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← A tribute to nurses

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Showing Revision 8 created 05/08/2017 by Brian Greene.

  1. As patients,
  2. we usually remember
    the names of our doctors,
  3. but often we forget
    the names of our nurses.
  4. I remember one.
  5. I had breast cancer a few years ago,
  6. and somehow I managed
    to get through the surgeries
  7. and the beginning
    of the treatment just fine.
  8. I could hide what was going on.
  9. Everybody didn't really have to know.
  10. I could walk my daughter to school,
  11. I could go out to dinner with my husband;
  12. I could fool people.
  13. But then my chemo was scheduled to begin
  14. and that terrified me
  15. because I knew that I was going to lose
    every single hair on my body
  16. because of the kind of chemo
    that I was going to have.
  17. I wasn't going to be able
    to pretend anymore
  18. as though everything was normal.
  19. I was scared.

  20. I knew what it felt like to have
    everybody treating me with kid gloves,
  21. and I just wanted to feel normal.
  22. I had a port installed in my chest.
  23. I went to my first day of chemotherapy,
  24. and I was an emotional wreck.
  25. My nurse, Joanne, walked in the door,
  26. and every bone in my body was telling
    me to get up out of that chair
  27. and take for the hills.
  28. But Joanne looked at me and talked
    to me like we were old friends.
  29. And then she asked me,
  30. "Where'd you get your highlights done?"
  31. (Laughter)

  32. And I was like, are you kidding me?

  33. You're going to talk to me about my hair
    when I'm on the verge of losing it?
  34. I was kind of angry,
  35. and I said, "Really? Hair?"
  36. And with a shrug
    of her shoulders she said,
  37. "It's gonna grow back."
  38. And in that moment she said
    the one thing I had overlooked,
  39. and that was that at some point,
    my life would get back to normal.
  40. She really believed that.
  41. And so I believed it, too.
  42. Now, worrying about losing your hair
    when you're fighting cancer

  43. may seem silly at first,
  44. but it's not just that you're worried
    about how you're going to look.
  45. It's that you're worried that everybody's
    going to treat you so carefully.
  46. Joanne made me feel normal
    for the first time in six months.
  47. We talked about her boyfriends,
  48. we talked about looking
    for apartments in New York City,
  49. and we talked about my reaction
    to the chemotherapy --
  50. all kind of mixed in together.
  51. And I always wondered,
  52. how did she so instinctively
    know just how to talk to me?
  53. Joanne Staha and my admiration for her

  54. marked the beginning of my journey
    into the world of nurses.
  55. A few years later,
    I was asked to do a project
  56. that would celebrate
    the work that nurses do.
  57. I started with Joanne,
  58. and I met over 100 nurses
    across the country.
  59. I spent five years interviewing,
    photographing and filming nurses
  60. for a book and a documentary film.
  61. With my team,
  62. we mapped a trip across America
    that would take us to places
  63. dealing with some of the biggest
    public health issues facing our nation --
  64. aging, war, poverty, prisons.
  65. And then we went places
  66. where we would find
    the largest concentration of patients
  67. dealing with those issues.
  68. Then we asked hospitals and facilities
    to nominate nurses
  69. who would best represent them.
  70. One of the first nurses I met
    was Bridget Kumbella.

  71. Bridget was born in Cameroon,
  72. the oldest of four children.
  73. Her father was at work
    when he had fallen from the fourth floor
  74. and really hurt his back.
  75. And he talked a lot about what it was like
    to be flat on your back
  76. and not get the kind
    of care that you need.
  77. And that propelled Bridget
    to go into the profession of nursing.
  78. Now, as a nurse in the Bronx,
  79. she has a really diverse group
    of patients that she cares for,
  80. from all walks of life,
  81. and from all different religions.
  82. And she's devoted her career
    to understanding the impact
  83. of our cultural differences
    when it comes to our health.
  84. She spoke of a patient --
  85. a Native American patient that she had --
  86. that wanted to bring
    a bunch of feathers into the ICU.
  87. That's how he found spiritual comfort.
  88. And she spoke of advocating for him
  89. and said that patients come
    from all different religions
  90. and use all different kinds
    of objects for comfort;
  91. whether it's a holy rosary
    or a symbolic feather,
  92. it all needs to be supported.
  93. This is Jason Short.

  94. Jason is a home health nurse
    in the Appalachian mountains,
  95. and his dad had a gas station
    and a repair shop when he was growing up.
  96. So he worked on cars in the community
    that he now serves as a nurse.
  97. When he was in college,
  98. it was just not macho at all
    to become a nurse,
  99. so he avoided it for years.
  100. He drove trucks for a little while,
  101. but his life path was always
    pulling him back to nursing.
  102. As a nurse in the Appalachian mountains,
  103. Jason goes places
    that an ambulance can't even get to.
  104. In this photograph,
    he's standing in what used to be a road.
  105. Top of the mountain mining
    flooded that road,
  106. and now the only way
    for Jason to get to the patient
  107. living in that house
    with black lung disease
  108. is to drive his SUV
    against the current up that creek.
  109. The day I was with him,
    we ripped the front fender off the car.
  110. The next morning he got up,
    put the car on the lift,
  111. fixed the fender,
  112. and then headed out
    to meet his next patient.
  113. I witnessed Jason
    caring for this gentleman
  114. with such enormous compassion,
  115. and I was struck again by how intimate
    the work of nursing really is.
  116. When I met Brian McMillion, he was raw.

  117. He had just come back from a deployment
  118. and he hadn't really settled back in
    to life in San Diego yet.
  119. He talked about his experience
    of being a nurse in Germany
  120. and taking care of the soldiers
    coming right off the battlefield.
  121. Very often, he would be
    the first person they would see
  122. when they opened
    their eyes in the hospital.
  123. And they would look at him
    as they were lying there,
  124. missing limbs,
  125. and the first thing they would say is,
  126. "When can I go back?
    I left my brothers out there."
  127. And Brian would have to say,
  128. "You're not going anywhere.
  129. You've already given enough, brother."
  130. Brian is both a nurse and a soldier
    who's seen combat.
  131. So that puts him in a unique position
  132. to be able to relate to and help heal
    the veterans in his care.
  133. This is Sister Stephen,

  134. and she runs a nursing home
    in Wisconsin called Villa Loretto.
  135. And the entire circle of life
    can be found under her roof.
  136. She grew up wishing they lived on a farm,
  137. so given the opportunity
    to adopt local farm animals,
  138. she enthusiastically brings them in.
  139. And in the springtime,
    those animals have babies.
  140. And Sister Stephen uses
    those baby ducks, goats and lambs
  141. as animal therapy
    for the residents at Villa Loretto
  142. who sometimes can't
    remember their own name,
  143. but they do rejoice
    in the holding of a baby lamb.
  144. The day I was with Sister Stephen,
  145. I needed to take her away
    from Villa Loretto
  146. to film part of her story.
  147. And before we left,
  148. she went into the room of a dying patient.
  149. And she leaned over and she said,
  150. "I have to go away for the day,
  151. but if Jesus calls you,
  152. you go.
  153. You go straight home to Jesus."
  154. I was standing there and thinking
  155. it was the first time in my life
  156. I witnessed that you could show
    someone you love them completely
  157. by letting go.
  158. We don't have to hold on so tightly.
  159. I saw more life rolled up at Villa Loretto
  160. than I have ever seen at any other time
    at any other place in my life.
  161. We live in a complicated time
    when it comes to our health care.

  162. It's easy to lose sight
    of the need for quality of life,
  163. not just quantity of life.
  164. As new life-saving
    technologies are created,
  165. we're going to have really
    complicated decisions to make.
  166. These technologies often save lives,
  167. but they can also prolong pain
    and the dying process.
  168. How in the world are we supposed
    to navigate these waters?
  169. We're going to need
    all the help we can get.
  170. Nurses have a really unique
    relationship with us
  171. because of the time spent at bedside.
  172. During that time,
  173. a kind of emotional intimacy develops.
  174. This past summer, on August 9,

  175. my father died of a heart attack.
  176. My mother was devastated,
  177. and she couldn't imagine
    her world without him in it.
  178. Four days later she fell,
  179. she broke her hip,
  180. she needed surgery
  181. and she found herself
    fighting for her own life.
  182. Once again I found myself
  183. on the receiving end
    of the care of nurses --
  184. this time for my mom.
  185. My brother and my sister and I
    stayed by her side
  186. for the next three days in the ICU.
  187. And as we tried
    to make the right decisions
  188. and follow my mother's wishes,
  189. we found that we were depending
    upon the guidance of nurses.
  190. And once again,
  191. they didn't let us down.
  192. They had an amazing insight
    in terms of how to care for my mom
  193. in the last four days of her life.
  194. They brought her comfort
    and relief from pain.
  195. They knew to encourage my sister and I
    to put a pretty nightgown on my mom,
  196. long after it mattered to her,
  197. but it sure meant a lot to us.
  198. And they knew to come and wake me up
    just in time for my mom's last breath.
  199. And then they knew
    how long to leave me in the room
  200. with my mother after she died.
  201. I have no idea how they know these things,

  202. but I do know that I am eternally grateful
  203. that they've guided me once again.
  204. Thank you so very much.

  205. (Applause)