During my just-ended stay in hospital I had occasion to be treated by the caring hands of a nurse named Lesley. She stands out in an already outstanding profession.
Lesley is young, her skin fresh, her bouncy hair cut medium length. I overheard an elderly patient down the hall asking if she was a student, working in the hospital for the summer. Her age came through in her energy. She walked quickly from room to room, her sneakers only gently touching the floor as she went. But make no mistake. She is a fully registered nurse and a darn good one at that. What makes her so? In addition to professional competence she has an ability to communicate with her patients, even in the busy atmosphere of stretched patient-nurse ratios. She is the only nurse who touched me – in a gentle, non-invasive, supportive way – be it a light tap of my lower leg or foot or a squeeze of my hand. She never ended a shift without shaking my hand, as if to thank me for letting her serve.
Lesley was interested in my history with HIV, as well as my knowledge of the disease and my passion for better, faster HIV care in Africa.
I told her about the former Bell Wing of the hospital – where Jim died.
“I’ve heard about that place and seen a few chairs and things marked up with ‘Bell Wing’ on them,” she said. “What did it look like, exactly?”
“It was along University Avenue, from College Street right down to Sick Kids’ Hospital,” I said, “and it was built in much the same architectural style as the old College Wing.”
That wing is currently being rebuilt, from the inside, with modern, towering research facilities rising as new book-ends to the graceful, classic, institutional old wing where Banting and Best first discovered insulin).
“The Bell had a lot more private rooms, very small mind you, with little French balconies. Mind you those had not been used for many years,” I said. “A lot of AIDS patients were cared for, and died, there in the ’80s and early ’90s.”
One day Lesley thought it was time I had my i.v. changed from my right arm to my left. She busily got everything she needed and returned to my room where I was sitting in a chair. She pulled a table over, marveled at my “good, straight veins” and made a precise entry with the needle. No fuss, no muss.
Then she told me that this was the first i.v. she had successfully completed!
I was absolutely amazed.
“I hope you’re not mad at me,” she said.
“Mad? Why would I be mad?” I asked.
“Well, for not telling you.”
“I never would have known. You did it so well,” I assured her.
Lesley explained how nurses-in-training use plaster models to learn how to do the procedure but nothing could have prepared her for variables such as elderly patients’ “rolling veins” or some of the difficulties of finding good veins at all so, while she had begun the procedure several times, mine was the first she had completed. (Finding my veins has never been a problem, particularly since effects of long-term anti-retroviral therapy, and AIDS itself, have taken away what little body fat I had.)
For the rest of my stay, every time Lesley needed to do something else in caring for me – whether it was making an ice-pack or taking my blood pressure – I teased her by asking whether she had ever done it before.