National Nurses Week

In case we didn’t already know it, the past three years of COVID has left no doubt as to how awesome nurses are. For National Nurses Week I thought it would be nice to share some highlights which exemplify just how amazing the women and men who devote themselves to nursing truly are.

The problem is, there are just too many remarkable nurses to pare it down to just a few examples. In the U.S. alone more than 1700 health care workers died from COVID. World-wide, it’s estimated that over 115,000 have died.

I could begin in 1854 with Florence Nightingale, who, with her select team of 34 nurses, went to a British hospital in Constantinople during the Crimean War and developed a care regimen which reduced British losses due to illness by 67 percent and ushered in a new era in nursing.

I could mention Edith Cavell, a British matron of a Belgian training school for nurses who helped over 200 allied soldiers escape during WWI and was executed by a German firing squad in 1915.

In 2018, I interviewed Helene Cattani, an American nurse who served at the Battle of the Bulge. Women nurses of that era proved to a skeptical military that they could handle battlefield conditions, and their stalwart dedication to their patients did more for morale than anyone could have imagined. Helene was proud that after many months of debate after the war, women nurses serving during World War II were finally recognized as veterans.

I might mention one of the nurses who were taken prisoner when the Philippines fell to the Japanese during World War II. But which one would I select? Every single one of the 66 army nurses, the 11 navy nurses, 2 civilian nurses and 25 Filipino nurses had been subjected to months of bombings, malnutrition and severe shortages of medical supplies. They lived under the constant terror of inevitable surrender to an enemy notorious for their barbarism in Nanking China where they tortured and killed the men and repeatedly raped every female. These Angels of Bataan and Corregidor continued to perform their jobs through three years of captivity after the surrender of the Philippines, foregoing their own debilitations resulting from Malaria, Dengue Fever, Beriberi and dysentery, to care for the sick.

Andree “Dédée” de Jongh, a young Belgian, offered her two-year nurse’s assistant training to care for wounded soldiers when Germany invaded her homeland at the start of WWII. Inspired by Edith Cavell’s courage and determination in the last war, Dédée led an underground line to evacuate downed Allied airmen, and through her leadership and organizational skills, Comete became the only large underground line the Germans could never completely break. Eventually captured herself, she returned from the war extremely ill. After slowly regaining her health, Dédée completed her nurse’s training and worked many years in leper hospitals in Africa until she was no longer physically able to continue.

Clearly, it’s impossible discuss every exemplary action as all nurses perform remarkable feats over and over in the course of their careers.

It’s simply what they do.

Few among us have the nursing calling: the commitment to the long hours of medical study; the dedication to mastering the abilities needed to take care of the sick and injured; the fortitude to fight with everything they have for another person’s well-being; the mental toughness to set aside their own fears and exhaustion to take charge and use their skills and training to do what they know must be done; to give comfort to the patients and their loved ones, and to bear the crushing losses without losing sight of work they must continue to do to help others.

No, we cannot all be nurses. That’s an honor reserved for the most dedicated and special people among us.

But their example should inspire us to do what we can for others, whether it’s offering a comforting word to lift a person’s spirits, helping out in a food pantry, holding open a door for someone, lending an ear to a troubled friend, or just being kind and considerate to people.

So, with our most sincere thanks, we salute and honor nursing professionals during nurses’ week and every other week.

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