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Unsung Heroes Walk Halls of America’s Hospitals

Nurses put it all on the line to care for patients every day.

Let’s pause in praise of nurses.
They work many miracles. Few people notice. The media’s 24/7 obsession with the fact as well as the risk of ebola in America put some nurses in the spotlight — as patients and as caregivers — but every day in thousands upon thousands of hospital hallways and rooms, nurses are doing their thing, quietly moving from patient to patient ministering to the sick and the suffering as well as the chronic complainers.
Nursing, as a career, embodies many, many categories these days. Some are specialists. Their domain is a cardiac intensive care unit, a burn unit or a surgical suite inside a larger facility.
Education levels vary. Training and coursework ranges from the basics for certified nurse aids to more advanced studies in two-year, four-year, master’s and even doctoral programs.
Some nurses work in clinics.
Not knocking them, but they have the luxury of predictable schedules and, for the most part, predictable patients receiving routine care.
Some people in these clinics are not nurses, but pretend to be by wearing scrubs and sitting at the front counter greeting and treating patients with expressions ranging from indifference to contempt. (In fairness, some of the front-desk people are first class, but many suffer from self-importance and woe unto any customer who interrupts their conversation about what a teacher reportedly said to a student or the relative price of hamburger meat.)
Some nurses are “first-responders” who go out into the field in ambulances and aircraft to assist people often in intense pain amid utter carnage.
Bless them all, even those receptionist-nurses whose arrogance is inexplicable.
But the focus here is shift nurses in hospital, on duty for eight hours or, increasingly, 12 hours.
Until about 40 years ago, hospitals were operated on a charitable basis. Hospitals charged for services, but not much more than was needed to break even. Then corporate America discovered health care. It has become an industry unto itself.
Nurses serve in many specialties but the bottom line is patient care.

Part of the business model that today’s floor nurses confront is short-staffing. In the pre-profit, pre-regulatory era, administrators drew up work schedules without much attention to absolutely maximizing income. A nurse could have a cup of coffee.
As income-driven health care has increased, so have government regulations designed, on paper, to protect patients — at least a little — by requiring per-patient minimums of nurses on duty. Depending on the company, these minimums are stretched to the max. This, of course, lowers the quality of health care, but for purposes of this discussion, let’s note that it raises the stress level of nurses.
Still, they show up.
Yes, some are crabby and indifferent and look for ways to do the least for a patient.
But that’s not the majority.
Even though shown little-to-no respect by their employers (other than a paycheck), they bring cheer to the desperately ill and afraid. And they are good at it. An experienced nurse can walk into a room, look at a patient and deftly reposition the patient to ease an ache or a pain.
Hospitals are where we confront our mortality.
Day in and day out, there’s no need to think about the end of a life.
Can’t avoid it in a hospital.
Not knocking doctors (either), but most today spend a maximum of five minutes with a patient or a family, often less.
It’s the nurses who are in the room for as long as it takes.
Sometimes they are verbally assaulted by family members who demand they do more.
Nurses right here in Oxford are taking care of patients in clinics, a hospital and doctor’s offices.

Sometimes they are alone in the middle of the night with a man or a woman who has no family — or no family members who care to be there — holding a hand while the breathing becomes shallower and shallower before one final exhale.
“I’ll be here,” the nurse says. “I will stay with you.”
Ebola is an awful hemorrhagic fever. The suffering that accompanies the disease is immense. It is much to be feared.
But still, vastly more people become ill and many perish in Mississippi hospitals with ailments that are just as painful … just less publicized.
Who’s there?
For the lucky, families who are calm, caring and supportive.
For everyone, regardless of income, age or attitude, there are nurses.
They get up, go to work, provide the most tender and professional care to their fellow humans in the absolute worst situations imaginable, then go home, rest and return the next day to do it all over again.
“I’ll be here,” the nurse says. “I will stay with you.”
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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