As a registered nurse for 36 years, I could not have been more excited when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. I was so excited to celebrate 2020 as a special year for me personally, and I was determined to use the year, and especially Nurses Week, to honor and support my nursing colleagues. Then the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
Two weeks ago, I was watching a video from the Healthy Workforce Institute by my good friend Dr. Renee Thompson. In the video she said, “Who knew the Year of the Nurse would become THE year of the nurse?” And Renee was so right. I work for a large health system, and I have watched bedside nurses, nurse educators, and nurse leaders rise to meet the COVID-19 pandemic head on. In fact, several of my nurse colleagues traveled to New York to help an area that has been so impacted by this health crisis, and I could not be prouder! In the context of this historic COVID-19 pandemic, I am also inspired by a nurse who had a huge impact on my life but one who I never met.
My grandfather, C. Ernest Liggett, was born on a ranch near Rosalia, Kansas, in 1900. In 1918, he was off with his brothers to fight in World War I. Before he deployed though, he came down with the flu during the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. He thankfully recovered from his illness and lived a wonderful and productive life to the age of 93. Over the years, my grandfather would tell stories about his brush with death and how he spent a month in the hospital in El Dorado, Kansas. When I became a nurse, my grandfather was so proud of me. I remember him telling me it was “the nurses who saved my life” when he was so ill.
My grandfather and I never really discussed the specifics of his time in the hospital and the details of his care. He never mentioned his treatment or interaction with his physicians; he only mentioned the excellent care and attention he received from nurses.
After my grandfather’s death in 1993, my mother gave me his personal Bible that was gifted to him before he was supposed to leave for the war. He took great pride in taking good care of his things and kept his Bible in its original box (which I still have today). At that time, I only opened the box, checked inside the cover, and then put it away for safe keeping.
Over 20 years later, I came across the Bible when unpacking after a move. Curious, I opened the little box, flipped through my grandfather’s Bible, and noticed a small leather bookmark inside the pages. When I inspected it, I realized it was folded three times. Inside, there was a photo of a nurse and a note in my grandfather’s handwriting: “My nurse in El Dorado Hospital 1918.”
My grandfather did not have a lot of keepsakes or things. His Bible was one of his most important possessions. This photo of a nurse must have really meant a lot to him, and now it means a lot to me. I thought back to our conversations and wished he had shown me this photo and told me about this nurse. I contacted the local historical society to see if I could find more information about this nurse or other nurses who worked at the El Dorado Hospital in 1918. I hoped to connect with the family of the nurse in the photo and learn more about her life, but I unfortunately hit a dead end. I may not know anything about her life, but I do know that she had a lasting impact on my grandfather’s life and through him, my life.
Considering this COVID-19 pandemic, it could not be a better time to be the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. Nurses have been and continue to be the heroes selflessly providing care during the most difficult crises. This week, for me in particular, I’ll be honoring the great nurses who have influenced my career, my incredible nurse colleagues at Intermountain Healthcare, and one special nurse who saved my grandfather’s life.
Dr. Perry Gee, PhD, RN, is the first Nurse Scientist at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. He is currently on faculty at the University of Utah, University of California, and Arizona State University. He is a member of Sigma’s Gamma Rho Chapter at the University of Utah.