My family and I essentially lived at the Grand River Hospital's ICU the last two weeks. We were there to give comfort to my mom as she fought a valiant but losing battle with cancer.
As odd as this may sound, they were two of the most inspiring weeks of our lives.
An ICU is the strangest of places. A mere three weeks ago, I would have over simplistically described it as "the saddest spot going on, full of very sick people." I now see it much differently. For beyond the courageous patients, there are two other groups of people always there -- people that together have made my family and me view life more positively than ever. People whom we will always be grateful to.
In an ICU there is no racism. No homophobia. No class structure. People treat each other as equals.
The professionals we watched perform daily were truly awe inspiring. The doctors' compassionate approach, communication skills and energy levels left each of us motivated to ask more from ourselves, to look harder for ways to help people in need.
Many times we witnessed doctors sprinting down hallways to get to the Emergency Unit as quickly as possible. Thirty minutes later we would watch as they sprinted back to the ICU. Miraculously, through all the chaos, they were always composed and calm, somehow able to stay in the moment. They had their A games with them at all times. Incredible.
The nursing staff's work ethic, depth of knowledge and caring attitudes brought us to tears many times. Wonderful women and men working tirelessly in the toughest of environments day after day often without a break.
My mom felt it was a great blessing that cancer had led her to spending her final days surrounded by such high-quality people. One of the nurses told us that their team considers it an honour to serve people in the ICU.
It showed every moment.
The second group we were exposed to consisted of other families visiting their loved ones. It was stunning how quickly relationships were formed. Complete strangers until eyes met in the waiting room, then, amazingly, instant friends -- connected by the strongest of bonds: empathy.
Everyone was quick to offer a chair. Or a smile. Or an ear. Conversations flowed surprisingly naturally. People came together to handle the most challenging of situations with compassion and sincerity.
In an ICU there is no racism. No homophobia. No class structure. People treat each other as equals. With kindness. With dignity. With respect. It is the way it should always be.
It was incredibly uplifting to see that the worst of times could bring out the best in people. But it was even more uplifting to see that "the best in people" is nothing short of spectacular.
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During the Civil War, women, like Annie Bell who nursed soldiers after the Battle of Nashville in 1864, tended to troops without any formal training and often despite resistance from male colleagues. Though some women volunteered through relief organizations, more than three thousand nurses, including African-American women who were former slaves, served under Dorothea Dix, the first Superintendent of Women Nurses for the Union Army. Photo: Courtesy of U.S. Army Center of Military History
Soon after the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898, Congress approved the Surgeon General’s request for contract nurses, including those who served on the hospital ship Relief. As in previous wars, more men died from disease than wounds from the enemy, and the country was unprepared to handle the overwhelming number of soldiers suffering from illness. The nurses were eventually selected by Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, Vice President of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Between l898 and l90l, more than l,500 women served the military. Credit: Courtesy of Naval History & Heritage Command Collection, NH 92846
Nurses were at great risk from getting sick from their patients, including those who served in operating rooms, iat the First Reserve Hospital in Manila, Philippines. During this time, fifteen nurses died from typhoid fever and one from yellow fever. Some of these heroic women are buried near the Spanish-American Nurses War Monument in the Nurses section at Arlington National Cemetery. Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Army Medical Department
A year after Congress established the all-female Army Nurse Corps in 1901, the Navy's Surgeon-General proposed a similar Navy Nurse Corps. In 1907, still seeking approval, he reported to Congress that, "The Government supplies physicians and surgeons, splendidly equipped hospitals, and complete emergency facilities on every ship. The most serious omission in this excellent establishment is the want of that skilled nursing which civil institutions enjoy.” In May 1908, the Navy Nurse Corps was approved, and the first twenty Navy nurses were appointed. This photo of the group, known as the Sacred Twenty, was taken at the Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C., around October 1908. Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Naval Historical Center, NH 52960
To help meet the demand for nurses during World War I, Vassar College started the Vassar Training Camp for Nurses in 1918, which prepared college graduates in a three-month intensive training program to complete nursing school in two years instead of three. In its recruitment pamphlet, the camp warned that only those committed should apply, "We shall assume at the outset that you are not simply a dabbler or a sentimental dreamer, but a serious, practical, patriotic girl or woman sincerely anxious to throw your energies and your abilities into some form of work that is really going to count." During its first summer, the camp included faculty from Harvard, New York University, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia as well as students from 41 states and more than a hundred educational institutes. Other universities soon offered similar programs, while the Army created its own three-year School of Nursing at Walter Reed Hospital, in Washington, D.C. By the end of the war, more than 22,000 nurses, including women working in the operating room at Base Hospital #52 in Haute Marne, France, had served in the military. Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Army Medical Department
The nurses who remained in the military after World War I lobbied for full military status, arguing that they too had risked their lives for their country and deserved the benefits and authority that came with rank. In 1920, the Army Reorganization Act awarded Army nurses relative rank in the grades of Second Lieutenant to Major. Though it gave nurses the status of officers and allowed them to wear the insignia of their ranks, nurses’ pay was about half that of male officers of the same rank. It wasn’t until June 1944, more than two years after America entered World War II and months after stranded Army Air Forces flight nurses returned from walking more than 600 miles behind Nazi lines, that the Army granted nurses temporary officers’ commissions with equal pay, retirement benefits, and dependents’ allowances. Credit: 15th Air Force [USAAF] photo courtesy of Air Force Historical Research Agency, Roll A6544
Despite elaborate efforts to add nurses to its ranks during World War II, including a government-subsidized program that prepared nurses as quickly as possible for duty, the Army Nurse Corps was reluctant to add African-American nurses. Though they had served in the Civil War and 18 had joined the Army Nurse Corps during the nursing shortage in World War I, segregation and discrimination kept the number of African-American nurses to a minimum. Out of 59,000 Army nurses, only an estimated 600 African-American were allowed to serve, including nurses who prepared to land in Greenock, Scotland, in August 1944. The Navy Nurse Corps didn’t accept its first African-American nurse, Phyllis Mae Dailey, until March 1945. By the time the war ended, only four were on active duty. Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Army Medical Department
The dangers faced by military nurses serving overseas were quickly realized within months of the United States entering the war. In the spring of 1942 dozens of American nurses became Japanese prisoners of war as Bataan and Corregidor fell in the Philippines. Though they remained POWs under horrific conditions for three years and suffered their own injuries and illnesses, they continued to care for soldiers in the camp until they were freed in February 1945. In November 1942, 60 unarmed Army nurses found themselves in the thick of combat with troops on beaches during the invasion of North Africa. It was the Allies first amphibious landing in the Mediterranean, and they had expected minimal resistance. Loaded with full packs and wearing helmets, the nurses ducked from sniper fire as they waded to the shore from assault boats. The service and heroism of all the women who served in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps was finally recognized in 1947 when the temporary officer status granted to them during the war was made permanent. Photo credit: U.S. Army Center of Military History
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