Paying homage to the angels of mercy who are devoted to the welfare and good health of those entrusted to their care. Part II.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the doctors I have met who have provided care that is more than just practicing medicine and rises to the level of healing. This week, I write about those other health care professionals who are steadfast in their proficient treatment of patients. This includes nurses, technicians and lab workers.
As I was writing this post, I came across something known as the Florence Nightingale pledge. As you may know, Florence Nightingale was a 19th century nurse. According to the website Britannica.com: “Nightingale was a British nurse, statistician, and social reformer who was the foundational philosopher of modern nursing. Nightingale was put in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War. She spent many hours in the wards, and her night rounds giving personal care to the wounded established her image as the “Lady with the Lamp.”
Nightingale’s reputation for compassionate medical care has resulted in a pledge taken by nurses. According to Vanderbilt University, the pledge includes this declaration: “With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”
After close to six years of treatment for my heart failure, and as I witnessed the recent treatment of my mother in the hospital, I have observed numerous examples of those who are devoted to the best care for their patients. The heart failure nurses who support my cardiologist and heart failure doctor have become trusted associates on my journey through a cardiac wasteland. They make suggestions to the doctors about heart drugs that might work better for me, and they ask a number of probing heart failure questions so they can direct the doctors to my most pressing issues. Even when I am not physically at the office, they read my e-mails and always answer promptly with relevant information.
But they function as more than just a GPS system as I navigate down the heart failure road. They do much more than just listening to my symptoms and making sure prescriptions are sent forward to my health care plan. They are some of my most enthusiastic cheerleaders. They commend me on my discipline in methodically following the diet, fluid, exercise, and medication guidance. They are cheerful and smiling and focused on me during the appointment, even though I know that they must work long hours and be inundated with administrative tasks to update patient charts. They have been some of the most enthusiastic supporters of my blog, making me feel as though every word I write can be helpful and encouraging to other heart failure patients. They have even brainstormed with me as I have tried to increase readership of my blog. They have a truly special place in my heart.
When my sister and I spent days and nights on the recliner in my Mom’s hospital room, we saw so many examples of kindness and thoughtfulness from nurses and technicians working up to 12 hour shifts. They were all competent and comprehensive in their medical services, but also displayed that sincere, encouraging and affirmative bedside manner that I talked about in my previous post. Each of them possessed common sense, a flair for listening, and empathy that made even the most undignified procedures bearable for my Mom.
I remember the breathing treatment technician who told me that he had been providing respiratory and other medical services since the 1980s. He paid careful attention to all his patients. Early in his career, he had one female patient who continued to say things like “well I remember when Ulysses S. Grant was President.” Other medical professionals thought she was suffering from dementia but this technician continued to pay careful attention. Well guess what - it turns out that the woman was 105 years old and was alive when Grant was in office. The technician was appreciative of the opportunity to be talk with someone who was such a rich source of history and life lessons.
I remember when Mom was transferred from the Short Stay Unit to the Renal Care Unit. This was my first night shift in the hospital with Mom. When we reached the Renal Care Unit, a nurse came into the room and told us she would be taking care of my Mom during her shift. She reminded me of someone and it took me a while to figure out that it was one of my college roomates. This woman was very gentle, caring and quietly energetic. But the most striking aspect was her voice. Whenever she talked to me, I felt like verbal valium had been injected into my body. A peaceful calm would descend upon me. Even though I knew my Mom was very sick, I also felt that she was in good hands and everything would be okay.
I remember the lab technician who would stop by early in the morning (we’re talking 3:30 or 4:00 a.m.) to get my Mom’s blood work. I didn’t mind the early morning visits because the kidney doctor was also an early riser and needed to see the results as soon as he arrived to the hospital. She was a breath of fresh air blowing into the room while it was still dark, but brightening our outlook with her competent manner and her lovely demeanor. This is no mean feat – you try being civil, much less radiating congeniality way before the sun rises. There were even times that I saw this technician walking through the hall to visit other patients. She always recognized me and asked how my Mom was doing.
We encountered a few male nurses during Mom’s stay, and their ability to relate to a 93-year old feisty woman was astounding. For example, I remember the night my Mom kept trying to climb out of bed – and trying to convince her that she needed to stay in bed. You see, she was still way too weak to be up on her feet. If she fell again, it would exacerbate her already growing list of physical problems. Little Miss Feisty would say to me things like “ I need to get dressed to go to supper”. I could not convince her that changing to civilian clothes would not be necessary because supper was coming to her.
I knew the matter had been escalated when she put her hand down firmly on the bed, looked me straight in the eye and said “Melanie, you know that I can’t go to supper wearing this.” At that moment the male nurse walked in. Reading my mind, he said to my Mom, “The outfit you’re wearing is what they are showing this season in Milan and Paris.” I nodded vigorously – saying “Mom, he’s right. You’re ahead of the trend in that outfit. “ I sent the nurse a look of gratitude for instinctively knowing how to appeal to the former fashionista in my mother. Eventually we were able to get her to patiently wait for supper without the need for a new outfit.
When you are in the hospital, having a good rapport with the nurses is of course important to your recovery. But equally critical is the rapport that exists between the staff members. After all, it takes a team of dedicated professionals working together to put the patients on the road to recovery. I witnessed many examples of that type of team work not just between peer medical professionals, but between supervisors and the people they were training. Having been a supervisor for years, I am sensitive to signals that there may be a lack of respect or camaraderie between staff members. But I saw so many times where co-workers or subordinates complimented their peers or supervisors, or discussed their admiration for the skills of another. I also have a good BS meter, so I know when someone is blowing smoke. What I observed was genuine, heartfelt respect for each other. We had a truly gifted medical team of nurses and technicians who worked together like a well-oiled machine.
The nurses, like my heart failure nurses, were real cheerleaders for their patients and for those who surmounted major health issues. I told several of the nurses that I suffered from congestive heart failure. As we discussed my condition, I mentioned my ejection fraction of 15. I was so grateful to the nurse who said: You have an ejection fraction of 15. With your energy, you are really kicking butt! A lot of patients would just give up.” Geez, I must have sparkled for the next 5 hours, because her comment made me so proud of myself. To have someone who knew what it was like to walk in my shoes, and who recognized my diligence and determination was life-affirming. I later thanked her, saying that she could not imagine how wonderful her words had made me feel.
I remember the nurse who I talked to about my love of fashion. I told her that I had shocked a relative when I graduated from law school and said something like: You know, I have my law degree now, but I’m not sure I really want to practice law. I’ve always like fashion so maybe I’ll pursue a career related to that.” My relative looked at me like I had lost my mind. Well, as you know a saner Melanie soon prevailed and decided to practice law after all the money I had spent on the degree). The nurse told me that she had an aunt who retired from being a CPA. But she decided to go to work at Macy’s – in large part for the employee discount she could get that would help her buy some really nice outfits. It has dawned on me that the time in the hospital spent with my Mom was far less stressful than it could have been, mainly because of some very understanding nurses who just talked to you about things that seemed so normal and pleasant.
I think what impressed me most was that the nurses never complained but always had a smile and soft gentle voice when they dealt with the patients. They had to deal with incontinence, patients who could be snarky, patients who would yell out at all hours of the night because they were scared, patients who were nearing death, and many many unpleasant scenarios. But they never lost their ability to see the human, lovable side of each patient. And this demeanor stayed constant no matter now many hours worked and how tired I knew they must be.
My sister actually ran into one of the nurses in the grocery store after Mom was released from the hospital. They kind of looked at each other for a minute, made the connection and began a really great conversation. It was like old friends meeting up after years of separation. I know that I have referred at times to these nurses and technicians as angels of mercy. But isn’t it nice to know that these angels exist not only in heaven, but down here on earth where we all benefit from their compassion and expertise?
Unfortunately, my Mom passed away within two weeks of leaving the hospital and returning to the health care unit of her retirement facility. We were fortunate to have a weekend nurse who had worked with hospice patients and could skillfully, patiently and compassionately answer our questions about what was happening to our Mom as she neared her last days.
An amazing thing happened after Mom drew her last breaths and was pronounced dead. Some of the nurses and other personnel in the facility who had assisted my Mom for years stopped by to pay their respects before Mom left the facility. It was clear from their expressions and their comments that they truly enjoyed my Mom, and that like our family, they would greatly miss her. The fact that they cared enough to come and say goodbye was so comforting to us as a family.
I hope you are as fortunate as me, my Mom and my family to find caregivers who elevate care to an fine art. When you do, make sure that you express your thanks and let them know that they have made a huge difference in many lives.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.