Dear doctors, love thy nurses

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A senior nurse in my hospital retired from service recently. I have known her since the infancy of my career. A gentle and loving lady, highly capable and brilliant with her patients, she was one of the most respected nurses in our Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

A few months after her retirement, I bumped into a former patient of mine who was treated for a severe lung infection a few years ago. He is currently pursuing a degree in engineering. Over a cup of coffee, he asked if I knew where the nurse who took care of him was staying. He had been to the hospital and was told of her retirement. Naturally, I was curious to know why he wanted to meet her after so many years. His answer still resonates within me.

“To thank her for being alive. She was with me the whole time I was admitted. When I was afraid, she held my hands, wiped away my tears and helped me pray. She fed me and kept me clean. She moved my body often, so I did not develop pressure sores. And never once did I see her flinch at the sight of my excrement. When my cough became chesty and I had difficultly breathing, she sucked out the secretions. When my urinary catheter hurt, she removed it and convinced the attending doctor I didn’t really need one. She was there for me all the time. And I will always be grateful to her”

I have always believed being in medicine is a calling. Doctors are trained to be kind, gentle and compassionate. We devote our time and energy to care for our patients, to give them a sense of orderliness, security and comfort to name but a few. I was wrong. I merely gave the orders. My nurses carried them out. And often they went beyond the call of duty for our patients. They breathe and bleed compassion and dedicate their lives for a single purpose. To care for the sick and ailing.

I wrote this piece so they can be heard and appreciated. And for them to know, that I am grateful. Immensely.

 

Nurses endure abuses from patients
Physical and verbal abuses from ill and confused patients are part of the nursing routine. A young nurse once mentioned that if she gets home without a stain on her scrubs, her husband would think she did not go to work and was having an affair!

I have watched nurses being slapped and kicked while they tried to restrain aggressive patients. Being spat at is common. Learning to duck while things are thrown at you is an important attribute. Patients will try to sink their teeth into someone the moment they are restrained and since the doctors only give out the orders, the nurses become the victims.

Some will miraculously escape from their restraints, confounding even the likes of Houdini and lash out if anyone comes within ’striking distance’. It’s near impossible taking their vital signs, let alone feeding them. And when you’re done with one, there will always be another.

Nurses are also forced to dance attendance to the patient’s relatives who demand explanation for a particular treatment administered by the doctors. They become abusive if they can’t meet the doctors and vent their frustrations on the nurses. They become condescending, rude and downright vulgar with their words. I remember a young couple reducing a nurse to tears, all for the sole reason their child was kept fasted prior to a surgery and then it was cancelled. It’s not her fault. I cancelled the surgery. And she bore the brunt of their anger.

And yet very few nurses actually complain. They bear no resentment towards the doctors or their patients. They swallow the pain and their pride and continue to endure. They do it best and make it look so simple. And very few of us actually realize that.

 

Nurses do the ’real’ dirty work
When I need any specimen from a patient, be it phlegm, saliva, pus, blood, urine or stool, I can always count on my nurses.

No boil is angry enough, no discharge too foul-smelling and no feces too odious for my nurses to refuse their job. They will get it done. And while constantly being exposed to health hazards.

They are my gladiators and they will wear the ’battle scars’ of their efforts albeit not too proudly on their white uniforms or scrubs till their shift is over.

Confused and demented patients often confuse a space by the window for a latrine and they can choose the most inconvenient of times to empty their bowels there. And the nurses have to clean it up, while putting on hold the passing of duty to the next shift, which by the way, rarely ends as scheduled.

And I have always wondered how they manage to have their meals after all the ’assaults to their senses’. Being a nurse is probably one of the most effective methods of losing weight! Now there’s the silver lining.

 

Nurses have great physical endurance
Nurses work on a rotation basis. They can work during the morning for a few days and revert to working in the evening for a week and then a few days of night shifts before they get a day off. The timing of their shifts is such that their sleep patterns are disturbed. When they finally get the hang of a particular shift, a new one starts.

They rarely take days off from work even if they fall ill because other nurses have to cover their shifts.  And they will have to replace it later. Shortage of nurses further compounds this problem.

Nurses have to learn to hold their bladder for a prolonged period of time, far beyond the capacity of a normal functioning human being. They learn never to give in to the excruciating pangs of hunger while being on the job. Break time is for feeding the patients and to complete their nursing report. A preterm neonate in an incubator can deteriorate within seconds the moment your back is turned. A teenager with dengue fever in shock needs constant monitoring of his fluids. An elderly man with diabetic ketoacidosis needs his insulin infusion updated so he does not go into hypoglycemia.

Constant vigilance. It becomes ingrained within the nurses. A deep-seated unshakeable belief.

 

Nurses help the doctors more than they know
Upon graduation from medical school, interns often find themselves wandering aimlessly in the hospital corridors. Do you remember who showed you the way?

Was it the consultant who was diligently preparing his case against the next legal attack a patient’s lawyer was lining up? Was it the registrar who was too busy studying for his clinical exams? Or was it the patient who made you feel like you were too young to be in the room with her?

Who stood next to you when you were too afraid to draw a patient’s blood?
Who answered ’he is old enough’ when a patient wanted to know your age?
Who helped you insert a cannula at two in the morning when you have tried a dozen times and failed?
Who gave you that pat on your back and told you ’you’ve got this’ when a patient collapsed and needed CPR?
Who made you look good in front of your consultant when you did not know the correct antibiotic for meningitis and she whispered it into your ears as she walked out of the room?
Who did all the dirty work in the labour room but allowed you to bring the baby to the mother?
Who assisted you in your first surgery with a ’malignant’ surgeon and taught you all the tricks to survive him?
Who made you the cup of coffee when you have been up for 36 hours?
Who gave you their shoulders to cry when your seniors bullied you and called you ’stupid and incapable’?

That’s right. It’s always been them.

Unfortunately, some doctors develop selective memory loss once they have found their footing. They attribute their survival in medicine to their singular efforts alone with very little help from others especially the nurses who are now beneath them.

The humble tone of their voices turn condescending. The downcast eyes become fiery. The hesitant steps move more purposeful. And their ego swells disproportionate to their actual talents. It’s the bitter truth. Fortunately, they are the select few.

And yet the nurses never leave our side.

 

Nurses have a life outside of the hospital
It is difficult to imagine having a social life once you enter the nursing profession. It is infinitely much harder if you have a family.

After her shift is over, she has to rush home and cook for her family. She has to help her children with their homework and listen to her husband complaining about her job although she pays the utility bills every month. She does the laundry and the dishes because she can’t afford a maid. She bathes the dog and feeds the cat before her head finally hits the pillow. And the next day the cycle repeats itself.

Despite their sacrifices, their work requirements and timing cause a strain in their marriage and often leads to a divorce. It must hurt when they have given everything till there’s nothing left to give, only to learn it isn’t enough.

 

It is difficult for us to fully comprehend the sacrifices nurses make on a daily basis. Gratitude alone isn’t enough. There is a beautiful quote by Rumi meant for lovers,

“You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You. Nothing seemed right. What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient. It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these. So I’ve brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me.”

There will always be dark days. But remember, it’s my turn now to be your light. Thank you for everything. Sincerely.

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37 responses to “Dear doctors, love thy nurses

  1. absolutely love your writings about a nurse’s life! =)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandra Laxmana

    Wow I am a nurse for 20 years and this write-up of yours left me speechless…thank you for taking the trouble to pen your thoughts…it’s simply beautiful and appreciate the sincerity 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this beautiful tribute!! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. People often forget that nurses are the ones that spend 12 hours a shift with the patient in hospital unlike a doctor who maybe around for 10 min. Very well written piece

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you all for your comments.

    Like

  7. Mariah Ulpah Yahya

    Thanks Mr.Dharmaraj. I appreciate your sincerity and beautiful thought about Nurses. I feel like I myself is in your story. I am a retired nurse at 68 yrs old. Happy Nurses day.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! Thank you! I can’t tell you how proud your piece made me feel to be a nursing student about to embark on that very same journey you described. You made me cry 🙂 Nurses are wonderful, amazing and very special creatures and it’s wonderful to see them recognised as being so.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A beautiful piece of writing and the truth of nurses life. I have been a nurse for four years and i am still proud to be one.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sherryn Jane Ng

    Thanks doc for writing your beautiful thought of nurses. How I wish everyone really understand life as a nurse isn’t easy.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. all nurses and doctors who read this… share it to everyone u knew =) this is the most beautiful piece describing nursing that i have read so far. its beautiful !

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I could cry over this, someone out there gets this! From all nurses everywhere suffering quietly, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you so much. To be appreciated makes one feel valued, and you sure made me feel valued today from a nurse of 40 years. Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Happy nurses week. Thank you for your the kind comments. ☺️

    Like

  15. Mary Adeyanju

    Doctors and nurses should be best of pals

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you so much doctor..really appreciating your writings about nurse’s life. People often forgets what nurses did for them…well some treats their nurses as their maid too. Once again thank you doctor.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for showing your appreciation and being mindful of how hard we all work for our patients, it is most certainly a team effort. At a time when a career change seems like the best option for balance, I am reminded of why I am so exhausted but also why I love my work.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This brought tears to my eyes! Thankyou for your beautiful words, you’ve really made me feel valued.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My mother was a staff nurse, n im touched by ur article. I am also forever indebted to the nurses who patiently taught n helped me when i first started as a houseman 10 yrs ago..Perfectly written raj.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you for your article. Dr. Dharmaraj. Perfectly written the life of the nurses since my self also be a nurse for 25 years. currently as a Nursing tutor to nurture young nurses. Before that I used to share knowledge and do the teaching for newly graduate houseman in Operation Theatre and Infection Control. Hope all of them will be like you appreciate nurses. My 3 children’s study medic ,So hope that one day when they graduate will be like you love the patient and appreciate the nurses.Working together hand in hand for better quality care and love toward human being.God bless.

    Like

  21. I personally appreciate your article for nurses and I am gratefull to the administration of the hospital where my daughter and her companions are nurses for taking care of them. May your article be a call to some administrators, immediate superiors of some nurses that they be given just compensation, worthy treatment, and respect as person and human beings. thank you so much.

    Like

  22. shanil kumar

    What a great article. I am a general practitioner. And have been practicing for many years. One thing which is very true is that nurses are not appreciated enough for the work they do. Without the nurses I worked with during my housemanship I would have never completed it. I still maintain contact with the nurses I worked with years ago. To all new doctors treat your nurses well, with dignity and respect and you will be rewarded with lifetime friendships. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Rolando A. Padre

    Again, may I print this to share to our nurses.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. absolutely amazing. well done. just today as I walked by the AnE I spotted the nurse who pretty much bullied me into inserting my first canula as a medical student and gratitude whelmed up in me. they truly are an amazing lot when they manage to fit into the Florence nightingale standard.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Wow. Thank you for writing this:)

    Liked by 1 person

  26. It was so kind of you to share these thoughts. I am a nurse and i got hard times more than the good ones most of the time. But the thoughts here in your blog and the everyday feeling of making someone feel special or cared for are the best returns of being a nurse. I may always be thinking why i choose to be one, everyday of my life. But i will always be so grateful that God made a nurse out of me. Thank you so much and God bless. Please let me share this beautiful blog with my colleagues. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Lorna Achondoa

    I am impressed by your complete understanding of what nursing profession is all about. I have been a nurse for so many years but haven’t encountered any body from the health care team/group who has this deep insight as to what is involved in this noble profession. I have even often sensed from some people that this “job” is not good enough for their children to consider. Thank you for respecting us.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. What you wrote almost brought me to tears, doc. Why, thank you! Being a nurse really is a noble calling. We need to be compassionate, patient, empathetic, careful and caring, all of these in addition to being smart, skillful, knowledgeable, quick thinker, flexible and resourceful, and also let’s not forget we need to have great stamina, good ducking and blocking techniques, strong but tender and skillful hands, and especially, the most important of all, we need to love the profession.
    This article made me even more proud of being a nurse. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  29. While this blog supports nurses it does not critically outline or discuss the myriad of technical tasks nurses perform in a complex icu or ward. This actually makes us seem more handmaiden than ever as opposed to degree and masters educated specialist nurses. just because the really important consultant or registrar is busy does not mean that nurses as the main staff in a hospital should be orienting doctors! You have demeaned us more by only selecting all the “dirty” tasks we perform. You don’t discuss the assessments of that great icu nurse of her patients and all the diagnosis she made as she was only following doctors orders. It’s no wonder administrators think nurses are replaceable with untrained staff if this is the only window in which the profession is presented. Yours sincerely.

    Like

  30. MICHAEL ERILLA, RN

    What a great writings. I love it. Reading this makes me smile & very happy. Of all our hardships, it’s very remarkable that there is someone who understand & appreciate our efforts & sacrifies. God bless you always & all the health professionals.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. This rather brings me to tears; brings me a lot of memories. I knew all of these but it’s different when somebody words everything out and you found yourself realizing a lot. Responsibilities are pretty linear but these experiences give us the avenue to be great persons. Thanks Doc!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Thank u very much for appreciating us nurses. U make us inspired to give more quality care to our patient. Being a nurse is both an honor and responsibility.

    Liked by 1 person

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