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To the Senator Who Claimed Nurses 'Play Cards' During Their Shifts

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In April there was uproar when a Washington state senator made a comment that nurses “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.” A lot of nurses were rightfully up in arms about this slight to their career. Recently, National Nurses Week was recognized and because I have had the absolute pleasure, privilege and honor to work with some amazing nurses I thought maybe I should do my part  — so let me set the record straight.

Nurses do sit around playing cards. They also play Connect Four and Hangman on the large glass doors of the rooms in the intensive care unit. They play “Hide the Elf” at Christmas, and they do arts and crafts at any opportunity. They put on birthday parties for dolls, and for their patients. They do this with gusto, they do it without complaining, they do it while pushing their own feelings, fears and stresses down.

Being able to play cards with their patient in Room 6 — because she’s finally off the ventilator — is a privilege. It’s a gift they didn’t think they’d have four days prior. It’s a gift that their patient in Room 3 might not get. It’s a gift that the patient in Room 1 never got to have. Those card playing days? Those are the good ones. Those are the days where they haven’t had to hold their own bodily functions for eight solid hours because their patients hearts were failing, and they were tied to a bank of IV machines carefully titrating meds and rates and emptying huge bags of dialyzed fluids…because if they walked away for even two minutes it could literally mean life or death for their fragile patient.

The card playing days are the ones where they haven’t had to meet a scared mama at the door of the ICU to warn her that her baby girl was struggling really badly, and prepare her for what she was going to walk into. The card playing days are the ones where they haven’t had to help prepare a mama and a daddy to say goodbye to their child way too soon, way too unexpectedly. The card playing days are the ones where they haven’t had to hold an infant through the throes of withdrawal because they were born to drug addicted parents who never even came to the hospital to check on their own babies.

I’ll tell you what else nurses do; when they’re not busy playing cards they are chasing down residents to explain to them that the orders they just put in for meds will kill the patient, because they forgot a decimal point and they can’t possibly give the meds as ordered.

They are administering pain meds finally to a child who has been whimpering in pain from a surgery site and had to wait three more hours util the next dose. They are bringing blessed relief. And in the next room they have to be the bearer of pain, as it’s time for that patient’s Lovenox shot into a bruised up little leg that should never have to know the horrors of twice daily painful subcutaneous blood thinners. They are rearranging endless strings of IV tubing, ventilator tubing and dialysis hoses so that grandma and grandpa can come touch the comatose body of their grandchild that may not make it to the next Christmas. They are sitting next to a shell-shocked mom on the couch listening to her hold back tears while she asks, “Is my baby going to be OK?” They are holding back their own tears as they answer in the gentlest way possible with the knowledge that chances aren’t good, but this mom wants only a little hope in a dark room. When they aren’t busy playing cards, nurses are being nurses. Caregivers. Therapists. Friends. Food orderers for the patient who just got cleared for her first bite of real food in a month. Party planners because in the ICU everything, every little win, is a cause for celebration. Cruise ship directors for the mom who needs to drink something before she passes out, and the only way she might is if the nurse pretends like they are on a tropical island ordering fruity beverages. Superheroes. Life savers. Hand holders. Tough as nails with soft hearts that get worn on their sleeves. That’s what else nurses do.

Nurses are why I was able to hug all four of my babies on Mother’s Day. Nurses are why I am not curled up in a fetal position in a corner having lost my mind after too many days locked into the same four sterile walls. Nurses are why I know how to care for my own complex little girl in our own home. Nurses have guided my child through some tough circumstances that we didn’t think she’d make it through. Those same nurses have helped me pack my child, her pumps and tubes into our car months later to finally head home. Nurses are the closest thing you will ever know to an angel on earth. So yeah, nurses play cards. And I hope for all of the nurses everywhere that you get to play cards today. We are who and where we are because of you. Thank you hardly seems adequate, so maybe I’ll just send you all a pack of cards instead. To all the nurses we have been blessed to know, interact with, live with and be forever indebted to…thank you.


Photos submitted by contributor.

Originally published: May 21, 2019
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