National Nurses Week—Why we celebrate

May 6-12 is National Nurses Week, a time set aside to recognize the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the field of nursing. Nurses make a difference in our lives every day. They’re on the scene (or behind the scenes) in many locations, from hospitals and clinics to schools, offices and our homes. National Nurses Week is a time to learn about and honor these often unsung heroes by thanking them for the skill, services and smiles they provide all year long. Home care nurses from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York are familiar faces across all five New York City boroughs and in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. You’ll find them in homes and community-based settings, where they help diagnose and treat diseases, injuries and disabilities. They dress wounds, facilitate infusions, administer medications and provide direct care to patients who come from all walks of life. Here are a few unexpected ways these nurses make life better for New Yorkers every day:

Just being there

“Often when I visit one of my older patients in Staten Island, I’ll be the only person they see or talk to all day,” said RN Lynn Taylor, who visits patients on Staten Island. Our goal is to maximize physical, cognitive and behavioral well-being so that our patients have the highest possible level of independence at home and in the community. “We dress wounds and help manage pain and other symptoms, but sometimes I think what’s most healing is simply that we show up, listen and show we care,” Taylor continued.

Removing “little gray offenders”

When visiting a first-time, soon-to-be-mother, Bronx RN Michelle Belton arrived to find her patient visibly upset and on the verge of tears. “What’s wrong,” she calmly asked, “Are you in labor?” Pointing to the other side of the bed, the patient revealed a wriggling mouse, partially attached to a glue trap, slowly “marching” across the floor. The nurse bravely covered the rodent with a broom, and then swept up “the little gray offender” and discarded him in the trash outside the apartment building. After washing her hands, she did her regular Nurse Family Partnership home visit, which included a discussion of environmental concerns and calling 311 to report the problem.

Walk, ride or skate a mile in our shoes

Some nurses clock an average of 5 to 7 miles a day on-foot between visits to patients. Others, such as Conrad Parker, use bikes, scooters, skates or skate boards to get from home to home in Manhattan. “I have three small kids, and this is probably my one chance to get a good workout in a couple of times a day” said Parker. “I have a backpack that’s super heavy. I try to keep it as light as possible, but honestly carrying my backpack, cycling is a lot easier on my back. When I walk with my backpack, I feel it a lot more.”

Reading, writing and sleuthing

“We’re like little detectives,” said Alicia Schwartz, RN, with VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans in Queens and Manhattan. Aging people with multiple chronic illnesses can sometimes take as many as 19 medications or more. It can be a challenge to keep up with them and to stay aware of side effects and other symptoms when medications change. One of Schwartz’s patients was so averse to taking meds that she often skipped important blood pressure meds that had been prescribed after a stroke. “We see resistance to lifestyle changes like suddenly having to take medications,” said Schwartz. “It’s not easy to accept that the best that you are going to feel is not as good as you remember feeling when you were younger, but we work to build trust and to educate our patients. For my patient, we worked out a plan so that she could take meds in the morning, after meals and at night. The plan worked just right.”

Let’s crawl on the floor

“One of the best ways to connect with an infant,” said Adelmis Granoderoro, who helps first-time Suffolk County moms plan for and navigate the first year of their baby’s life, “is to get down on all fours yourself and see the world from your little one’s perspective. This empathetic response helps connect a young mom to a child’s early developmental processes, especially visual development. Even physically, when you’re on the floor yourself, it is much easier to imagine the strength that is needed for an infant to hold his head up, turn over, or begin to crawl and pull up.”

A time to encourage laughter

For Sari Isinkaunan, a Taiwanese hospice nurse who visits patients in their homes in New York’s Chinatown community, laughter really is the best medicine. “I’ve been working in Chinatown for many years, and a lot of people and families know me,” Isinkaunan said. “The trust we’ve built is so important, it can help us communicate about fearful or uncomfortable things. Once, when I needed to check to see if a bed-bound patient was getting sores on his bottom, his modesty made it difficult for him. His wife and I teamed up to gently persuade him.”

“In all these years,” he said to his wife with a laugh as he turned over, “you never asked to look at my butt!”

Finding the strength to quit

Life had suddenly turned dark for one of Nurse Huda Scheidelman’s Upper East Side patients who divorced shortly before his 60th birthday. Once a man who loved to get out and explore the city, his health had declined as a result of unmanaged diabetes and pack-a-day smoking. After manifesting symptoms of severe depression, he wasn’t following the new meal plan from his dietitian, his blood sugars were out of control and he’d left his job because diabetes made walking painful. Mixing compassion with facts and a bit of “tough love,” Scheidelman helped him understand how smoking and not taking his insulin was a way of cheating himself, and slowly but surely he got back on course with his insulin, started following his diet and kicked the smoking habit. “Thank you,” he said on a recent visit. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Hit me with your best shot

When Jane Sadowsky-Emmerth, RN, a clinical case manager with the licensed home care agency Partners in Care, arrived to teach her patient with ulcerated colitis how to give herself blood thinner injections, the 30-year-old business executive’s face lost all its color. “I can’t do it,” she said. “I just can’t give myself a shot.” Without her prescribed four daily injections, Jane’s patient would need regular blood transfusions—not something she could reasonably fit into her busy work schedule. As a temporary measure, Jane tag teamed with her patient’s husband to administer the shots until the daily ritual became less daunting and her patient was able to handle the task herself. “I don’t know how you did it,” she said, “but you’ve helped me relax and understand that this is how I care for myself now. I can never thank you enough.”

One from the heart

Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Neely Bagley put most of her creativity into performing as a cabaret singer and fine-tuning her skills as an artist and illustrator. After that day, she decided she needed to do more to help others who were suffering, so she went back to school and became a frontline nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. “I use my drawing to help people understand,” Neely explained. “One of my first heart failure patients had been suffering from the disease for years without realizing it. ‘No one ever told me,’ he complained. So I just started to draw it all-out for him until he really got it.” As often happens, with understanding came gratitude, and the patient—like so many who have benefited from the diverse skills, creativity, care and compassion that nurses like these demonstrate every day—was able to heal and embrace a healthier new normal with wisdom, independence and grace.