Teachers. And Nurses.

Seeking the Light, by Michael Taggart on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Seeking the Light, by Michael Taggart on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I’m spending a lot of time on social media (if you hadn’t noticed). Soon I will need to come up with some ground rules to get off of social media from time to time. But it’s been an immersion week for me, I’ve learned some mad new skillz (still honing others), and I’m energized.

On social media you get to find out when it is the week or day to appreciate certain types of people. And this week, I discover, is both Teacher Appreciation Week, and National Nurses Week. At this particular time in my life, I cannot express my esteem for these professions highly enough. But of course, this is a blog, so I have to try.

This week, and every week, rain, shine, sleet or endless sleet, the teachers and support staff at my childrens’ school are there for them. They are there for us. They are there with hugs for Young A when he’s scared because Mom is sick. They are there to coach Young J through preparing for his first standardized tests. My kids bring challenges to a classroom. They are inattentive, sometimes spacey, they don’t always come when they are called, usually because they are too busy reading. The patience and love with which they are met, the respect they receive, and the tremendous knowledge they gain, every day and in every possible way, springs forth from these amazing life forces that are their teachers, therapists, counselors. Whom we have seen working late into the night, and emailing us early in the morning. Tirelessly. Gracefully. Because they love our kids every bit as much as we do.

I have admittedly felt a bit lost the past three weeks. Rug pulled out from under me. The steroids practically gave me a personality transplant and launched this blog into outer space. I needed some grounding. And guess what? I returned to my teachers this week. I sent a few emails into the distant past this week – to reconnect and say hello to writing teachers, whom I remembered with such fondness. I needed them to know, not just about the cancer – but that I’ve been writing! At last! And I heard back. And they remembered me, and were kind and compassionate and happy to hear from me.

(Having worked for years as a librarian, on the periphery of teaching – or engaging in teaching with means to very specific ends – I have had occasion to hear appreciation from students I worked with, years later. They have told me I was a good librarian. Personally, I think they remember my jokes. And that having a librarian who made jokes made it easier for them to ask me for help.)

But now I need to pay homage to nurses, because it is their week too. And here I cannot claim the depth of experience that I have with teachers. I’ve been a lucky person, healthwise, my entire life. I did not experience any protracted illness as a child – nor did anyone in my immediate family. I did experience the depth of compassion that nurses could give during end-of-life care for my grandparents – I remember thanking my grandfather’s nurse for attending his funeral. “I loved him, too,” she said. But really, for most of my experience with them, nurses have been largely intermediaries, the ones who gather the data before the doctor comes in and tells you what you’ve got.

When I gave birth to my first son, the labor nurse was much better than my OB/GYN at coaching me through an unexpectedly short Mack truck-style labor. With my second son, I was lucky to work with a nurse midwife, and I gained new insight and respect for that corner of the field. She coached me through an eleven-hour labor that had me literally begging to leave my body, it was so grueling. (I also lucked out because I now count that nurse midwife, S, as a friend.)

When you enter Cancerland, you suddenly gain access to and knowledge of an entirely new paradigm of nurses. I know I have. The nurses in my melanoma surgeon’s office took the time to ask how you’re doing, and they’d listen. The radiation oncology nurse consoled me when I sobbed because the awful burn on my back was taking forever to heal (and because it is a teaching hospital, I was also dealing with two residents in the room who hadn’t aced a course on compassionate care yet, and stood there staring while I sobbed).

Since metastasizing (I mean, since my cancer did), I’ve been under the care of a medical oncologist, Dr P, and her unparalleled duo of nurse practitioners, K and R (and for a brief time, Research Nurse C, until I was dumped from the research study for “flunking” the drug).

I’ve written about them a lot on this blog. Mostly, the laughs we have. And the warnings they give me. And the way they make fun of me when I deserve it, like when I get all excited and eat avocado salad when I’m clearly headed for a giant immunotherapy-induced showdown with colitis, and I make myself sick as a dog.

I looked up Dr P’s bio on the hospital website one day, and I discovered an amazing thing about her. That she is a nurse too – that was her undergraduate degree. I instantly knew I was dealing with a very different type of caregiver, and in that moment also understood why the nurses she hires are so different.

I’ve learned a lot in the past two years, and perhaps even more than that in the past three weeks. Nurses! Teachers! None of you are being paid what you deserve. You take our pain, hope, fear, and longing home with you every night. And you bring light and good and smiles into what can be very dark places.

Thank you.

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