Nursing in the Workplace, in the Family, in the Ward: WHO Year of the Nurse and the Midwife

My first encounter with nurses occurred literally by accident following a close encounter with a plate glass window.

It was September 1972, the day before the first day of 5th grade.  My friend Josephine’s mother asked her to get some dough from the Italian bakery a few blocks away.  We hopped on my bicycle, with the banana seat made for two, and pedaled over.  She went inside and I waited outside on the bicycle.

I could barely touch the ground while sitting on the seat, so I leaned against the bakery window to steady myself.  The window shattered, gashing my left wrist in the process.  I can still see Josephine inside the store amid the shards of glass, and I on the outside bleeding from my arm, both of us too stunned to speak. 

The mailman from the Post Office next door came running to my aid.  He whipped out his handkerchief, wrapped it around my arm while simultaneously carrying me into the middle of the street.  He tucked me under one arm while he stopped traffic with the other.    

Lucky for me, the first car he stopped had three nursing students who were willing and able to help.  They sped me to the local emergency room, passing my house on the way.  I had suffered a severe laceration of my wrist with nerve damage.  I had surgery the following day, and a second surgery in November to innervate my thumb.   From September to December I was in and out of the surgeon’s office for follow up.  The appointments for the suture removal were traumatic.  My arm had been bandaged for so long, that any contact with the skin in the surgical area was exquisitely painful.  Barbara, the RN in the surgeon’s office was tender and kind to me through all the appointments, despite my crying and wincing as each suture was removed.  There were 60 sutures. I counted them. We saw a lot of each other during those few months.

This is a picture my sister sent to me while I was recovering from surgery and she was away at college.

I became an RN in 1983.

I often wonder if I would have considered nursing if not for the accident.  It profoundly influenced my life.  I had an inside look at hospitals and doctor’s offices and relationships between medical professionals.  Of course, at the time I didn’t see it as clearly as I do in retrospect. 

 I’ve known so many nurses.  As a young woman, I looked up to the older nurses who had years of experience.  Now I have become the older nurse that others look up to.  

One highlight of my career was working in the Pediatric HIV clinic in the ’90s.  I worked in a center that conducted clinical trials.  I saw children suffer and die and then I saw children live.   When I first started there were no drugs approved for children with HIV.  In just a few years, four drugs were approved for children based in part of the work we were doing.   I cannot adequately explain the joy in seeing these drugs become FDA-approved and seeing children begin to thrive, while living with HIV. 

Another highlight was working closely with a renowned oncologist caring for a population of people with a rare cancer.  We were one of the few centers in the US that specialized in this area.   During those 15 years I had deep and meaningful relationships with my patients and their families.   I saw them often, month after month, year after year.   That is what drew me to oncology and keeps me there today – the relationships with people.  It is the hope that can be offered despite the sometimes-dire circumstances.  Pretenses fall away. It is real. It is genuine.  

When one is a nurse, the education and training carry over to one’s home life.   There are phone calls about rashes or symptoms.  “What do you think?”  You become privy to serious illnesses in your friends or family.  There are neighbors who knock on your door at odd hours when their child is sick, wondering if they should take them to the hospital.  

I remember sitting with an elderly neighbor as we waited for the ambulance to transport her to the inpatient hospice facility.  She held my hand and asked me if she were dying.  I wondered what to say.  I told her “Yes, you are dying, but not today…probably within a few days though.”  “Oh” she said.  “Thank you, I just wanted to know what was happening.”  She died later that week.  I’m grateful I told her the truth.  It seemed to ease her mind. 

My mother’s wish was to die at home, following her decision to stop dialysis.  My siblings were all willing to make this happen regardless of whether I was a nurse.  It was quite an intense experience. There were moments when we might have called 911 and taken her to the hospital. Together we were able to stay calm and keep her at home.   I’m grateful my training and experience helped my own mother.

As a member of the CJCLDS and a nurse, I’ve been called upon to assist ward members who are experiencing cancer and other serious illnesses.  I’ve talked with them about the diagnostic work up, the chemotherapy, surgery or radiation plan.  I’ve accompanied them to doctor’s appointments. I’ve sat with them in their homes, in their cars and in the Emergency Room.  I’ve rejoiced with them when the biopsy results were negative and cried when the news was worse.  I’ve sat with them as they died.   I’m grateful that my professional experience could carry over into my ward family.  I consider this the highest, most Godly ministry I have ever offered as a member of the church. 

When I graduated from High School, my best friend confronted me, disappointed that I was pursuing a nursing degree rather than pre-med.  She had obviously given some thought to my college major and felt the need to address it with me.  I was momentarily speechless, deeply touched that she cared enough about me to flush out my decision to her satisfaction. 

I’ve had a wonderful career.  I’ve worked with fabulous colleagues over these past 37 years.  I’ve been in the thick of exciting breakthroughs, published papers, presented at conferences, cleaned up vomit, administered chemotherapy and blood transfusions, held hands with the scared, joked with the playful and mourned with those who mourn.  I think about my patients from years ago and the ones from yesterday.  Each has taught me how to be human, how to be kind, how to be smart, how to be resourceful, and how to be hopeful.

It was the right choice for me.  

Allemande Left

Allemande Left lives in the eastern US with her guitar-strumming husband. Allemande Left refers to the beginning steps in a square dance. Dancers turn to their corner partner, clasp left hands as they glide past each other, then clasp right hands with the next person as they weave through the square of dancers--half going clockwise and half counterclockwise. It is a way to loosen up and meet the other dancers. As the caller sings, "Allemande Left and Away We Go."

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7 Responses

  1. mrskandmrsa says:

    So any people wonder, “Did my life make a difference?” You needn’t wonder. You did. You do.

  2. Caroline says:

    Allemande Left, this is holy work you are doing. What a tremendous thing to be able to look back at your career and see so many moments of connection, of help, of healing, of compassion. Makes me wish I had gone into nursing!

  3. spunky says:

    Allemande Left, this is absolutely beautiful. I have loved reading everyone’s experiences in this series, including your’s. I loved learning that it is empowering to know when you are dying. I am so glad that you were there to be honest with your elderly neighbour.

    When I read about your answering the door and responding to all sorts of questions, I remembered my own childhood, where my mother’s visiting teaching companion, a nurse, advised her to not take me to a hospital for stitches, because my knew was going to be ok. (I still have a killer scar). But mostly, your post made me feel safe. Just the way a nurse does– nurses are loving people. No judgement, no pretenses– just care and love.

    I am so glad to have you in my life, and am grateful that you have shared your profession and passion with us. Many thanks.

  4. Allemande Left says:

    Thank you for your comments!

  5. So many touching experiences. I know you have written about your experience with patients with HIV here before and I have always loved hearing about your work.

  6. Emily Clyde Curtis says:

    It’s funny. I have a brother who is a doctor. I was so excited for my brother to become a doctor so I could ask him questions, but honestly, most of my questions are about how to make me or my family more comfortable…my nurse friends are more knowledgeable about things like a heated blanket and also, my nurse friends never seem to flinch when I ask about an oozing rash or describe someone’s stool. Thank you for sharing your experiences here.

  7. Heather says:

    Oh this was wonderful!! Please make sure to preserve this for your kids & grandkids as it is such an insightful retrospective of your journey as a nurse. I loved all of it, but am most impressed by your generous reaction to your high school friend getting upset. You are a kind and wise soul.

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