Through my 30 year journey as caregiver, I’ve met and worked with hundreds of nurses. I’ve encountered nurses from every type of faith and from nearly every ethnicity— as well as all age groups such as those with fresh student patches on their uniforms to veteran nurses who still liked to wear the starched caps that now seem extinct. While so many of these individuals saw me at my worst (and sometimes my best), I also witnessed things about them that many often miss.
With tears in her eyes, I remember praying with one of my wife’s nurses who “got a stick” while treating a patient in the neighboring room. Following the protocol, she tried to remain positive, but the fear remained evident as she waited for news regarding a blood test. (We were all relieved to hear a good report!)
Three nurses once helped me keep my wife safely in bed while she experienced a gran mal seizure in the middle of the night. Following a messy and horrifying event, I watched with gratitude as they cleaned her, changed her gown, and one even gently brushed her hair.
Late one night while lying in a cot next to my wife, I quietly listened to Judy, a drill sergeant of a nurse who had clearly spent a lifetime smoking—as she held Gracie’s hand and prayed with her during a particularly brutal stretch. In a voice so husky it could pull a dog sled, I heard such tenderness and compassion for my wife—that my own eyes filled with tears.
Patrick, a former US Marine medic, often helped me lift Gracie while her legs were in traction, as well as years later following the amputation of both of her legs. When Gracie once went into respiratory arrest, I remained calm and quickly got the right personnel into the room. Later, when everything returned to a calmer environment, Patrick showed up beaming with pride and camaraderie—and put his arm around me and said, “You’re one us, now!’
During what felt like endless nights in intensive care, Ray seemed to be the only one who could help Gracie stay calm as the narcotics merely dimmed the pain while making her itch so bad that she clawed herself until she bled.
When we had a three-month stretch following one brutal event, Gracie had to remain nearly flat on her back for the whole time. Many of the nurses came through and asked Gracie to pray for them as they struggled with marriages and other painful issues themselves.
So many faces, so many compassionate hands on my shoulders. Over the decades, nurses have taught me how to give injections, change dressings, and so many other things involved in caring for someone with chronic medical issues. Some were gentle, others abrasive, still others often acted detached as a form of self-preservation. Yet, I learned from them all.
Surgical nurses, floor nurses, office nurses—each encounter has served as a teachable moment to learn more of these extraordinary women and men who do an extremely important, but often thankless job. They choose a job that usually demands more than they have, yet they bravely soldier on.
I strongly encourage my fellow caregivers to get to know the nurses they meet along the journey. Some may be aloof and even unfriendly at times, but don’t let that be a deterrent. We caregivers understand long days and stressful conditions—and we clearly understand how our personalities can be a bit prickly at times. Just as caregivers want to be seen and appreciated for what we do, nurses also feel grateful when noticed and treated with kindness.
Serving as a caregiver can be a long and lonely journey. Sometimes the friend you meet along the way can be as close as the one standing beside you—helping you care for the one you dearly love.