On a day darkened by issues, on going problems and irresponsible behaviors there was one tiny light in my pitch-black tunnel. Friday was, without a doubt, one of the worst days I have had in a very long time. Running around like a crazed person I barely had enough time to hit the bathroom and grab a quick on the run meal; a coke and a snickers bar.
Troubleshooting the needs of my patients, attend the committee meetings I had been sucked into, and helping a mother run the emotional gamut with her wounded son, I was quickly becoming depleted myself. As I hurried down the hall into one of the patient wings I came across one of the chaplains. He was surrounded by tall, fit men in navy blue shirts proclaiming “FDNY supports our wounded warriors” and a cart filled with t-shirts, hats and other mementos to hand out to the wounded. I must have had an “I’m having a really BAD day” look on my face because he stopped me and asked if I was ok.
“It’s been an awful day! My issues have issues and today it just goes on and on.” I wearily proclaimed to him. He hugged me and then with his arm around my shoulder turned to the men and said “You will never meet a harder working nurse in all your life. She helps me keep track of these patients and gives me a heads up when they need something.” Shocked I stood there, too tired to even say thank you.
One of the firefighters approached and without hesitation pulled me into his arms for a brief hug saying “thank you for what you do”. A wizened gentleman, his face lined with experience, he appeared as someone who had spent his life moving through the ranks of the fire department. Stepping back I looked at him and said “I lost friends on Sept 11th, I responded to the scene and I can honestly say I feel your pain and your loss and I am truly sorry”. His expression changed fleetingly from surprise to sorrow and then to understanding and he embraced me again gruffly saying “Thanks”.
As I readied to head off to next problem the chaplain attempted to round up the men. They would have nothing of him herding them down the hall and instead stepped in front of me and one by one solemnly passed by, offering their hands to shake mine and say “thank you for what you do”, “keep up the good work” “thanks”, “thank YOU”. Stock still I stood as 10 or more men filed past me and shook my hand. My eyes began to sting with dreaded tears and I choked out “you guys are gonna make me cry”. “Fine” one of them responded, “nothing wrong with that”.
As the last one slid past I hurried down the hall to address another issue. Many minutes later, on my way to help another nurse, I ran back into the firefighters. One of them had seen my approach and, breaking off from the others, came over to meet me as I drew even with him. As he held out a t-shirt he said, “If there’s anyone who deserves this it’s you”. Accepting the shirt from him, trying to mumble out “thanks” in my tear-laden voice I felt a hat being placed on my head, “here, you need one of these too” I heard from a second firefighter. While I was removing the cap to get a closer look at it a third man silently walked toward me. The same wizened firefighter who had earlier hugged me handed me a FDNY lapel pin saying, “Take this too, what you do means a lot to us”. Cradling my treasured gifts I could only nod and wish them a safe journey home as I retreated down the corridor.
Later that evening as I vented to a friend I told him the story of the firefighters. As my voice trailed off I asked him “Does anyone care that our work day gets longer as we try to help everyone who needs us? Do you know how many people actually say thank you to us? The caregivers? Us? The nurses, the chaplains, the physical and occupational therapists, the clerical staff, the dietitians, the physicians, and all the rest who look after these injured warriors day in and day out??”
“Almost no one” was my response to my own question. My friend was silent for several minutes before he said, “Clara, I’m ashamed to say, but you’re right. I never even thought about all the people who care for these wounded folks.” “Yeah” he continued, “I’m always asking what the soldiers and sailors need or what I can do for the marines and the airmen but not you or your colleagues.”
Gazing at him silently I replied, “Not many do”.
Thank you FDNY for remembering, you helped brighten my day.