America's Nurses - The Best Care Anywhere

It was with deep sadness that I heard that the first person to contract the dreaded Ebola virus on American soil is a nurse. My physician-dad would have been just as upset about the news, but I don't think that it would have surprised him at all that it was a nurse on the frontlines. He much admired the profession and its professionals.

“Caring is the essence of nursing.”—Jean Watson

It was with deep sadness that I heard that the first person to contract the dreaded Ebola virus on American soil is a nurse. The 26-year-old Dallas resident, who graduated Texas Christian University’s nursing school in 2010, was infected as she cared for another Ebola patient, a Liberian national who contracted the disease in Africa.

My physician-dad would have been just as upset about the news, but I don’t think that it would have surprised him at all that it was a nurse on the frontlines. He much admired the profession and its professionals.

Dad frequently referred to nurses as the true backbone of the American healthcare system. “Hospitals all over the country would fall to pieces without good nurses,” dad told me. “They run things.”

In observing my father’s medical career, I know that the physician-nurse work relationship can be bumpy. And why not? Life-and-death decisions bring with them enormous pressure and responsibility. Both practitioners can be wrong. Both can be right. The best ones in both camps know the patient’s well-being always comes first. Considering the stakes—a human being’s time on Earth—the fact that doctors and nurses have worked so well together and for so long always surprised me.

Nurses I’ve known through the years tell me that dad was one of the “good guys” among the physician staff at our local hospital. My own memory of dad’s interactions with nurses was that while he wasn’t always “Prince Charming,” he did back them up on patient-care problems and often genuinely encouraged their input on patient treatment.

I’d say that my father was both respected and liked by the nurses. I’ve also learned that being both isn’t an easy thing for a hectic doctor. And dad had his hectic moments with nurses, too.

One nurse told me that towards the end of a particularly demanding and stressful weekend of illnesses, the nurses on shift took to flipping a coin to see who would call dad with another care concern. Another story had a nurse calling my father’s home at some very late hour and asking: “Is this Dr. Kelly?” And the retort by my spent dad was “Well, it’s not Spartacus!” Still, nurses told me and my family that dad was always approachable and would never publically rebuke a nurse colleague.

Perhaps the finest testament for dad’s regard for the profession comes from the fact that one of his children chose to be a nurse. My sister, Alice Ward Kelly, was a wonderful nurse, he thought. A busy nurse for only about a year, Alice died too young in a 1974 auto accident. She was born 61 years ago this October. Happy Birthday, sis!