Saturday, December 27, 2008


I warn you that this blog entry is going to read like those Johnson and Johnson ads, about the importance of nursing, that always make me cry, but it’s a subject matter truly close to my heart. Cue the sepia toned images and slow piano music:

Nursing is, hands down, the most underappreciated, difficult, precise, and noble profession that I know of. I have encountered so many incredibly kind nurses – some I have interacted with for mere minutes, and some have been with me for a longer part of my journey. Every single one provides essential medical services that require a lot of training and knowledge, and many have gone beyond to provide comfort, calm and patience at critical and difficult moments. Over the past two years, I have had literally hundreds of nurses participate in my treatment. I never learned some of their names, and have forgotten others, and there are some that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I have been thinking about how deeply and positively I have been impacted by nurses, and thought I’d share a few specific examples:

Days after my initial diagnosis, I had to go in for a second PET/CT scan. Now, since these first two rounds of tests, I have learned what is standard in the world of required Barium consumption. George Washington University, Georgetown University and Northwestern University Hospitals all agree that two 16 oz bottles is quite sufficient for accurate imaging. But at Washington Radiology Associates, I was told I needed to drink three bottles in the waiting room. Now, drinking 48 ounces of anything in one sitting is a bit of a feat, but Banana flavored barium sulfate suspension is another thing entirely. When I finished, I was feeling pretty sick. When I was taken in the back for a blood test, there was another tumbler of it waiting for me, and I don’t know why, but at that moment the fa├žade of emotional stability that I had been faking for a couple of days broke, and I burst into tears. And the nurse standing there waiting to take my blood didn’t recoil, didn’t awkwardly wait it out, didn’t try to patronize me – she threw her arms around me, patted my back, and soothed me by talking about a patient of hers who had Hodgkin’s ten years ago and had recently come in to visit with her two children and how well she was doing. She simply knew exactly what to say to comfort me, and I have thought often of what she said, and how she said it, and how much it meant in that moment.

More recently, when I was about to begin the stem cell collection process, I went in for an initial consultation and for some lab work. I met with a nurse that really rubbed me the wrong way – her manner was harsh, and she made me wait an hour for an appointment I had with her to go over paper work – an appointment that ultimately took less than ten minutes. I wasn’t looking forward to spending up to five days with her the following week. But when I arrived Monday morning, I discovered that a different nurse named Cheryl would be handling my collection. Cheryl was the type of no-nonsense and take charge person that inspires immediate confidence in her patients, and she was a great conversationalist. Over the course of a long two days, I really enjoyed getting to know her. More than anything, having her there to answer my questions and make me feel confident about the process and procedure I was undergoing made me feel much more positive about the experience than I felt when I walked in that first day. My attitude had everything to do with my confidence in the care I was receiving.

Erin, was the assistant to my DC Oncologist when I first transferred from GW, to Georgetown, a few months ago. She made everything so easy, scheduling appointments, dealing with insurance companies, and being so competent and gentle in her handling of my case, that for the first time since my original diagnosis, I felt as though there was safety net in place if I dropped any of the many balls I was juggling. It made the system feel entirely different from GW’s and literally allowed me to sleep better at night.

Similarly, the transplant coordinating nurse, Jenny, at Northwestern inspires the same confidence. She always makes me feel as though I am her number one priority and is organized, clear, and always on top of a process that is wholly new and scary to me. She makes me feel confident about the system in place and Northwestern. Faith in that system gives me an immeasurably good and safe feeling, and is something that I think is critical to my well-being right now.

Sue was a night nurse at Georgetown (meaning she was assigned to check my vitals, administer my chemotherapy, and generally take care of me from about 8 pm to 8 am), who was one of many caring and attentive nurses and wouldn’t have stuck out in my memory if not for the fact that she communicated very well and effectively with my mom. She inspired a trust that allowed my mom to feel that when she left the hospital overnight, I would be well cared for, and that was a wonderful gift.

Reflecting back two years to my treatment at GW, every single one of the nurses was kind, attentive and caring, which actually almost made up for how little attending and caring my doctor did. Almost. But the nursing staff was great, from Marie who always took my vitals and blood in the front lab, and whom I looked forward to seeing and chatting with at every appointment, to Mary, the business manager who reminded me in every way of my friend Sarah’s mom, to the team of petite, blonde nurses who administered chemo whose names all began with K’s – Katie, Kathy, Kirsten. But one nurse made all the difference. Kyra started administering my chemotherapy drugs – each lasting 6 hours – on my second of twelve treatments, and the adoration was immediate and mutual. Kyra was confident, and made me feel like I was in safe, capable hands. She quickly became familiar with my family and my friends. Some mornings, I would actually find myself looking forward to going to the clinic, because with Kyra there, it was as if I was just keeping a social engagement. She made me feel like I was her favorite patient, her most important patient. In a clinic where it’s unfortunately easy to slip through the cracks, she made me feel like I was a priority. My friends loved her - Kyra discussed dansko clogs with Emily, talked sports with Betsy, and talked about medicine with Jill. She always made sure to keep my favorite chair in the infusion room open. She would return my calls straight away when I had questions, and gave me her cell phone number so that I always had an easy way to reach her. She told me about her family, her dogs, her home renovations, and shared stories from her own life and for the first time, I felt as though a medical professional wasn’t approaching me like a mechanic approaches a broken car – she felt comfortable exposing her own humanity to me, and that made me feel like a human. I tried to spread treatments out amongst different friends when my family wasn’t there so no one had to miss too much work, and I think in the end, something like a dozen friends came with me. Nearly all of them made some variation on the comment: “I know this is really inappropriate, but I’m sorta of having fun”. Kyra is why those days were not only bearable, but sometimes sorta fun.

So when those Johnson & Johnson commercials come on, I tend to tear up. Because I have had so many powerful examples of the positive difference that a nurse can make in the life of a patient. And for that I am deeply grateful.


Emily Goodstein said...

i hope youre reading this, kyra. as elissa put it so eloquently, you were truly a silver lining to our time in the chemo room at GW.

Jamie Malyn said...

Thank You! I'm entering the 'home stretch' of my program and I'm a bit tired. Hearing this from you reminds me that my new chosen profession is an integral part of people's medical care and, at times more importantly, all the other parts of their lives. I hope I can live up to the Kyra standard come May 28! Hugs from PA, XOXO

Kate said...

This post is a beautiful tribute to nurses everywhere, Elissa. When my dad was sick with lung cancer, the nurses and doctors who not only took care of him but took care of my mom & me as well made all the difference in the world - even now, remembering his time in the hospital, which was very painful for all of us, I feel blessed that he had the nurses & doctors he did - ones who still send us Christmas cards & stop in to see my mom at her job at the library sometimes.

And to be honest, Elissa, I can't imagine it's too tough for nurses to take a liking to you. You're a pretty likable person and I'm assuming that translates into being a likable patient, as well. With all the cranky patients they get & are still kind to, I imagine it's probably a joy to care for and befriend people like you (although obviously we'd all prefer you not have to be there at all).

Thinking about -- & praying for -- you daily. <3

Gideon Bob said...

It was great to get to see you today- sorry for the rushed exit. Since you said you apprciate my comments here, how I can I not comment on this newest entry? It's quite impossible.

It's good to be reminded of how little things affect big experiences. Thanks fot that.

See ya Tuesday.

Jessica Braunfeld Turnof said...

You continue to be amazing and I'm sure that any nurse/doctor/aide who has had the pleasure of meeting you is equally as impressed with your spirit, determination and friendship.

Happy (belated) Chanukah and Happy (almost) 2009!

Kyra said...

I am incredibly humbled. And as others have stated, it's not too difficult to love you!

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking and praying for you! And you couldn't be more right about nurses. They need more lovin!

Madelon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Madelon said...


I love your stories about the nurses. This is why I repeatedly say "Nurses (and teachers) should make in salary what the professional athletes make."

Love, Madelon

Madelon said...

I love your stories about the nurses. This is why I have repeatedly said "Nurses (and teachers) should make in salary what professional athletes make."

Love, Madelon