Thursday, February 14, 2002

Valentine's Day

Overdue love note to nurses

        You can buy a Valentine's Day greeting for your mom and dad. You can send a packaged sentiment to your grandparents, your siblings, your children, your niece and nephew, your aunt and uncle and cousin, your teacher, your spouse and your sweetheart. You can even buy a greeting for the cat: “There are not enough dead mice in the world to express my affection for you.”

        But you can't buy a professionally manufactured sentiment for your nurse. Apparently there is not enough demand.

        It figures.

        Nurses are regularly important people in our lives. But it's temporary.

Baby prize for pain

        My daughter, Meg, was born back when it was polite to talk about the “discomfort” of childbirth. I discovered the awful truth in the labor cubicle. Discomfort is like sitting on a wrinkle in your skirt or breaking in new shoes. Having a baby hurts like hell.

        The OB nurse said honestly, “It's going to be pretty bad for awhile, but you get a new baby when it's over.” And for the next supremely uncomfortably several hours, she was my lifeline. I thought I would send a note. Or candy. When she said I was ready for my epidural, I considered buying her a new car. Then my baby came into the world, and I forgot all about my nurse.

Life-and-death miracles

        They do not forget us. Chris Nolan, an OB nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital since 1975, remembers a new mom who went into cardiac arrest. “She died,” Chris said. “Then we opened her chest and began massage. She was awake and putting on makeup in the ICU the next day.”

        One terrible time, a newborn died shortly before the father arrived. “He came expecting to bring home a baby,” Chris says, “and I had to tell him that not only was his baby dead but we weren't sure we could save his wife.” There's a postscript. “We saved her, and the next year they had a healthy baby.” Chris was there, of course.

        These nurses are with us when life begins and ends. They are with us in our grief, sometimes more than we know. “We cry plenty of tears ourselves,” Chris says. “And we support each other.” I wonder how they manage these days. A Greater Cincinnati Health Council survey in December of 2000 found 1,038 nursing positions open here and a vacancy rate of 15 percent.

        So, a reasonable person might conclude that we're making more demands on fewer nurses. And efforts are being made to honor their importance.

        For instance, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center gives us a chance to nominate someone for its Florence Nightingale Awards. Deadline is March 1. Information is at or you can call (513) 558-8624 for more information and a nomination form.

        But there's a huge chance that you owe a thank-you note to a nurse whose name you can't remember. Somebody who held your hand during a dark time or helped you celebrate when things were “benign” or said “It's a girl” for the first time.

        So, Happy Valentine's Day from all of us ungrateful wretches you have helped in your career. Thanks for looking past our demands and seeing the fear behind them. Thanks for the hand-holding and the priceless care. We meant to write you a note, send you a card. Some of us, to our own surprise, have forgotten your name.

        You know who you are.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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