A Thanksgiving Memory

This is my favorite Thanksgiving Memory.  I post it every Thanksgiving to remind me of how truly thankful I am for all the wonderful people in my life!!

Vintage Thanksgiving Postcard

Vintage Thanksgiving Postcard

Dear Nursing Administrator,

Today I witnessed an act, which for the first time, made me grateful to have worked Thanksgiving Day.  Before I explain, you need to understand a little background.

For the past month or so we have been caring for a nineteen year old-young man in room 419, who is slowly dying from lymphoma.  Over this past month I have never looked after, nor been involved in this patient’s care.  In fact, I didn’t even really pay attention.  Why?  I’m not sure.  As charge nurse I was up to date on his name, age, room number and diagnosis.  I knew his mom was a nurse and his father was a New York City Police Officer.  I knew that one or both parents never left his bedside.  I knew I found it extremely uncomfortable to participate in his case, what I didn’t know was why; I’m still not completely sure.  Maybe it was his age, maybe it was because his parents were always there, maybe it was because I identified with this family on some level and steeled myself from getting involved.  My apathy, or perhaps cowardice, found it helpful that their room was at the very end of our unit, so far removed from the nurse’s station, that their daily story played out on what seemed a far away stage.

Our unit is a twenty bed Cardiac Care Unit (CCU), not a hospice ward.  I’m used to dealing with critically ill, older patients in cardiac distress.  Even when those patient’s are terminally ill, I somehow rise to the occasion to support their crumbling family.  But this boy, what was he doing here?  What did I know of caring for a nineteen year old?  Apparently there are cardiac complications that come from bone marrow transplants which led this boy to our unit, and subsequently into our lives.

So while my head was buried in the sand for the past month, there were several amazing nurses consistently caring for this patient.  But today, Thanksgiving Day, I would soon come to find out just what I had been hiding from, because today I was assigned to care for this boy.

What had I been hiding from?  His family was lovely; two devoted parents sitting vigil in their hopes and tears.  His nurse mother was someone I could have easily seen myself working side by side with, and his NYPD dad, well, I must confess was a reminder of my own NYPD dad.  But this boy of nineteen was so ill.  His body reflected the disease that had stolen his youth and replaced it with the frame of an old man’s.  Swaddled in blankets to fend off the cold, his face was the only piece of flesh I could see; though his eyes were pale and hollowed, a spark, still dimly lit, reflected back, and a smile slow danced across his lips from time to time.

Room 419 was where this family would spend their last Thanksgiving together.  No fancy table, no turkey, nothing to remind them of the holiday unfolding on most American tables that day.  No, this room was the exact opposite.  The only reminder of the outside world I could gather was the pile of soda cans collecting on the window sill.

Then lunchtime arrived, and with it came Emma, one of our nurses, (off duty that day), with a large bag in her arms, and a six-pack of soda in her hand, heading for room 419.  As I went to greet her with a confused expression on my face, and a ,”What are you doing here on your day off?”  She told me she was here to bring 419’s family Thanksgiving dinner before she was due to catch a train to her own Thanksgiving dinner.  You see, while I was flying under the radar where this family was concerned, Emma was flying high; high on her morals, her faith, and her uncompromising dedication of what it means to be a nurse.  There was no way she could sit down for her own Thanksgiving meal, without first and foremost providing one for this family she had grown so close to.  What a special moment to witness.

Thanksgiving is such an American holiday.  We all take pride in our heritage, our sophisticated menu’s, our high-end wine lists, alternately, we take such a twisted approach on sharing a meal with family we might not want to be sitting next to.

Ironically, Emma is not at all American, she is Filipino.  But somehow, she, more than any American I know was able to take this holiday, and provide one family with the gift of thanks, when they probably felt too weak to feel anything but the life of their core slipping away.  I know this family was truly thankful for this one gift, this one meal, that this one very special nurse provided for them on what would be their last Thanksgiving as a complete family.

Vintage Thanksgiving Poem

I was thankful to have had the opportunity to witness grace in action.Several days later the boy in room 419 was granted his wish to go home to die.  His parents complied, and forty-five minutes after being laid to rest in his own bed, that nineteen year old boy died on his own terms, in his own way.

I will never forget this Thanksgiving as long as I live.  I am nominating Emma for the highest award we give to nurses in our hospital; The Daisy Award.  I’m sure every Thanksgiving I will be reminded of this family and be truly grateful for all the wonderful people in my own life.

Sincerely,

Jean

I wrote that letter over ten years ago, and I have never forgotten the family from room 419, or the nurse who made their last days bearable.  They make me thankful every year for the life I have, and the family I live it with.

Since that time I have become a mother myself.  Losing a child, any age, is unfathomable to me; it was my understanding he was their only son.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Who cares if the Turkey’s a little dry, or the company’s a little wet.  Be thankful to be together with your family and friends.

I know I’ll be!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

thanksgiving vintage postcard

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Veterans Day: Nurses on the Battlefield: The Ultimate Sacrifice

I like to believe that every day nurses do something heroic for people, even if that something is trifling. We make small sacrifices every day for our patients, like forgoing a meal, or a trip to the bathroom, staying late to make sure our patient’s care is complete, and spending holidays caring for our sick patients instead of sitting down to dinner with our families. But when I think about the sacrifice our military nurses make, I quickly realize a grumbling stomach, and a full bladder are inconsequential in comparison.

Today is Veterans Day, a day I hold in high esteem. I honor all the men and women who serve this great nation. However, when I think of what it truly means to sacrifice, I am drawn to the battlefield nurses who are not only hungry, and running with full bladders, but are putting their lives in danger to care for the heroes that defend our nation. Battlefield nursing launched our most famous leader, Florence Nightingale, into the history books, during her time in the Crimean War. Her dedication to service, her intellect, and her ability to improve battlefield conditions, while reducing soldier mortality rates in the wounded, changed the face of nursing care not only on the front lines, but in each and every hospital as well.

In America George Washington understood the importance of the battlefield nurse, and in 1775 The Congressional Resolution allotted one nurse for every 10 patients in military hospitals, and provided nurses a salary, though meager, at two dollars per month. Up until that time, nurses positions had traditionally been voluntary. By 1777 George Washington put out a call for more nurses, and the salary was increased to eight dollars per month. Nurse’s time on the battlefield did not end with George Washington. From 1861-1865 over 3000 nurses served in the Union Army during the Civil War. By this time nurses were earning 12 dollars per month and rations, however, nurses were always at risk of contracting contagious diseases, and battlefield injuries.

 In 1917 when WWI raged across Europe, over 12,000 American nurses were ready to serve. They were deployed all over the world. Again in 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nurses came forward to serve in the Second World War. For the past nearly seven decades Nurses have served in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. To date, approximately 1000 nurses have lost their lives in the line of duty. A true sacrifice!

Operating Room, MASH unit Korea

Vietnam war memorial with nurse and wounded soldier.

Flight Nurses Today           

I recently came across this article about one of those brave nurses who made the ultimate sacrifice doing her job, caring for the soldiers, and country, she swore to protect. She is the kind of woman, nurse, and human being I would hope all of us aspire to be. Today’s Veterans Day post is dedicated in her honor: Jennifer M. Moreno.

An undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Army 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno. Moreno, 25, of San Diego, Calif., an Army nurse from Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was one of four people killed Sunday, Oct. 5, 2013 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/US Army)

Everyday we have choices to make. Some may be small, some large; others may be easy, while some may be life changing. On October 6, 2013 Captain Jennifer Moreno, an Army Special Operations Command Nurse was on assignment with her comrades in Afghanistan attempting to capture a high value target. Instead of the high value target surrendering, an Afghan woman came out and detonated her suicide vest, wounding six troops. That explosion then set of an IED. As soldiers rushed to help the injured troops, they set off another IED. A second Afghan emerged from the building, detonated his suicide vest, killing Jani a working military dog.

Ground soldiers were ordered to stay in place by their commander, but Moreno heard the cry of help for a wounded soldier. It is in that moment where Moreno’s choice represented duty to serve, and Captain Moreno chose not to stay in place, but to perform her commitment, and follow the Nurses Code of Ethics, as well as the soldiers creed to “never leave a fallen comrade”, to go help save her fellow soldiers. It was a choice that would prove to be fatal.

In over a century of war, we have lost many nurses to the side effects of conflict whether by disease, or injury. I would like to take the time to honor those listed below, and thank them for their service, and their ultimate sacrifice.

Spanish American War: 21 Nurses died of typhoid and malaria.

WW I: 430 Nurses died from the 1918 Influenza outbreak.

WW II: 460 nurses died. Six Army Nurses died in hostile fire at Anzio Beachhead in 1944. Six Army Nurses died when a Japanese suicide plane crashed into the Hospital Ship USS Comfort near the Philippine Islands in 1945.

Korea: 16 Army, Navy, and Airforce Nurses died enroute to the battlefield

Vietnam War: 8 Nurses died in enroute to the battlefield. Army Nurse Lt. Sharon Lane died from hostile fire.

Iraq: Army Nurse Capt. Maria Inez Ortiz was killed by a mortar attack in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Army Nurse Captain Gussie Jones died in Iraq of non-battle related causes.

Ft. Hood Texas: Army Psychiatric Nurse Captain John Gaffney, Army Mental Health Adult Nurse Practitioner Captain Russell Seager, and Army Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Lt. Colonel Juanita Warman were all killed by hostile fire when Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on them.

Afghanistan: Army Nurse Captain Jennifer Moreno killed in and IED explosion. Army Nurse Practitioner, Lt. Colonel Richard Berrettini died from injuries after his vehicle was hit by an IED. Army Nurse Captain Bruce Clark collapsed, and died during deployment in Afghanistan. Army Certified Nurse Anesthetist Joshua McClimans was killed by indirect rocket or mortar fire from insurgents on his way to work at the Army Hospital in Afghanistan.

God bless all the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms!