In re-reading my earlier posts about Kate's battle with cancer, I realized that doctors were getting all the glory. Make no mistake, they deserve glory, just not all of it. The nursing staff we have encountered have been unbelievable. Nurses are really the front-line caregivers. Doctors pop in and out here and there, but nurses are always johnny-on-the-spot tending to their patients' needs. The provide the continuity of care.
The nurses that administer the chemo are unfailingly compassionate and up-beat. Many that I have spoken to love their jobs, feeling as though they are actually helping people live better lives. And they are. They don't just switch IV bags one for another, they also ensure their patients are comfortable, provide advice on how to minimize the side-effects of chemo, offer suggestions and information on why a patient may be feeling a particular way and how they might overcome it. They chase down doctors and other specialist medical staff when complications arise. A nurse in radiation oncology told me that all the nurses that work in that section are there because they want to be, not because they have to be. At the Ottawa Cancer Centre, they are, pardon the cliché, angels and nothing less.
Similarly, when Kate was admitted to the Oncology ward after having contracted an infection I couldn't believe the genuineness of the the staff. Nursing on a ward comes with unsavoury tasks for the staff, but which are critical in maintaining patient dignity (think bodily fluids as one example), but they were done by nurses (and orderlies and porters) with good humour and genuine care. They truly get that they are treating people, not disease.
Last, but certainly not least, are the highly specialized nurses. The first we encountered on Kate's first chemo session. Kate has veins that make getting an IV into her difficult. So they called the nurse who heads a unit that installs porta-caths and PIC-lines (semi-permanent catheters mainlined into a major coronary artery), who was able to fit Kate into a pretty busy schedule so that she could receive her first chemo session. This has made life a lot easier - for Kate and the chemo nurses.
Another specialist that, truth be told, deserves an entire blog unto herself, is Nurse J, whose bailiwick is controlling pain. Because Kate's cancer had spread to her bones, weakening them significantly, she suffers from fractures all over her body, with resulting pain. I have come to realize through Nurse J that pain control on the scale that many cancer patients have to deal with is as much art as it is science. Pain control can come with tremendous benefits, obviously, but also with some cost. In Kate's case the cost was drowsiness - she would sleep more hours than she was awake for. Finding that balance that maximizes quality of life is where the art lies. And Nurse J (whose reputation preceded her) has been relentless in achieving that balance. Always available and always thinking and always on top of the case and always compassionate and always and always and always. Another medical practitioner who gets that they are treating people first and that their patients aren't just scribbles on a chart, a list of complaints to be dealt with.
To all those nurses (and orderlies and porters who are other unsung heroes), we (and I think I speak for Kate) cannot put in words our gratitude. Thanks to all who are helping us through this.