A little over a week ago, I went into the hospital for another brain surgery. The goal was to remove a mass that had shown up in the resection cavity of my first tumor almost exactly a year to the day from my first big seizure. After waking up from surgery, I had the honor of being the only patient in the ICU for a couple of nights.
Even when you’re the only patient in the ICU, though, it still sucks. You’re connected to an untold number of wires, tubes, monitors, and sometimes, a catheter (yeah, I went there). There are global alarms always going off, and for some reason, there’s no daylight.
Human contact (in the time of COVID, at least) is limited to your nurses who work in 12 hour shifts – Jesse, Amy, Ben, Alyssa. A constant rotation of names and faces appearing and disappearing. Just when you think you’ve got it, it changes again. These are the hardest working people in the hospital, the true heart and soul of the place. Doctors get all the glory; nurses deserve all the credit.
My last night in the ICU I had a nurse named Liz. I will never forget her. Liz chided me gently for not telling her earlier I had trouble sleeping on my back. She adjusted my bed and pillows perfectly to enable me to sleep on my side. She knew instinctively that when I said the pain was a “6,” I meant “7.5.” She gave me oral Tylenol and Dilaudid because it would last longer, but she also knew the IV Dilaudid would help me sleep immediately and never made me ask.
But, the most gentle, compassionate, kind, and deeply caring thing Liz did for me was something I never expected. Before she finished her shift, Liz offered to wash my back with a warm washcloth and give me a back rub with lotion. I was stunned. Even now, I can hardly recount my experience without tearing up. This exhausted woman (probably my mom’s age) had been on her feet for 12 hours straight and deserved every moment of rest and respite she had coming. And yet, she went out of her way, in a profound expression of her humanity, to restore a tiny shred of my dignity despite the many indignities imposed by medical trauma and its treatment. Thank you, Liz. You have no idea how much that meant to me in that moment.
I guess in this weird and dark time of COVID, I want to remind folks of the Liz’s. They’re out there. They’re almost certainly underappreciated. Maybe take a second to think of a Liz (or a Ben, or a Jesse), and express your gratitude to them in whatever way works for you. I promise – you won’t regret it.