Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mrs. Otero

One of the joys of bedside nursing is being able to work with some really good people. Their good deeds and actions get burned into your brain as an antidote to all the unpleasantness associated with nursing. Being in the presence of an effective bedside nurse is an emotional experience. Nurses like one of my youthful idols, Mrs. Otero, can actually initiate changes in neurotransmitters inducing positive mood changes in both patients and fellow nurses. Truly incredible.

Mrs. Otero always looked the same. A reassuring look that was part smile and part business which gave the impression any situation could be gracefully handled with a favorable outcome. She had one of those long white dresses that extended below her knees. Prominently on her head was what I call an aviator style nursing cap. The cap's edges were folded at a right angle to her head forming little winglets that paralleled the floor. With the speed she moved about, I bet her winged cap actually generated some lift. Her pin which looked like a miniature sheriff's badge was pinned to her collar. A very calm collected lady that didn't take kindly to fools (just kidding on that one.) She actually  took being nonjudgmental to a new level. She treated everyone with the same level of kindness and compassion.

She decided to become a nurse at age 8 after her older brother was wounded in conflict as a soldier and  never deviated from this plan. Nursing school in her native country, Mexico, was 5 years. The initial 3 years resembled our diploma education and the last 2 years was spent as free labor to repay the nursing school.  She immigrated to this country in her 40's and had been working here about 5 years when I met her.

She thought that call lights used to signal  for a nurse were an indication of an unanticipated need and these modern devices were unnecessary. Always giving 10/10 ths she would speed from room to room. For her, the nursing process went: Assess-Reassure -Comfort. speed off to the next patient.

Truly self-sacrificing, she tended to overlook her own well being. She used vacation days to have a hemorrohoidectomy done. I was lucky enough to care for her post-op and she told me she did not want to abuse her sick leave and this was too minor of a thing to call in sick for. I shudder to think what illness she would have deemed worthy of using sick leave.

Positive affirmations were always on the tip of her tongue. As a student nurse, I was helping her with an agitated and restless patient. She leaned over to secure a line on his arm and suddenly the patient unloaded with the grossest glob of pleggmy mucous that I have ever seen anyone spit. It landed squarely in the middle of her face.  As she was wiping this gooey glaze off her face, she calmly told the patient, "Don't worry honey, you'll be feeling better soon"... Unbelievable.. and whenever someone tried to aggravate me, this episode always came to mind. It always settled me down and brought a calming perspective to the situation.

One has to have what it takes to be a nurse like this. Usually a calling, sometimes fueled by a traumatic event,  a burning desire to help, and a willingness to work very hard. This is a rare find. Today I read about so many whippersnapperRNs that do activities such as nurse recruiter (take your self to the bedside, how do you expect to recruit someone to a job you cannot do.) Pharmaceutical sales nurse (if the drugs really are effective you don't have to sell them) What the heck is nursing infomatics? (sounds like a good excuse to get away from the bedside.) The list of these bedside nursing refugees is endless and in a way, pathetically sad. I would not trade 10 nurses of this ilk for one of Mrs. Otero.  Florence Nightingale did not waste time sitting in an office - the bedside will always be the essence of nursing.

You can probably make more money in one of these non-bedside endeavors, but you are missing the heart and soul of nursing. When you retire you might have a 401K, but it's not money that has brought me peace or happiness later in life.  Mrs. Otero and others like her have tattooed contentment and well being along many neural pathways in an aging CNS. It's a  comfort and well-being that is priceless.

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