Weirdly enough, this article’s inception owes itself to a late-night, existential crisis that began in a hospital bed on the tenth floor of Kingston General Hospital (KGH). It was 4 a.m., and my current nurse had just left my room after our hour and a half discussion about family, love and life in general. The pain that night had been nearly unbearable. So in an effort to distract me, she brought me ice chips, swaddled me in warm blankets and sat at my bedside talking until the new medicine kicked in. After she left, I opened the notes of my phone and typed the title of this article – “Not all heroes wear capes”. Then for the next hour, Siri helped me type my thoughts as I verbally word-vomited my emotions into my notes app. All of that culminated in producing this article. This piece is a shout out to the nurses at KGH who were little slices of heaven during my week of hell last semester.
The title of this article is due to the fact I am utterly convinced whoever created the expression, “Not all heroes wear capes,” was talking about nurses. Through the gruelling hours, the labouring tasks, and the anxiety that can fill hospitals, nurses manage to do their job with grace, class and smiles on their faces. Truly, I have never met such kind and caring women and men. They take care of our loved ones when they’re sick and tend to us when we’re at our worst. We owe nurses so much, and yet I find they are often immensely overlooked and underappreciated, considering what incredible work they do every day.
While we all watch shows like Grey’s Anatomy, which frequently glorify doctors, I quickly realized that nurses really are the backbones of hospitals. Although Grey’s Anatomy might hint at this idea, doctors in the show still get the insane pay, the recognition and all the hype. However, my time hospitalized showed me that behind every successful doctor is a nurse. A nurse who is working insane shift work and doing everything from changing bedpans, to cheering up patients, to consoling crying mothers.
To contextualize this article, I’ll explain a bit of my experience. During my last week of classes, I was in and out of the KGH emergency rooms as I continually was dismissed by doctors who said I merely had the stomach flu. Eventually, I was hospitalized and spent time in three wards of KGH, seeing doctors from five different departments. I saw countless doctors, and of course, they too were wonderful people. Yet, after they asked me the same twenty questions as the last doctor, I’d never see them again. Even the doctors I did see multiple times mostly didn’t remember who I was and had to re-ask me everything each visit.
My point isn’t that doctors aren’t amazing, but more that they see so many different patients during rounds that it is sometimes hard to feel connected to them. It was my nurses that remembered everything from my chart and the extra stuff left off it, like that I was not too fond of green jello and preferred red. My nurses had sustained time to get to know me and made an effort to connect with me and build a relationship with me during our time together. They were the ones who reassured me in moments of pain and told me stories when I couldn’t sleep at night. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but when you are hospitalized 3000 miles away from home, this type of attention, support and kindness meant the absolute world to me. The whole endeavour was harrowing, physically and emotionally, as I was disheartened to be so far away from my family during such a confusing and scary time. The support system that the nurses provided to me helped me feel so much more at home and consoled my nerves during anxious times.
It might be unfair to say only one type of person can do a job. However, I do believe that only one type of person with a specific range of depositions can be actually good at this demanding job. My whole time at KGH, I only had one nurse I didn’t connect with and who had a pretty negative personality, and it made a world of difference. I cried while she was on shift, and her lack of empathy made me scared to ask for the simplest things, such as a glass of water. Her questioning of the truthfulness of my pain made me feel insecure, unheard and dismissed. My already bad day full of medical tests was made infinitely worse, and my mental health was at an all-time low. Yet, when my night shift nurse came and introduced herself, her cheerful and empathetic personality immediately rubbed off on me and made me feel better. She was concerned about my pain, took it seriously and did everything she could to help comfort me. She insisted on having me press the call button if I ever needed “absolutely anything,” which made me feel safe and secure. I knew that I had someone there for me if anything happened. I didn’t feel like a bother anymore as I relaxed, letting my guard down. I went from crying earlier that day and feeling tired and defeated, to ending my night feeling hopeful that the worst was behind me. The effect that the nurses had on my mood and mindset shows just how vital nurses are and what an impact they can have.
Having a personality that is so compassionate and caring during a stressful time is a really exceptional talent. I said to one of my nurses in an emergency that she must be an angel if, after twelve hours of work, this was what her personality was like. She told me to wait until hour fourteen and then see if I had the same opinion. I laughed, but when hour fourteen hit and she came to check on me smiling and then cracked a joke to get me smiling too, I knew I was right the first time. She was like a human ray of sunshine.
It wasn’t just that one nurse, though. On each floor, I was moved to, and each shift change I encountered, I was introduced to more extraordinary nurses that went above and beyond their job description. During a particularly bad morning, one of my nurses consoled my mom and gave her directions to an art craft fair to distract her from being worried about me for a bit. She told my mom about her favourite art stalls and trinkets she had gotten for her family in Halifax in the past. Later, my mom came back with a few homemade gifts and a smile on her face, which only made me happier. Again, that might not seem like a big deal, but getting a protective mother to take a break from pacing around the emergency room was an enormous and also much-needed feat. Being in a hospital watching a loved one is so draining that taking a moment to breathe outside is essential. The emergency nurse’s job description was to take care of me, the patient, and yet she expanded it that morning.
When I finally left KGH, I turned to my mom in the car and declared, “Mom, I want to be a nurse.” This, of course, was incredibly impractical, but after my previous week, I was enthralled by the profession. Now, due to my lack of love for science and blood, I am here to inform everyone that I will not be switching career paths now that I have had some time to think, and I’m less dehydrated. However, even now, the sentiments that spurred that declaration have still stayed.
My dream job has always been one that is a “helping profession,” and nursing is the ultimate helping profession. There are few jobs where you can really touch someone at their core, but nursing is definitely one of them. When people are sick, their walls are down and they experience a unique type of vulnerability. Nurses are sort of like a universal mom tending to you while you’re sick, nurturing you, and empathizing with your pain. Their warmth and encouragement can be a decisive influence on staying hopeful during times of sickness. Hope and positivity for the sick and those around them are just as imperative to the recovery process as any medicine.
So, thank you to all the nurses in this world that have signed up to be lifelong healers. You are doing such an exceptional job that takes an incredible amount of composure and fortitude. In particular, though, a special thank you to the real-life superheroes that work at KGH. They are armed with kindness and generosity, which they use to ward off fear, hopelessness, and distress. I full-heartedly believe that kindness really can change lives, alter trajectories, and have a significant influence that ultimately makes the world better.
The nurses have had a significant impact on me, and I will always remember their kindness as one of the crucial factors that got me through an extremely tough time. Their benevolence inspired me to try to emulate their patience and sympathy in my own daily life. You don’t have to be a nurse to be understanding and patient. People don’t need to be sick to show them humanity, and everyone has days where they need some sympathy.
I think that we could all do with a bit more consideration in our day-to-day.
Not everyone can be a nurse, but everyone can be kind.