Well, this is weird. I never thought we would meet each other again, but here I am in hopes of accomplishing something I should have done a long time ago: which is to read out loud this letter of gratitude to you. Worst case scenario: you’re gonna have a “guess what!” story to talk about over a glass of wine tonight, best case scenario: CTV news reaches out to you to do a piece on the best nurse in London. Either way, I’ll have said what I need to because I need to emotionally process the surgery that I had.
You rushed in like every other nurse, checking my vitals and all that. You said ‘hun’ a lot, which made me wonder how long you’ve been a nurse and at what point did you pick that up. I think its a great word, ‘hun’, and I wish you all the more industry secrets and nursing 101’s in the future. To that effect, you also did me a favor and turned on the supplemental oxygen for me when I wasn’t supposed to be using it. I wanted to sleep a little better, and you said you could turn it up to half a litre. Which was great, thanks for that. Lemme back up, and start from the beginning. I got admitted at night in the ward after an urgent gallbladder surgery which was complicated and I had to be opened up. The night nurse greeted me in, and despite my best efforts, I found her persona too fruity for a 4:00 AM reckoning that life is short. I was unhappy that having gone through medical school, I was the patient. My ego bruised the most, and I reacted as logically and with a cool head as I could. But as the day dragged on, it wore my bravery down, to the point where I needed a nurse as much emotionally as literally. I was woken up the next morning to the sound of the curtains being drawn. You walked in and introduced yourself, and I did not think any less or more of you, but there came a point when I realized what a nurse actually is.
I remember the moment clearly, you were putting my socks on so I could go for a walk. It was bizarre having someone kneel done and touch your feet, and put socks on like you’re 3 years old. I thought how much empathy and selflessness someone needs have to be able to do even the menial of tasks for another person. Sure, it seems grand to say you ‘tend to the sick’, but in a room of four, there always was that one patient that was too loud, too demanding, and a bit of a hassle. It struck me that no matter who I am, you chose a career where you willingly came into work to do these kinds of things. I said it then and I’ll say it again: I think it takes a special kind of person to be a nurse. I don’t think a doctor could ever in his/her worst days would accept performing the smallest and smelliest of tasks like you nurses do. When I said it takes a special kind of person, you looked up and seemed flattered. I hope that day you went back home and told someone that, and I hope the universe reciprocated the gratitude I felt towards you in some way.
The irony is that I did not think this way when you were placing a catheter. I would assume that’s much worse than putting someone’s socks on. I had been friendly with a lot of nurses in my rotations, making it clear that I understand how useful they’re. The times when a big smile lit up their face, I wondered how rude their doctors actually were. But after you, I realized those were just words. Becoming a patient, and feeling the pain with every inch of movement reduces you to something, and I guess understanding that is the greatest gift of humanity.
One more thing, and I promise you can get back to the socks and the catheters and everything in between. It was the lull of afternoon that brought on feelings of bitterness within me. My mood had taken a dip, and I guess I was subconsciously trying to make sense of how I ended up here and just how unpleasant and gloomy everything felt. I told this to you and you said it was quite normal. Thanks for that. It really helped, most importantly, it helped to know that you had seen it happen before. And I guess that’s how patients feel when they look to their doctors for advice, the way they look up to them. Here, you were that beacon of light for me, and I know they may sound like grand words, but really: Nurses are the moms who know where you left your phone or if there’s anything left in the fridge. Dads just walk in and expect the latest blood reports like they own the place.
I would end it here, but I don’t want to leave without saying that being of Indian background, and having lived in Canada and expected nothing short of equality, it truly felt something else to be completely accepted and nurtured by you like I was no different. Speaking of Canadian healthcare, I am so lucky that everything went well without the anxiety of financing this debacle getting in the way, but if I have made my point clear so far, I think we both know that the true care I received was priceless all along.
A letter of gratitude is a way of expressing emotions and contending with the trauma of treatment. Its psychologically therapeutic, even better when its read out to the person you wish to thank. Having never had the opportunity to do so, when I heard of this, knew it was worth sharing. No act of compassion goes in vain.