Personal care is not outdated

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 11, 2002

On Valentines Day, I have written here, I saw two lovers in their eighties celebrate the romantic day in a hospital, of all places. Floyd almost forgot the day, and Florene had. She was preoccupied with caring for him day-after-day, and there was no point in expecting the usual Valentine card when her husband was confined to a hospital bed.

I told of how Floyd had persuaded a nurse to use her break to pick up a Valentine in the hospital gift shop and then slip it to him so he could present it to his love.

Now I want to tell you about the nurse. "Persuaded" is too strong, because Floyd but whispered to her and she was off on a joyful task. The nurse in the St. Francis unit of St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester is Jessica Frank.

Email newsletter signup

Time was when nurses could do little more than make patients a little more comfortable while they died. They took the place of mother, and it was largely mothering skills they used to cheer and console their patients. If they couldn’t be healed, at least patients were given the opportunity to die peacefully. There were many times, of course, when the nurse working with the attending physician did pull patients through. Such nurses were never soon forgotten.

Yet, much more often than today, there were oppressive limitations on what they could accomplish, because there were serious limits as to what they could do. They did their best, but even heroic best was often not nearly enough.

The Lord be praised, those days have passed. The average charge nurse today is performing tasks well beyond the professional skill of physicians just a few generations ago. An astounding range of technologies has saved thousands of lives, and nurses are managers of much of this technology. The professional demands on nurses is nothing short of unbelievable.

All this, alas, has come at a very heavy cost. To a regrettable extent, nurses today more manage than nurse. Mind you, I do not advocate retrogression to something like &uot;good ol’ days,&uot; which must be viewed now as grossly primitive. I simply confess I miss the art of healing even as I celebrate the science that has largely replaced it.

All the medical advances notwithstanding, when a person is sick and confused and scared, he or she needs to be nursed. To be mothered. Even by men who are nurses. I can't explain how they do it and perhaps "mother" isn't the best verb, but they do it and I've seen it.

Nurses in modern, technological medical centers simply don’t have time for all those old fashioned virtues. But sometimes, somehow they make the time. They seem to sense when the nursing touch counts most, and they touch souls with healing as well as bodies.

Jessica Frank did just this on Valentines Day. Did she do it for the Valentine Girl? I suppose so, because I saw the warm look on her face as Floyd handed the card to Florene. Yet, I have the sense she was doing what a nurse does best, i.e., giving her patient what he most needs at the moment. He needed to be able to give a card to his sweetheart, and there was little she could have done that day that did more for body, soul, and spirit.

She enabled -- indeed, empowered -- her patient to fulfill himself. She recognized human needs beyond the physical, and she turned her attention to them.

With very great appropriateness, Jessica Frank recently was given St. Mary’s Hospital’s Karis Award for this year. When all the facts of Nurse Frank's work were put together, it was recognized the Valentines Day gift rather than being exceptional was the norm. She is honored by her professional colleagues for just what she is: Jessica Frank is a nurse not just in the &uot;old fashioned&uot; sense but in the fullest professional sense.

Dr. Wallace Alcorn’s commentaries appear in the Herald on Mondays