The Heart of a Nurse

I love nurses.  They are remarkable people who perform a critical job. They are the foot soldiers of medicine without whom healthcare would not move forward.  I place nurses on a sky-high pedestal and can never thank them enough.

On hospital rounds this week a question bloomed in my mind.  How do they do it?  I see 30 to 40 patients every day, but spend a short time with each.  My 5 to 15 minutes may be intense, but brief.  Then I stroll victorious out of the room, and finding closure, emotionally move on.  A tight temporal package.  I find relief in brevity and in the balance of numbers.

Often nurses do not get to leave. They spend all day with a sick, frightened, anxious patient and family, often with little break.  8 – 12 – 16 hours under the Klieg lamp.  I do not know if I could do it.   I had to find out how they thrive in the care caldron. Here is my nurses’ survival survey.

The nurses I asked felt that treating their patients with compassion and skill was their duty.  This group of women and men cope partly because they believe their craft is vital, necessary and an obligation. For many, their work is not employment, but a calling. Given such a charge, they feel they have no choice but to persevere.

Nurses find personal comfort in communion.  As contradictory as it may seem, they seek a path through the most difficult day by drawing closer to patient and family.  By understanding suffering, nurses find emotional perspective.  Self-healing through empathy.  A lesson for us all.

Quite a few exercise in their off hours. Many lean on their families.  Some drink wine.  There is a lot of “crazy insane” humor.  One unique coping method is the nurse who as a semi-professional boxer gets relief through the high impact confrontation of the ring.

For some, personal faith guides through nursing’s challenge.   Spirituality gives them direction and purpose.  Nearing exhaustion, there is comfort, hope and strength in prayer.

Of course, at times it is almost too much.  Then nurses spell each other, rotating day-to-day, on and off the most difficult cases.  It seems to me this speaks to their professionalism and teamwork, spelling each other during hard times. Thus, even the most demanding patient can have fresh help and support.

Occasionally, it does get to this men and women.  Then, they remember their duty and ”suck it up.”  In those times, they remind themselves that it could be them on the other side of the bed rails.  Then they push through, awaiting the end of their shift.

Nursing is an emotionally and physically draining job.  They are our saviors. “I try to get to know them, the patients and families. I do not want them to be just a body in a bed. Feeling compassion and love, understanding their suffering, makes it easier.”  I suppose that is true.  But, then with a gentle half smile, she started to cry.


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