I was sitting in the parking lot of a local Walgreen's not too long ago when I had the strangest experience.
I'm a paraplegic/double below-knee amputee living far longer than anyone expected with spina bifida. I was born in 1965 in an inner-city Indianapolis hospital after a delay of birth due to a broken down vehicle that could have and should have cost me my life or, at the bare minimum, left me with a far greater degree of disability. Yes, I have significant disabilities and there's likely not a day goes by that I don't struggle with severe pain or my ADL's or with having to choose from among various health options.
But, I'm here. I'm happy. I'm about as healthy as can be expected and I live independently.
So, when I was sitting in the parking lot of a local Walgreen's right next to my wheelchair and my old but dependable Sebring Convertible, I was already feeling pretty good about life. Then, she walked up to me. She was an older African-American woman. Truthfully, I thought she would be yet the latest in a very long line of people to offer help with the wheelchair or to simply check on me to make sure I was doing alright. But, no. It was much bigger than that.
"My name is Ms. Smith," she said. "Is your name Ricky?"
"Um, well. I don't go by that name anymore. But, yeah, I used to be Ricky," I replied with more than a little bewilderment.
"I thought so.," she replied. "I took care of you when you were born," she offered, "at Marion County General Hospital." She then proceeded to describe the circumstances of my birth perfectly, or at least as I've always heard them from my mother.
"You were the sweetest baby," she offered obviously sensing my sense of overwhelm. "We always remembered the ones who were with us for a long time," she explained.
I was born 47-years-ago. THAT is nursing.
I have often attributed the man I've become to a God in whose presence I've never doubted and to the nurses amongst whom I grew up as I had 50+ inpatient surgeries while other kids were playing games and joining teams and going on extraordinary summer vacations. Despite having been born with severe disabilities and having experienced severe childhood sexual abuse, I've become a man whose life is defined by tenderness, compassion and a kind of love that is most often associated with nurses - dependable, nurturing and constant yet also one marked by a certain personal/professional "distance."
When I think of nurses, I most always start off with thinking "the one place where I can be exactly as I am."
Director Kathy Douglas, herself a nurse, has constructed a warm and wonderful depiction of nurses and nursing in her 92-minute documentary Nurses: If Florence Could See Us Now, an On Nursing Excellence presentation that offers a touching and thorough glimpse into the complex, exciting and challenging world of being a nurse. With some degree of balance woven into the fabric of its unrelenting celebration of nursing, Nurses explores what it means to be a nurse, the many different roles that nurses play and the realities of nursing that may be "known" but have been seldom portrayed as meaningfully as they are in this film.
Douglas interviewed over 100 nurses for the film, sometimes offering comments that sound like nothing more than nursing school recruitment tapes yet more often offering stories and testimonies that will remind you exactly why we continue to love nurses even amidst all the concerns about the costs and complications of healthcare.
If you are a nurse, you will love how Douglas captures the world in which you live and work. If your life has been touched by a nurse (and whose hasn't?), then you will likely find yourself reflecting fondly about a side of healthcare way beyond the bills and stressors and into the heart of the matter. Douglas doesn't shy away from the complications, though they are painted in a bit of a glossy style, such as that struggle to balance patient care with the vital yet burdensome business/regulatory side of nursing. The simple truth is that Nurses isn't meant as an examination of healthcare but as an examination and celebration of the history and growth of nursing as a profession.
If ever there was a film that would make you want to consider nursing as a career then Nurses: If Florence Could See Us Now would likely be it. It will also make you want to hunt down that nurse who deeply touched your life, unless she finds you in a Walgreen's parking lot, just to say "thank you."
With an abundance of heart and warmth and honesty and sensitivity, Nurses: If Florence Could See Us Now is both a celebration of nursing and a reminder that everyone needs to be nurtured and encouraged and comforted and celebrated. The film is now available on DVD from First Run Features and you can buy a copy for yourself or explore licensing for your group/institution by following the link listed in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic