I’m not sure which nurse in my life first shared it, but when I saw the video of Washington State Senator Maureen Walsh speaking out against nurses—I was floored. Did she really just insinuate that nurses have so little to do and are so lazy that they spend their days playing cards and lingering over lunch hour?

She did, and clearly, she has no sense of what it’s like to meet the demands of being a nurse.

I’m not a nurse, but I have some experience in being a patient. Three years ago I spent two weeks in the hospital. I was there dealing with preeclampsia which led to the stillbirth of my daughter and it nearly killed me as well.

So I got to thinking—which nurse was playing cards on the day they saved my life?

It definitely wasn’t the nurse who held my hair back when I was vomiting from the pain or the nurse who gave me sips of water while telling me how sorry she was.

I don’t think the nurses putting in my arterial line had any time to start a game of Go Fish while they were monitoring my ever-rising blood pressure.

I’m pretty confident that there were no games of poker being interrupted when they transferred me down to the ICU.  I also doubt that the nurse from Labor and Delivery—the one who stayed by my side until my baby was delivered—had any time to duck away and lounge about the break room.

I’m skeptical at the thought of my ICU nurse ignoring my failing kidneys and immense blood loss to start up a game of gin rummy. Do people really think that nurses prioritize themselves over their patients—especially their patients who are fighting to survive?

What about the nurse who showed me how to hold my stillborn baby? Or the nurse who helped me clean up? What about the nurse who knelt by my bedside and shared her own story of stillbirth so I wouldn’t feel so alone that first agonizing night? I wonder how many of them had the kind of time to take a long, leisurely break that day?

I’m going to guess that no one had much extra time on their hands that day and if they did . . . don’t you think they deserved it?

I would like to think that in the midst of all the chaos and urgency these nurses have a moment to take a deep breath and take care of themselves. I’m not talking about an hour to play a bridge game. I’m talking about 30 minutes to sit and eat a good meal and use the bathroom. Shouldn’t they be treated with the same level of humanity that they work so hard to bestow upon their patients?

I think so, and I think that’s what should be happening for nurses every single day.  Because when nurses show up to work—they show up. Whether they are saving lives or delivering babies or administering medications, they are critical to the well-being of their patients.

I know I sound a little defensive. Maybe that’s because I feel so protective of nurses—especially my nurses. I am forever indebted to these people for the care they provided and the compassion they offered during the most heartbreaking days of my life. They are responsible for saving me in more ways than one.  

Rachel Whalen

Rachel Whalen is a writer and Kindergarten teacher who lives and loves in Vermont. She is the mother of two daughters; Frances who is 14 months old and Dorothy who was stillborn two years ago. Her daughter's silent birth has inspired her to use her voice to share about grief, pregnancy loss, and parenting after loss.