"Nurses are angels in comfortable shoes."
-- Author Unknown
My appendix ruptured the summer after my freshman year in college. This was a big deal back in the fifties; I was in the hospital for over a week.
The nurses made a tremendous impression on me - all starched and serious with little caps, white stockings and squishy, spotless white oxfords.
Beginning in October 2011, I spent 15 months in outpatient cancer treatment at MD Anderson. The nurses, again, were extraordinary. But what a difference the decades have made.
Now there were smiles and colorful scrubs, and almost everyone was wearing Crocs and socks.
MD Anderson nurses: Heart of the hospital
Fashion is probably not the best criteria for judgment, but it does reflect the times and the spirit of nurses now. They are and always have been the heart of a hospital, especially one like MD Anderson.
For many, this is a miraculous and a sacred place. Initially, however, it feels like a bewildering maze of specialists and schedulers, waiting and appointments a mile away.
Until you get into the MD Anderson rhythm, a nurse's smile and kind words can reduce you to grateful tears.
Nurses: One constant in your cancer journey
This initial period is particularly challenging. You are often lost, scoped and stuck and shocked by distant, highly efficient people you will never see again.
The core of staffers in your own clinic who were so welcoming the first day seem far, far away as you struggle to get your bearings and remember which elevator gets you to which department.
You'll come to realize that the nurses -- along with their smiles and warm blankets -- are the one constant in your cancer journey.
Best of the best
The nurse-patient relationship is often as immediate, important and intimate as any we are likely to experience.
I believe this relationship works better and with better results at MD Anderson than at most other hospitals. It's impossible to speak too highly of the nursing care I was blessed with during my cancer treatment.
From the highly unscientific survey I conducted among friends who spent time at MD Anderson, as patients or caregivers, the nurses were judged to be simply the best.
My equally unscientific, prejudiced opinion is that this is why:
- MD Anderson nurses, almost without exception, love what they do and are happy to be doing it. They genuinely care about their patients.
- Those who excel at patient care and contact aren't promoted to training or administration. They stay on the floor with their patients, and they stay effective.
- At MD Anderson, each nurse seems to have been there for a very long time. There were no rookies and no 'oops' moments at any time during my treatment. Even the student nurses who cared for me in the emergency center were highly skilled, caring and professional.
You'll never forget how they made you feel
Sadly, the fleeting nature of the relationship, combined in my chemo brain, made it impossible for me to remember the names of exceptional nurses or commend them with an MD Anderson Star Card.
But Maya Angelou once said, "They may forget your name but they will never forget how you made them feel." That's how I feel. When things settled down after all the tests and diagnoses, my first treatment experience was a week of apheresis treatment.
I'm more than a little claustrophobic. The idea of being pinned down for hours with an IV in each arm filled me with dread, which I'm certain was obvious.
My amazing nurse stayed very close by me the entire day - and did the same for the six days that followed. My final apheresis treatment fell on a Saturday, her day off. The idea that she would not be there made me terribly anxious.
But when I arrived, there she was. "I came in to take care of you," she said simply.
That's what the MD Anderson nurses are all about.
Anne Balson is a 76-year-old Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia patient living in Houston.