If you know a nurse…on Nurses week

Today is Nurses Day, and here’s when we kick off this year’s National Nurses Week (May 6th – May 12th).

If you know a nurse, you know they have always been essential. Now they are essential and stuck in the middle of a divided country. While the world was shut down, working remotely, and waiting in line for grocery stores, they traversed the empty highways to be by their patient bedside every day because the nurses are essential workers. They didn’t get a choice to work remotely. They watched the traffic return after the first year as others slowly went back to work. They took in policy change after policy change, sometimes several ones a day, sometimes ones directly contradicting the last change. They’ve always been the face of patient care but were put on the front lines during the pandemic without asking to be. They spent their ‘shutdown’ having to deliver bad news by phone instead of in person, where they can provide comfort. They are left to explain new restrictions and rules to families leaving sick patients alone with no one else to hold their hand…but they continued to push forward longer than anyone could have imagined. They have been labeled healthcare heroes, and as the pendulum swung, they were the employees who risked their jobs if they didn’t take their mandatory PCR test every week (sometimes twice a week!) or didn’t come to work even if they were told to quarantine.

Nurses have cried, yelled, and screamed in frustration and dealt with patients and families yelling and screaming at them. Nurses have been scared for themselves, their families, and their patients. They’ve worked hungry because they put their patients’ needs first, they’ve gone hours without a bathroom break because patients come first, and if you leave their room, you have to use a whole new set of PPE. Nurses have held phones while families said goodbye. They’ve played gatekeepers to visitors when the place they worked tightened the restrictions, yet again.

If you know a nurse, you’ve probably seen that they made a change in the last two years. Some nurses took those incentive bonuses and worked overtime as much as possible. Some changed nursing jobs, even if they didn’t want to, even if they thought they never would. We’ve watched nurses leave traditional job settings and set out as travel nurses, changing their lives to explore the country and working with teams that didn’t know how to support patient care. We’ve watched nurses leave the bedside, leave healthcare, and leave teams they have worked with for years. We’ve watched nurses be heroes even after everyone stopped looking. When the PPE donations stopped, the hero banners came down, the lunches stopped being donated, and people stopped sewing masks. Nursing careers may look a little different, as does much of the world, yet nurses keep caring for their patients, families, and themselves.

Nurses are essential to their job, families, spouses and children, and friends. Nurses are also essential to themselves. If you know a nurse, you have seen some hardship, but you’ve watched them survive and thrive and love their families and friends after an exhausting shift that felt like it would never end. They might not always text you back or answer your call because their mental space has been overrun.

This year during Nurses Week, take the time to thank a nurse and take the time to take away some of the burdens. Take them out for ice cream (or a drink). Don’t just ask, go. Pick them up because, after a 12-hour shift or their 5th night on call, they don’t have the energy to plan a social night or even drive to one. If you can help a nurse by lifting the burden for one night or make them smile by just reaching out to let them know you are thinking of them – do it. Take this one week and give a nurse you love one quiet night by entertaining their kids, one night of no-decisions and no pressure. While the world keeps moving on, provide them with a minute to take off their mask. Be there, acknowledge, and support us because we love our nurses, and nurses deserve to know it.