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M. P. Ravindra Nathan
By M. P. Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC

As I was walking along the corridor of my hospital one day, I noticed a string of single sheets of paper, full of crayon writings of children, hanging from the wall. On closer inspection, it became obvious that the authors were 5-year-olds from the local Chocachatti Elementary School. It was titled “Kids ideas about Nurses,” essentially their testimonials for nurses, displayed there for everybody to see, as we were about to launch the National Nurses Week on May 6.

Children have a keen sense of observation and their ideas often hit the target. Five-year-old Tyler wrote: “Nursing is an important profession. Nurses give shots to your bottom and help people.” Ashley, another 5-year-old, had this to say: “Nurses keep patients safe and protect them from dying. We need nurses to help us and they work very hard.”

Although we celebrate National Nurses Week every year, I am not sure if many of us know the extent of their remarkable work or the sacrifices they make every day to keep us all healthy. As a physician who has worked closely with nurses over the past 30 years in this country, I would like to say something in appreciation of their services.

Doctors are always in the news and their work in the hospital or outside often garner much attention. Interestingly, it is the nurses who spend more time with our patients in the hospital or the office and they are as much responsible in aiding the recovery of the patient. When a nurse tells me, “Oh, no, it is your opinion that counts here, not mine,” I tell them, “You are an equally important link in this team work.” As one of my English consultants often told me, “Remember, we are like tourists on this floor, it is the nurses who spend more time with your patients. So, pay attention to what they say and write.”

Nurses are the true link between doctors and patients in any hospital and critical for the fragile ecosystem of our increasingly “dysfunctional” healthcare system. At this time, USA is in the middle of a major shortage of registered nurses. And we should do whatever we can to encourage them. In spite of the physical demands of their work and occasional abuses from patients and senior medical staff, they perform well, mainly because they love their jobs.

In our hospital too, there are a few Indian, mostly Malayalee, nurses. The Malayalee nurses are Christians, underscoring their special religious principles of “serving the humanity.” In India, Christian nuns run some of the best hospitals, the most famous being Vellore Christian Medical College and Ludhiana Medical College. Our dedicated Indian nurses regularly go the extra mile to help patients and assist doctors. Their total dedication and high level of empathy have earned them many accolades. They are a significant role in our workforce.

Nurses are often better communicators. Indeed, they exude more compassion and understand and acknowledge the patients’ emotions. Many a time I have seen them defusing the anger and hostility of difficult patients. The patients confide in them their private worries and fears. Just to give you one example. A few years ago, I treated a middle-aged mother who suffered from almost incurable chest pains. All the tests, including cardiac catheterization, were negative.

“She is just a very anxious person,” I told my nurse. Then she said:

“You know, Dr. Nathan, I got an interesting story from her during this visit.”

“Really?” Now, I was amused.

“Her pains started when her 28-year-old son came to live with her from New York City. And you know what, he has AIDS.”

Now, I saw the connection. The poor man had literally come to “momma” to die. And indeed he died in her lap a few months later. During the next visit, she gently mentioned me, “Oh, I feel a little better now. It is like a weight off my chest.”

I have had numerous experiences when nurses in the hospital or in the office pointed me in the right direction. Now, when I am stumped for a diagnosis or come across a difficult or demanding patient, I ask my nurse, “What do you think?”

Part of this article was recently published in Hernando (St. Petersburg) Times.

Cardiologist Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.

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