Young Nurses and Old Diapers

BIRMINGHAM—I saw you in the Publix parking lot. Your car’s gas tank lid was open. I wanted to tell you. But you were busy.

You were wearing nurse’s scrubs, a hospital badge, and you were changing your baby’s diaper in the backseat of your car.

Your other toddler was watching you have a meltdown. You looked like you were about to cry behind that surgical mask.

Right now, I wish there were a machine I could hook to my chest that would print onto paper the words inside my heart. I’m not always great with sentences, but I have a lot I want to say. Such as: “thank you.”

If you are a nurse, I can only imagine how tired you must be. I can’t begin to understand what nursing is like these days.

Alabama’s COVID-19 cases are on an upward rise. People are dying each day. And, well, I guess nobody knows this better than you.

You’ve probably been working yourself raw, pulling double shifts, seeing the horrors firsthand. And somehow, after you clock out, you still manage to do the grocery shopping, to pay the bills, and to change your baby’s diaper in the backseat.

Maybe you feel overlooked, a little invisible, and underappreciated. Maybe that’s why you’re so upset. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed with life right now, wondering if what you do truly matters.

You probably view your life the way everyone does. You see yourself going from Point A to Point B, doing your work. No big deal. You’re just one nurse among millions. If you don’t do your job, someone else will.

But you’re wrong. And it’s not just your job that’s important, your life is important in a way that you might never fully appreciate.

This is going to sound silly, but have you ever watched someone knock over a bunch of dominoes?

A few years ago, Liu Yang broke the world record for domino-toppling by setting up and knocking over 321,197 dominoes in Beijing. (I’ll bet he’s fun at parties.)

Yang worked for a month to set up his dominoes just right, painstakingly placing each one where he wanted it. He literally constructed an entire universe of dominoes.

Experts say that if Yang would have removed just one domino from his enormous design, the whole thing would have never worked. But it did work. Every domino fell in its choreographed sequence, and it was a record-breaking success.

That’s you. You’re a domino within a chain of 7.3 billion dominoes on this planet. You will never see most of us other dominoes. You won’t even know we exist. But without you, our lives wouldn’t be the same.

So I know you’re probably worried, mad, scared, depressed, overworked, underpaid, exhausted, and wearing thin. I know you are on the frontlines every day, treating fevers, administering meds, and—I can hardly bring myself to say it—removing urinary catheters.

I have a friend who is a nurse in a large hospital. She tells me that the hardest part of nursing is wondering if anyone sees you. Maybe you feel that way.

Does anyone see the trouble you go to? Does anyone ever tell you, “good job?” Will anyone ever understand the abuse nurses go through when patients get ticked off? Can any person ever realize how hard it is to raise kids while tying down a full-time job?

Probably not. But one day I believe you will look backward upon your own life and you will be shocked at how important your role was in this big mess.

It will be a subtle feeling that overtakes you. A feeling of achievement that will fall on you like an afternoon drizzle. You will have a deep joy in your stomach, one that’s powerful enough to knock your heart out of rhythm.

Maybe it will happen over supper. Or during a movie. Or at your son’s high-school graduation.

Maybe you’ll be watching him in his long gown and square hat and you’ll remember the night you once changed his diaper in the backseat. The same night you were tired from working an all-nighter.

Maybe it will all remind you of this troubled era we live in, back when COVID-19 was tearing at the fabric of society. Back when our world was stunted.

On that fine day your whole life will come back to you. You will remember all you did in the heat of battle. You’ll remember coming home from work late, the tears from exhaustion, the patients who died on your watch, and those who survived to bless you for it.

Your kids will be grown, and by then, the world won’t even remember how to pronounce the word coronavirus. We’ll have new troubles, and newer problems. But you will still remember.

Your hair might be gray then, and your joints might hurt from a lifetime of shuttling patients into hospital beds. But it will be the greatest sensation of your life because you will realize how much you contributed to this earth.

And you’ll realize that this beautiful, messed-up, weird, scary, but exciting experience we called life was made lovely because you were part of it.

I wish I could have told you this in person, but it would have been too weird, since I’m a stranger. Besides, you have much bigger things to worry about right now. Like babies. Groceries. And saving the entire world.

Also, don’t forget about your gas tank lid.

31 comments

  1. Becky Lineberry - July 27, 2020 6:43 am

    Thank you. Just got off and I can promise you that we nurses need thoughts and prayers. We are not OK.

    Reply
  2. Toni - July 27, 2020 9:22 am

    There are nurses in my family who will be receiving this plaudit today. Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  3. Sharon Lawson - July 27, 2020 9:46 am

    Thank you. Its hard for me to find the words to describe how I felt about this piece. Perhaps only to say it was beautiful tribute to nurses all over the world. And I thank you for it.

    Reply
  4. Debbie Taylor - July 27, 2020 10:07 am

    Your sense of humanity is a beautiful thing, Sean❤️ Thank you for recognizing the enormous contributions and sacrifices that nurses make. May God bless each and every one.

    Reply
  5. topdock - July 27, 2020 10:55 am

    To all those who serve us everyday in so many ways. God bless you. And God bless you Sean!

    Reply
  6. Robert M Brenner - July 27, 2020 11:33 am

    Sean, we have a daughter doctor, a daughter-in-law nurse and a daughter-in-law hospital administrator. Thanks for reminding all of us of their sacrifices. It does not go by unrecognized that their entire profession is making sacrifices right now that will be remembered forever by us that have gone through this pandemic and come out okay because of them and their family support system of husbands, parents, sisters and brothers. 🥼 👩🏼‍⚕️🧑‍⚕️🧑🏼‍🔧👩🏽‍🔧 Thanks to you all who have cared for us…❤️

    Reply
  7. Virginia Russell - July 27, 2020 11:44 am

    Do you mind if I share this to my Facebook friends? Several are nurses, and I’d love for them to see what you wrote.

    Reply
  8. varussell - July 27, 2020 11:45 am

    I found the link. Thanks.

    Reply
  9. Beth Wannamaker - July 27, 2020 11:49 am

    So heartfelt and beautiful it has me almost in tears! What a wonderful tribute to not only nurses, but all on the front lines.

    Reply
  10. Robin - July 27, 2020 12:01 pm

    You completely nailed this one Sean! Your words today are so heartfelt and true on every level. Nurses need to hear this one to give them much needed strength in this wild ride we’re on now. Thanks

    Reply
  11. Gayle Bailey - July 27, 2020 12:23 pm

    Thank you from one of those R.N.s who did all of those things and never felt I should be applauded for my work, because I got so much back from each patient. And, wow!, it WAS hard work! Thank you.

    Reply
  12. PWS - July 27, 2020 12:35 pm

    Well done. Thank you. I want to copy and have it ready to give to people who might need to read your words.

    Reply
  13. Dianne - July 27, 2020 1:12 pm

    Thank you for highlighting today all of the nurses who are never really thanked for the awesome job they do for all of us and this country. They deserve so much gratitude from all of us….thank you for the reminder!

    Reply
  14. MR Russell - July 27, 2020 1:58 pm

    Thank you for putting into words what I cannot. I have already passed this on to my sister who is a nurse who works in a clinic in the inner city and to another nurse friend who works in a clinic for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Both are amazing people and this was your gift to them that I am passing along for you.

    Reply
  15. Connie - July 27, 2020 3:39 pm

    Oh Sean. Thank you. I have many friends and family who are nurses. I know they have their feet to the fire right now. Bless you for seeing them.

    Reply
  16. Becky Souders - July 27, 2020 3:51 pm

    “…life made lovely….” You do have a wonderful way with words, Sean. Thanks to you, too.

    Reply
  17. Mary - July 27, 2020 4:34 pm

    As a retired nurse, all NB and NICU “angels”. A nurse daughter and paramedic son I feel for all health related people. Sacrifices for sure but their reward is in heaven. Keep the faith. Thank you for this post.

    Reply
  18. Linda Moon - July 27, 2020 4:46 pm

    Sean, you don’t need a machine for heart-felt words. You ARE the machine, and it prints great sentences for us readers every day. Every nurse and medical practitioner deserves our “thank yous”, especially now. So I’ll say “Thank You” to Dr. Vance and to my former student who administers monthly shots to my backside! And thank you, Sean, for your homage for the people who help save us all.

    Reply
  19. Deborah Blount - July 27, 2020 5:13 pm

    Amen. Beautifully said.

    Reply
  20. MAM - July 27, 2020 6:58 pm

    Well said, as always. I find it totally amazing that you can come up with relevant, poignant words every day. God has blessed you with an awesome talent that we readers totally appreciate!

    Reply
  21. LT - July 27, 2020 7:43 pm

    This is absolutely beautiful. I’m not a nurse, but thank you for saying what we all believe.

    Reply
  22. Sandi. - July 27, 2020 10:57 pm

    Sean, sincere thanks for giving recognition and gratitude to nurses at this specific time when they are probably all feeling overworked and underappreciated. You gave proper credit where it’s due, and it does not go unnoticed.

    Reply
  23. Jackie McClung - July 28, 2020 12:57 am

    I wish I could change the diapers for babies of nurses all over the country.

    Reply
  24. DiAn - July 28, 2020 5:49 pm

    Beautiful! And so True – especially the part about being underappreciated! I cannot imagine what people are thinking when they say ANYTHING Except praise and gratitude to a healthcare worker, or a janitor, or a cashier, fore that matter. We have so much to be grateful for – in particular the parts where we finally realize that we are alive and therefore get one more chance to find a way to say THANK YOU!

    Reply
  25. Lisa Logan - July 30, 2020 2:28 am

    That was the best illustration of life as it is now. A wonderful story of true life!

    Reply
  26. Rl - July 30, 2020 10:52 am

    I like my doctors. I love my nurses. A twenty minute appointment is five minutes with the doctor and fifteen with the nurse. The doctor goes over what the nurse has already done. My nurse Iistens, advises me, shows me empathy, and scolds me when I need it. She runs between patients and you can see the stress and tiresome in her eyes. All my nurses have been great. Seeing one today.

    Reply
  27. Rebecca Spann - July 30, 2020 11:14 am

    I have not received a story since Monday, July 27th. Is there something wrong???

    Reply
  28. Dawn Bratcher - July 31, 2020 2:19 am

    Being a mother is a wonderful experience, but can be really tough, too. I cannot imagine what it is like to work long or double shifts like these nurses do, then have to go home, cook, give baths, make sure homework is done, etc, and take care of themselves. With the stress of the virus, masks, sterilization, it can be overwhelming, to say the least! Thank you for giving so much of yourself.

    Reply
  29. Susan - August 10, 2020 9:18 pm

    I concur with your every word – for every front-line worker!
    And this my friend is exactly how teachers have felt and functioned day after day, year after year. Spending more time with other people’s kids than your own, countless hours after school, on weekends, and during all-too-short summers planning, purchasing for your classroom (out of your own pocket), constantly going to conferences or back to school to learn how to do your job better….and then on top of all that, throw in the pandemic and instantly having to change to virtual learning. (I hope parents have learned a little about how hard teaching is through all this!)
    Every teacher I know worries about the kids in their classroom just as much (if not more than) their own – are they getting the content, is John or Susie getting something to eat tonight, will Katy come back with more bruises today and should I make a report, how should I respond to that parent who cursed me yesterday? Teachers today not only have to be teacher, but quite often mom and dad, nurse, counselor, grocer and clothier. Everyone is worried about heading back to school in the midst of this pandemic, and teachers are no exception…will I be carrying this home to my family if I’m exposed, and if I am, how will the kids get what they need at school – how will I protect and take care of my own family?
    Our society has turned upside down revering and idolizing the star or the athlete, while tearing down and despising the family and those who work hardest to help them learn to become more than they are. I know there’s an answer – we need God more than ever and I’m praying people wake up and understand that before our country is totally destroyed from within. There IS hope in HIM!
    Sorry for the vent…I appreciate your words, your perspective, the smile your stories bring. Thanks for caring.

    Reply
  30. kathrynlambertjackson - August 31, 2020 7:29 pm

    Another beautiful post. There is no one who truly loves like a nurse.

    Reply
  31. Steve (lifer) - September 1, 2020 2:56 am

    Nurses are one of a kind. Why anyone would choose to be a nurse or a cop is beyond me but I’m certainly glad we have both.
    I hope all the nurses who read this feel a virtual “pat on the back” from you, me & all that commented.

    Reply

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