NEW YORK NURSE: June 2009
by Shawn Y. Fitzgerald
When I was a child, my dad was at the kitchen table every morning, waiting for his private nurse – my mom. He had insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and never liked injecting himself. This was my mother’s job.
She would remove the insulin from the refrigerator and rotate the vial gently between her hands. Next she’d take out a syringe and pull back the plunger, allowing air to enter. Then she injected air into the vial and drew back the amount of insulin daddy would receive.
I studied this ritual, but didn’t understand why dad had to be injected every day. I also didn’t know at the age of nine that I would take on that job.
One day, mom was visiting her ill sister. Dad sat at the table, asking, “Who’s going to give me my insulin?” All eight of my brothers and sisters ran for cover. Then a light bulb went off in someone’s head: “Let Shawn do it! She’s a daredevil.”
I piped up: “Hey daddy, I can do it.”
He smiled at me, “I knew my Shawn-Bawna could do it.” He instructed me the whole time, but my mom’s steps were foremost in my mind: gently roll the vial, slowly pull the plunger on the syringe, measure the insulin. I put alcohol onto a cotton ball and cleansed the upper part of his left arm. Cautiously, I pinched some flesh. I took a nervous breath and with a quick stab, injected my dad.
I did it!
I was proud of myself and so happy I didn’t hurt him. But what I remember most is the pure joy and pride on my dad’s face. He said, “I know one day you’ll be a good little nurse.”
This became my job while Mom was away and I wasn’t willing to give it up when she returned. Dad’s words encouraged me to become a nurse, even with all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles I had to overcome.
My dad suffered with the ups and downs of diabetes for years. He was always in and out of the hospital. Determined to support his family, he worked even when advised to take it easy. I learned a lot more about his diabetes because I wanted to make sure I did everything right. I wanted to know how to respond in a crisis.
That crisis came one day when daddy was sitting at the table. Something was different. He was sweaty, shaking, and speaking non-coherently. I remember thinking: “Oh my God! His sugar is low.”
I immediately got some orange juice and put some sugar in it. I tried to hand it to him, but he was confused and knocked it away. I was scared because he wasn’t acting like my dad. I quickly poured more juice and very calmly pleaded with him to drink. He finally did, and within seconds my dad was back. I was so relieved. He thanked me for being there for him, and said again: “One day you’ll be a good little nurse.”
Daddy died just six months after his 40th birthday. It was such a shock, because I never thought he would go to the hospital and not return. I wish I had the chance to see him just one more time.
Nursing hasn’t been easy because of the patient acuity and the overwhelming paperwork that we are faced with now. But my father’s dream keeps me going. Because of him, I’m very caring and compassionate with every patient. I look at each patient as a family member and I always give 100%. That’s what my dad would expect.
Often I think about a song that goes: “I would play a song that would never end and dance with my father again.”
I can never physically dance with my dad again in this life. But each time when someone’s care is entrusted to me and I give my all to bring comfort or just a smile to that someone, I’m dancing with my father again.
Editor's Note: Ms. Fitzgerald is a registered nurse at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, N.J.