serious business.” I could see exactly what he meant. There were a good three inches between the ends of the broken bones.
I faced the doctor. “What does this mean as far as treatment and hospitalization?”
“He’ll need a pin in his leg then two weeks in traction. When the bones are aligned I’d put him in a hip spica cast.”
“It’s a little smaller than a full body cast, starting just under his rib cage extending to his toes on the fractured leg and to his knee on the uninjured one. A stabilizing bar will be attached as part of the cast to keep his legs in alignment.”
I felt weak in the knees and my mind was racing. I was in my first full year of nursing school twenty-six miles away. The only prayer I had of staying in school was to have Timmy transferred to an orthopedic specialist at the hospital in which I was doing my training. I could stay with him when I wasn’t in class and do my homework in his room and spend nights in the nurse’s residence. The surgeon respected my wishes and gave the order for the transfer.
That short term plan would suffice as long as he was hospitalized, but what would we do when he was discharged in that hip spica thing? George calmly reassured me we’d take one day at a time.
As soon as our parents heard what happened they said, “What do you need? And how soon do you need us to come.” We were relieved at their generous offer to help and set up a tentative schedule, to be firmed up as soon as we had a discharge date.
Two weeks later, we were given instructions for home care: two people had to turn him every two hours because he was no longer a featherweight little boy, but a large bulky plaster boy. At all costs, we could not jostle the metal skeletal pin apparatus protruding from the cast. We had to make sure he was adequately hydrated to help prevent blood clots due to his inactivity. He had cut-outs in the cast to allow for bodily functions using a bedpan and a urinal. We borrowed a mechanic’s creeper so we could place him on his stomach to play. Elevated on pillows to keep the metal apparatus from touching the floor, it was easy for him to pull himself around on the ball bearing casters while he maneuvered his little cars and army men. We alternated him between a sofa bed downstairs during the day and his own bed at night.
Our parents lived with us and cared for Timmy for three weeks. Everyone had the tutorial on how to care for the boy in the cast. George came home for long lunches to pitch in. However, weeks loomed ahead where we had no help.
When our wonderful neighbors heard there was a possibility I’d have to leave school to take care of Timmy, one, in particular, became a lifesaver setting up a schedule of volunteers to help during the work week. A nurse herself, Lynne was eager to assist. She was a Godsend. Words can never express how grateful we were for her help. She brought a red stake body wagon which was padded with many pillows so she could pull Timmy around the neighborhood on nice days. She set up a chaise lounge in the shade of the front porch with, you guessed it, lots of pillows, and Tim would color or read books.
For three weeks my neighbors covered Monday through Friday so I didn’t have to take a leave of absence from school. My heart burst with thankfulness for their sacrifice and kindness.
After six weeks in the cast, Timmy was admitted to the hospital to have the contraption removed and begin physical therapy to learn to walk all over again. I stayed in the nurses’ residence until he came home using a tiny walker. He was not allowed back to school until he could manage walking with crutches. When that goal was reached, George drove him to school in the morning and Lynne picked him up in the afternoon. Both the kids got home about the same time and Margie supervised her little brother until I got home at four PM. It was a team effort.
One afternoon in the first week of December, three months to the day after the accident, I came through the door to see my two beautiful children sitting at the table having an after school snack. “We have a surprise for you, Mom. Close your eyes.”
“Okay, they’re closed.”
Several seconds passed. “Open your eyes now.”
I opened my eyes to see both kids grinning from ear to ear. Timmy was standing unassisted and slowly walked toward me. I began to cry as he reached out his arms for the best hug ever.
Three years later, I graduated from nursing school, having made the Dean’s list six times. It humbles me to know my achievement would not have been possible without the kindness and sacrifice of family and friends to get us through a most difficult time.
Chicken Soup for the Soul—My Kind of America, August 2017, 240
Why do nurses need to publish our stories?
Nancy: As helpers, we know that there is more than one way to heal the body, mind, and soul. In writing fiction, we entertain while providing information and giving the reader a chance to escape reality – temporarily. Non-fiction can be instructive, informative, and educational in a private non-threatening way. Nurses on the job are creative, improvisational, and innovative, not only caregivers. Nurses are often underestimated but everyone knows that it is the nurse who is with the patient for 8 – 12 hours a day, not the doctors. The nurse is the patient advocate, she is the communicator of the patient’s condition while under her care, she is the liaison between the doctor and the patient. She is the glue that holds the entire hospital system together. If a nurse also has a penchant to write, those qualities come through onto the page.
What has nursing done for you?
Nancy: Nursing has enriched my life beyond measure. I returned to University 17 years after I studied the first time. At the age of 35, I was the oldest in my nursing class. It was the hardest 4 years of my life but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I graduated the spring before my 40th birthday and watched as my family cried when I walked across the stage to accept my diploma. Non-traditional students, that’s what they called us, are typically more motivated and focused in their studies and on each clinical rotation and that was true for me. As a well-educated nurse, my basic knowledge and ability to reason have never left me. Nursing is like the mafia, I can’t get out even in retirement because family and friends always ask my opinion on health-related issues. I’m always having to palpate bumps and lumps and looking at spots and rashes. My stock advice is usually, “I think you should see your doctor” or “put some calamine lotion on that poison ivy.”