A nurse's tale


Last week was National Nurses' Week. The yearly event prompts public thanks, flowers, gifts and public recognition for a group of professionals who surely deserve such praise. I would also like to see it be a time when nurses share some of the stories of their lives on the front line. That rarely happens for fear of breaching trust or confidentiality.

Nurse stories are among the funniest and most profound of all accounts of life and death on the health care front. At the risk of offending or breaching trust, I am going to offer some of my more interesting nurse stories because they need a wider audience and because the people I refer to have all passed on (I think).

Decades ago I was the evening nursing supervisor at a small community hospital. The nursing supervisor is the chief fireman and go-to person for all manner of problems and situations; a support for the nursing staff and a surrogate for hospital administration in the off hours.

One night at about 8 p.m. I got a call from a local bar. The bartender was calling to ask if the hospital was missing any patients. It seemed like an odd question and I said I didn't think we had lost anyone. He then said that there was a man in a hospital Johnny connected to a bag of IV fluid pulling an IV pole who was sitting at his bar. I drove down to the bar and brought the "patient" back to his room. He needed a beer and it was not what the doctor had ordered.

It was also my job to find replacements for nurses who called in sick or otherwise for the next shift. Because the hospital was so small I was the default nurse if I couldn't find someone, so the stakes were high.

It was the middle of winter and the snow was coming down fast. There was over a foot on the ground when I got a call from a night nurse who lived at the far edge of town. She said her road was not plowed and she would not be able to make it to work. I told her I would call her back.

I then called the town highway department and told them we needed to get this nurse to the hospital and I asked if they could plow her road quickly. They obliged. When I called the nurse back the plow was just coming down her road. Upon arrival at work she gave me a look that could have killed.

Obviously, she had hoped to settle in for a night off from work and instead ran up against a creative nursing supervisor. She never spoke to me again and we remained on tense terms until she moved on a few years later. She never called in sick or weather-beaten again.

Then there was the 85-year-old man who had a massive heart attack. He barely survived the insult. This was back in the days when heart attack patients stayed on bed rest in the hospital for two weeks. He slowly recovered.

The last few days before discharge, he kept asking the doctor when he could engage in sex. The doctor told him he should wait a few weeks and be re-evaluated before he took on such vigorous activity.

The patient's wife knew how seriously his heart had been damaged and she knew he was to wait some time before straining his heart too much. Within an hour of arriving home from the hospital he demanded to have sex with his wife. She was in a no win situation and she gave in.

He came back to the ER in cardiac arrest and we were not able to save him. I hope it was worth it and I hope his wife was able to recover from the horrific events of the day.

There are many more stories, most of which I cannot make public. Someday I would love to compile stories from other nurses. It would be a great read for National Nurses' Day.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net.


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