There comes a time in most lives when a particular time of year is harder than others. For myself and the kids it is the whole month of December. For a while it was almost as if the litany of surgeries and recoveries were specially timed to coincide with Xmas holidays. Then, in the end, Lynn’s death a few short days after Xmas completed the pattern. All of us got to know the Jewish General Hospital, the Montreal General Hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Montreal Neurological Institute and the Gingras-Lindsay Hospital (the Montreal Rehabilitation Institute) all too well. We know where the vending machines are, the best places to park, which cafeterias are the best and where to steal extra blankets, wet wipes or towels when needed. There is no place in any hospital mentioned to get an extra pillow. Don’t bother looking for a pillow just buy one and bring one with.
In this era of all work all the time, the fact that nurses and orderlies are always nearby is no longer considered exceptional yet it should be remarked. It is their job to be there just as it is my job to attend computer problems but there is a qualitative difference to the jobs that makes just showing up not an option for nurses.
Make no mistake about it: doctors do not do healthcare. Doctors diagnose, cut, stitch, prescribe and move on to the next patient. Nurses do healthcare. Nurses are the closest thing a patient has to an advocate outside of a family member and they do advocate, they do care. Orderlies, more often ignored than acknowledged, do the work that no one else wants to do and that too is healthcare. Getting to the bathroom, being helped with a shower, having a bedpan changed, having a diaper changed, hair combed, face shaved, whatever it is it is about the whole person. Patients need these things these are healthcare.
At this time of year if you are in a hospital it is inevitable that you will hear someone in a patient’s family being unreasonable. I’ve been guilty of being that person and can tell you that it only seems unreasonable in retrospect. At the time of the unreasonableness it seems like you are just trying to help the one you love. I have no idea how hard it is to be on the receiving end of that unreasonableness anymore than I can fathom how hard it would be to deal with someone like me after completing a third 12 hour shift in a row. There is no good way to deal with family yet somehow nurses manage. Grief, pain, suffering, anger, contempt, sadness are all delivered by the truckload to the nurses station and they still deliver healthcare.
Lynn was always popular wherever she went and that did not change when she underwent a radical mastectomy, oophorectomy, a first brain surgery when she coded, a second and third brain surgery, two rounds of SRS and finally a long month and a half in palliative care. From start to finish her journey and fight lasted eight years. In every case the nurses and orderlies adored her but not so much me. I was that man at the nurses station asking where he could find X, or, if Y had been by, or any of a host of other questions. True I frequently brought coffee and food and was always polite and never raised my voice but I could be terribly insistent. Through it all, through eight years of my being me in hospitals all around the city nurses always tried to help or find someone who could.
If you find yourself in a hospital this December try to remember that nurses do this every day. Be polite, never ask questions at the end of shift or at beginning of shift change. If a nurse is sitting down DO NOT TALK TO HER she is catching up on paperwork that has to be done. Coffee is always welcome, go easy on the sweets. If you really want to do something special find the charge nurse and see if there is something special the nurses might like or see if you can schedule some pizza or sandwiches to be delivered to the break room.
If you are having a real issues with someone on the floor (including doctors) talk to the charge nurse first. Ninety-nine percent of the time the charge nurse will get it sorted.
Remember that when you are in the hospital visiting your loved one that nurses are in the hospital away from their loved ones caring for yours. Nurses are the care in healthcare. Treat them with the same respect you would expect as a patient.