Since I have been fortunate enough to have had limited experience with the health care system before my daughter’s birth, I knew very little of what to expect from the registered nurses assigned to care for us during our time at the hospital.
I became more impressed with the level of care and compassion during every successive interaction with the registered nurses assigned to our room. I am happy with the care provided during our stay in the hospital and I will never lose my admiration and respect for the wonderful registered nurses in the Labor, Delivery, and Recovery and Mother-Infant Unit at Tufts Medical Center. In particular, the first registered nurse whom we met upon being admitted to the hospital ended up becoming someone both my wife and I will remember fondly for the rest of our lives.
The nurse, whom I will call Nurse A, was working the 7pm to 7am overnight shift in the Labor, Delivery, and Recovery (LDR) unit at the hospital. Nurse A was assigned as my wife Lisa’s nurse from the time we were admitted just after 12:30am and she provided a calm presence during those first anxious, but boring, hours of waiting. I’m still a little surprised at the 12 hour shifts that are apparently common in all American hospitals, but Nurse A seemed just as pleasant at the end of her shift as she did when we walked in the door. Nurse A left at 7am by wishing us luck and we all assumed mom and baby would be gone from the LDR unit by the time of her next shift.
Nonetheless, we were still in the same room (and close to the same level of dilation) 12 hours later when Nurse A returned to start her next shift. I was surprised that she remembered specific details about both myself and my wife that we had shared during the previous night. The information included our hometowns; some details I was texting to my mother-in-law; and one specific aspect I disliked of an otherwise fantastic book. Nurse A was also surprisingly upbeat for a woman who had just 12 hours to rest between two 12 hour shifts.
My next shock came only a few minutes later when A rearranged the pillows I had used to try and make my wife more comfortable. While, in retrospect, I made a terrible pillow arrangement, Nurse A was able to increase my wife’s physical comfort simply by folding the pillows into varying shapes depending on their position around the bed. More importantly, her pillow arrangement provided a psychological boost to my wife by making her feel like things were going to get better. Prior to this experience I would have considered the arrangement of pillows on a bed to be inconsequential. Now, I believe the expertise which a caregiver displays in arranging bed pillows is a good proxy for her level of empathy. Nurse A spent a disproportionate amount of time on Lisa’s bed pillows and displayed a disproportionate amount of concern for both my wife and baby.
Nurse A checked on us throughout the night and was very good at providing little emotional boosts just when my wife needed it. She was clearly technically competent, but it was her small displays of compassion that were most important during the excruciating process of labor. I don’t see any way to quantify or identify these positive attributes in advance of receiving care. Unfortunately, since we are likely to move before any additional kids, we won’t be able to simply return to the same hospital and I don’t know if we will be able to look for these critical–but hard to measure–qualities in the registered nurses at our next institution.
The pushing phase of labor finally started near 2am and both Nurse A and I assumed that she would be able to greet Arya long before her shift was over at 7am. Five hours later as Lisa entered a dangerous phase with both vacuum extraction and a staff shift change, Nurse A said that she would stay in order to help us achieve a successful delivery. I was jarring to see someone who had just worked 12 hours (for the third day in a row) voluntarily stay without pay for an indeterminate length of time to care for my wife and baby. Her behavior was vastly different than my experience with the corporate world or academic settings. The only situation where I have ever seen that type of unselfish compassion is when spending time with a loving family. We had never met Nurse A before Friday morning, but we now feel a bond with her as close as we would with extended family.
Our final interaction with Nurse A came on the day when we were to be discharged from the hospital. By then we had moved to the Mother-Infant Unit on the opposite side of the hospital. Despite the fact that mother and baby were no longer her patients and that the MIU was far from her ward, Nurse A came over specifically to greet us before we went home. Even if we never see her again, both Lisa and I are grateful that Nurse A could be part of Arya’s life.