We’ve heard all the cliché terms: compassionate care, random acts of kindness, going above and beyond. In the past several weeks a plethora of stories have popped up in the media regarding nurses doing these very things. That nurses go the extra mile (yes, another cliché) is nothing new, but their doing so seems to have become big news lately. Whatever the reason, I am happy that nurses are getting more recognition for having big hearts. My enthusiasm, however, flies in the face of certain professional groups that contend the portrayal of nurses as angels of mercy promotes a negative stereotype, an opinion with which I take umbrage. Yes, I happen to think big hearts should be celebrated, so I’m going to celebrate two very big ones.
Despite the recent spate of stories, the one that has made the biggest and longest lasting impression on me was reported several years ago in The Denver Post. The newspaper ran an article, with photos, about two women who were health care workers at a nursing home in a small town in southern Colorado. It tugged at their hearts that some of their patients, primarily elderly patients, had no family to be with them in their final hours of life. They felt that no one should die alone and they asked to be notified by fellow staffers when it became apparent that such a patient’s death was imminent.
Often, the calls would come in the middle of the night, which did not deter them. I don’t recall how it was decided which of them would make the trip back to the nursing home to sit with the patient or how often the calls came, but that is not important. What is important is that one or the other would selflessly leave her warm bed and her family to hold the hand of a dying patient, keep the patient comfortable and pray for a peaceful passing. I am touched each time I think of their sacrifice, which they didn’t consider a sacrifice at all. Both felt honored and privileged to be at the bedside of patients who had no one else to be with them at the end of their lives.
I clipped the article, saved it and reread it many times in the following years. Unfortunately, in one of my frenzies of reducing the volume of paper that had accumulated in my house, I included that clipping among the items of which I divested myself. I’ve regretted doing so many times since. I need the reinforcement such stories give me to be ever mindful of the truly important and humanitarian acts that have a positive effect in this world. And, I like having evidence that there are angels here on earth.