National Nurse Appreciation Week 2022

Once upon a time, I had big dreams of becoming a writer. I remember daydreaming (mostly in my high school algebra and geometry classes) about the day that Life Magazine would publish one of my stories and I would be set. The magazine was going to whisk me off to far-away lands to write stories about interesting people and events that would be historical. In my teenage mind, it was going to be just that easy and everything would go just as I planned.

After high school graduation, however, life crept up on me and I just sort of fell into the profession of nursing. It took me T-minus two seconds to realize that being a nurse would not be like that glamorous magazine life. But, like the subjects of my lofty writing dreams, I have met many “interesting” patients in my career who have said and done some extremely odd things that could be considered for the history books. I might even swear some must have come from exotic foreign places… like Neptune! One thing is for certain, though; the past 25 years have been quite a ride, and I could not have made it without the help of some special people. So, for National Nurse Appreciation Week, I’m going to take time to reflect on some specific nurses who have made quite the impression on me.

I began work as a nurse in my early twenties and I was about as green as a four-leaf clover on St. Patrick’s Day. Sure, I had graduated nursing school and passed my state boards, but I knew nothing. Little did I know then, all my real education as a nurse was about to happen on the job. My first employment as a nurse was at Atlanta Memorial Hospital. The two nurses who stand out the most in my mind are Linda Tilley and Mary Langston. These were seasoned vets, and I thought their knowledge base of all things medical ran a close second to God himself.

I followed Linda around like a puppy dog and she taught me tricks of the trade that I would never find in a book. I have used those tricks many times over the years, and they have never failed me. I have also passed her secrets on to other nurses but have always given credit to Linda. She was so patient with me and taught me so much.

As for Mary Langston, I remember her coming to get me when something rare or super interesting was happening in the emergency room. She would say, “Tammy, you need to see this. Just listen and learn.” That is the real-time training that a new nurse will get nowhere else. It was and is invaluable to me. I also remember where I was standing in my little hometown hospital when Mary told me that my job would always depend on my feet and to never be a tightwad when it came to buying good tennis shoes. That lesson took me a few years to learn, but she said my feet would thank me later. Of course, she was right.

With a little experience under my belt, I went on to try my hand in the world of obstetrics and gynecology. Were it not for my fear of the Texas state nursing board taking away my license for sharing patients’ personal information, the book I could have written about all the things I have seen and heard in this area of medicine, would definitely have been a New York Times bestseller. Yet again, there were nurses that ushered me into the field and taught me so much.

Kathleen Honeycutt taught me how to run an office. Her skills of organization and efficiency in the workplace have stayed with me for years. Judy Rushing and Jean Steward (aka The Dream Team) showed me how to be the doctor’s “right hand” and to anticipate what he or she would need before they even asked for it. Lowdeana Pilgreen was the one who frequently displayed what it was to have a backbone. When I first met her, I was still a little timid and took whatever admonishment I was given from a doctor, whether or not it was my fault. She told me to always be confident in my knowledge and to stand up for myself because nurses are often advocates for the patients. Because of Lowdeana, I have grown a strong backbone with some thick skin to go with it. 

Somewhere in the middle of my nursing career, I had three kids. I won’t lie. Being a nurse and a mother is hard. Just like every woman in every profession, it is the constant struggle of giving 100% at work and 100% at home. If I am being honest, I cannot say I ever found the perfect balance, but I totally credit Brenda Hill for teaching me how to discipline my kids over the phone. One day, the school called her at work about her son, and she gave that kid the best disciplinary speech you have ever heard, right from her desk. I specifically remember her speech was coupled with the details about what was sure to happen to him when she got home. I stood stock still, staring at her. She darted her eyes at me and said, “you’ve got to make them believe, even if it’s over the phone.” She was right. A good work/life balance requires it! Brenda was working within earshot the day all three of my kids were finally old enough to be left home alone for the first time. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my offspring called me twenty-one times that workday. It was important stuff—like “she won’t do what I tell her to do,” and “he’s not the boss of me.” Each time I was super stern with them, or so I thought. Brenda raised her eyebrows at me and said, “they don’t believe you.” Let’s just say that when the phone rang for that twenty-first time, I made believers out all three of them. Brenda high-fived me and we went back to work.

On one occasion, I was assisting in surgery while running logistics for my children. My hands were literally in somebody’s guts, and my phone rang. The circulating nurse fished the phone out of the pocket of my scrubs and listened for me as the babysitter said she could not pick my kids up from school, which was set to dismiss in thirty minutes. As I continued to clip sutures and hold clamps, I asked the circulating nurse, a woman I didn’t even know, to act as a secretary and call somebody else to pick up my kids on the fly. I tearfully apologized to her after the surgery, and she hugged me and told me she could relate to the proverbial tightrope walk. Being a nurse and a mom was not always easy, but I got it done with the encouragement of other nurses who walked the same road, and with their help, my kids turned out ok!

There are so many things I learned along the way from nurses I had the privilege of working with. There have been hard days at work because we have seen patients and families at their worst. There have also been moments of sheer joy and shared victories over births and healing, and even, oddly, when a patient’s suffering has ended through a dignified death. Thinking about it now, I realize the most important things I have learned from my fellow nurses have had absolutely nothing to do with the actual profession. Everything these sweet souls have taught me over the years has made me into who I am today: a woman, a wife, a mother, and a friend. I wish I could remember every single person I’ve worked with over the past 25 years, because there have been many who have shaped me without even realizing it. While you may not recognize the next few names, please indulge me as I give credit where credit is due:

To Linda Howard and Jennifer Christian— both of you have a love for knowledge and used that love to become educated on Type One Diabetes. You taught me I could trust other people to be my eyes and ears when I couldn’t be with my son every second of the day.

To Jackquie Williams— you spoke peace into my life when I felt like I was walking blind.

To Sherri Sanders, Karen Elliott, and Barbara Hiegle— you have all lived through immense tragedy and continue to show more perseverance than I ever thought was humanly possible.

To Angie Graves— you taught me that laughter is definitely the very best medicine, even in the worst of times.

To Debbie Chapman— you showed me that a real leader is somebody who is never too important to get their hands dirty.

To Jessica Chauncy— you taught me that a first impression counts for a lot.

To Wendi Whatley— you taught me that working as a team is so very satisfying (it also helped that we are basically the same person).

To Angelique Sims- you showed me that a good tube of mascara could make you feel better on a hard day.

To Shannon Connell—you showed me that being focused on the task at hand, while having a few laughs along the way, always makes for a productive day.

To Regina McIntosh—you exemplified that finding your niche and sticking to it is a very honorable quality.

To Erin Hann—you showed me that being an open book is the only way to go.

To Hannah Hamilton—you taught me to never apologize for being attached to a patient. Nurses are humans, too.

To Amy High—you made me realize that always going the extra mile for people can bring great joy.

To Antoinette Tucker—you showed me that a light-hearted spirit is a breath of fresh air in this crazy world.

To Dorothy Green—you taught me that even with book knowledge, common sense goes a long way.

To Kellie Prestidge—you proved that friendships from years ago can be made new again and that saying aloud what everyone is thinking is a sure way to break the tension.

To Sara Greathouse—you show me every day that giving people a few minutes of your undivided attention may be exactly what they need to get by.

To Stephanie Haak—you taught me that people are drawn to the combination of grace and strength. You exemplified that to the very end.

This week is Nurse Appreciation Week. Tell the nurse in your life that you appreciate them. Take the time in the age of social media to look up that nurse who helped you through your illness. Reconnect with a nurse that made a difference in your own career. Tell him/her that what they did for you will not be forgotten. Nurses need to hear words of gratitude. It keeps us going, especially after the past two years that COVID-19 has dealt us. 

I’m so thankful for all the nurses who have influenced my life over the years. You have molded me without even knowing it. I find it very ironic that all these years later, I’m applying my love for writing to the profession of nursing, but I guess some things have a way of coming full circle. Oh, and by the way… I just bought a brand-new pair of tennis shoes last week. Mary Langston, you’d be proud. They weren’t cheap.


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