anne_mikolay_120You can learn a lot about nurses when you visit your local Emergency Room.

Long story short: I took a flop, hit my face and head on my way down to the floor, and landed in the Emergency Room with a bleeding, bruised noggin, and a shiner. I haven't had this much purple and blue on my eyelids since the 70s!

As I waited (for nearly two hours) to be seen by a doctor, and observed other patients and the attending nurses, one thing became perfectly clear: it takes a very special, self-less person to be a nurse. Some RNs have what it takes. Some don't.

Nurses need a tremendous amount of patience to deal with people who can't, or won't, follow simple directions. For example, a sign warning incoming patients to refrain from eating or drinking before being seen by the doctor was clearly posted beside the ER triage window, but nearly every patient that came into the ER after me headed directly to the vending machine after filling out their paperwork. Were the instructions too difficult to understand? Or were those patients just too lazy or too ignorant to comply?

When dealing with injured children, nurses must exercise restraint as well as patience. One little boy, no more than eight years old, came into the ER holding a towel up to his visibly bleeding head wound. Despite fighting back tears, the poor little guy waited patiently as his mother spoke to the triage nurse, who wasted no time in "fast tracking" the child to immediate medical attention. Another equally patient little girl hobbled into the ER on crutches, and waited quietly beside her mother to be evaluated. Such injured little ones must be emotionally difficult for a nurse to attend to, but an allegedly injured child who whines loudly, and dramatically turns on the water-works only when her parents look her way (like another child that was wheeled into the ER that night), requires restraint and patience that non-medical professionals, myself included, would be hard-pressed to muster.

After two hours of waiting, I was finally led to the curtained room where I spent yet another two hours. At that point, I was too tired to care when I overheard a nurse say that I, too, should have been "fast tracked" because of my head injury. A rather grouchy nurse tossed a medical gown at me, told me to put it on, pulled the curtain closed, and vanished, never to be seen again. The medical gown was unsnapped; re-fastening it required a PhD in engineering. An unsmiling nurse hooked me up to the heart monitor; another unsmiling nurse drew blood. Their  "mechanical" bedside manner was irritating. I was about to blow a fuse...when in walked a ray of sunshine named Renata.

Renata was a busy nurse (aren't they all?), rushing here, rushing there - yet she always had  a smile, and a kind word. Efficiency personified, she chatted happily, talked a while to my son, who was with me, asked if we needed anything. Renata didn't even bark at me when I refused an IV (I hate those things!).

Thankfully, all was well; I was released. As I walked passed the nurse's station, the "angels in white" were busily writing on charts, answering telephones, doing all the things nurses do that we patients are blissfully unaware of. Clearly, nurses invented multi-tasking long before it became a catch phrase.

A good nurse requires empathy, patience, efficiency, intelligence, and warmth to singlehandedly deal with doctors, coworkers, families, and patients, all of whom expect them to do so with unerring perfection. I definitely do not have what it takes to be a nurse. Neither do some nurses. But bright lights, like Renata, and my sister, Jeannie, who, as a wonderful, caring nurse has come to my family's rescue more times than I can count, make up for those few nurses who don't make the grade.

National Nurses' Week began on National Nurses' Day, May 6th, and ended on Florence Nightingale's birthday, May 12th. Nurses deserve far more recognition than six short days. They deserve bigger paychecks, better working conditions, the respect of the medical doctors, and the thanks and appreciation of the patients they care for daily.

Renata, thank you very much. Jeannie, as always, thank you.