What Nurses Do

Today, my mother would have turned 61. This post is dedicated to those who helped her live to see a couple more birthdays than we thought she’d have.

On most days, it’s easy to love each other.

I am blessed to have family, friends and good health. The people I see on a daily basis are usually at their best, and they see me at my best.

For nurses, it isn’t so easy.

I developed an appreciation for nurses as my mother fought cancer for nearly three years. The nurses at Siteman Cancer Center became more than care providers. They became my parents’ friends. Nurses were a source of support and joy for them during the long days of chemotherapy treatments. The nurses developed a special bond with my parents, getting to know them on a personal level beyond what they ever expected.

A Final Trip

When we learned my mom was losing her battle, we took her to her favorite place, Gulf Shores, Alabama, so she could see the beach one last time. In an overwhelming gesture of support, my Ascension colleagues gave me a gift card with instructions to spend it making memories with my mother. We had a wonderful trip that included swimming, lots of seafood and my mom’s favorite game – skeeball.

The morning we began our drive home, my mother was in tremendous pain. We were 10 hours from St. Louis and her familiar team of caregivers at Siteman Cancer Center.

We were afraid.

No Coincidences

Then I saw a sign indicating we were only 11 miles from Mobile, Alabama. I told my mother we were heading to Providence Hospital, part of Ascension’s Gulf Coast Ministry Market.

My mother’s favorite quote was from Saint John Paul II, “In the designs of providence, there are no mere coincidences.”

It was no coincidence we ended up at Providence that day.

The Providence nurses saw my family at our worst. We were exhausted and frustrated. We felt powerless being so far from her care providers at home. My mother was often in excruciating pain, rendering her unable to rise to the challenge of everyday pleasantries. Yet, the nurses at Providence treated us with compassion, respect and dignity.

This compassion took many forms. Simple gestures from holding my mother’s hand, to bringing an extra chair so my whole family could sit – became acts of mercy. Mundane tasks – helping my mother use the bathroom or administering unglamorous treatments – became small miracles.

Most Ascension associates based in St. Louis will not have an opportunity to receive care from an Ascension hospital, since there are none in our area. I am fortunate to have experienced the personalized, compassionate care touted in our marketing messages. It isn’t just a tagline – I witnessed firsthand the love of the nursing staff. They are unwavering in their passion for making people feel better.

Humility and Dignity

Despite my Catholic upbringing, I never understood the symbolic and practical gesture of washing a person’s feet. But, as I aided the hospice nurses in bathing my mother, I finally understood. In this simple but profound act of humility, these nurses were preserving my mother’s dignity, no matter how vulnerable she was at that moment.

It is easy to treat someone with respect when you aren’t the one who must empty his or her bed pan. It is effortless to have a meaningful conversation with someone who isn’t struggling to communicate through pain. It is simple to smile at someone when he or she smiles back.

It is infinitely more difficult to show compassion and care to someone at his or her lowest point. That is what nurses do. They come into our lives when we are hurting. They see us at our worst. And yet they treat us with the same love and care they would show to their own family.

I will be forever changed by the experience of my mother’s illness. I will be forever grateful to the nurses who cared for my family, from our hometown in St. Louis, to hundreds of miles away in Mobile.

To all nurses, thank you.


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