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Commentary: Impact of One Nurse on One Patient

By Marcia Gruber

Buffalo, NY – Nurses are ordinary people with ordinary lives and are thus approachable and available. Nurses are everywhere. They are our neighbors, family members, PTA moms, and aerobics instructors. Nurses can be found in hospitals, schools, long-term care facilities, law offices, insurance companies, and county health fairs.

I have had the exceptional privilege of working with nurses whose ability to provide expert care and comfort to patients is amazing. Nurses are remarkable people but they don't seem to know it. As an administrator at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, I hear so many wonderful stories about nurses. All too often, however, the nurses don't hear those compliments. And so there is one story I must share with you.

I have a friend, Kelly, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was just 13. I now work at the hospital where Kelly was treated. One day, while here for a check-up, Kelly said she'd love to see the nurse who took care of her when she was first diagnosed. As she put it, "The doctor cured my cancer, but this nurse gave me my life back." This statement made me proud that a fellow nurse had helped my friend in such a meaningful way. I asked her to tell me more.

Kelly said "I still remember hearing the words when the doctor told my father I had cancer. He said I needed surgery and chemotherapy." Kelly thought, "How am I going to get through this?" Kelly got her answer the day she went to the hospital to start treatment. As she walked through the hospital and into the Pediatric Unit and it was then her angel appeared. Kelly's angel was a nurse named Chris.

This nurse smiled at Kelly, spoke to her softly and immediately extended words of kindness. Kelly said she never had to ask for anything, because Chris always knew the right thing to do. There were times when Kelly was very sick from her chemo and Chris would rub her back and tell her she was going to be okay. Kelly's mother adds that not only did Chris care for her daughter, but she also tended to her family. Chris would make sure they were comfortable as they sat by their daughter's beside. As the many months of treatment passed Kelly admits there were times she wanted to give up, but that Chris's perseverance overruled those thoughts. On one of Kelly's better days Chris took her to Niagara Falls to ride on the Maid of the Mist. Kelly could not believe that this nurse would give up her personal time to put a smile on her face. Kelly says it was one of the most unforgettable days of her life.

Kelly's mother says that Chris was always positive with her daughter, but never gave them any false hope. Kelly's mother went on to say that "If attitude is half the battle, then we owe Chris additional gratitude." One of her greatest attributes was her ability to instill a "positive attitude" in my daughter. Kelly truly believed that she was going to conquer her cancer. And Kelly did. She is now 33 years old, cancer free and about to be married.

I share Kelly's story with you but there so many similar stories. This country is experiencing a national nursing shortage and I do not know how today's nurse will find the time to do what Chris did for Kelly and her family. New York State is facing a critical shortage of nurses. 92% of hospitals in New York State report vacant nursing positions.

Nursing is a profession of immeasurable rewards. Every day, Nurses contribute to both the quantity and quality of a patient's life. The work of a nurse is often tiring, sometimes frustrating but always rewarding.

Another patient told me once that her nurse was "An angel who reached out to a stranger." For those of you thinking about career choices, or for those of you thinking about changing careers please know that the profession of Nursing needs more angels.

Listener-Commentator Marcia Gruber is vice president for ambulatory care services at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.