Her name was Cindy. That was all I really knew about her. She had blonde hair and blue eyes, an open face and a wide, warm smile. She mentioned to me before it all began that she had a son; I believe he was in high school. The very next morning, she would be traveling to Germany with him for a two-week vacation. Her sparkling blue eyes danced when she told me. I could tell she was so excited. I was her last patient of the day.
I had been scheduled for C-section four weeks before the due date of my second baby girl because of some minor complications. I had been through this before – kind of. My first daughter was born via C-section after 14 hours of labor in a San Diego hospital. She was born into the world at 10 lbs., and though her cry was strong, her blood sugar was low and she was rushed to the NICU upon delivery. I, too, had complications after the surgery, and it wasn’t until nearly 36 hours later that I got to meet her.
In those 36 hours, my husband stayed by her little crib in the NICU. He had never really changed a diaper before, especially not on a newborn. The NICU nurses who took care of our baby also took care of my husband. They taught him how to change a diaper, and how to feed her my milk through a little tube. They taught him how to super-swaddle her, and they brought him a rocking chair so he could snuggle her all day and night. And when there was some disagreement about whether my baby should be discharged from the NICU to my hospital room, the NICU nurses advocated to the doctor that baby girl was feeding well and thriving. “Let her go be with her mom,” they said.
Two years later, I found myself sitting in a hospital room in Denver. I knew what to expect, but I was still scared. Having been in labor for so long with my first child, the C-section that ultimately led to her delivery was a welcome relief. That time around, I had begged for the epidural and barely felt it. But on this day it felt different: everything was scheduled. My nurse, Cindy, explained the process to me, which was both foreign and familiar. They would give me a spinal block, which would be more effective than an epidural. It would take about 30 minutes to get the baby out, and another 30 to finish up. I could ask for anxiety medicines in my IV, but if I was too loopy, I would have to wait to hold the baby.
You may not be able to feel yourself breathe with the spinal block, she said, but don’t worry, you are breathing. She even told me I could play a playlist during the surgery.
When the time came for the surgery, I was scared. I was lucid and I was not in pain, so the idea of the needle in my back was not a welcome relief, but rather a source of anxiety. As the anesthesiologist administered the medicine, I hugged Cindy, my back forming a “C” for the needle. I shook with fear. “I’m scared,” I said. “It’s okay. You are okay,” she said in her calm voice. Once I was numb, I could not feel myself breathe – just like she said would happen. This feeling of not being able to breathe struck within me a fear and panic so deep and real that no words could ever articulate my feeling of terror at that moment. “I can’t breathe!! Cindy!” I screamed. Cindy, who had anticipated assisting with the surgery, came to my side. She held one hand as my husband held the other and she stroked my forehead. Her voice cut through my fear: You are okay. I’m here with you. You are breathing. Deep breath in through the nose, and out. In through the nose and out. Slow and deep. I heard her turn to another nurse in the room. She asked her to “call up and tell them to send someone else to assist.” She needed to be with her patient, she said.
Holding my hand and helping me breathe, Cindy narrated the entire birth process to me as Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic played in the background. I remember focusing on her face and her blue eyes so intently, as if she was an anchor keeping my ship afloat through a perilous journey into my darkest fear. “The doctor is pulling the baby out now,” she said. “She is beautiful! You did it!” Even through the surgical mask I could tell that she was smiling. “Now you can go to Germany…You must be so excited,” I remember telling her as they sewed me up. “Yes, but I was so happy to be here with you today,” she replied.
My baby is now 6-months-old, and when I look at her, I am reminded of all of the amazing nurses who took care of me.
I am reminded of the ones who taught my husband how to change a diaper back in San Diego. I remember the nurse with the long braids in Denver who was with me for three of my four nights in the hospital. I remember the nurse who went to get me ice cream because the cafeteria delivery service was closed. I remember the nurse who told me, “I’m not trying to be mean, but you need to try to walk. It will help you feel better.” She was about my age, and very slight in stature but strong. She shouldered my weight and helped me walk down the hallway. I am reminded of the nurses who helped me use the bathroom and shower during those first few bloody days. I remember the lactation nurses who helped me learn to breastfeed (it wasn’t going well), and sent me home with nipple shields and nipple cream and formula just in case.
Nurses are often unnamed and unseen. They are under a mask during a surgery, or they are caring for you for a short amount of time until their shift changes or you are discharged. Every one of my nurses told me their names, yet the only name I can remember from those hazy days of after-birth is Cindy.
To me, Cindy was an angel. And as I think of her now, she was also the Every Nurse.
She was the nurse who, as I was being prepped for an emergency appendectomy three months after delivering my first baby, noticed that I was crying. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I have a newborn at home,” I cried. “I need to pump. And I need to call my husband.” (This surgery had happened so fast that I hadn’t had time to prepare.) The nurse looked at me with a furrowed brow, and then in a determined voice said, “Hold on.” I heard her tell the two male doctors that “this young woman needs to pump. We need to hold the surgery a few minutes.” She then brought me a hospital pump and her personal cell phone. “Please call your husband,” she said, handing me her phone.
Cindy was the nurse who helped me change my postpartum pads when I couldn’t bend to do it myself. She was the nurse with a French accent who took my baby to the nursery at night so I could sleep, and brought her back every time she needed a feeding. “It’s time,” that nurse would whisper to me softly, so as not to wake me up too abruptly. Cindy was the nurse with the salt and pepper hair who brought me a stash of mesh underwear to take home (“Sneak them in your suitcase,” she said). She was the nurse who checked my wound, the nurse who put in my IV, and also the nurse who hugged me when her shift ended even though we had only known each other for a few hours.
Cindy was all the nurses in my children’s pediatrician’s office who gave my babies shots so quickly and so adeptly, and also in a manner of seconds managed to put three sparkly band-aids on their baby-legs. Cindy was the ER nurse at Children’s Hospital who, last night at 1:00am, stroked my two year old’s head and told her second-guessing mother (me) that I did the right thing by bringing her in for croup. Cindy is the cadre of nurses who cheered for my 2-year old daughter when she came to the hospital to meet her little sister for the first time. “Yay! The big sister is here!” They cheered.
I have always wondered how I could possibly thank Cindy No Last Name, and all the nurses who have helped me in so many circumstances through the years. How could I possibly ever express my gratitude for the nurses who took care, and continue to take care, of my sweet babies – my life’s most precious gifts? Here, I try: