Since 1921, the Miss America competition has ignited public debate. Typically though, the controversy doesn’t revolve around a contestant’s attempt to convey the positive influences nurses have on their patients. Contestant Kelley Johnson’s decision to perform a monologue for the talent portion of the Miss America program was a surprising departure from traditional acts generally showcased. Her recent appearance in scrubs and a ponytail prompted ridiculing banter between hosts on The View. Co-host, Michelle Collins, stated the Colorado contestant got up on stage and, “basically read her emails.” Collins referenced another contestant who demonstrated a real talent during her opera performance. The mocking tone of the conversation has sparked public outrage and shed light on the lack of credence and respect nurses are given.
Much effort has been placed in determining if the remarks by panel members were made in jest or with malice. Though an on-air apology was given, their sincerity remains in question. I appreciate humor and believe we shouldn’t take everything so seriously. In our politically correct world, we must be careful not to attack every joke made by comedians. On the other hand, jokes can be hurtful and sometimes mask serious sentiments. Rather than attempting to interpret the intent behind careless remarks, why not funnel some attention toward the exceptional talents that nurses demonstrate each day?
I am not a nurse, but I owe my life to them. After the healthy birth of my daughter in 2006, I suffered grave complications that led to a massive infection. I spent 218 consecutive days in the hospital. During that time, I lost my colon and spleen, underwent eight major surgeries, two tracheotomies, temporary paralysis, and faced a myriad of other obstacles that brought me to the brink of death at age 31. The nurses who cared for me are some of the most empathic, devoted, and selfless individuals I’ve ever met.
I’ll be the first to say that several of my nurses weren’t the most stellar individuals. I’ve written and spoken extensively regarding the callous treatment I received from a few medical professionals and how it adversely impacted my health. There will always be those whose words and actions poorly represent their profession.
Miss Colorado’s monologue conveyed the vital differences nurses make in the lives of their patients. As a nurse herself, she spoke from the heart. Her performance was not a glitzy showstopper and her nursing scrubs weren’t the sexy garbs typically donned by contestants. Rather than applauding the substance of her speech, she has been mocked and told that nursing is not a talent. I speak from vast experience when I say that most nurses display more talent than we can ever quantify, much less judge.
For months, I was held hostage in a hospital bed, unable to speak, eat, drink, breathe unassisted, or move. With no mode to communicate, I spent my days in tremendous pain, locked away with thoughts of my newborn daughter, toddler son, and husband. For months, I was delusional was forcibly restrained on more than one occasion. Everyone thought I had severed from reality and was unaware of my surroundings. I wasn’t. I remember almost everything, especially the care I received from nurses.
For over seven months, nurses were my lifeline. Aside from managing my intense medical needs, I was at the mercy of nurses to maintain whatever shreds of dignity I still possessed. From hygiene maintenance, to shifting me in my bed, my fate hinged on the nurses who entered my hospital room. As busy as they were, many nurses looked at the photos of my children, asked me questions about my career, fluffed my pillows, or spent a few extra minutes just talking to me. They devoted extra time to read my lips, even though what I mouthed was typically indecipherable.
I experienced terrifyingly vivid visual hallucinations. Often times, I thought my children had been kidnapped, or my husband was being murdered. Despite the fact that I had no means to communicate these realistic images, the nurses saw my desperate facial expressions and would comfort me. On more than one occasion, my airway became blocked. The calm and timely responses from nurses made the difference between life and death.
Many nights nurses witnessed my nightly ritual; silently weeping until sleep came to me in fits. On one of those treacherous nights, my nurse met my gaze and said, “Lisa, you are unlike any patient I’ve ever had. You have a positive outlook and a fighting spirit. I know you’re going to recover. I want you to imagine yourself at home with your beautiful baby girl and adorable little boy. They need their mommy. Don’t give up, you’re a fighter!” I clung to her beautiful words, even though I recall thinking, how in the hell can this nurse see that I have a positive fighting spirit? I can’t even talk or move … she should see me when I’m not half-dead!
Our lives depend on nurses checking vitals, changing dressings, dispensing medication, managing wound care, and multitasking dozens of other responsibilities with competence. Nurses also foster hope, restore dignity, display compassion, listen, comfort, connect, and inspire their patients. If that’s not talent, I don’t know what is.
Lisa Goodman-Helfand is the author of Does This Hospital Gown Come With Sequins? (and Other Questions I Asked During My 218-Day Hospital Stay). She can be reached at Comfortable In My Thick Skin.
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