Letters From Home

The Angels of the Battlefield by William Ludwell Sheppard     ushistory.org

The Angels of the Battlefield by William Ludwell Sheppard ushistory.org

“Dear Ganfanther,

You are so poor.  Why are you so poor?  Wade it on the peepers.  Lys to the dodders.

Love,

Your Granddaughter”

This was the letter hanging on the wall of one of my patients I cared for ten years ago.  It took me and another nurse a good hour to decipher this child’s prose. (Granted, there was a bit more to this letter then I can remember.)  I’m not sure why, but we laughed so hard at this heartfelt attempt of one granddaughters letter to her sick grandfather.

In most of our critically ill patient rooms, family would feel the need to post letters and pictures and transform what once was a sterile sick-bed, into a familiar family album.  Those bedside images have stuck with me throughout my career as memories of people I have cared for and most who didn’t make it.

These letters and pictures were nothing more than a simple gesture of hope to remind the person lying dormant in that bed that they had something to wake up for, get better for, and come home to.

A personal touch in such an impersonal place can go a long way; not just for the patient, but for everyone who enters the room and is boldly reminded that Mr. Jones is not just the guy in room 203, but he’s a grandfather with a granddaughter at home who’s worried about him.  It’s our job to keep that alive, even if we can’t keep him alive.

Translation to letter above:

Dear Grandfather,

You are so sick.  Why are you so sick?  Write it on the paper.  Listen to the doctors.

My First Hospital Visit

Courtesy of Asli Kutluay

Florence Nightingale. Courtesy of Asli Kutluay at aslikutluay.com

I was seven years old when I entered a hospital for the first time.  Not as a patient, but as a visitor.  My older brother had been newly diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes mellitus), and I begged my mother to bring me to visit him.  My brother and I were pretty close and only two years apart.  I remember walking through the large, automatic, sliding glass doors into the lobby.  I ran to push the button for the elevator, and during that short wait I was struck by two things: hospital smell and medical personnel.  Unless you’re olfactory challenged, the smell of a hospital is an unforgettable experience for all those who cross that threshold.  But more importantly, it was the people I noticed who were about to change the course of my life.  Everybody was moving so fast: the nurses, the doctors, people wearing I.D. badges.  I was fascinated.  I knew at that very moment I wanted to be a part of that world.  I wanted to know what was going on behind those closed doors, and inside the minds of the people who chose to work there.

This was such a strong pull for me as a child that I went around telling anyone who would listen that I was going to become a doctor, a neurosurgeon to be exact.  I promised my beloved Aunt that I would buy her a mansion right next to mine.  I even went so far as to study the brain using our encyclopedia, as these were the pre-internet years.

Unfortunately, in high school, my S.A.T. scores weren’t up to par for medical school.  Despite some dissuasion from my guidance counselor, I decided to enter the field of nursing.  I began taking nursing courses along with my required high school classes.  After graduation,  went on to obtain my Registered Nurse license and start my nursing career.

It’s funny how life takes you in certain directions.  Had my brother never gotten ill, I’m not sure I would have ever had another reason to enter a hospital at that time, and I may have spent the last twenty years in a career that would have actually paid me enough money to buy those mansions.

No amount of money, though, could have saved my Aunt; while I was attending nursing school, she was diagnosed with Lymphoma.  I remember visiting her in one of the big city hospitals I eventually came to work in.  I was still naive, and so unprepared for the devastating effects of cancer.

But it was then that I understood how my presence at the bedside could be comforting to someone in their last days.  There was going to be no glory, no fancy title, and little compensation compared to the job at hand.  What I was going to lack in fame and fortune, I was about to make up in a lifetime of experiences: good and bad, happy and sad, fun and frustrating and every other emotion you can possibly think of.  I was also about to meet some of the best people I know along the way.

In a place that can seem so dark to so many, I am constantly enlightened and inspired by what I see and do in the hospital.  I hope to share these experiences throughout this blog that will make you laugh, cry and understand a litter better not only the life of this one nurse, but also how these nursing stories reveal how we all connect to one another.