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!