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Guest column: Nurses are where empathy meets compassion
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The week of May 6-12 is National Nurses Week, celebrated on these dates because May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. The theme this year is “Delivering Quality and Innovation in Patient Care,” and in honor of nursing, I would like to share some reflections.

I think I can best describe nursing, and the unique attributes nurses bring to patients each day, by telling a story that is just one of hundreds of examples I have witnessed throughout my career, which has spanned numerous hospitals across the country.

One night, at one of my previous hospitals, as I reviewed what was going on throughout the hospital, I noted that I needed to go to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit the next day. While there, I checked on a young lady who was critically injured in a car crash. Despite the efforts of the care team, it was evident the young lady would not survive. Her mother was injured as well and was in another unit.

The pediatric nurse caring for the young lady knew she could not let the girl die without her mother nearby. Her mother was not able to walk because of her injuries, so the young girl’s nurse called the mother’s nurse to explain the situation. Together, the nurses decided to bring the mother, in her hospital bed, to the pediatric ICU.

The mother wanted to be with her daughter, and the nurses collaborated to make it happen. They arranged the transfer and carefully placed the mother in the bed with her daughter. The mother was able to be there for her daughter’s last breath as both nurses supported them, while the chaplain and other caretakers remained outside the room.

About a month later, I was walking down the hall and saw the mother coming towards me in a wheelchair. I stopped immediately, as I knew I wanted to check on her. Despite her profound grief, she only spoke of her gratitude for the nurses and all they had done to support her and her daughter. She was so appreciative of those nurses despite her own pain.

When we parted, I knew that I was meant to see her that day and to hear her reflections. I went immediately to the nurses and thanked them for their compassion and kindness and described the impact they made on this mother’s life and in easing her loss.

This is why I am a nurse and choose to represent nursing. It is the nurse at the bedside, in a clinic, outpatient area, physician’s office, school or anywhere who is the heartbeat of patient care.

So every year during Nurses Week, I take the time to recall these moments and hundreds more, because they give me the moral courage to press on each day for those we serve and who serve others. I am humbled by the heroic actions of nurses everywhere.

Karen Watts, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is vice president of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

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