I have no idea when the custom began — probably long ago — but I remember it being rather commonplace for big people to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Can’t you hear it now: “So, Walter, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “Oh, I wanna grow up and revolutionize the animation industry, design a fantasy theme park, and create a cartoon character that will become famous enough to have his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!” “Um, that’s nice…”) Whenever I was asked, I would generally rattle off this short list: “A teacher, a ballerina, or a mommy.” But you would never, ever hear the word “nurse” roll off my tongue. To this day, nursing is at the tail end of the list — slightly ahead of high wire acrobat, alligator wrestler, and tornado chaser.
Don’t get me wrong — I am profoundly grateful for those who have chosen the nursing profession. Over the years, I have been the direct beneficiary of the professionalism and skill of a whole company of nurses. That being said, the fact remains: I am quite averse to performing nursing duties myself. I get squeamish just pulling splinters out of family members’ fingers. Occasionally, circumstances will press me into service, but I’d much rather duck for cover when it comes time to change a dressing, treat a burn, or sprains, or rashes… (fill in the blank).
It’s much worse when blood is involved. I wish I could help it, but I reflexively shudder at the thought of seeing blood. Mine or other people’s — doesn’t matter. Truth be told, that’s probably the real deal-breaker on this whole nursing thing. Unfortunately, in real life, there just isn’t any way to control the blood factor. From time to time, it just happens. Like the time my brother was jumping from the garage roof onto the wooden frame of a wire fence and accidentally gauged his arm on a heavy wire protruding right where he landed. The puncture was fairly deep and, naturally, it started bleeding. I averted my eyes. Fortunately, mom was on duty and took good care of him.
And there was the time a bunch of neighborhood boys thought it would be a neat idea to play a pick-up “game” of something they referred to as a “Coke bottle fight” on the empty lot. The object of said “game” was to seek shelter behind a shield of some kind, then pop up to hurl a bottle toward an opponent, and then duck just before a missile made contact with one’s person. (Obviously, you will never see this activity on an approved list from the National Center for Sports Safety.) It was only a matter of time — and you no doubt saw this one coming — before the boy next door took one to the temple.
Why the whole bunch of them thought to escort their comrade to our house to seek first aid, I’ll never know. Before I knew what was happening, I looked up from reading my comic book on the front porch to see the wounded warrior, leaving a trail of blood spatters on our sidewalk and porch. Once again, I averted my eyes until the big people got his head all cleaned up and bandaged. As it turned out, his cut wasn’t actually very bad at all. Just bled a lot. (Oh, and the big people also nixed the “game.”)
Some years later, during the summertime, I was in the house when I heard the sound of glass shattering outside. Apparently the young mother who lived next door had been horsing around with a couple of teenagers and in the process chased them to her door. They pulled the door closed behind them quickly, but by the time she realized it, she couldn’t reverse her momentum. She crashed through the door’s glass pane, cutting her upper arm to the bone, severing an artery. The teens were panicky and began shouting wildly for help.
As fate would have it, the only adult within earshot, besides my 18-year-old self, was my dad. He had worked late into the night and was still sleeping when the mayhem began. He roused quickly and darted for the front porch, with me at his heels. The scene before me was incredibly scary. She was bleeding profusely and her two preschool children were just standing there sobbing. The woman herself was speechless and growing pale. Instantly — thank God — my dad’s civil defense police officer training kicked in.
“Go inside and call the police,” he commanded one of the teens in a firm, authoritative tone. “Linda, take the children inside and occupy them.” These clear and simple directives transmitted calmness and reassurance to all of us, perhaps most of all to the injured woman. He stood there on her porch with his large hand tightly grasping her arm, pulling the deep gash closed, and applying pressure to stanch the flow of blood. He also held the arm above her head to retard the flow of blood to the wound. He didn’t budge until a paddy wagon pulled up to the curb and two officers rushed her into their vehicle and sped off to the nearby hospital, sirens blaring.
Dad later reported that one of the policemen said, upon seeing the severity of her injury, that had he not been there to administer effective first aid, our neighbor may well have bled out before help arrived. He also reported that after the officers got her safely into the paddy wagon, his whole body felt like Jell-O. Nonetheless, in the critical moment, his cool head had prevailed and saved the day — maybe even a life. And I would forever hold in inestimable honor, his valor and amazing composure.
So from this weak-kneed, chicken-livered, wuss of a “nurse,” to all who work or volunteer in health or emergency care professions — especially where the likelihood of encountering great danger (and blood loss) is high: my hat is off to you. Thank you, thank you for your service.