As the dark haired nurse with the southern drawl was herding my dad and Matt out of the room she flipped on a flat screen TV in the corner. Walking through the doorway, she issued one last order over her shoulder “Make sure to watch the video! Important information and also good for a giggle.” Once I was in costume my mom and I settled in to watch the PSA that was now playing generic background music from the 80s as the intro began. It was a 15 minute segment about the dangers of trying to get out of bed on your own to go to the john. I must say the cinematography was impeccable. It was the director’s cut of the “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercials. Dark-haired nurse with a southern drawl was right, it was pretty good for a giggle.
After the screen faded to black my mom and I sat and waited for the boys to return. Eventually they did and then it was time to wait some more. A new nurse, much older, with a no nonsense attitude came in and planted an IV line in my arm. I complimented her on the “good stick” and she nodded at me seriously, “I’m the best in the unit.”
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of an IV it is much different from the booster shot you get at your GP’s office. The needle isn’t really a needle it’s much bigger and hollow. The shape reminds me of PVC pipe which is cut at an angle and feels very similar as it goes into your arm if you have an uncertain or unsteady hand to guide it.
I’ve decided that nurses are a lot like bartenders, you either have “it” or you don’t. You need that confidence to be able to keep a conversation going with a complete stranger while you perform a task that requires deft coordination and you need to do it without letting them see you sweat. The best nurses I have met have a certain swagger about them. They are congenial on the surface but behind their questions about your hometown and your family they are quietly calculating your BP and heart rate, when your next dose of pain meds should be, looking over your dressings to see if they need to be changed, comparing fluid in to fluid out of your body to make sure your kidneys are functioning correctly, and a multitude of other things. Not to mention nurses do not bat an eye at things like bedpans or blood. I have only ever seen one person stand up to my Dad when he is in overprotective mode and not back down. This woman is an ICU nurse at Mayo. During my recovery after my second surgery she was working my floor on night shift. I jokingly told her that my dad would be here soon and post up sentinel on the barca lounger next to my bed where he would stay until morning, watch Duck Dynasty, and not to worry we were not taking chainsaws to the walls that was just him snoring.
I was extremely surprised later when my mom decided to head back to the hotel for the night that my dad kissed me on the forehead and left with her. I would not find this out until months after, but evidently Nurse Heidi had met my family at the elevator, arms crossed when they had come up to see me. She informed my father that I needed to rest and that he would be resting comfortably in the hotel across the street that evening. Not at my bedside. That was her job and she had been doing it successfully for 20 years thank you very much. This woman could not have been much taller than 5 feet or weighed more than a buck ten. My dad is 6 foot 4 and considerably intimidating when he sets his jaw and gives you what I called in my high school days “the stare.” Evidently she didn’t even flinch. And would not move to let my family see me until he agreed. While I love my dad, my second surgery at Mayo was considerably more painful than the first. It was nice to have some privacy and control of the remote that night while I battled through the pain. You don’t want the people that you love to see you struggle like that. Nurse Heidi knew this so she volunteered to be the bad guy. What this woman did for me was not medical in any way but it was a necessary part of my care.
I am a firm believer in the idea that it is nurses who are crucial to survival for anyone who is seriously ill. Surgeons may save your life in the short term. Cutting you open and then sewing you back together. But after the carnage of the operating room, it is your nurses who get you through the night.