all of the selves we Have ever been
I wonder what my Aunt Lillie would think
of the COVID-19 pandemic.
My aunt served as an Army nurse during World War Two. She served in Great Britain during the worst of it and returned from war with Hodgkin’s Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Her illness gave her the opportunity to witness health care from both sides of the sheets.
Health care was crude back then. Compared to today’s standards, a post-war hospital was more like a prison than a health spa. Things might have been clean, but they were gloomy. The accommodations were imposing and institutional. Step inside a hospital and the world turned black and white. There were no soothing colors on the walls, no artwork, no coordinating draperies. Telephones and televisions were too new to be standard amenities.
Going to the hospital was like doing time for the crime of getting pregnant, sick, or injured. The hospital was the place of last resort, not a first measure. If a person had surgery, she could expect to be down for weeks, maybe months. Cancer was a death sentence.
Inside a hospital, the nurses did it all. In addition to starting IVs and other medical procedures, the nurses bathed the patients, mixed and delivered the medicines, served up the food, and changed the beds. They did it in uniform: a stiff white cap upon their heads, starched white dresses, opaque white hosiery, and thick-soled, laced-up, white oxford shoes.
Into such a hospital went my Aunt Lillie, former Army Nurse. She may have been an auntie, but she was not a sissy. And Aunt Lillie knew clean. She also knew precision. Wow, could she make a bed! Her hospital corners were as tight as my Sunday shoes, and forget about that bouncing-coin trick, my Aunt Lillie could launch a moon rocket from a mattress.
While it was never a good idea to bring valuables to the hospital, Aunt Lillie always came with a $50.00 bill which she placed under the bed. It became a test of how well the room was cleaned. She figured either someone would find the bill and return it, or find the bill and keep it. Either way, what Lillie cared about was that the every square inch of the room was clean.
Health insurance was in its infancy. While the price tag for a hospital stay was small in light of today’s costs, much of the bill was an out-of-pocket expense, so any amount, when you are sick and bedridden, is too much. Aunt Lillie opened negotiations with, “Do you know what kind of room I could get at Caesar’s Palace for these prices?” Her odds of coming out ahead were probably greater in a Las Vegas casino.
And so I now think of my feisty Aunt Lillie, Army nurse. I know that if she were here and well, she would be in a hospital, once again, doing her part for our country.
Last night on the evening news I saw my Aunt Lillie in the images of the young nurses being interviewed. They were standing in the hospital war zones--crowded intensive care units. Other nurses were stretched out on sidewalks and bent over on park benches. Exhausted. Crying. Broken.
I know nurses to be like my Aunt Lillie: stress hardy, confident, and people of action. They get stuff done and make things happen. They are not sissies or cry-babies. They are the backbone of our healthcare system. And that back is breaking.
Maybe you don’t know anyone who has had COVID. But we all know a nurse.
If you can’t do it…
If you can’t take precautions, wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance, and stay home for the general good of the country…
If you can’t heed the word of leaders who are begging for your cooperation…
If you can’t hear the words of millions of grieving survivors…
If you can’t act on the recommended safety protocols because you believe the pandemic is a fantasy or that it is behind us…
Then take action and do it for our nurses. The ones you do know.
The ones that were there with your mom when you came into the world…
The ones who vaccinated you and brought you popsicles when you had your tonsils removed...
The ones that took your temperature at school and bandaged your scraped knees…
The ones that comforted you before and after surgery and gave you some dignity by helping you to the bathroom and by combing your hair…
The ones who care for your aging loved ones in nursing homes…
And the ones who put our soldiers back together…
An exhausted, crying, heartbroken nurse is a sign of system failure.
You might get a better room for the price in Las Vegas, but please don’t bet against our nurses.