By: Michelle Gunnin
Nurses: Walking a Fine Line
I have long admired nurses and the job they do. Our family has our own ‘medical interpreters’ built into it, and bless them, because we call every time anyone gets a scratch. Having a nurse for a sister, I know that it takes a balance of compassion and mercy, mixed with a hard nose straight shooter. It is the job of a tightrope walker, and finding the right balance of hard and soft is the key to being a good one.
As a medical chicken, nurses can make or break my day. When I had cancer, this was especially true. I know my phobia of needles is irrational fear, but they call it irrational for a reason. No one can talk you out of this kind of fear. All logic takes flight, and all the people who try to change my mind with logic are sorely disappointed when my knees begin knocking and my heart rate sky rockets. It is an involuntary response to my years of experience as a medical chicken.
Not a Great Patient
It doesn’t help that my veins are like thread, so very tiny. They are invisible, even with a tourniquet, a heating pad, and pumping my fist like a heavyweight champ. If I can convince the poor person who drew my name to use a baby needle, things usually go more smoothly. However, when getting an IV, all bets are off. It once took 6 people to get an IV started, in my ankle. The surgery was only 45 minutes, but getting that needle in took 2 hours! Baby veins don’t hold up too well under pressure, either. They roll, or collapse, or blow out. It is highly likely, that once they find one, it will not last as long as they need it to and we will have to begin all over again.
When I heard the words ‘you have cancer’ it was my worst nightmare. Yes, because ovarian and uterine cancers can kill (I had both), but more for the fact that cancer and the needles go together like peanut butter and jelly. They cannot be separated. I was afraid of the treatment as much as the disease. Chemo was brutal. Bloodwork was a fact of life. Shots between treatments happened like clockwork. Scans with high powered dye shooting in my veins were on the calendar as well. Numerous surgeries made getting an IV a regular occurrence and had those on my medical team praying they would not have to be the one to find a workable vein. A blood transfusion was an added “bonus.”
Back to the Hospital
It took a while after treatment for all the needles to subside because they track your every move for a year or two. Once I was down to a more normal schedule of checkups, I was relieved, until the cartilage in my knee seemed to dissolve. Thank you, chemotherapy. One thing I did learn in Cancerland was to not throw a fit every time someone sticks me. It does no good for anyone for me to melt down. I learned this when I had a huge melt down once at chemo. They missed my port and had to use an IV in my hand to pump the poison in. I had to move to another room as I was upsetting the other patients, because I was ugly crying and making a scene. Yikes! With the knee stuff I was back to hospitals, doctors’ offices, shots, and medical stuff, all over again.
Surgery on my meniscus was the first attempt to fix things. I arrived at the hospital trying to convince myself this would be far easier than having cancer. I was taken back to prep, without my personal support system, my husband. The nurse immediately saw my scars and asked about medical history. I told her my story and she listened. That in and of itself was amazing. Just being heard was healing to my heart. The time came for her to get the IV in and the poking began. She tried twice. She went to find someone else, who went to find someone else, and I was having flashbacks. As they dug and tried to hit pay dirt, the tears were rolling down the side of my face and pooling in my ears and on my pillow. Cancer had taught me to cry without sound.
Finding a Godsend Nurse
But this nurse… MY nurse, was holding which ever hand/arm was not being poked, and rubbing in a soothing way. I looked over at her and she was crying, with me and for me. The compassion was palatable, the mercy evident. She apologized for her tears and said she didn’t usually do this, but she hated to see me have to be hurt. I was touched. She felt what I had been through somehow and she saw ME.
She looked beyond the current surgery, and the previous illnesses, and even beyond her busy schedule for the morning. She saw what the trauma of cancer had done to me. She saw my resolve to deal with the pain in silence, by myself. She wiped the tears from my face and blotted the puddles on my pillow.
While her colleagues attempted to get the needle in someplace, she made it her mission to comfort me. It was an act of kindness I will never forget. For a moment, in a medical situation, I felt like a human being rather than simply another patient.
I felt holiness in the moment; like I was seen and cared for; like God sent her to show me he had not forgotten or abandoned me. She continued to apologize for her tears, which did not stop the whole time she was with me. She said it was like she could feel all the pain I had been through in her heart, and the tears flowed out from there. She had never had it happen like this before and she was undone by it. It moved me, calmed me, and gave me the ability to deal with my circumstances, but she was shaken.
My nurse felt it unprofessional to cry over a patient, but I felt the opposite. It was the most professional thing that had ever happened to me in an overcrowded, understaffed hospital. Click To Tweet.
Whoever You Are – Thank You
It was the most tender of moments which allowed me the space to be real, instead of putting on a mask of being fine.
My nurse would say she didn’t do anything. She would ask how sitting there watching other people hurt me was an act of kindness. But her tears over me were a healing balm, an acknowledgement of my painful path through medical minefields.
The heart of mercy she displayed made all the difference for me that morning. I only wish I had gotten her name so I could thank her and write to her superiors, but once the IV adventure was over the calming meds started immediately, and I forgot to ask.
I write this as a tribute to her, and to other nurses all over who carry compassion into the rooms they serve. You will probably never know how you affect someone who is scared and hurting, because they will forget to tell you.
But know this, you make a difference; in arm rubs, or tear wiping, or even your own emotions showing. Every move you make is an act of kindness sent from God into a moment where he is needed, in the flesh. You are his hands and feet. I must say thank you from medical chickens everywhere. We appreciate you. We love you for loving us despite our fears.