The odd behavior of a nurse
She was always giving, even when you thought she wasn’t. Her needs were secondary to the world’s needs. Children felt comforted by her touch, mothers leaned on her for guidance, fathers cried in front of her and sisters shared forgotten stories of laughter and tears. They trusted her, my mother, the nurse. A seemingly complete stranger who didn’t just open her heart, but gave it time and time again to anyone who needed it.
I never understood her completely. I didn’t understand why she plastered every new car with “Nurses do it better” stickers. Why she found it a necessity to help every injured person we came across, even when paramedics where already present. And why she seemed to risk her life repeatedly to help people she didn’t even know. Her behavior seemed insane and naive to me.
It was only at 55, when she had been diagnosed with cancer, that her odd behavior started making sense. Halfway through a double shift she had been working because her unit was understaffed that day, she collapsed in pain. Her colleagues, who were also her best friends, forced her to get tested. She had advanced stomach cancer that had already spread to her bones, and even though we didn’t know it at the time, in less than three months she would be taken from us.
It was on her deathbed that her life outside of her family started making sense to me. The nurses who took care of her seemed rattled to see one of their kind on the opposite side, only because they saw a bit of themselves in my mother. They asked me questions and I responded. “Yes, she ate on the run, slept weird hours and after taking care of family, many times the only thing she wanted to do was sleep because she was extremely exhausted.” When I recanted our family story, they always sheepishly nodded as though it was more than just acknowledgment of what I was saying. I was also describing their lives in detail.
Even then, my mother felt an obligation to her colleagues and made sure to train me on simple things that could help reduce their workload. It didn’t seem like much, but the nurses seemed extremely grateful for every little bit. They communicated with my mother in what seemed to me a secret language, and acted exactly like her. Day in and day out they gave 100 percent of themselves and asked for nothing in return.
During the month before she died, I spent every waking moment with her at the hospital. I saw families gathered in the lounge suffering in silence, volunteers who served as the only companionship to many patients on the brink of death, doctors who briefly appeared at dawn, case workers who seemed emotionally burdened and nurses who filled EVERY void in between, 24 hours a day, regardless of how much or how little support they had. No wonder my mother was who she was—she didn’t have a choice.
This is what I’ve discovered: To be a good nurse, you need to have a big heart, a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor to ride those moments that seem dark and impossible for both you and the families that rely on you. You can’t leave your work at work, but you wouldn’t want to. Being a beacon of compassion for humanity is your reward, and one that you embrace wholeheartedly because you see the world both at its worst and its best, and you still manage to love it unconditionally.
Submitted by Sandra Ordonez.