Nurturing the Nurse

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 7th, 2008

My work as PM charge nurse in a small convalescent hospital brought many frustrations, but the biggest was the lack of qualified help. Still, everyone working there had a genuine love for the patients, and we all did our best to care for them.

Alice, a tiny, alert elderly lady with bright blue, twinkling eyes was everyone’s favorite. Her only living relative was her son Jack, a large, tough man in faded filthy jeans. A scraggly beard grew haphazardly on his chin and tattoos covered his arms and chest. No matter how cold the weather was, Jack always wore a tank top so the dragon and snakes could be admired by all. His loud and gruff manner terrified most of the staff.

But this monstrous man loved his tiny mother. Everyday he roared up to the hospital entrance on his old motorcycle, flung open the front door, and tromped down the hall to her room, his clacking boot heels loudly announcing his arrival. He visited at unpredictable hours so he could surprise anyone he suspected of not taking proper care of his mother. Yet, his gentleness with her amazed us.

One particularly bad evening, three aides called in sick, the food carts were late and cold, and one of the patients fell and broke his hip- – and Jack came in at suppertime, as usual, to help his mother with her meal. He stood gawking at me in the nurses’ station as I busily tried to do the work of three nurses. Overwhelmed, and near tears, I avoided his stare.

At the end of the shift, after the patients were finally fed, bathed, and put to bed, I sat at the desk and put my head down on my arms, exhausted. Then the door burst open. Startled, I thought, “Oh no! Here comes Jack, checking up on us again!” As he stomped to the desk, I looked up to see his burly hand gripping a pickle jar with a bit of colored yarn tied in a bow around the neck. And in the jar was the loveliest, long stemmed red rose I’d ever seen. Jack handed it to me and said, “I noticed what a bad time you were having tonight. This is for you, from me and my mother.”

With that, he turned around, marched back out the door, and with a roar from his motorcycle, rode out into the darkness.

Of all the many gifts I’ve received from the many grateful patients over all the years, nothing has touched me more than the red rose in the pickle jar so many years ago.

Kathryn Kimzey Judkins, R.N.

We could use a lot more pickle jars and roses in our lives as nurses today, couldn’t we? Being a nurse is stressful, working longer hours with shorter staff. As we leave work with achy feet and, often, achy hearts, it’s important to remember, though, that not all stress is bad. There is a positive stress called eustress. It’s the kind of stress found in every biological life form on earth – it’s what helps them cope, to be creative and productive, to make changes that help preserve themselves. So some stress is good, but a little goes a long way! Nurses are crying, “Enough already!”

The U.S. surgeon general says eighty percent of people who die from non-traumatic causes die from stress-related illnesses. Nurses see that in their patients and sometimes feel it in themselves. Many claim they are beyond eustress and stress and are in distress.

To cope with all our stressors today, we must have our lives in balance physically, mentally, and spiritually. We must take time daily to balance our lives in these three ways. But usually we’re so busy taking care of other people, we forget to take good care of ourselves.

Everyday we teach patients how to care for themselves physically, but often don’t apply those lessons personally. We educate them about the 4 Basic Food groups, the dietary pyramid of good nutrition, and the importance of drinking six glasses of water a day, yet regularly forget to consume it ourselves. We remind them of the importance of sleep yet frequently deprive ourselves of it. We encourage them to get exercise every day, yet are too busy to get it ourselves.

How are you going to take time everyday to eat, sleep, and exercise – to nurture yourself physically – to care for yourselves as lovingly as you care for others?

LeAnn Thieman, co-author, Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul

Kathryn Kimzey Judkins, R.N. has lived in California since 1962. Since retiring in 1998, she spends much of her time writing poetry and short stories. Married fifty-five years, she has three children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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