A piece in the New York Times magazine last Sunday told a troubling story about what is going on in the world of nurses. I take particular interest in these kinds of things because nurses and physical therapists are my new heroes.
A disclosure: Three of my four sisters are now retired after lifetimes as registered nurses in Pennsylvania. They worked hard, one with veterans, one with people with head injuries and one with just about everything, including hospice care.
They are the best people in the world, I think, and always have been.
But that’s not why I am writing this. I am writing this because of what nurses did for me (That’s right, it always about me.) when I was brought back from death after a heart attack and reconstructed both inside and out, by doctors and nurses who really knew what they were doing.
I so appreciate that.
Here’s something you are likely to think looks very clunky, but I treasure it these days.
My diploma after 35 cardiac care rehab visits at Evanston Hospital.
Nurses and physical therapists helped me get this thing, and displayed a level of patience that never failed to impress me. First, I am a cranky old man and they never let that get in their way. Second, everyone else in the room was either frightened by their experiences or worried about what happened to them or just shy about pushing.
I don’t blame them.
But the people who work in Cardiac Rehab at Evanston Hospital know all of that, and they know how to use kindness and persuasion to get around those stumbling blocks, most effectively. If they ever had unkind words, they never said them where we could hear them.
They plopped me down in a Nu-Step Recumbent Cross Trainer three times a week for 35 visits and made me ride that puppy like a cowboy in a rodeo. (Actually it wasn’t like that at all, but I like to pretend. Mostly you watch spectacular travel videos a big screen of places most people don’t get to go.) They hooked me up to a three point monitor that measured just about everything you would want to know about, put that into a computer and kept a record of every minute I was there.
It was challenging, but I was always happy to walk into that little gym and get on my NuStep and go.
Here’s what it looks like:
What you do is sit yourself down in this machine and go to the screen and pick your demon to spend maybe 40 minutes riding. I chose the “hills” option because it was just like riding a bike, miserable hills then nice long glides down into valleys that led to more miserable hills.
They measured your respiration, heartbeat and blood pressure and METS (an important number I don’t care to understand that measures your energy expenditure.)
And after they put you through this, you had 15 minutes of weight training (10 pound weights in each hand for me) or educational sessions that very clearly explained exactly what the hell happened to you when your heart decided it was time to stop.
If you cut class and missed an educational session, they sent it in your email. Everything was covered. Very impressive. Next time you need to know what an aortic valve does, just email me. I have a brand new one.
I’m not bragging, but the record showed I quadrupled my strength as measured by mysterious mets, felt better and better every week and am so sold on the effort I am continuing it on my own. Don’t let anyone tell you exercise doesn’t work.
The rehab at Evanston was just an extension of the care I received at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, a block from my house and full of great heart surgeons, nurse practitioners, bedside nurses, everything you could ever need. They are the brightest spots in a hospital stay (the other end of the spectrum is the food. Yikes.)
There is, of course, no way I can repay them for their kindness and skill, so I am writing this as kind of a letter to them, and to you, to let them, and you, know that I know who does the heavy lifting in health care.
Don’t be shy about saying thanks to them.
Given all of that, you would think the system would embrace them with buckets of money and perks and everything else just for doing such a good job. But hospitals don’t. Like all other businesses, employees become part of a formula that measures costs against profits, even in non-profits.
If you read the Times article above, you can see what’s happening. Hospitals don’t provide much of a pathway for advancement or better salaries for their nurses (I suspect there are exceptions to this.) I would always vote for putting more and more money into the nursing and therapy staff because I think of them as the people who helped save my life.
They are endlessly creative, the Times notes, and have taken to joining traveling nurses companies that send them all over God’s American creation, where they get paid a lot of money by hospitals that didn’t have the foresight to keep their own nurses happy and on board.
Good for them, but it’s a hard shift to make. Leave your loved ones to travel to who knows where to work on who knows what? This was particularly important at the height of Covid, which pushed everyone in the health care system to the limit.
I could go on and on, but I won’t.
What I want to say is simple, appreciate them for what they do, who they are and why they do it. It’s clearly not about money. It’s about something so much bigger than that.
Thank them if you get the chance.