The Words I Didn't Expect to Hear From a Nurse About My Dad

I’m a major hospital eavesdropper. It’s not a malicious habit or anything. It’s just that I’m easily bored, easily curious, and hospitals have all the right conditions for interesting listening. My family has spent many hours in hospitals because of complications with my dad’s multiple sclerosis, and one night I overheard something worth sharing.

We were in the ER of an uptown hospital with exceptional specialists and the word “science” in the title. My dad had been sent out of another ER several times without help, having officially confounded the most skilled specialists we knew. This ER was chaotic with trauma codes and the flu outbreak. Big city stuff. We could only hope it wasn’t a wasted trip.

During that bleak wait, I heard a nurse passing report at the end of her shift. Because his situation was unique, I knew immediately she was talking about my dad. In the middle of the long list of medical details, she paused and added, “He’s a sweet, sweet man.”

Please don’t call me cynical, but those words were unexpected. My dad is unfailingly sweet, but I truly hadn’t expected anyone to notice or care that night. He was too weak to speak. That nurse had only met him a few hours ago, and I deeply appreciated how she saw his personality through his sickness. She didn’t know I was listening, and that’s why it meant so much.

The healthcare system can feel like a mindless machine driven by numbers, codes and scientific facts. Even with the best care, the patient and family can begin to feel reduced to data – a diagnosis and a birthdate. That’s why her words mattered to me. In that moment my dad was more than a complicated case or a list of conditions. Her words made him a person. Her words made the system less mechanical and more of a network of people helping people in need.

I didn’t tell her, “Thank you,” because I didn’t want to tell on myself for eavesdropping. Instead I’ll say it now to all the great medical professionals like her who don’t get enough thanks: Thank you for making a difference. Thank you for your intense hard work. Thank you for making the patient a person. Thank you for words that lend dignity. Thank you for every single act of courtesy. Thank you for truly caring. Your thoughtfulness is a priceless gift!

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