Watching Mom Work

Our mom was in nursing school in Wales when she met our dad.  After four dates (at age 19 I believe it was) she quit school, moved to the US, and married him.  Yes, that is a bit surprising and she would have been horrified if one of her own children had done the same.  But that proved to be a really great decision.  (My guess is that she was driven by a premonition that she was going to get me as a daughter.)  Her destiny was to be a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother.  And a nurse.

Where Mom worked…and birthed 4 children! .

Though she left nursing school behind back then, Mom’s interest in medicine didn’t stop.  When she had jobs, they were working for doctors and at the hospital.  We all had nurse’s kits and doctors kits when we were growing up and spent our childhoods giving “shots” to each other.  (We were never good at “Operation” though.  That wrenched ankle was a bear to get out!)

Finally, though, she decided to go back to nursing school.  No small feat….all five of us kids had been born by that time and because she was always a very involved parent, it added a lot on top to an already heavy load.  But she did it.

Her nursing career was definitely an interesting one.  After graduation, she started work at Iredell Memorial Hospital.  Have you noticed the nurses in hospitals?  Bed after bed of patients, all needing care, and never enough time to do it all. She would run her feet off for those shifts.  It’s often a thankless job.  The doctors often get the accolades and the credit for the healing, but often it wouldn’t have happened without an alert nurse on the scene.

For years she worked in home health.  She made her way all around Iredell County as a home health nurse, getting to know all of the roads in the remotest areas of the county.  Often having no idea what she would find as she went into a household.  She encountered people who were rude and made her job more difficult.  She went to homes that didn’t have indoor plumbing.  She cared for AIDS patients when little was known about the disease, but when people who had it were often treated as less than human.  Ignorance abound and many in the medical profession would even refuse to treat people with AIDS.  But that was not how she lived her life.  They were sick, they needed care, and she was a nurse.  It was her job to take care of them and do it with compassion.   With courage.  Because it was the right thing to do.

She was the first nursing coordinator for Hospice in Iredell County.   More is known about hospice these days, but that was the early years when it was still a strange concept here.  For those who are unclear, the patients that are referred to Hospice are those thought to be at the end of their life.  Their needs are not only physical, but also emotional.  While we have a wonderful hospice house in our county now, back then all care was given at home.  Needs of these families do not happen on a schedule. Often she got called out in the middle of the night or on the weekend, and often calls came at inopportune times. For example, one Christmas morning when my dad’s family was coming over for lunch.  My dad is one of ten children, so these family gatherings were huge.  My mom got a call that morning that one of her patients was not doing well.  She had to go.  His wife was scared and didn’t know what to do and needed support.  We all knew that was the priority…and we all had to spring into action to do the things that she would have done.  There were mounds of potatoes that needed to be peeled, last minute cleaning to do and all of the last minute details to pull it all together.  Mom had given us a quick list as she was walking out the door of what needed to be done to get things ready.  She went to comfort and care for a family whose Christmas Day was full of sickness and sadness.  It was another example of her teaching us what is “urgent” and what is “important.”  We knew she had a higher calling that morning and as her family we had to support her.

Mom’s also worked as a chemo nurse.  Another place of both hope and sadness.  For nurses a place of great stress.  Compounding those chemo drugs required great knowledge and great accuracy.  I know that used to always worry her, but she worked laboriously at the math skills it required, checked and double checked and made sure it was all just right.  It also requires a lot of sticking veins with needles, often when veins are difficult to find and hit just right.  But she was really good at that and could find and hit a vein where others couldn’t.  It required cheerleading when patients were down, but also when things were going well.  She always was trying to think about how she could make that whole experience better for her patients.

Of course, I have firsthand knowledge of the kind of nurse my mom was.  She nursed all of us when we were sick and there is no one better.  She knows when you need her, and when you just need time alone.  When we were young and very sick, we got comic books and got to drink soda (a rarity in our Kool Aid and milk household.)  If she thought we were faking to get out of school, she very compassionately said that it sounded like we needed extra rest, so we should just stay in bed all day.  Which in the days of no TVs in your bedroom, meant a day laying in bed doing nothing.  If we were really sick, we were willing to do just that (though generally she would let us off the hook and let us lay on the couch with a blanket and watch tv when she decided we were not faking.)  Truth was we often had a miracle recovery.

You can seldom go anywhere with my mom without at least one person coming up to her and thanking her for what she did for them when she was their nurse, or more often thanking her for how much her caring for their loved ones was appreciated by their family.  Sometimes she doesn’t remember the family member, but she almost always remembers her patient.  But should she not, it would not be surprising.  She cared for many, many people during her career.

(L to R) My sister-in-law Beth, my brother Scott, Mom and Dad

This week my brother Scott graduated from nursing school.  During the pinning ceremony, he was pinned with the same pin our mother was pinned with when she graduated from nursing school when he was still in elementary school.  He has inherited her compassion, and has been taught how to share it, and will be a wonderful nurse.  I suspect he says she is his greatest teacher, and he has learned from the best. We learn from how our parents live their everyday lives before us.  They don’t always even realize they are teaching.  But they are…even in the attitude they show while doing their job (be it a good attitude or a bad attitude.)  While Mom said she wasn’t sure she wanted us to go into nursing because it was such a difficult profession, the truth is that she showed us that it is among the noblest.  I know she is proud of Scott’s decision…and the work ethic he displayed in preparing for it when he was in school.  We are all a bit in awe of nurses and are glad he is turning into part superhero. (And OK…I admit it…..I am also a nurse’s biggest critic if I don’t see them with the same kind of attitude and energy and kindness and empathy that my Mom had when she was working.  My standards and expectations for them are high.)

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!  Thank you for teaching us compassion and that all the people around us are worthy of care…..even when they are sick and unpleasant and everyone else avoids them.  Regardless of their religion, disease, lifestyle or the color of their skin.  Thank you for working hard and tirelessly and being dependable as you did it.  Without even realizing it, as we saw you work, you taught us how to love people as God does. That was a seed that continues to grow and will change the world for generations to come.

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