Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Nurses: Tough, tender pros who love their jobs

     I typically write three columns a week, but often there are extras, such as this. I had done a number of interviews with nurses, and two weeks ago my bosses asked if I might do one more for International Nurses Day. I said sure—I try to be agreeable—and it ran last Tuesday.
     The dilemma for me was what to do with it here. Since it ran when I was on vacation, and I had already set up five days of Chicago Icon Week, and didn't want to break the continuity. I could have run it as a second daily post, but that seemed profligate. So I decided to save it until this week, thinking that few readers would care whether they were reading about a nurse on their actual day, and it would put some time between my previous nurse stories and this one. I'm a reader as well as a writer, and I feel as if I've been reading an awful lot of stories about medical personnel. Which is fitting, given the COVID-19 crisis, but also a reminder that it is better to offer too few than too many.

     Michelle Latona is no hero. She’s a nurse, in the emergency department at Mount Sinai Hospital.
     Latona certainly doesn’t consider herself heroic.
     “No, I don’t,” she said. “I wake up every morning and I come to work and do my job.”
     A job that demands she tend to the sick and the dying for 12 hours at a stretch. To juggle patients, rooms, medicines, doses, equipment, colleagues, hours, breaks, all the time keeping focused on the central task: making people well again.
     “We’ve been saving lives the entire time,” she said, admitting that since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Chicago in mid-March, things have changed.
     “This is a different time,” she said. “But I’ve continued to show up to work and do what I do.”
     Latona never knows what’s coming through the door.
     “This is a trauma center,” she said. “We still have gunshots, car accidents. Kids still fall off bunk beds. Now there are extra precautions. We have to go under the assumption that everyone is positive until they’ve proven negative. The COVID adds a little bit of extra stress.”
     That “little bit of extra stress” has to be heroic, the modesty of the truly courageous, since most folks feel extra stress going to the supermarket, never mind having to intubate COVID-19 patients in an ongoing worldwide crisis hitting nursing much harder than most professions.
     Nurses are the tip of the spear. The National Nurses Union reports at least 50 nurses have died in the United States from the coronavirus, and some 10,000 have been sickened by it. The only reason the death toll isn’t higher is because nurses tend to be younger, and fitter. Latona says her main hobby outside the hospital is working out.

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  1. Younger yes; fitter maybe. I'm all too frequently shocked to see overweight nurses, standing outside smoking cigarettes. I don't want to "shame" them, but after all, they should know the harm they're doing to themselves.


  2. In school do nurses study cadavers, like you’ve described doctors doing?

  3. Nursing is not for everyone, it takes a special kind of person. During nursing school I was assigned to "6 east Main Reese" at the old Micheal Reese Hospital; let's just say I rapidly got over my fear of cockroaches! In my 30 years of nursing that was my favorite and most fulfilling job. The patients were so thankful for even the smallest most common courtesies we all take for granted. I was so sad to leave there and even sadder when Micheal Reese was torn down.

  4. Interesting about Michael Reese hosp, Susan.


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