It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to appreciate the nurses who have been working fairly tirelessly and devotedly all along and yet we all too often take them for granted.
Today, May 6th, is National Nurses Day in the U.S. while internationally it is celebrated May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. The interim between the two is usually called Nurses Week and if ever there was a time to make it a week-long act of gratitude and commemoration, it’s now. The International Council of Nurses picks a theme each year and for 2020 it’s ‘Nursing the World to Health.’
Florence Nightingale is largely credited with founding what we think of as ‘modern nursing.’ Her emphasis on proper hand washing alone saved countless lives (literally countless – think about that), beginning on the battlefields of the Crimean war. It is remarkable that in 2020, we are fighting an epic battle against a virus wherein hand washing again is the most important weapon.
The American Nurse is a 2014 documentary by Carolyn Jones who explores aging, war, and poverty through the work and lives of 5 working nurses. The camera follows them through a typical day’s work while we consider what it truly means to care: to care with our hands, with our hearts, with experience and knowledge, with commitment and dedication.
And now nurses are again at the forefront of the meanest and most threatening bug we’ve faced in a lifetime and we’ve been unable to provide them even the most basic personal protective equipment necessary for providing the care we’re demanding. Not only are healthcare workers more at risk for contracting the virus due to repeated exposure, they’re also more likely to have life-threatening symptoms (perhaps because they’re exposed to a much higher dose, or to multiple strains, but science has yet to confirm the reason). I know a nurse who works in mental health who spent the early days of lockdown seeing patients with no PPE at all as they’d all been locked away for when they were “really needed.” Now she gets 1 per day, which means she’s eliminated coffee, water, and food before and during shifts because going to the washroom would contaminate them. And at any time she faces redeployment to the E.R. even though she hasn’t practiced that kind of nursing in a decade. She has young kids at home, which means after a long shift she can’t hug or kiss them until after she’s stripped and scrubbed. And then the fun of homeschooling begins. She was telling me about a local grocery store that allows healthcare workers to skip the line. She would never accept, of course, because she’d feel like a jerk – lots of people are pulling double duty these days, and everyone would rather not be there. But also because standing in line 6 feet apart at the supermarket is the quietest and easiest part of her day.
COVID or not, The American Nurse is a well-made, interesting documentary which you can watch here for free. It gives us a little insight into what it takes to heap the world’s healing upon your shoulders, to run towards the crisis instead of away from it, to feel compassion for others when you could use some yourself.
Thank you, nurses.