2017-05-18 / Columns

Nurses deserve special recognition

Other Side of 50
Andrea Gallagher

The month of May has a number of days celebrating special things. One of my favorites is May 25, 2017—National Chardonnay Day!

On a more serious note, May 6 through 12 was National Nurses Week, which got me to thinking about the nurses who have made an impression on my life.

One of my first nursing memories is of our school nurse, Mrs. Hagan. School nurses today probably have a whole lot more to contend with than the tummy aches and bumps and bruises that Mrs. Hagan treated when I was a kid. I’m sure today school nursing is a challenging but rewarding job.

In my teens I had the not-so-great experience of spending months at Massachusetts General Hospital, recuperating from a major illness. My parents lived an hour away, and my mother made the trek every morning to see me and then home again each afternoon to take care of my father and my two sisters.

The hospital was a pretty lonely experience after my mother left each day. My favorite nurse was Sarah. Blond, young, pretty and perpetually positive, she talked to me as she would to an adult, which meant the world to a precocious 13-year-old away from family and friends in a scary environment.

It’s hard to believe that a young girl could have such a sore back, but lying in that hospital bed day after day took its toll. Besides engaging me in conversation, one of the nicest things Sarah did each day was give me a back rub. Even then I understood how that loving and healing touch enhanced my recovery.

Today we have some excellent nurses in our community, doing exceptional things.

Take for example Ellen Henahan. Bright and energetic, Ellen is a member of the admissions team at Our Community House of Hope, a residential four-bedroom home in Thousand Oaks for those facing their end days and needing care. Ellen’s efforts mean patients don’t die alone, they are free from pain and they are as comfortable as possible.

Ellen also lovingly comforts family and friends of the patient who, she believes, deserve care as much as the person who is dying. Her nursing skills, passion and compassion bring help and healing to our community.

Teri Helton, with a Master of Science in nursing, works for Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Association. Poised and articulate, Teri reaches out to congregations of all faiths to promote faith community nursing, teaching individuals and congregations about disease prevention and health promotion.

Teri’s other passion is encouraging individuals to talk with their physicians and families about their wishes for end-of-life care. Teri founded the Ventura County Compassionate Care Coalition to teach about tools like POLST (physician orders for life-sustaining treatment) and advance care directives, and how to have the conversation. It is important work, especially as we have so many ways to extend life these days.

And, of course, nurses work in hospitals. Just last week my husband, Peter, had surgery. It was his first overnight stay in a hospital, and we hit the jackpot with Nurse Sarah. (Yes, another Sarah).

Sarah’s prompt empathetic response to a patient in need and her ability to explain things in a way we could understand made her our new best friend. She told us that she was once in the legal field until a relative’s illness caused her to rethink her profession and go to nursing school. Sarah’s been a nurse for four years now, and it is plain to see she has met her calling.

Today nurses work as educators, case managers, midwives and anesthetists in the operating room, ER, neonatal care, intensive care, home care and hospice. These are just a few of the roles nurses play in our community.

According to a recent Gallup poll, nurses are among the most highly regarded and trusted professionals, ranking higher than even military personnel, doctors and teachers.

This month, reach out to a nurse you know and share your appreciation. Say thank you, write them a note, share some food or give a shout-out to their supervisor.

Nurses help us manage our health, a pretty important task that deserves recognition.

Gallagher, a certified senior adviser, is president of Senior Concerns, a local nonprofit agency. For more information, visit www.seniorconcerns.org or email her at agallagher@seniorconcerns.org.

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