In Praise of Nurses

Uncategorized Feb 14, 2024
Hello all! I am continuing to recuperate at home from my recent colon cancer surgeries.
On the one hand, my stamina, mental clarity, and physical balance are all improving incrementally, hurray! On the other hand, when I note these incremental improvements, I also note a tendency to say to myself, “you mean it was even worse than this before?!” I do my utmost to encourage my students to rejoice in and reward their incremental progress, and it’s time for me to learn to do the same for myself where my recovery is concerned.
Reflecting on this now, I am feeling deeply humbled by and grateful for the exceptional care I received during my three weeks as a resident of Mount Sinai West Hospital. I want to take a moment to express just how inspired and awed I was by the nurses of Floor 14B.
I have been fortunate to spend so little time on the receiving end of healthcare that, prior to this adventure, I didn’t have a clear idea of what it even meant to be a nurse. Now I appreciate that in a hospital setting, the nurses are the ones with boots on the ground, where both the patients and the doctors are concerned. It is the nursing team that provides continuous support for everyone’s needs, who must respond to all the unpredictable things that unfold moment-to-moment, sometimes with great urgency. The nurses meet these requirements in the context of a high-stress, high-stakes environment for 12-hour shifts at a time. So far as I could observe, my team on 14B not only managed all of that, but also provided all of us freaked-out, disoriented patients with warmth, encouragement, and clear communication throughout our individual health dramas as they unfolded.
The nurses of 14B offer an ongoing masterclass in what it means to really show up. No matter how dramatic things became on their floor, they were continually focused, responsive, and highly competent, as well as compassionate and communicative. They chose a job that demands these qualities from them, and they show up for it, every shift.
There were, of course, the exceptions that proved the rule: there was a nurse who argued with me about whether I had the capacity to walk unassisted, one who took it personally when I got grouchy when my pain meds were late, and—my favorite!—a physical therapist who talked to me like I was three years old, even after I told them I had published a book on fitness. I am sure this is a profession that has extraordinarily high burn-out potential.
But the many, many other nurses who took care of me really showed up in a way that I want to emulate.
When you are in a helping profession, there are two considerations to keep in balance: the quality of the service you are delivering, and the quality of the experience that the person on the receiving end of your help is enjoying. This is true in the hospital, and it is also true in the voice studio. However, because the hospital situation is much higher stakes than the studio situation, this can be harder for someone in my profession to appreciate.
I'll illustrate. There is no way that I was going to be enjoying anything resembling a high-quality experience in the hospital. “Quality of Experience,” where I was concerned, was keeping my discomfort to a minimum while ensuring good conditions for treatment and recovery. “Quality of Service” meant that my nurses had to keep a close eye on my symptoms, my vitals, and the delivery of life-sustaining medication. They also had to provide my doctors with an ongoing stream of information that included drawing my blood at 2:00 every morning and taking my blood pressure at regular intervals, making it impossible to sleep through the night. Somehow, despite being my literal tormentors, this team of nurses treated me with such continuous compassion and patience that even after the 2:00am bloodwork, I could say “thank you,” and really mean it.
In the voice studio, I used to think that “Quality of Service” meant providing each student with as much valuable information as I could during the course of a lesson, while ideally also getting them into perfect shape for whatever they had coming up. But for a voice student, “Quality of Experience” involves learning something new that they internally validate and understand how to reinforce. Any information I offer them is valuable only insofar as it helps them to achieve this. Providing more information than a singer can handle may not be as viscerally torturous as bloodwork in the middle of the night, but you still have to pay attention to the quality of experience they are having—how much “torture” they can handle and still genuinely want to thank you for it afterwards!
Nurses know that healing takes both vigilance and time. So does learning how to sing. Something I am going to try to keep in mind, so I can celebrate my own incremental steps in building back my stamina, mental clarity, physical balance, and voice.

While I’m posting in praise of nurses today, I am also deeply grateful to my doctors, my family, and everyone who has expressed concern and support for my recovery. If you would like to contribute to my medical expenses and support my ongoing recovery, please do so through the GoFundMe campaign that has been created on my behalf.

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