The Year of the Nurse: A Tribute

What can I say in honor of my fellow nurses that hasn’t already been said? I wrote this for my team in particular at our pediatric hospital, but without doubt the heart of this applies to nurses everywhere.

I wish I could tell you how they show up to work each day. They’re my friends, I know some of their personal burdens and stressors, but they show up ready to give the entire next 12 hours completely to the care of others – namely sick kids and their grieving families.

I wish I could tell you how they start their work day, wiping down their stations because they’re all too aware of the bacteria and viruses that have landed their patients critically ill in an ICU. They see the intubated, septic patient who succumbed to that virus and so they religiously wipe down every surface they’ll be touching as best as they can… so they don’t pick up that same virus themselves or take it home to their loved ones.

I wish I could tell you how they walk into their patient rooms, minds full of all the details that need to be tended to for patient care, all the specifics of how to administer meds safely, all the awareness of how that particular patient and family are struggling emotionally and psychologically. They walk into their patient rooms and know they have to be the therapeutic person of focus and calm, despite the storms going on in their minds.

I wish I could tell you how they walk back and forth on their feet, getting supplies, getting meds, running to codes, transporting patients and all their lines, tubes, cables and pumps to emergency MRIs, hoisting patients, turning patients, holding their breath in case their patient is too unstable to tolerate such movements.

I wish I could tell you how they come up with the most ridiculous songs, stories, innovations, costumes, and setups to bring some sense of normalcy to a child whose hospitalized life is anything but normal, to bring a sense of innocence and safety and joy to a child who has become terrified of nurses associated with scary masks, gowns and sometimes needles.

I wish I could tell you how they stand at the bedside of patients taking their last breath, watching the mysterious, sobering, sometimes horrifying ways life can exit from a person. I wish I could tell you what their hearts bear in those sacred moments, but how they defer their own gutwrenching grief because they know even then, it’s still not about them, it’s about keeping the parent from fainting and helping the parent transition to the final goodbye.

I wish I could tell you how they go home, weary and worn, minds and hearts and feet still swollen from the day’s work, the day’s care… 

only to know that tomorrow, they will come back and do it all over again. Whether it’s a coronavirus pandemic or not, they will come back and do it again.

Because this is what we do. We are nurses. It is National Nurses Week. It is Year of the Nurse.

Nurses Week blog post for American Journal of Nursing

Happy Nurses Week to all of my fellow nurses who give us, according to this year’s theme, “4 Million Reasons to Celebrate.”

If we’re honest though, we can at times struggle with our profession as much as (or sometimes more than) we feel we love and celebrate what we do.

In my Nurses Week blog post for American Journal of Nursing, I write about what I hear so many nurses say they long for. “We want to advocate for our patients’ rights, not violate them. We want to connect, and not just function. We want to heal, even at our patients’ end of life, and not harm.”

You can read the entire blog post here. I am longing for all of us both individually and collectively to find enduring meaning in this work we do.

God’s Blessing to the Impure of Heart

It is the tail end of Nurses’ Week around the country, and what a wonderful week it has been. All around the country, all throughout the hospital, and throughout our unit, people have recognized that,

“To do what nobody else will do, a way that nobody else can do, in spite of all we go through; is to be a nurse.” – Rawsi Williams

Our hospital holds an essay contest for Nurses’ Week each year, and this year’s topic was, “Describe a Moment When You Knew You Made a Difference.” Friends encouraged me to submit an entry, and I was excited to do so. People tell me I am a good writer. They tell me they are encouraged through it. The honest truth is, I find writing to be wonderfully cathartic, and so I write, in some (good) ways, for me. The honest truth is also that my ego revels in the fact that others enjoy – and give some praise to – my writing. And so I write, in some (not so good) ways, for me. It’s true, we ought to acknowledge the talents with which God has indeed graciously gifted us. But oh how our egos love to rise, and so quickly, so easily.

One physician stood at the front of the conference room and read the third-place essay. It was wonderful, and it was not mine. Another physician read the second-place essay. It was even more wonderful, and it was not mine. My heart pounded, and my ego stood on its toes, trying to peer over the sheet of paper that the final physician held in his hands, to confirm if that first-place essay was the one with my name on it. He read the first two lines, and it took that many seconds for me to realize, I hadn’t won. I hadn’t even placed.

The first-place story was remarkably special, incredibly powerful. Objectively speaking, I knew it merited its place, as the essay spoke to the beauty of nursing at its absolute finest. Everyone around me was moved to tears, but my eyes were shamefully dry. I was honestly trying to be present with the story as it unfolded in the doctor’s reading. But I was expending too much energy internally mourning my personal loss, to have enough emotional reserve to give to this beautifully moving story. It took an embarrassing amount of time and effort for me to get over myself.

The duplicity of my motivation for entering this essay contest was brought into a glaring light. Here was a room full of people, an entire nation spending an entire week, celebrating the collective story that nurses have to tell about what God-given compassion looks like through their hearts and hands. I, however, missed out a bit on the honor and joy of this greater story, because my compassion was focused on me, myself, and I for just a little too long that day.

Encouragement from other people can of course be good to a certain degree. Humble pie from time to time, however, is necessary and best, as it brings impurity of heart to the surface and burns it away. This refining is God’s blessing, God’s gift, to help my impure heart experience a deeper, purer joy in the bigger picture of what He is doing every day through nurses everywhere.