Skip to content

I met a bunch of superheroes two weeks ago

Two Fridays ago, I had surgery to repair an umbilical hernia at Hartford Hospital.

Can I take a minute to talk about the nurses and related staff who took care of me that day?

The first was a gentleman who checked me in at admitting. It was 5:20 AM when I approached his desk and answered a few simple questions to confirm that I was in the right spot on the right day. The man smiled at me. Laughed when he couldn’t find my name on the list for a moment, filling me with momentary dread. Then smiled again and pointed to a small room to my left, where I met another nurse who asked me more questions about my reason for being at the hospital that day.

“We’ll take great care of you,” she said with a smile.

Smiles at the crack of dawn. A laugh. Given that Elysha couldn’t be with me because of the pandemic, it was much needed.

I was then sent to the fourth floor of the hospital where another nurse slowly and carefully explained how I would essentially need to get naked save a flimsy, fairly meaningless gown, and store my belongings in a bag.

Half an hour later, another nurse arrived to administer my IV. Being allergic to bees and suffering from a debilitating, negative feedback loop when it comes to needles, she was gentle with me. She asked me about my children. Told me about her three teenage kids. Laughed with me over the ridiculous things that children do. Commiserated over teaching teenagers to drive. Placed her hand on my shoulder and squeezed, nearly bringing me to tears. Stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, “We are going to take such good care of you.”

I wish I could remember her name.

Then came another nurse, rolling a cart, asking me questions about medications and piercings and pacemakers and previous surgeries. Alcohol consumption and smoking and various diseases.

I’ve never smoked, don’t drink alcohol, and have never used an illegal drug. I’m not pierced, have no dentures, do not have a pacemaker, and as far as I know am disease free. She smiled. “You’re making this easy for me.”  She squeezed my forearm. “You’re going to be just fine.” She explained to me that my nurse, Juan, would be with me shortly.

Juan arrived with a smile. He cracked a joke. He told me that he’d be with me every step of the way. As he started pressing buttons on his computer, another nurse – someone related to anesthesia – came in to explain that in addition to general anesthesia, I would be receiving nerve blockers as well. Six injections into both sides of my belly.

My eyes widened.

Juan saw and immediately and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll have you good and sedated before any of that happens.”

Juan came closer. Asked me more questions. Cracked another joke. We talked about our families, He told me that he’s trying to raise his son the way that he wasn’t raised himself. He shared a story with me. Expressed some vulnerability. Squeezed my shoulder. Nearly had me in tears again.

Then things began to move quickly. Other people entered the room, introducing themselves and their departments. My gown was lifted. Something cold and wet hit my belly. “We’re washing your stomach,” Juan said. “That’s all.”

“We’re going to give you the nerve blockers now,” someone said.

“Wait,” I said. It was the first moment when I was legitimately worried. For a fleeting moment, I considered calling off the whole thing. Someone was going to cut me open soon. “This is crazy,” I thought.

“Don’t worry,” Juan said as if reading my mind. “I’m going to give you the sedative now. It’ll be like drinking three six packs in a minute.”

“I don’t drink,” I said. “Remember? Please don’t inject me before I’m sedated.”

“I got you,” Juan said. “Don’t worry. I got you.” I felt something warm rush into my arm through my IV. I saw Juan smile. That’s the last thing I remember.

When I awoke, I was in pain. An enormous amount of pain. The nurse asked what my pain was on a scale of 1-10. I said it was a 9 but it felt like a 10, but I wanted to leave room in case it got worse. She moved fast. Called for another nurse. Someone put their hand on my arm and squeezed. Somehow it made the pain go away a little. “”Don’t worry. We’ll get you feeling better in a minute.”

Ir took some time to get my pain under control, but they did. I rested a bit as nurses told me how well the surgery went and how well I did, even though I had done nothing.

I heard a nurse call Elysha from beyond the curtain. She spoke slowly and sweetly. I could hear her smile as she spoke.

When it came time to get dressed, I could barely move. A nurse helped me with my underwear and pants, turning her head for privacy. “I think you’ve seen everything already,” I said. “It’s okay. You can just help me get this on.”

We laughed. She did. Then she slowly, carefully, gently put on my socks and sneakers. Tied them while telling me how the pain would get better every day.

The nurse who helped me into the wheelchair was cheery. Downright happy. As she was preparing to help me into Elysha’s car, a shuttle bus cut in front and clipped the front bumper.

Of course.

She was unflustered. She continued to help me into the car before helping Elysha deal with the accident.

I’ve spoken to nurses twice since my surgery. I had to call once with a question about medication. I called the next day because I can’t feel my upper leg.

I still can’t. It’s annoying. Nerve compression. I didn’t expect my leg to go numb after surgery on my abdomen.

Each time, I spoke to a nurse who was happy to hear from me. Pleased to help me. Smiling as she spoke to me.

I received remarkable care during my stay at the hospital. Perhaps standard care by some measures, but here’s the thing:
  1. I never saw my surgeon. I’m sure he did a fine job slicing and dicing, but when it came to the people who made the day a lot less frightening and a lot more bearable, it was the nurses who were my heroes. These were my point people.
  2. More importantly. these are men and women who just waged a war against a deadly virus, and they continue to wage this war every day. They are tragically underpaid, almost certainly overworked, and undoubtedly under-appreciated. They are front line workers of the highest order, running into the equivalent of raging fires every day for months and months. Yet when I arrived at the hospital on Friday, they were still smiling. Still looking me in the eye. Still offering me a critical bit of human contact when I needed it most.

I don’t know how they do it.

These people are goddamn heroes. I couldn’t be more grateful to them.

Thank God for nurses.