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Why I Owe My Life to Nurses After Spending 218 Days in the Hospital

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Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson recently performed a monologue about her nursing career during Miss America’s talent competition. Comments by “The View” co-hosts about Johnson’s nontraditional choice have shed light on the lack of credence and respect nurses are given. Rather than attempting to interpret the intent behind careless remarks, why not funnel some attention toward the exceptional talents that nurses demonstrate each day?

I’m not a nurse, but I owe my life to them. After the healthy birth of my daughter in 2006, I suffered grave complications that led to a massive infection. I spent 218 consecutive days in the hospital. During that time, I lost my colon and spleen, underwent eight major surgeries, two tracheotomies, temporary paralysis and faced a myriad of other obstacles that brought me to the brink of death at age 31. The nurses who cared for me are some of the most empathic, devoted and selfless individuals I’ve ever met.

I’ll be the first to say that several of my nurses weren’t the most stellar individuals. I’ve written and spoken extensively regarding the callous treatment I received from a few medical professionals and how it adversely impacted my health. There will always be those whose words and actions poorly represent their profession.

Miss Colorado’s monologue conveyed the vital differences nurses make in the lives of their patients. As a nurse herself, she spoke from the heart. Her performance wasn’t a glitzy showstopper, and her nursing scrubs weren’t the sexy garbs typically donned by contestants. Rather than applauding the substance of her speech, she has been mocked and told that nursing is not a talent. I speak from vast experience when I say most nurses display more talent than we can ever quantify, much less judge.

For months, I was held hostage in a hospital bed, unable to speak, eat, drink, breathe unassisted or move. With no mode to communicate, I spent my days in tremendous pain, locked away with thoughts of my newborn daughter, toddler son and husband. For months, I was delusional and forcibly restrained on more than one occasion. Everyone thought I had severed from reality and was unaware of my surroundings. I wasn’t. I remember almost everything, especially the care I received from nurses.

For more than seven months, nurses were my lifeline. Aside from managing my intense medical needs, I was at the mercy of nurses to maintain whatever shreds of dignity I still possessed. From hygiene maintenance to shifting me in my bed, my fate hinged on the nurses who entered my hospital room. As busy as they were, many nurses looked at the photos of my children, asked me questions about my career, fluffed my pillows or spent a few extra minutes just talking to me. They devoted extra time to read my lips even though what I mouthed was typically indecipherable.

I experienced terrifyingly vivid visual hallucinations. Often times, I thought my children had been kidnapped, or my husband was being murdered. Despite the fact that I had no means to communicate these realistic images, the nurses saw my desperate facial expressions and would comfort me. On more than one occasion, my airway became blocked. The calm and timely responses from nurses may have been the difference between life and death.

Many nurses on night shifts witnessed my nightly ritual: Silently weeping until sleep came to me in fits. On one of those treacherous nights, my nurse met my gaze and said, “Lisa, you are unlike any patient I’ve ever had. You have a positive outlook and a fighting spirit. I know you’re going to recover. I want you to imagine yourself at home with your beautiful baby girl and adorable little boy. They need their mommy. Don’t give up, you’re a fighter!” I clung to her beautiful words even though I recall thinking, how in the world can this nurse see that I have a positive fighting spirit? I can’t even talk or move…she should see me when I’m not half-dead!

Our lives depend on nurses checking vitals, changing dressings, dispensing medication, managing wound care and multitasking dozens of other responsibilities with competence. Nurses also foster hope, restore dignity, display compassion, listen, comfort, connect and inspire their patients. If that’s not talent, I don’t know what is.

Follow this journey on Comfortable in My Thick Skin.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: September 30, 2015
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