Nurses a Crucial Balm in Hospital Land

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on June 12, 2015

“When you enter the hospital, you place your modesty in a little bag and leave it by the door. Then you pick it up when you go home.”

Fr. Robert Barron quoted his mother during a recent reflection on his own unexpected stay in “hospitalland,” as he calls it in an article on the website.  Perhaps you’ve been too? Or had to leave a loved one at a place where, as he wrote, “You are only vaguely aware of the movement of the sun across the sky, and people come barging into your room as regularly at two in the morning as two in the afternoon.”

You try to stay aware, to pretend life goes on, even as life going on is quite uncertain. In illness, even the most accomplished, the most independent of people are humbled and humiliated.

And the nurses can make all the difference.

“They run the place,” is something I’ve often heard about nurses. If only this were true! Nurses frequently have to work in the most demanding of circumstances. They tend to have at least one more patient than they should, and their hours can be long and grueling. But they’ll do the best they can, and they’ll focus, and their presence can mean so much in the long, mostly solitary abyss of time spent in a hospital bed.

Nurses restore a sense of human dignity; they celebrate a patient’s small milestones and can remind a patient that he or she is someone who is loved — even when no one comes to visit. Even when the patient feels the world had left them behind. Even when they have gotten to the point where they want it all to end.

Spending the last week in “hospitalland” as an observer, I started asking around, just to encourage a quick word of thanks to the people who can make the unbearable bearable, and even bring on a smile or a laugh when there really seems to be nothing to laugh or smile about.

Will tells me that: “The best nursing quality that I’ve ever encountered was that exhibited by those who treated my then-elderly (now deceased) grandparents in various stays in hospitals and rehab facilities, where the nurses chose not to yell at my grandparents as if they were deaf imbeciles, but instead treated them with dignity and respect by assuming they had the cognitive ability (which they did until the last day) to understand their questions and requests. Nothing has exemplified the opposite of this virtue more then a nurse who treats an elderly person like an idiot who needs to be coddled.”

Lori tells me: “My surgical nurse who comforted me post-C-section operation looked at my file and noticed that I had lost my first pregnancy at 20 weeks. She held my hand and prayed with me about our daughter’s life and the life of our newly born son. Her comfort to me while I waited for hours to meet our son post-surgery gave me a forever peace. That she honored our daughter’s life was remarkable. Michelle, my nurse in the maternity ward … knew I was desperate to see my son after my C-section. Though I was supposed to wait until 7 p.m. (a full 12 hours post delivery), she took me down at 5 so that I wouldn’t get caught in the shuffle of shift changes, etc. She was an angel.”


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].

COPYRIGHT 2015 United Feature Syndicate

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