EVERY year since 2010 I think deeply about the medical profession. Those thoughts arise because of an experience I underwent in a hospital in Kampala, brought on by the neglect of one medical person and reversed, death to life, by the astuteness of another.
That story in full will be told another day; this story, though, is about my experiences in two hospitals last week, and a resolution to give more to the nursing profession than I, personally, have done in the recent past.
I have always had a soft spot for nurses, courtesy of my upbringing as well as bits of foreign folklore that positioned them as kind, caring, selfless individuals who tend to us during our most painful and uncomfortable times.
This foreign folklore is part of my resolution, since I am going to pay more attention to International Nurses Day – an official United Nations day that falls on May 12 – the anniversary of the world’s most famous nurse, Ms. Florence Nightingale.
As a child I heard a lot about Ms. Nightingale but she was nothing in comparison to my own favourite nurses – three aunts of mine whose dedication to their work sometimes brought tears to my eyes.
Their gentle but firm manner both at home and at work, and their solemn yet jovial attitude even in the most difficult of situations made our more serious childhood illnesses pass like a breeze when we were brought before them – which was rare, because they dealt with a much higher scale of illness and treatment than we normally suffered.
But every time we were at their wards the calls of “Sister Baguma!”, “Sister Muwonge!” and “Sister Byabakama!” were made in such earnest faith that it was obvious even to our young minds that these were serious women with means and influence.
I missed them all sorely last week as I turned up at the Uganda Heart Institute to help with a medical emergency just after midnight. Hours later, I was grateful that there were others – many others – like them.
Such was my fixation the first day that when I recognised a nurse I had in the past known to be among the most efficient at another hospital, walking through the corridors at Mulago, I panicked a little that she had left her duty station and there were likely people there who badly needed her attention and care.
I calmed down on working out that we were now the beneficiaries of her skills, and listened as the corridor lit up with earnest faithful calls of, “Sister Assiya!”
A day or so later, we were at Nakasero Hospital for some medical tests and my patient, in the waiting area seats, was trying to squirm his way into a comfortable position befitting of his role, when a nurse walking briskly past turned back and declared:
“But that patient is not comfortable!”
Within three minutes, she had identified a free consultation room with an unused bed and laid my patient out there so he could wait for his test results and follow-on treatment in some comfort.
Reading her name off her name tag confirmed that I had never met her before – the name “Sister Abbie” would have resounded; when I bumped into her a few hours later she didn’t really recall the incident – providing care was routine for her, or she had much more important cases under her belt from that morning alone.
The difference her kind intervention made to my patient’s life could probably have bought him a few more months or years – but even the extra hours of comfort he had that morning alone made her an angel in our eyes.
It is for these angels that I will find a small contribution, besides calling your attention to May 12, International Nurses Day. The theme of the day is ‘Nurses: A force for change – Improving health systems’ resilience’.
In the International Council of Nurses document circulated to nurses worldwide to guide the observance of this year’s International Nurses Day, I found the definition: “Resilience: the capacity to recover from difficulties.”
This made my heart applaud nurses even more because these are people whose basic work environment is fraught with difficulties. They are surrounded by the sick, the wounded, the angry, the anguished, the dirty, the needy, the dying. Every day. All the time.
They are surrounded by people who expect them to be kind, and selfless, and caring, and loving, and attentive, and all-knowing, and patient. They are surrounded by people who themselves are impatient, and unhappy, and angry, and uncertain, and anxious, and distracted, and selfish.
Yet they do their work every day and when they are irritable or flare up in anger we are quick to condemn them. We look past them hoping for ‘the Doctor’, yet they are the ones holding up health systems and holding our sick in their arms the world over.
These nurses are our angels right here on earth; let’s treat them that way, each of us doing the little we can to help them help us live easier lives.