Aug 03, 2021, By: Terry Webber RN, BSPN
It was spring and the day was shining brightly, both outside and inside my heart. I wasn’t feeling this way simply because I was getting my COVID-19 vaccination, I decided, heading out my door; it was because of the moment in time that it represented. Little did I know that I would make a major career decision this day as well.
I was going to be in the midst of other people dedicated to care, just like myself; that is what I was looking forward to. Perhaps I would be vaccinated by a nurse, perhaps it would be a doctor, perhaps it would be a paramedic or a firefighter.
In my heart, I just hoped I would see a familiar face or two, any person who might identify themselves as a nurse. Then I would know I had arrived at the right place.
Signs were everywhere. ”Park here,” “Entrance to vaccinations,” “Keep right.” So many signs. I couldn’t read them all. Thank goodness for the smiling eyes of the masked navigators, waving me on.
Inside the doors, more smiles, more signs. So much to absorb. I was pointed toward a vaccination table, a table where a person said, “Hello! I’m Karen, the nurse who will be vaccinating you today.”
I could tell she was a nurse. It was not just her smile, or the way she spoke, the words she used, or even the tone in which she spoke them. It was her whole being, her eye contact that seemed to see into my soul to discern what it was I needed in that moment, the eyes behind a masked face that connected to the whole of me as a person. She seemed to be a kind person.
“I can tell you are a nurse,” I said. “There is just something about you.”
She told me calmly and compassionately about the vaccine I was going to receive that day, and how it would work in my body to fight COVID. My arm might ache, but the ache would last only a short while.
How safe I felt under her competent care. I asked her to tell me a bit about herself, because being a nurse too, I was curious and interested to know who Karen was as a person.
She leaned in and whispered to me, as if in confession, “I retired in February! But here I am, back at it again!” As she spoke, her hand deftly collected the alcohol swab, the bandage, and the filled needle that she was about to inject into my arm.
“I worked at St. Paul’s Hospital, in the cardiology department, doing research. It was a desk job, but I loved it. I learned so much about hearts; I learned so much about people.” It seemed natural, easy for her to reveal her humanness.
“I can tell you are a nurse,” I said. “There is just something about you.”
My turn to “fess up.” “I am a nurse too, semi-retired,” I told her. When I shared where I worked and how rewarding working in palliative care was, her voice quietened and with a reverent tone, she said, “Oh! What wonderful work!”
We laughed, shared more, but it was finally time. “Which arm would you like this in?” she asked. How like a nurse, giving me a choice. “My right arm,” I said. She nodded as if in understanding when I told her why.
“This may feel like a prick for only a second. Others have said they did not feel a thing,” she said. I didn’t feel the prick of the needle going in. It didn’t even sting. I only felt the pressure of the plunger pushing the medication in. And then it was over.
“Thank you for being my nurse today,” I said, as we shared eye contact for the last time. I did not want to leave this moment — this moment, not of being vaccinated, but of being cared for by a nurse. It reminded me of why I loved being a nurse, of how a patient must feel to be given care by a dedicated nurse such as she.
I stood up, left my chair, and was directed by a navigator to sit down in another chair in the monitoring area. As I waited, I reflected on how marvelous life was. I had just been cared for by a nurse! What a beautiful vocation we have been gifted with, if only for a short while on our journeys.
I looked around as I sat; were there any nurses that I recognized? Were Lori or Lynda here, back from retirement to serve in COVID vaccination care? I would have loved to have watched them today, such excellent nurses I had worked with. But I could not see anyone I recognized behind those masks.
Then suddenly, a voice from out of nowhere: “Terry? Terry, is that you?” someone called out. I turned around to see a person coming toward me. I could not recognize this person with the vivid streak of grey amidst the mound of black hair tucked up in a bun, her face behind the mask, with eyes that were shining and smiling. The voice behind the mask said, “It’s Terri from ICU.” It was all I could do to refrain from hugging her.
“Terri! It’s so good to see you!” I cried out, feeling as if I had just flown home to a place where I had once belonged — at the Royal Columbian Hospital, back into my float-pool intensive care nursing days of practice. And as she talked, it took me back to more days gone by. I could not hide my tears; I was so glad to see her and relive all the memories that she unknowingly prompted as I watched and listened to her.
She turned slightly, saying that today would be busy; she needed to go. It was Terri being her typical caring self, just like so many nurses who find time in their busy-ness to stop and give words of comfort and love to those whom they feel may need it the most. That is what her presence did for me.
“Who knows,” she said as she was leaving, “We might see each other again!” No doubt we will, Terri; if not here, then in heaven. What a reunion it will be. And you will be flying in on angel’s wings, as will all the other nurses who go there (mine will need some readjusting, if I’m given wings at all).
I left the vaccination facility, trying to exit the wrong way until someone pointed me in the right direction again. We laughed, yet no one laughed at me; they knew I wasn’t confused. It was just that, like all the others, this was all new to me. We smiled behind our masks and wished each other a good day.
Despite the headiness I felt from all the excitement, I also left feeling quiet hope and joy. The feeling wasn’t because of the vaccination. It was because of the nurses there that I got to see and got to be with again. It was because of the memories that fluttered in on angel’s wings to me that day.
It was then that I decided, “That’s it. It’s final. I still need to be a nurse. I can’t fully retire anytime soon.” Caring for others as a nurse and being with nurses still makes my heart sing. It still gives me purpose. I think it always will.
Retired nurses often provide excellent informal community and family care. They often do so without knowing that their care is rooted in the archives of their nursing wisdom and nurses’ hearts that constantly seek to give to others. It’s commendable, but not a step I’m willing to take just yet.
Do you see what the love and wisdom of being a nurse brings to others in one simple moment in time? Do you see what you have done for others in all the years you have been a nurse? Do you see that what you are doing now arises from who you still are — a nurse?
Seeing nurses as they deliver care confirms the kinship that we share in being nurses; it is in our blood, etched in our DNA. Being a nurse will always reside within us.
Terry Webber, RN, BSPN, is a shift care nurse providing end-of-life care for people in their homes. She is employed by Evergreen Nursing Services, which is affiliated with Vancouver Coastal Health Authority in B.C. She was formerly a registered psychiatric nurse and a CNA-certified nurse in hospice palliative care. Terry is also a 2014 recipient of the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia’s Nursing Excellence Award in clinical practice.