Longtime friends and critical care nurses Desiree Hodges and Ryan Miller discuss their most unforgettable patients and the impact they had on their careers. In this conversation, Desiree and Ryan also discuss their experiences with diversity in the workplace and how to incorporate differences into the provision of care.
What do you love about being a nurse?
I think what I love most is that being a nurse is not what we do, it’s who we are. We get frustrated and families are driving us nuts or our patients are not doing well, like we think they should. At the end of the day, I go home knowing that I’m going to show back up tomorrow and start over each day and just to see people heal.
A patient of ours, she was very sick. She had been in the unit for probably three weeks. We sent her to another unit and her husband and her daughter would come back and give us updates. But then, towards the end, they weren't coming back as often. You wonder, did something happen to her? Then she walked in the unit. She came back for a follow-up appointment and she wanted to come back and see the staff. Her hair was all done. She had all her makeup on. That is what I love most about nursing.
We carry a lot of baggage with us because of what we do every day.
We still have those patients I think about all the time. There was a patient I’ll never forget. I was with her. She was decompensating. They were trying to figure out what's going on with her, and I just held her hand and told her to keep talking to me. I asked her to tell me what's your favorite food and what's your favorite wine, and she says, “Chardonnay!” She passed away and the last thing she said to me was Chardonnay. So, if I go to heaven and she is not there with Chardonnay we’re going to have a thing.
We’re going to have a thing!
Is there a particular patient that stands out to you that has inspired your nursing journey or that gives you the drive that you clearly have?
In certain areas of the country, it’s not common being an African-American in nursing. I was a new nurse and I was working in Cardiac Surgery Step-Down. There was an African-American man who had open heart surgery, and he stayed in the unit for a very long time. I was in his room and I was talking to him about something. Then a family member of the other patient came over and said, “You're the housekeeper, right? Come clean this toilet.”
That upset me, but he intervened and said, “Sir, she is not the housekeeper. She is your wife's nurse.” Throughout the weeks he was there, he would always talk to me. He said, “I really want you to stand up for yourself.”
I was asked to come into the ICU, by Dr. Blackwell, and I said, “No, I'm not ready.” It was not because I wasn't ready. I wanted to. But I felt like there's nobody else that looked like me”. He told me, “You can always say that you're not ready, but you need to figure out what it is that you want to do and how you want to advance.” At that moment I thought back to that patient telling me that I don't have to apologize for being a woman of color. I don't have to think that I'm less or anything because of all the things that have happened in the past to African-American people. He died, but I will never forget him saying, “If you want to do something, you just got to go and do it and not look back. If you don't, you'll regret a lot of things that you didn't do.”
I love you.
I love you, too.
Your strength and authenticity is so palpable in who you are. I love your personality. I love working with you. I love your heart. I love your soul. You're just awesome.
You are so strong and I just lean on you a lot just being there for me.
These interviews are provided courtesy of StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. www.storycorps.org