One Amazing Nurse

When I was 15 I became very ill.  Think Greta Garbo as Camille ill.  Though what I had wasn’t consumption. No much worse.  I had the unknown.

For 30 days I was hospitalized in isolation, with a fever that escalated up to 106 degrees at its worst, followed by delirium and prolonged semi-consciousness.  While in the hospital, I spent the entire time in the children’s ward—because there wasn’t any room in the adult isolation unit. I don’t remember much from those days, except that the bed I slept in was too short, and consequently my feet hung over the edge. I also recall that anything that was brought in to my room—books, magazines, and toiletries—stayed there and anyone who came in had to wear hospital gear as if prepping for surgery. Masks, gowns, the whole nine yards.

I don't have a photo of Gloria, but this old time actress (Mary Wickes, seen here in "The Man Who Came to Dinner") comes close.

I also remember Gloria, one of the nurses who, besides my mother was the only real constant in my life during that time, as no other visitors were allowed in the isolation unit. Gloria looked like she was in her fifties, and, as they’d say in the old James Cagney gangster movies, she was “on the level.”  Honest and above-board. No-nonsense, too, looking me in the eye and telling it to me straight. She never treated me like I was a kid.

“Monica, you’re not going to get better if you don’t take these pills.”

I hated taking pills, on account I didn’t know how to swallow them. Other nurses would give me my pill in a little cup and not notice whether or not I really took them. Gloria watched me intently, leaving me no choice but to chew each one, and it was all I could do to keep the gag reflex at bay. She must have been horrified to watch me eat those nasty, chemical-tasting tablets, because after a few days of it, she set aside her lunch break one day to teach me how, using a unique technique that I still use to this day.

Then there was the matter of my legs. Gloria didn’t care that my thighs were in severe pain from all the shots I was getting, which made it agonizing to stand, let alone walk. “You’ve got to get out of bed and push yourself to move or you’re going to end up in here forever,” she’d say.

Or maybe she did care, but she didn’t want to help me wallow in it. So she needled and goaded, until I forced myself out of bed and struggled to stand. She’d pretend not to notice how I flailed about trying so hard to stand and take two steps forward. Sympathy wasn’t in her vernacular.

Gloria was such a big part of my life during those four weeks. She, along with my mother, became my lifeline to the outside. On occasion, she’d come into my room, just for a moment or two, to chat and tell me stories about what was going on outside, beyond my four walls.

When the doctors finally figured out what was wrong with me, I remember how it was Gloria who took the time to explain. (For those of you who are really curious, the diagnosis was rickettsial fever, also known as typhus or spotted fever.)

After a month, the doctors gave me my walking papers, though it would be another two months of recovery before I could return to school. As I sat in my wheelchair, waiting to be released from the hospital, I mustered up the energy to hug her goodbye. I think she knew how difficult that was for me. My illness had left me weak and practically lifeless. She kneeled down beside me and whispered, “Kiddo, you’re going to be ok.”

That was all. Her assurance and confidence in me was all I needed in that moment.

Nurses, like Gloria, are our unsung heroes. They do so much to take care of us and yet they don’t always get the recognition. Which is why I want to know, has a nurse ever made a difference in your life?  Now, I never did get the chance to tell Gloria what her kindness truly meant to me, but, thanks to a contest I just learned about, you can let the world know about a nurse who has had an impact on your life.

Johnson & Johnson is running a contest called, “Amazing Nurses.”  So, if there’s ever been a Gloria in your life, you should submit your nomination. The deadline is September 11th, and all you need do is click on this link and follow the instructions:

Who knows? Maybe your nurse will be one of the lucky ones to be honored! There are 26 prizes in all, with the grand prize winner receiving a VIP invite—and an all expense paid trip for two to Los Angeles—to attend the 2011 CNN Heroes: All-Star Tribute and a spot in a Johnson & Johnson TV ad. Now, that’s pretty cool, if you ask me. Plus, if you play your cards right, maybe your nurse will take you!

So give it a go. But first, make sure to comment here about the nurse who made a difference to you. I’m all ears!

29 thoughts on “One Amazing Nurse

  1. Monica, thankfully the hospital stints in my life have been too short for me to bond with any nurse in particular but reading your story helps create awareness to the role these ladies and men play in our recovery. How wonderful that you were lucky enough to have a Gloria to help nurse you back to health! I belive it’s the compassion and kindness that these individuals dole out to their patients what makes for a speedier and more effective recovery! Good for you for recognizing the difference Gloria made during this time in your life!

    • The Man Who Came to Dinner is one of my all-time favorite classic films–and I have many, which I drop mentions about, from time to time, in my blog. Thank you for stopping by today! I just love receiving comments! 🙂

  2. Wonderful story, Monica. I have, thankfully, been a very healthy individual, so I don’t have any nurse stories, but my sister, Karen, was a nurse and a very compassionate one, too. And when she was dying, the nurse that attended her treated not only my sister with tenderness, but us, too, because she knew we all were hurting.

    • I’m so sorry about your sister. It is heartening to know that both she and your family were treated with compassion. Nurses do amazing work, going above and beyond in an effort to make us better. They deserve much gratitude and appreciation from the rest of us.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Sounds like a truly icky illness, Monica. Glad you survived, with Gloria’s help! I’ll be forever grateful to the nurses on the cancer ward who helped make my dad’s stay brighter, as well as to the obstetric nurse who stayed with me during my son’s delivery, even after her shift had ended!

    • Thanks! And thank goodness, we don’t always need them, but when we do, it’s nice to have someone around who shows they care in a number of ways, like the obstetric nurse who stayed with you after her shift. Now, that’s caring!

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  5. Unfortunately I don’t have a nurse in mind, but I do hope your Gloria wins. What a wonderful thing if she reads this and realizes how much her support healed. Great story, Monica. A truly inspiring post!

  6. I had a few awesome nurses in my various hospital experiences. Some were kind & sympathetic & some were the no nonsense type. Only one really bad one. She was mean.

    Stopping by from LBS!

    • As in every field, there’s always at least one really bad one. But that shouldn’t stop us from honoring all the others for the good work they do!

      Thanks for visiting from LBS! 🙂

  7. What a sweet memoir! Nurses are wonderful. I’ve always appreciated the nurses who delivered my babies. Your post has inspired to do something kind for them to recognize all that they do.

  8. Wow, I had no idea about this aspect of your life. With respect to our friendship, I’m so glad you recovered! And Gloria sounds like a wonder.

  9. Hey, Monica. Excellent writing. If you enter this post to the contest, there is one thing I’d love for you to add: would you explain what the pill swallowing lesson your nurse gave you was? It’s a little hole in the narrative and I think it’s necessary. (Plus, enquiring minds want to know!)

    • Well, for the life of me, I could not swallow a pill the traditional way (placing the pill on your tongue and then drinking some water). The medicinal taste from chewing still haunted me. So instead, Gloria recommended I take a gulp of juice (not water, to disguise the taste) and not swallow (as you might do when gargling), then drop the pill into my mouth. I’d then swallow the juice and the pill would go down, too, never quite touching my tongue and thus avoiding it’s icky flavor.

      So now you know my trick, which I learned from an amazing nurse. You can’t believe my joy when I learned this and thus no longer had to chew the darn tablets!

  10. Wow, cheers to Gloria and all the other nurses out there who are our daily heroes. When my mother was battling the last stages of her cancer in the ICU at CU Medical Center in Denver, there were a team of nurses whom, although I don’t recall their names, will forever hold a special spot in my heart for making my Mom’s last days comfortable and dignified.

    • I think nurses who work with cancer patients are a very rare breed, indeed, and most deserving to be honored for their work–and for helping your mom. How meaningful, for you and your mother.

    • Yeah, I was really unconscious or semi, for the first week. Once I was cognizant of my lot, I felt like it would go on forever. I was really too weak to do much, though if blogging had been around then, I’m sure I would have had lots of stories to tell–and lots of time, too!

  11. Fortunately, for me, I’ve rarely needed a nurse. But I am a nurse and I can tell you that Gloria knew you appreciated her (we just KNOW). And she probably kept a little piece of you in her heart. While I doubt any of my former patients will be nominating me for an award, I like to think that the also “just knew” that I appreciated them, as well. I’ll be following this contest – nursing is a profession that I love.

    • Well, I salute you and the work you do, serving a need so many take for granted–until they need it. Thank you for your words about Gloria. I really hope she knew. I was too young to even know how to appreciate how lucky I was to have her on my side. But hopefully, she did know.

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