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She’s a nurse—she’ll know

By Jefferson Weaver

Let me preface this by saying I have nothing but respect for doctors.

It takes incredible fortitude to study for years, then go into a line of work where lawyers and the intricate vagaries of the human wait hungrily around every turn.

I’ve always been blessed with good doctors – the late Charlotte and Milton Levine and “Dr. Larry” among them. I would fight to the very gates of hell for Bruce Williams. But behind every doctor, good, bad or indifferent, whether he or she has a God-given instinct for care or thinks the word physician is synonymous with God – behind every MD of any kind is a nurse.

I’ve been paying more attention to nurses lately; not just because the first two folks stricken with Ebola on American soil were nurses, but because several folks close to me are fighting their way through nursing school. My beautiful sister-in-law Callie, and my sister in Christ, Kelly Robeson, are just a few of those folks I know who are striving for the title of LPN or RN, amongst others. Lest you think I’m sexist, every male nurse I know is just as dedicated. There are just fewer of them. I think men generally aren’t as patient as women.

Nurses have the nasty jobs; they watch the patients hour after hour. They get to know the families much more intimately than even the best doctors, since doctors never seem to have the time needed to reassure a patient and their nervous relatives. We see fewer doctors, and need more nurses, what with the befuddling changes taking place in the medical profession (the reasons are a column for another day, and in my opinion, the obvious cause is but one problem.) One particular hospital visit with my dad sticks out in my mind.

The winter night was bitterly cold, and they had rushed the Old Man to the hospital via ambulance. Mother rode with Miss Rhonda, Brother Mike and me.

The emergency room was bedlam, with a side order of chaos. Some sort of respiratory virus was making the rounds, hand in hand with a flu bug, so something like 300 sick kids and their worried parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and next door neighbors were in the waiting room. A bad wreck out on the highway had brought a similar population explosion to the hospital. People turned the televisions up louder and louder, so people, babies and police officers kept speaking louder and louder in at least two different languages. On top of that, the ER smelled like an ER on a busy Saturday night.

The lady at the information desk was missing, and the ladies at the admissions desk were swamped. We needed to tell someone we were there for my dad, but the pandemonium of the place ensured there was no way to tell the time, much less ask about a particular patient.

My mother nodded toward a tall, cool, pretty blonde lady with a clipboard.

“She’s a nurse,” Mother said. “She’ll know.”

Dressed in blue scrubs, with just a hint of makeup and an ever-present yet tired smile, the nurse did indeed know where they’d taken my father. She took Miss Lois’ hand, smiled brightly and sweetly at my worried brother, and promised us she’d be back for the rest of the family as soon as possible.

In the midst of the hysteria of sick and hurt people, the nurse – whose name, I sadly cannot recall – drew the frightened and worried like the proverbial flame draws the moth. Instead of getting burned, however, she brought some reassurance to everyone she helped. I later told the CEO of the hospital about her – thankfully, I remembered her name back then – and he told me in quite honesty that he’d never met her, but had heard her name under similar circumstances a number of times. Despite the fact that what few doctors I have personally had to work with have been excellent, it’s still the nurses I look to if I need something translated into English. During my own brief hospitalization years ago – hopefully and prayerfully the only time I’ll ever have to spend the night in such a place – I saw a doctor precisely once. Yes, he was good, yes, he was polite and professional, and yes, he was a Christian, but I saw him once in three days, the first one and a half of which involved the most excruciating pain I have yet to suffer.

I only saw that one doctor, once, for a bare few minutes – but nearly every hour, there was a nurse or nurse’s aide who quietly checked on me, or cajoled me into taking more medicine when I was being proud or paranoid about that sweet kiss of Mother Morphine. The nurses made sure I could have real coffee, not the over priced stained water from the snack bar, or worse still, the stuff that may have been walked past an empty coffee pot once, but only while carefully shielded.

It was a nurse who comforted my brother when our dad died, and a nurse that encompassed all of us when Miss Lois went on home. It was a nurse who took away even my slightest doubt the one and only time I’ve ever had surgery. It was a nurse who called me after a scandal years ago, where a doctor was arrested and a couple of other nurses discharged. The woman who called me was embarrassed – she loved her job, and wanted to make sure I understood her entire profession should not be judged by a few bad apples.

We need doctors; we need surgeons, and specialists, and internists, and all the other kinds of –ists.

But when folks are hurting, sick or frightened, and don’t know what to do – they need to find that calm lady with the ever-so-slight smile standing amidst the chaos, and simply ask the nurse — because she’ll know.

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