I Used To Think Nurses Were Just Doctors' Helpers

I still didn’t “get it” until I was 26 and my 13-month-old was diagnosed with cancer.
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Before Jackson’s cancer diagnosis, I didn’t have much interaction with nurses. Outside of the school nurse, or the nice lady who didn’t want to give me shots but had to, I never really had an understanding of nurses. To me, nurses were just doctor’s helpers. I should have known better.

My maternal grandparents lived next door to a nurse for close to 50 years. Like most nurses, if anyone got hurt, she was the first responder to examine a cut or a jammed finger. My grandparents trusted her implicitly. It was actually this “next-door nurse” that administered the life-saving Benadryl before the ambulance arrived when my grandma went into anaphylactic shock.

I still didn’t “get it” until I was 26 and my 13-month-old was diagnosed with cancer.

I learned on Day 1 that nurses are at the heart of everything. Everything. Because they are:

The confidence builders. When your child has major surgery for the first time and come back from the operating room with bandages, IVs, swollen bodies and pain, engaging in their care doesn’t come naturally. You wonder: Can I hold them? Can I touch them? Am I going to hurt them? Are they going to be okay? Do they look comfortable? What is this cord for? Why does that look like that? Is this normal? I am so scared. That person you find standing next to you is your nurse. And they are in it with you. You can do this, they say. Let me show you how.

The teachers. Nurses aren’t ones to keep their knowledge to themselves. They want to empower you with the wisdom that you can be part of the medical team, too. A nurse taught me how to care for a central line. Another taught me how putting sock over a pulse ox will help it register on a wiggly toddler toe. In the middle of the night, a nurse taught me how to change a diaper of a child sleeping on their belly without waking them up. She taught me where the playroom was and where to find the quiet corner to cry. You will become a smarter person because of a nurse.

The encouragers. I didn’t want to be a cancer mom, but I was. I didn’t want to be a preemie mom, but I was. When the news is bad, a nurse is there to ease you into the next step. A nurse encourages you to educate yourself on your child’s needs. She (or he) encourages you to speak your mind, question, advocate and grow into a mama bear in ways you never imagined. You will become a stronger, more proactive parent because of a nurse.

The muscle. If you’ve ever witnessed a nurse take a stand against a doctor’s opinion, then you know they are tougher than nails. If you’ve ever had an unsolicited visitor arrive on your floor, she’s more serious than a bouncer at a Hollywood nightclub. You know these people? Want me to get them to leave? Nurses track down doctors on vacations, pharmacists on their lunch break for side effect questions and social workers in the middle of a meeting on another floor. Nurses know what’s up, who’s up and where’s up. Okay?

The givers of life. Not always, right? I disagree. Nurses bring babies into this world and they also hold the hands of their patients when they leave it. Being a nurse often means you’re there when the worst happens. You have a front row seat to when families receive a “new life” that scares them. In that moment nurses are the giver of life: they are the kind words, the gentle touch and the anticipator of needs. A nurse raises you up, shows you the first step... and then next... and the next... until you’re strong enough to walk in this new life on your own.

Thank you to our nurses, all of you, whether we met in Virginia, New York or Massachusetts.

Thank you to for being the one giving vaccines. No one likes that job, but someone has to do it.

Thank you for having the compassion to calm a screaming child coming out of anesthesia.

Thank you for finding us the good juice.

Thank you for teaching me to give my toddler shots.

Thank you for staying past shift change to make sure we were comfortable.

Thank you for squatting down to my eye level when he was finally asleep and I couldn’t move to talk to you.

Thank you for your suggestions, all of them.

Thank you for the Tylenol you found when my head hurt and I wasn’t even the patient.

Thank you for the tears that filled your eyes as well when the news wasn’t good.

Thank you for dancing the happy dance right alongside us when it was.

Thank you for your sense of humor and your peek-a-boo face through the door window. It made me laugh, too.

Thank you for everything you did that I saw, and for the things you did when my focus was on my child.

Thank you, on your days off, for being the next-door nurse.

Your job isn’t really a job. It’s a calling. Thank you for answering.