Just wanted to share this opinion written in a Canadian newspaper. It's a lovely tribute.
We owe nurses big time
Tuesday, May 8, 2001
When I first heard the news that B.C. nurses wanted a 60 per cent pay raise, it sounded excessive. After what I've just experienced, it seems like a bargain.
A week ago, my mother was checked into the intensive care unit at Seven Oaks Hospital, a small regional hospital on the northern outskirts of Winnipeg. She has chronic lung disease and she's susceptible to pneumonia, and couldn't breathe.
A worried son flew in last Tuesday afternoon and had an eye-opening lesson in 21st-century health care.
There's nothing unusual about Seven Oaks. It would never be judged a world-class facility. No cutting-edge technology, no celebrity doctors. Just a little hospital on the Prairies. And the ICU is bare bones: Supervised by a single physician, the nursing team provides round-the-clock care for as many as seven patients.
Yet they gave my mother and her fellow patients world-class treatment. People in the ICU are really sick. They can't feed themselves, go to the bathroom themselves, even scratch their noses themselves. After a couple of 12-hour shifts of wrestling IVs, filling out reports, dispensing medication, while at the same time fluffing pillows and cleaning up lemon Jello vomit, I'd be telling my patients to crawl to the bathroom, I'm busy.
But not the nurses at the Seven Oaks ICU. Every one remained cheerful and helpful throughout the week I watched them perform. And, of course, they were performing, weren't they? No one could actually be cheerful under such conditions, could they?
At the ICU, there are no set visiting hours, so the staff is under constant public scrutiny. You'd expect the mask to fall off at some point, but there wasn't even a raised voice, except to tell the hard-of-hearing that they might feel more comfortable lying on their other side for a while. It's the extraordinary range I admire. Public relations dispensed with civility; alert medical care, swift emergency response, endless bureaucratic chores dispatched, unstinting compassion. And here's me, getting in the way, asking a million questions, and they're all nice to me. I've never been to a resort where everyone was nice for a week.
For this, they make a little more than a clerk at Safeway. As one nurse said to me in a moment of unguarded reflection, "If they get my groceries wrong, nobody dies."
At the Seven Oaks ICU, nurses have to make a lot of medical decisions. The physician is the medical quarterback, and is himself relentlessly dedicated, but he has his own practice, and can't spend 24 hours in a hospital ward regardless. So the nurse is often on her (or his) own. Patient is choking on his own vomit? Wait for the doctor to call back? Don't think so.
So I have to agree with B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who has intervened in the B.C. nurses' contract dispute and has instructed the Health Employers Association to match the pay of Alberta nurses (they recently signed a contract making them the highest paid in the country). Of course, this has nothing do with with the latest poll, which shows Ujjal's in danger of losing his own seat on May 16.
After nine years experience, senior Alberta nurses will make $32.42 an hour. That's about $65,000 a year, which doesn't sound bad unless you know that a rookie nose-tackle without a brain in his head makes $212,000 (U.S.) -- minimum -- in the NFL. And he's the last person I'd want to see when I'm sick.
B.C. nurses want a top rate of $38 an hour. If they're anything like the Seven Oaks nurses, they're worth $212K (U.S.).