May 12

International Nurses Day


You’re convinced the nurses have been lying to you.

Part of your suspicion may be due to the pain medications, and your exhaustion after surgery.  But even in your drowsy state, it’s clear to you that the staff is acting strange.

The lights in the room are kept dim, and the blinds are closed.  Without your watch, which is in a drawer you can’t reach from the bed, you can only guess at the time of day.  The televisions are turned off, so you miss that feedback, too.

If you could only hear what the nurses are whispering about, when they’re right outside the room.

While you were fading in and out of sleep, you thought you heard a few troubling words:  “serious”…”tragic”…”unexpected”…

At one point, you dreamed you heard a full sentence:  “In the patient’s condition, it would be a mistake to tell him.”

“Oh, I thought you’d be sleeping.”  Nurse Gary has walked in to check your vitals.  He always seems surprised to find you awake, which makes you guess that he’s part of the night shift.

And, that he deliberately hopes to avoid questions from an alert patient.

“My family should be visiting,” you say, then attempt an awkward joke:  “After all, there’s the ones who talked me into getting the surgery.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”  Gary avoids eye contact, but perhaps he’s checking the flow from the I-V line, or the numbers on the heart monitor.

“Can you tell me…”  You intend to sound pathetic, to earn the nurse’s sympathy, but your weak voice sounds almost too convincing.  “Can you just tell me how the surgery went?  Were there complications…?”

He adjusts the adhesive, checks the site of the needle stick.  “We’re not permitted to share medical information.  You’ll need to wait for the doctor.”

“When will that be?  I’ve been here for…”  Your voice trails off, since you don’t know how many days.  All your life, you’ve been scared of hospitals, and now it seems your worst fears have come true.  You feel so weak; your heart thumps your chest in an irregular beat.  It’s beginning to seem more obvious that there were complications from your supposedly routine surgery.  You’ve got an untreatable infection.  The surgeons broke something while they worked inside you, or pieces didn’t fit back together they way they’d hoped.  Like car mechanics, they fixed one simple problem, then found three major ones you never asked them about.

As scared as you are, you feel like you need to be certain.  Perhaps you can trick the nurse, get him to admit the truth.  “I already know,” you say.  “I overheard two other nurses talking.”

Gary sighs, then finally makes eye contact.  “I’ll get in a lot of trouble.  But since you already know…”  He glances towards the hallway, leans closer to whisper in your ear.

Your heart thumps heavy, and your own nervous breathing seems so loud that you’re afraid you won’t hear what the nurse says.

You’re also afraid you will hear it.

“The surgery went fine,” the nurse says in a conspirator’s whisper.  “We were told to keep you under observation, just in case.  But we don’t know what to do from here.  Most of the doctors died in the attack you heard us talking about.  The one that likely killed your family, too, like so many others around the wor — “  Then, in a louder voice, almost accusing, directed at you and also calling for help from the dim hallway:  “Hey, your heart rate’s spiking, you’re shaking in the — I thought you knew!  He told me he already knew!”


[presented with thanks to the nurses and other hospital staff who have all been very kind and truthful to me over the years.]