News & Events

Boston Herald Column Tells the Real Story About Nurses

Kudos to Beverly Beckham of the Boston Herald for her powerful column (see below) in support of nurses and the nursing profession. She is a journalist who has experienced the caring of nurses firsthand. We hope every nurse reads this with pride, and then takes that pride out into the streets this week for the Statewide Petition Drive for Quality Patient Care/Safe Staffing Legislation, May 1 – 7. If you haven’t received your petitions, call the MNA at 781.830.5728, and will make sure you get some ASAP. You can also download a petition from our Petition page.

The real story is that nurses care the most
by Beverly Beckham
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

"Critical Care: When nurses steal drugs on the job." This was the front-page headline of Sunday’s Boston Globe. It came with a pie chart. If the headline didn’t make you think all nurses were stealing drugs, the chart did.

All nurses, of course, are not stealing drugs. Most are working their eight- to 12-hour shifts, going home, then showing up for another day at a job you couldn’t pay most of us enough to do. But what kind of a headline would this make? "Nurses tending to the country’s neediest."

Hardly Pulitzer stuff.

Nurses, the kind who never make headlines, took care of my mother when she was in a coma; they took care of my mother-in-law when she had her legs amputated, and my husband when he had open-heart surgery, and my son when he had a bone infection, and my daughter when she had surgery, and me, when I was a child and again when I had my own children.

And caring in the nursing profession takes its toll because people don’t always get better. Many get worse. Nurses care for them and about them in spite of this.

My mother-in-law was able to live out her life in her own home because of visiting nurses. They didn’t just divide her pills into one of those plastic seven-days-of-the-week cases. They explained what each pill was for. They taught her how to give herself insulin shots. They changed the dressings on her feet. After she had her legs amputated, first one, then a year later the other, they told her about other double amputees who had a hard time at first but ended up doing just fine.

They didn’t just talk to her. They also listened. Then they went to someone else’s house to do the very same thing.

The night she died, there was a nurse on duty at Norwood Hospital who had met her just a week before. That nurse, practically a stranger, prayed with us and cried with us. And two days later she came to the wake.

The news, more and more, focuses on all the bad people do. And the bad follows us around like the moon. It’s everywhere.

But there’s the other side of the moon and it’s not only just as real; it’s bigger. But it’s hidden, the way the good nurses do is hidden, done out of the spotlight, where only the sick are housed and where the healthy don’t venture unless they are forced to.

A nurse sat next to me all night when I was 16 and had my tonsils out. It was a simple procedure. Except that something ruptured. A nurse whose face I don’t remember and whose name I never knew saved me from bleeding to death. No headline there. Just a nurse doing her job.

In all the histrionic stories newspapers tell, hyperbole is supported by experts who are authors or clinicians or professors.

In the case of nurses, patients are the real experts. For four years, Sal Grasso has been a patient at New England Sinai Hospital in Stoughton. He can’t move anything except his eyes. Nurses keep him alive. "They try hard. They are always under pressure," he spells out with his eyes and a computer.

New England Sinai is full of people like Grasso. Someone always has to be turned, fed, changed, put into a chair, taken out of a chair. Nurses and aides do this. Many do more. On their days off, some stop by with their kids for a visit because kids cheer up the place. Some volunteer to go out with patients who can’t go out without a nurse.

The Globe got the critical part of the headline right. It’s critical that nurses do care.

Fortunately, for us, most do.