Thursday, December 8, 2011

One Smart Nurse

I was told there were flowers—lots and lots of flowers.  And the occasional balloon bouquet.  I was told they arrived almost daily and, one by one, they were sent down to the children’s area of the hospital.  My ICU room was small and every bit of space was needed for machines and IV poles and the lone reclining chair in which one family member or close friend would spend the night.  Besides, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call “responsive” during those weeks. It wasn’t like I could actually appreciate the flowers and balloons.

And then, I was told, the flowers stopped arriving.  And in their place came notes—notes that said things like “I gave blood in honor of Lauren today” and “We set up a blood drive to help Lauren.”

Why the change?

A nurse. One very smart ICU nurse who knew that I was draining the local blood supply with my nonstop internal hemorrhaging.  She saw the needs of the various people involved: my family’s need to “do” something; neighbors’, friends’ and work colleagues’ need to show they cared; the local blood center’s need to replenish the red blood cells, platelets, and plasma that I was using at a disproportionate rate; and, of course, my need for more blood. And then that one smart nurse offered my family a suggestion that would meet all of our needs.

“You might want to ask Lauren’s friends who are sending flowers to give blood instead,” she said.  My family responded with enthusiasm.  The only bit of information they wanted in order to get started was how our friends could direct the blood they donated to me.

“Well, that’s just it,” the nurse said. “They can’t. These donations would be in honor of Lauren, but not necessarily for Lauren. But that doesn’t mean it’s not helping.  It’s replacing the blood that she’s been using.  And some of it might make its way to her, but there are no guarantees.” 

Life in the ICU
That was good enough for my family. They began putting the word out in full force, not just locally but to friends and extended family members across the U.S.  My mom manned our home phone and asked everyone who called to give an hour of their time and a pint of their blood. My siblings sent mass e-mails, which were then forwarded on from there. One neighbor organized a blood drive at her school while another organized a neighborhood drive. One of my brother’s clients hosted a drive and had everyone who donated sign a get-well poster for me. My former employer launched their inaugural blood drive, which has become an annual event still in place today.

By giving the loved ones of an ICU patient a focus—something proactive they could do when there was little else to do but wait—one nurse set in motion a ripple effect that would save countless lives with the blood that was donated as a result. Imagine the impact if we could mobilize nurses worldwide to offer this one simple suggestion to their patients’ families.

I wish I knew which of my dozens of nurses it was who made that one simple suggestion during my illness twelve years ago.  I would thank her for knowing how important it was to replenish the blood supply, as well as for understanding how badly my family needed her directive for their own survival of the ICU.

Whoever you are: damn you’re good!  And, oh yeah, thank you.

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!