CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M --
Two detectives show up to a coroner’s office to get an autopsy report on a ‘Jane Doe’ they found earlier that morning.
“Hey Doc, hope you can tell us something,” said one detective.
“Yeah, we didn’t find any forms of identification or clues to who this woman is at the crime scene,” said the other detective.
“Well…one thing is for sure,” said the coroner. “This woman was a nurse.”
“How can you tell,” asked the first detective.
“For starters, her stomach is empty, her bladder is full, both ankles are swollen and look here,” said the coroner as he turned her over. “Part of her backside is chewed off.”
My grandmother always told me that joke growing up. I thought she was only trying to make me laugh, and of course that was her main objective, but as I grew older I understood she also sought to make me realize and appreciate the demanding occupation my mother holds – that of a nurse.
The best jokes are derived from truth.
Each year on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale – founder of modern nursing, the world observes International Nurses Day to mark the contributions nurses make to society. The theme for 2020 is ‘Nursing the World to Health’ and with everything going on, I can’t think of a better, all-encompassing motto for what nurses everywhere are currently enduring and accomplishing.
To help me put that into perspective I turned to the nurse I know best, my Mom, who shared some of her experiences with me, coincidently on Mother’s Day. Thanks Mom!
My mother, Julia Kitterman, has spent the last 39 years fulfilling the duties of a nurse and continues to do so today working 12-hour shifts in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Peters Hospital in Olympia, Washington. I would always simplify her job to anyone who asked as ‘she works with the babies that are just born and need a little extra care’ – a shortened version most people can wrap their head around while wildly lacking the justice it deserves.
“I fell in love with the NICU early in my career but found that it had its own unique set of challenges,” said Julia. “We take care of the tiniest patients in the hospital and are part of some of the most important moments in the babies and parents lives. No parent wants their newborn to be admitted into our unit so our job is not only providing excellent care for their child, but also providing emotional support to the parents trying to gain their trust. They are putting their new, most-valued possession in the hands of strangers.”
Not a lot of people are cut out for that line of work. It takes a lot of mental toughness, compassion and multi-tasking ability to perform the functions of a nurse which are rivaled only by the ever-continuing necessity of the profession. Multiple nurses have to be in that room 24/7, there is no way around it.
That meant possibly getting a call at five in the morning to come in on her day off. There were holidays, baseball tournaments and vacations my mother missed out on. She had to work night shifts for a long period of my childhood where I would come home after school to my Mom sleeping and my siblings and I had to be quiet. My Dad couldn’t stress enough how important it was ‘not to wake up Mom.’
However, through all that, I nor anyone else in the family ever questioned her occasional absence because we knew the validity of her work. As a parent though, she reflects on how those sacrifices affected her.
“It was disappointing missing out on family events but somehow we would always make it work,” said Julia. “Your Dad would record sporting events and dance recitals to make sure I was able to see them later and still got to experience them. I always had a good support system through my family and that made all the difference. Your Dad always reminded me ‘I can take care of our kids, but not everyone can take care of the kids in the NICU’ and that always gave me encouragement that it was important work I was doing.”
Although there are many specific types of nurses around the world working in various units other than the NICU, I think it’s safe to assume many of them share the difficulties my mother has faced.
That’s what nurses normally dealt with. But now add an epidemic on top of that. You get the warriors who are on the frontline of this wide-spread virus giving even more than before. They have the burden of ‘Nursing the World to Health’ and they are doing it shorthanded.
According to the World Health Organization’s website, there are an estimated 28 million nurses worldwide – about six million short of what the world needs to adequately care for a growing population, let alone an epidemic. Hospitals are reaching capacity in some areas and safety equipment to conduct their job is sparse.
“Never would I have thought that personal protective equipment would be in such short supply that I would have to sign out a mask and use it for the entire day and the next,” Julia explained. “We also take our temperatures every time we clock in to make sure we don’t have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. There is more security at the hospital. Mothers entering the maternity ward can now only have one support person for their entire stay meaning that siblings or grandparents or other relatives can’t visit. In my 39 years of nursing, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
That is just Olympia, an area not considered a hotspot for COVID-19 compared to other regions of the state, country and world. My Mom said it is hard to want to take care of your patients but also not wanting to bring anything home that could harm your family.
“My heart breaks for those nurses treating the sickest of sick,” Julia said.
However, it is in times of hardship that heroes arise. Nurses have been through other pandemics and wars and have prevailed through the test of time. There will always be a need to care for human beings and it will be nurses that respond to it.
As a military member, I always get a ‘Thank you for your service’ when seen in uniform. However, for International Nurses Day, I would like to say to my Mom and nurses everywhere – Thank you for your service. Whether it is a grandparent, parent, sibling, cousin, friend or someone who took care of you in the hospital, we all know a nurse. Today, reach out to them and give them your appreciation for what they have done and what they will continue to do. We need them now more than ever.