This past week Washington State Senator, Maureen Walsh, proclaimed that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably played cards for a considerable amount of the day, ” (CNN). What she was specifically referring to, is rural hospitals with a smaller number of patients/beds to take care of. What she underestimated in her ill-planned statement though is a true caregiver’s perspective.
You see, I was seven months pregnant with my first child when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. We were blindsided by the diagnosis, let alone the late stage, and even the detrimental words “terminal.” We live very rurally, a small lake-town that thrives off of tourism in our service industry businesses. And, I have to tell you, Senator Walsh was right: those chemotherapy infusion nurses, those post-surgery, seventh-floor angels, those pain-control, specialty oncology nurses, they did play cards. I watched, observed, cried, thanked, and even begged them to keep playing cards to save my husband. Let me tell you about those cards they played:
When those masked, and scrubbed-in angels pushed my husband out on his hospital bed, down the corridors, and into his new “home” for the next 10 days–they played the card of who they should take care of first–their patient or the patient’s wife. They struggled if they should take care of the man wincing and crying out in pain, or if they should take care of the seven-month swollen expecting momma that was beside herself as she hovered over his body in his bed. They played the cards of wondering what they should convince that desperate wife and expecting mother of first: should she eat and feed that small babe growing inside her, or do we tell her she needs to sleep for the first time since they checked in four days ago?
Those blue-scrubbed Mercy Angels played the cards of wondering if they wrap their arms around that depleted wife when she was on her hands and knees begging God to relieve the pain her husband gasped for help with–or do they hold the small nine-month-old chunky baby that was in the hospital floor playing with his toys to give that devoted wife a moment to just be her husband’s best friend and saving grace.
Those chemotherapy and infusion nurses–the real heroes in our story–they juggled the most cards of all. They juggled do we take care of the expecting momma, and later the momma of a five-day-old, or do we tend to our patient’s every need. Do we take food, baby toys, or any of their needs to their overnight hospital stay, or do we stay home with our own families that we need to spend time with? They juggled whether they got to cry in front of us, or escape to the backroom to relieve emotions when the oncologist said there was nothing more we could do. When those champion card players saw that frail, bony husband of mine disoriented, unaware of everything going on around him, and a momma carrying him on one arm, and their sweet-year-old baby in the other out of the chemo clinic–they played the card of what emotion they got to show that day.
Senator Walsh, you are correct. Our rural, country, small-town nurses do play cards all day–in fact, a considerable amount of the day. Wait–no– all day and all night. They play cards when they go home, when they are supposed to be with their families, when they are supposed to take care of themselves. They are master card players, the real poker faces in this game of healthcare. They play the cards of taking care of patients, taking care of patient’s caregivers, families, dying wishes, egos, dignity, and every single basic need in between. And while they are playing those cards, they are card sharks at playing their own cards of emotions, family, vulnerability, and juggling their personal time that they devote to their patients and their families. They attend funerals, they hold that wife and that brand new baby in their arms while they weep because they are standing at the coffin of a patient they loved.
They are card sharks. Poker faces. True Vegas-style card players. Yes, Senator Walsh, my husband’s country, rural-small town nurses play cards. The very best cards there are to play. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
A Champion for Nurses,
Joe Smith’s Widow
Kristina Smith is a widow, mother, Special Education Administrator, Colorectal Cancer National Advocate, Blogger and Amazon Best-Selling Author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir”
This article originally appeared in First Beyond the First on April 23, 2019