Many years ago, I wrote a novel, and in it a scene where a primary character is rushed to the hospital in early labor. Her nurse was male. It wasn't a conscious choice, it's what I wrote. Why shouldn't he have been? Poetic license and all that. It wasn't as if I gave him three heads. I realize, in hindsight, that I used a literary tool to create greater interest. A male nurse is less familiar and therefore more likely to stand out. It's more interesting writing, at least I hoped it was.
When my novel was released, I promoted it myself; it was a print-on-demand title and I was selling books out of my car, doing local Starbucks events, and events at indie bookstores. I was selling online and mostly to friends and family; this was in 2004 before self-publishing became de rigueur. I remember being bowled over when, one morning in spin class my friend Chad and spin-bike neighbor for years, gave me a giant high five and a "Yo, Jenny, thanks for the male nurse shout out!" The novel had been written two years prior and honestly, I hadn't recalled he was a nurse, I'd only seen him in bike shorts. I stood there like an idiot. "The book, your book. The male nurse!" "Oh, right! You're a nurse, both of you are, right?" I gave a nod to his wife. She smiled. "He almost woke the kids he whooped so loud when he got to that part," she said. "Male nurses get a lot of crap. And not a lot of props. He was psyched."
Over the years, unfortunately, I have had my share of health issues. I have also known my share of nurses. Recently, I thought about my experience with male nurses. For the most part, especially when I was younger, I had female nurses. At the time of this interaction with Chad, I lived in Seattle, and after two kids, started having chronic health issues. I subsequently moved to Austin where my health issues continued, and unfortunately, my younger son had some of his own. There were hospital stays, blood draws -- interactions with RNs, PAs, techs and other medical personnel far before, during and after brief interactions with actual physicians or surgeons. And, many of the nurses were male.
I noticed a few things. One is that a good nurse, is a good nurse, is a good nurse. Especially with kids, a good nurse is one who can tune in to the child, emotionally and physically and meet him where he is, and either match him to stay in a good place or rally to move to a better place. I have noticed for my son, a male nurse is often a lifesaver. My son always has me, the nurturing mom. From a (typically) younger male nurse, he gets a distraction, a reminder that he's not just a sick kid, that's he's a cool dude, he's a baseball player, that he loves Ichiro and that he wants to be a Seattle Mariner or a Texas Ranger someday. He can talk about how he plays outfield because he has a good arm, that loves to swim and he hates needles. He's not afraid to have the nurse see him suck his thumb or hold his blankie. I love that for my kid the scrubs, the "oh that's just the person who is here taking my blood pressure and fixing my IV" creates a gender neutrality. What is important is how he is cared for. Is this young man making an effort to connect with him, whether by asking if he has any pets or if he likes baseball or if he's going on any trips this summer? It doesn't matter if it is a man or a woman. It matters how that person makes my son feel.
In fact, I have a special male nurse to thank for when my son was in the hospital. We were changing his bed sheets. In a sleepless haze, I gathered the sheets and tossed them in the laundry bin. I didn't realize his blankie was among them. It hours before we noticed. The laundry had been taken to their facility in San Antonio. It was gone. I was bereft. And, a young male nurse, knowing it was futile, saw my tears, my guilt, my exhaustion and my son's pain, and put on sterile gloves and went through every bag of laundry on the wing. Twice. Much to the dismay of his supervisor because, well, take a moment to imagine the hazmat implications of going through the laundry of a pediatric wing. But he did it. He did it so he could come back and reassure my son that he had tried, and that the blanket was now going to another child who needed it more (although we both knew it was gone). And, then he found him another special blanket and a teddy bear. And, I am weeping now as I write this.
Personally, I have been comforted by female and male nurses equally, and differently. It's not a badge of honor to say I've met so many nurses that I have lost count. Some nurses were exemplary, some made me look at the clock to wonder when they'd go off shift. That is life.
However, I did notice, as an adult, something that both saddened and heartened me when I was first met with a kind, comforting male nurse. I was in the hospital after surgery. And, at the time, I was not getting what I needed in my relationship from my partner. As a child I also did not get what I needed from my father, emotionally. In post-op, I felt the strength in a healthcare professional, in a man caring for me physically and emotionally. A man who was both strong and gentle and who saw I needed more than a blood pressure and an IV check. It was a serious post-op situation, an ambulance run, an ER admit. As tears streamed down my face, so much pain poured out of me, he looked at me and he stayed with me, and he let me cry. He rested his hand on my shoulder and said, "You're getting there, tomorrow will be better." He healed me beyond the little cup of pills and the hobbled assisted walk to the bathroom. It was those extra minutes that a male or even female doctor may (or may not) have done when doing rounds. I know how little time one has with a doctor, and I don't waste it crying. Nurses, they are the heart of the hospital or practice. A female nurse may have done the same thing. I believe that male nurse came to me for a reason. He had something to teach and to give me.
Male nurses are an underrated and much needed addition to the health care system. Men have much strength and caring to give. Women do too. But they are not alone. A caring, nurturing male nurse can be the right fit for a sick child who misses his dad, or who needs a role model, or who just needs a good nurse, regardless of gender. And a male nurse can be the right fit for a woman, or anyone who needs to be reminded that men are capable of so many things, strength, nurturing, compassion, and love.
I can see in my mind's eye several of nurses, both female and male who have helped me heal, physically and emotionally when I've been ill, either in the hospital or in a physician's office. I have been hugged so hard I thought I was going to break. I have been prayed for and told "It will get better." I have had it proven to me that nurses, a heck of a lot of them, really care about their jobs and their patients. And, I am glad so many caring men are among those doing the healing.
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