This was awesome. So heart warming to hear the appreciation of our work from the one person’s opinion that matters the most.
I love and admire nurses.
Oncology nurses and ostomy nurses. Radiation nurses and post-op nurses. And those essential, always-there-when-you-need-them, round-the-clock nurses. (And though most of my experience is with female nurses, I admire male nurses, too.)
Now this isn’t some abstract infatuation, based on seeing “South Pacific” one too many times. I’ve been hospitalized six times in my life, and the medical personnel I came to know best — and like best — were the nurses.
To generalize: Nurses are warm, whereas doctors are cool. Nurses act like real people; doctors often act like aristocrats. Nurses look you in the eye; doctors stare slightly above and to the right of your shoulder. (Maybe they’re taught to do that in medical school?)
My most recent dependence on nurses came in 2008 and early 2009 as I was treated for an aggressive Stage 3 prostate cancer. But more about that later.
My first vivid nurse memory comes from the summer of 1970 at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire. I was 12 years old — almost 13 — and a benign tumor in my right knee needed to be cut out.
The night before surgery, a no-nonsense nurse in starchy whites strode into my room like a drill sergeant. She carried a basin of warm water, shaving cream and a razor, and I soon found out that she was a real baseball fan, a Boston Red Sox fan.
“The Sox need to trade Carl Yastrzemski,” she said as she began shaving my right leg. “They need to start dangling him … dangling him, trade him for someone like Roberto Clemente or Dick Allen.” I never even noticed the razor had planed my leg to a hairless sheen.
When I spent six weeks in the hospital in 1984 — first at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey, then at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York — some of the nurses started feeling almost like family. And, like family, nurses can sometimes be a bit too frank.
I was admitted to Englewood because of heavy bleeding from my ulcerative colitis. My hemoglobin level was 5.6 — the normal number for men (as all nurses know) is between 13 and 17 — and the admitting nurse offhandedly said, “I’ve never seen anyone alive with a hemoglobin that low.”
I thought my wife, Deb, was going to faint.
A week later I was bundled into an ambulance and packed off to Mount Sinai, where the days passed in a “Matrix”-like blur. I remember the nurses calling, “Keys!!!” and the big fist of keys zipping and zooming up and down the hall floor … the old man with a thick Yiddish accent chanting, “Noice, noice, noice!” … the nurses wrapping my arms, sore and swollen from all the IV needles, in hot towels.
Finally I had surgery to remove my ravaged colon. Post-op there are always those disorienting moments as you shake off the anesthesia. Angelic visions flutter about the bed, swabbing your forehead, slipping ice chips between parched lips, and you wonder: Heaven? Or recovery room?
“How’re you feeling, Mr. Jennings?” Recovery room – whew!
And most recently, for my prostate cancer, I was treated at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey. Except for a flip-flopping energy level, I’m doing well. Every three months, I get my PSA tested — so far, so good.
It made me smile that the nurses there called the two round, plastic drains that dangled from my side ”grenades.” And it was one of my grenades that made one young doctor understand that I was more than just another ”prostate cancer, post-op.”
I can’t recall her name, but the doctor had been told to remove my drain, my last grenade. She needed to grab it firmly, then tug. Instead, she held it tentatively, as if it were a surly garter snake, and waggled it inside my body.
It hurt. I got dizzy, nearly threw up and broke out in a cold sweat. When I told her I was going to pass out, she sheepishly went and got help.
Real help. She went and got a nurse.
Dana Jennings, an editor at The New York Times, is the author, most recently, of “What a Difference a Dog Makes: Big Lessons on Life, Love and Healing From a Small Pooch” (Doubleday, 2010).