How I Know My Dying Husband’s Nurses Played Cards

This past week Washington State Senator, Maureen Walsh, proclaimed that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably played cards for a considerable amount of the day, ” (CNN). What she was specifically referring to, is rural hospitals with smaller number of patients/beds to take care of. What she underestimated in her ill-planned statement though is a true caregiver’s perspective.

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True Love

You see, I was seven months pregnant with my first child, when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. We were blindsided by the diagnosis, let alone the late stage, and even the detrimental words “terminal.” We live very rural, a small lake-town that thrives off of tourism in our service industry businesses. And, I have to tell you, Senator Walsh was right: those chemotherapy infusion nurses, those post-surgery, seventh floor angels, those pain-control, specialty oncology nurses, they did play cards. I watched, observed, cried, thanked, and even begged them to keep playing cards to save my husband. Let me tell you about those cards they played:

When those masked, and scrubbed-in angels pushed my husband out on his hospital bed, down the corridors, and into his new “home” for the next 10 days–they played the card of who they should take care of first–their patient or the patient’s wife. They struggled if they should take care of the man wincing and crying out in pain, or if they should take care of the seven-month swollen expecting momma that was beside herself as she hovered over his body in his bed. They played the cards of wondering what they should convince that desperate wife and expecting mother of first: should she eat and feed that small babe growing inside her, or do we tell her she needs to sleep for the first time since they checked in four days ago?

joeandipresurgery

Eight Months Pregnant, in for another surgery for an infection that developed.

Those blue-scrubbed Mercy Angels played the cards of wondering if they wrap their arms around that depleted wife when she was on her hands and knees begging God to relieve the pain her husband gasped for help with–or do they hold the small nine-month old chunky baby that was in the hospital floor playing with his toys to give that devoted wife a moment to just be her husband’s best friend and saving grace.

Those chemotherapy and infusion nurses–the real heroes in our story–they juggled the most cards of all. They juggled do we take care of the expecting momma, and later the momma of a five-day old, or do we tend to our patient’s every need. Do we take food, baby toys, or any of their needs to their overnight hospital stay, or do we stay home with our own families that we need to spend time with? They juggled whether they got to cry in front of us, or escape to the backroom to relieve emotions, when the oncologist said there was nothing more we could do. When those champion card players saw that frail, bony husband of mine disoriented, unaware of everything going on around him, and a momma carrying him on one arm, and their sweet year old baby in the other out of the chemo clinic–they played the card of what emotion they got to show that day.

joe-chemo

Our “spot” at our doctor’s appointment every other Thursday. All day infusion, meant juggling lesson plan writing, grading papers, and a sweet baby taking a nap in between me and his Daddy’s chair.

Senator Walsh, you are correct. Our rural, country, small-town nurses do play cards all day–in fact, a considerable amount of the day. Wait–no– all day and all night. They play cards when they go home, when they are supposed to be with their families, when they are supposed to take care of themselves. They are master card players, the real poker faces in this game of healthcare. They play the cards of taking care of patients, taking care of patient’s caregivers, families, dying wishes, egos, dignity, and every single basic need in between. And while they are playing those cards, they are card sharks at playing their own cards of emotions, family, vulnerability, and juggling their personal time that they devote to their patients and their families. They attend funerals, they hold that wife and that brand new baby in their arms while they weep because they are standing at the coffin of a patient they loved.

They are card sharks. Poker faces. True Vegas-style card players. Yes, Senator Walsh, my husband’s country, rural-small town nurses play cards. The very best cards there are to play. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

A Champion for Nurses,

Joe Smith’s Widow

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Kristina Smith is a widow, mother, Special Education Administrator, Colorectal Cancer National Advocate, Blogger and Amazon Best-Selling Author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir”

You can purchase your personal copy of Smith’s memoir here.

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391 Comments

  1. Beautifully said. Thank on behalf of myself and nurses everywhere. When I chose nursing I did it for the money (🙄) the downtime (🙄), the opportunity for more time with my family (🙄), Oh, and the large shiny new hospital I’d get to work at (🙄🙄). No that’s a joke, I became a nurse because people need compassion in this terrible world, they need that smile when their life has been blown all to pieces, they need a hug when their world is spinning out of control, because they need to be made to feel their life matters, they need someone willing to fight to keep them or their loved me alive. I could go 9n but you get the picture. If this congresswoman should ever need any of our services, we would take care of her like anyone else because that’s what we signed up for, and we would do it with the same compassion and care a support we would anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for speaking for all of us at a time when you should only be thinking about your family. My thoughts and prayers are with you. God Bless.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I had to read the entire response before I understood the post and you are correct! Sorry for your loss! I hope all is well with you and your family! Thanks for sharing your experience and I am reminded to never complain! You have experienced a lot and You still have compassion to care for others! God Bless You!

      Liked by 1 person

    • My name is Curtis thank you for your article I really enjoyed it I lost my wife little over a year ago I have struggled to get by she was my world she was the Center of My Universe. I am still having a little bit of trouble getting by without her but I think I am getting better.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully said. Thank you on behalf of myself and nurses everywhere. When I chose nursing I did it for the money (🙄) the downtime (🙄), the opportunity for more time with my family (🙄), Oh, and the large shiny new hospital I’d get to work at (🙄🙄). No that’s a joke, I became a nurse because people need compassion in this terrible world, they need that smile when their life has been blown all to pieces, they need a hug when their world is spinning out of control, because they need to be made to feel their life matters, they need someone willing to fight to keep them or their loved one alive. I could go on, but you get the picture. If this congresswoman should ever need any of our services, we would take care of her like anyone else because that’s what we signed up for, and we would do it with the same compassion and care a support we would anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the words . They really hit home . I was a CNA and I worked in health care centers and hospital. You are so right . You do it because you care. And I am very Sorry for your loss. My husband passed six years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kristina Smith…..I am so sorry for your loss. As a nurse, thank you for understanding how much we truly care for our patients, and how much we give of ourselves. Thank you for sharing your life with us….your husband was blessed to have you by his side, and I believe that knowing that you would carry on, and be there for your children must have given him peace. Cancer is a horrible disease, even worse when it is sprung on someone so young, at such a late stage. You have a deep inner strength…..you are a survivor. I look forward to reading your books, and am sure I will share them with others as well. Yes we do cry…..we do remember…..and we carry the memories of our patients in our hearts as treasured gifts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for your comments about a profession in which I have spent almost 40 years. I have never worked with oncology patients however the feelings and actions can apply to any of us in any specialty ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The Congresswoman has little intelligence, ability, or understanding of the components of what healthcare is or any understanding of healthcare needs.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You have taken my angry thoughts of this card playing statement and turned it into something positive. Beautifully written. I hope every nurse reads your words. Thank you for helping me get rid of that anger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So very sorry for your loss. I pray every night that we find that cure for cancer. I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers. Thanks for sticking up for us nurses. I am hitting 30 years this summer. I went into this profession to help the sick and comfort the families. God bless you and your family.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is a beautiful well written post. Thank you to all nurses, but especially to my oncology nurses!

        Like

  7. 55 wonderful years in multiple fields of nursing…wish I had another 55 to give…some of the cards that were dealt me were not great…. 12 hour ICU shifts into 14 or more hours with way too many patients to care for and emotional ups and downs every day….no pottie breaks or meals some dhifts. Juggling college courses, being a mother/wife…everyone knows that story.
    Then teaching others to learn the important parts of our career..the compassion, the moments of silence and handholding, and of course, the vast, ongoing learning ….
    I love this choice I made back in the 50’s….the open heart massage…experiments wth animals beforehand…the first dialysis run wearing boots as we loaded h20 in the dialysis plates, the first defibrillator that was on wheels and taller then me, the gastric balloon circulating alcohol for gi bleeders…and I could go on and on…how blessed I’ve been in this journey

    I’m hoping it is not finished….

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m proud to be a nurse for 40 years and have touched many lives both patients and their families at the worst moments of their lives! I never made more than $55,000.00 yearly with no pension fund but my rewards are so much more than money. I made a difference!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That right there is why we sacrfice. Every nurse has one fundamental quality, to care for others. That post is why we do it….to know we made a difference, to know in some small way, even if we couldnt save a life we made a positive impact on those their loved ones left behind. Thank you so much for your post. Because to those who cares for you wonderful husband that is thanks enough. We appreciate people like yourself. You see the nature of our job is to care to do that emotion has to come into it, and believe me, as a nurse i can tell you your husband impacted his carers lives as much as they impacted his. He will never he forgotten and will always hold a place for them. Because they cared for him. God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing your experience and your husband’s. I’m so sorry you had to lose him so young. Prayers for you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for sharing your experience and your husband’s. I’m so sorry you had to lose him so young. Prayers for you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I lost my husband to colon cancer-both of us previously were law enforcement officers-after his death I was blessed to be accepted into nursing school-thankfully helping me to handle my grief-after graduation I specialized in oncology knowing that I had been throughthat journey and knowing I could relate to both the patients and their families and could honestly say “I know what you’re going through”-then God led me into wound care and that became other than my family my passion-the profession of nursing does not just involve skills,but also a desire to put patients first(First Do No Harm) work hard even it physically and emotionally becomes exhausting and then go home to your family hoping you made a difference in someones life,my prayer each night is-“Look Back And Thank God,Look Forward and Trust God,Look Within and Feel God,Look Around and Serve God”…….

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for sharing this, it’s so important. I am so very sorry for your loss. So glad you have your beautiful baby, and that the nurses took good care of all of you. They really are angels on earth, nurses. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • All I can say…is..GOD BLESS YOU..and shame on Senator Walsh….I hope she NEVER has to deal with this kind of situation…oh..ok..I’ll deal the next hand…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Much love to my Granddaughter who is a nurse at ST. JAMES Hospital in Columbus
    LOVE YOU DEAR NURSE.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The Congress woman is ignorant and has not sat in ICU or any other part of a hospital beside a loved one. I have seen how hard big town and small rural hospital nurses and staff work to provide care for the patient and family members. I have tried to tell the nurses how much we appreciate them. Thank you nurses for caring for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow. You have turned the angry thoughts around that I have had toward the senator! They say ignorance is bliss. Beautiful story! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you! Your thoughts and warmth a well written tribute to nurses and what we do for patients and families every single shift. Thank you for turning the negative into positive. Many Blessing s to you and yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you being strong and holding nurses up. I became a nurse to provide good care weather it be good or bad smiles. or tears. My love for nursing will alway be close to my heart. I feel god is part of the process as well by just holding a hand, hug and listen to the patient and family. I’ve worked with all kinds of conditions with no regrets. It’s part of me and will always be precious.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It blessed my heart. Hoping and praying that you and your sweet baby are doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I am a nurse and I can tell you we grieve with the family of those who have a member of their family that passes away!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you….words like yours keep us going every day remind us why we choose this profession!!! People like u help brighten our day when we are under staff under paid and under rated..people like you are the true Angels that keep nurses smile alive. Proud nurse

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you so much for this! As a nurse for 40+ years I barely had time to eat or pee let alone play cards! I really hope the Congresswoman considers shadowing a nurse for a 12 hour shift…or better yet a double (Eleven PM to 3 PM was always my favorite…NOT!)
    My condolences for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. The last 25 years of my nursing career, I worked in Oncology. I never knew anything could be so rewarding. The rapport built up with the patients and their families was warm and loving. Yes, I cried a lot. How could I not? The doctors were not immune. You could tell when we lost someone. The doctors would be intermittently cranky and silent. The receptionists, who were the first to greet our patient, did not escape the pain and sadness we all felt. And the phlebotomists, who also saw them every visit, became glum for a day. Yes, the nurses got a lot of appreciation, but it took the whole team to fill the needs of our dear patients.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I will start by saying I never write or comment on these types of articles. It’s too private and hits too close to home. I do have a poker face to maintain after all. 😉As a nurse of 40 years I have had the privilege of playing cards. You have the graciousness, despite your pain, to see what we as nurses do.
    The moments of great joy, small victories and great sorrow have sprinkled my career, yet I wouldn’t change it one bit.
    The smiles, the trust, YOU allowing us into your private and intimate circle of your life and family. I have never forgotten that, and always considered it a privilege for a patient and a family to allow me into their lives, to share the most private moments.
    Be it the cry of a newborn, or that sigh as a person takes their last breath. We feel it all.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for recognizing the “cards” we are playing.
    May God Bless you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thank you for so eloquently speaking for us, about us. Nursing was my life for many years, years of working harder than I had ever worked before, trying to find balance in my own life while I balanced the needs of my patients and their loved ones. Trying to look brave for my patients when my insides were shaking as I held them, reassuring them it would be okay, and finally sharing and listening the times it could not be okay, and feeling feelings I didn’t even know about. The bitter exhaustion was only part of it; juggling and keeping up with all that needed to be done for each one of them, checking and double checking that I wasn’t making an error with a treatment or a medication. Checking doctor’s orders to make sure they weren’t either. But it was my life, and I loved it so much. I felt fulfilled for the first time in my life and miss it terribly now that I am retired after three back surgeries that happened from the laborious work of lifting, turning, pulling on patients through those years. But I would not change it even if I could. I was the one beside them at their first awakening after a serious surgery, and their last breath at times. My wish is that I conveyed to them all that they mattered so very much to me, that they have a special place in my heart even now, and that I did it because the God I know gave me what it took to do the job I did every day. It is not a job for the faint of heart, or the squeamish, or the lazy. If you do it for money you will find that the hours you work inside your head while on an off day will make you understand that minimum wage is closest to what you will be making. It is a calling, one of the highest in my book, and I thank God that He knew I would do the job well. Thank you for seeing behind our poker faces, while understanding the cards we held were not queens or aces many times, but were all necessary to carry on with the game. I am now 71, and miss it everyday. May God bless you much!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. As a nurse, this brought me to actual tears. I’m so thankful you were in such good hands for such a devastating time in your life. Those are the kinds of nurses I hope to be every day. Sending you lots of love and prayers for a life of health and happiness for you and your little one!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I don’t think this congresswoman is dumb. I think she is one of the fortunate few who have not had a sick or dying loved one who had to witness what nurses really do. As a practicing RN for 43 years, and a daughter,granddaughter, niece, mother and significant other, I have seen more than I have wanted to see of sickness and death within my family and with those I have cared for. I am very proud of my profession which has taken me away from those I love during special holidays and family events. Looking back, I can honestly say I don’t regret any of it. So, to this congresswoman I say she needs to do her homework before she makes an uneducated statement such as that. And to you, your story brought me to tears, and my heart goes out to you and to your family. It is obvious you are a strong woman, and I am sure although I don’t know you personally, that you will be able to handle anything life puts in your path. Stay strong! I wish all the best to you.
    A special shout out to nurses around the world, we need to stay strong too. I know one day, I will need someone like you in my life. I feel confident I will have an angel or two to care for me as well.

    Like

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