Here's to the Nurses

May 8, 2014, 10:55 AM, Posted by

Two people, one elderly, one younger, holding hands.

One evening several years ago, as my grandmother suffered through a painful end to her long life, our family gathered around her bedside at a hospital in South Jersey. She had been unconscious most of the day, but various family members, including my grandfather—her husband of six decades—had kept vigil at her bedside because they wanted to be with her in her last moments.

I was the last to arrive.

Shortly after I joined my family in the room, her physician showed up, checked her charts, and pronounced her “pretty much fine under the circumstances.” Then the doctor hurried off to complete his rounds.

My weary family, girding for the possibility of another long night at the hospital, decided to go downstairs for a bite to eat and some coffee. Because I had just arrived, I wanted some time alone with my grandmother, so I stayed behind in the room.

Minutes later, the nurse who had been caring for her most of the day came in to check on her. She noted my grandmother’s extremely labored breathing, and some other details. She asked where the rest of my family had gone. I told her that after hearing from the doctor, they had gone downstairs for some sustenance.

She said to me, “I’m not sure this is the best time for them to be out of the room.”

I replied, “Yeah, but the doctor said ...”

The nurse cut me off, put both hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said: “You need to go downstairs and get your family right now.”

By the time I rounded everyone up and returned to the room, my grandmother was not so much breathing, but gasping. The sheets over her frail frame rose and fell sharply with each jagged breath.

My grandfather returned to the room, kissed her on the head, whispered something to her, held her hand, and sat down on the bed.

The sheets rose and fell ... rose and fell ... rose and fell ... and then they stopped—less than a minute after my family had reassembled.

More than a decade has passed, and I don’t remember the name of that special nurse, but her absolute insistence on the truth allowed my family to be with my grandmother during her very last moments.

It was a simple, routine act for an experienced nurse. But it made me understand the critically important, human role that nurses play for all of us eventually. It is why I always make a point to thank nurses for all they do to make the difficult times just a little easier to manage.

So if you come across a nurse this week—National Nurses Week—be sure to tell them your story of how a nurse affected you. Make sure nurses know how much their profession means to all of our lives. And rest easier knowing that one day, when your family faces a health care challenge, there is a cadre of caring men and women who will look out for patients’ needs and best interests, no matter what.