Say "Thank You" to a nurse next week

Published May 2, 2024

By Cash Michaels

For those of you who have gotten used to my incisive, hard-hitting political commentary that spares no one the rod - Republican nor Democrat, conservative nor liberal, vegetable nor mineral, let me warn you that this week, my piece is more praising Florence Nightingale than bashing Donald Trump.


Because next week is National Nurses Week, May 6th - May 12th.

According to the American Nurses Association, “Nurses Make the Difference,” which is this year’s theme.

Trust me, given my tattered health history, I couldn’t agree more. And I certainly thank my lovely wife for inspiring me to write this very personal tribute to our angels of healing.

To start, I’m 68-years-old, and feel mighty darn blessed and lucky to have made it this far in my life. I’m grateful to Almighty GOD, as all of us, His children, should be, because there were many times when I didn’t have to survive, didn’t have to see another day.

I’ve suffered through some terrible afflictions, many of my own making, like some other folks of my generation from the 1960s have. No, believe it or not, I’ve never smoked a cigarette, cigar, or even touched a marijuana joint, though growing up a shy kid in Brooklyn, NY I’ve had many, many opportunities to do so.

Why not? Because I had a strong single mother who once insisted to me as a young child  (yep, I actually remember this) that her fancy 1950’s cigarette dispenser on her dresser was something I didn’t want to reach for. “Cigarettes are bad for you,” Mom would insist, “and you have to be careful not to let your friends influence you into smoking.”

“Think for yourself,” the most wonderful woman in the whole world continued. “If it’s something you just don’t want to do, then JUST DON’T DO IT!”

Now I’m certain Nancy Reagan wasn’t hiding under my mother’s bed taking notes while I was getting that life-changing instruction, but what mom told me impressed me, and stayed with me for the rest of my life.

Don’t want to do it, then don’t, no matter who says different!

What impressed me even more is that after realizing that her young son was actually paying attention to her bad habits now, Mom stopped her smoking. Got rid of that fancy dispenser, and for the rest of her life, I never saw her light up again.

But I digress.

As I got older, I found myself saying no to a lot of other things - cigarettes, pot, illegal drugs, hard liquor….anything that usually got my friends into trouble, I naturally stayed away from. Didn’t want Mom marching down to the police station with leather belt in hand fixin’ to get me.

But then came the things that got an overweight but cute kid like me into trouble anyway, namely sweets.

Sweets - be it jams, jellies, cakes, cookies, ice cream, candies… you name it, became my “drug” of choice. And I can’t say I wasn’t warned about that too.

All through my childhood and young adult years, I ate and drank sweets like a crazy person, not realizing, or caring, that one day, I would pay for it dearly.

I had long since moved from Brooklyn, NY to Durham, NC back in the 80’s, never knowing that I was a diabetic. Just didn’t know how bad a diabetic I was.

Then September 1996 came, and with it, Hurricane Fran.

If you were here, you’ll recall that Fran knocked out power to large parts of North Carolina, and that September ’96 was a very hot one, meaning I was drinking lots of sugary soft drinks just to stay cool, with no A/C or fan. 

Bad mistake.

I had a dear friend of mine, and she was getting real angry with me because she could see me falling apart physically - legs wobbly, very sweaty, constitution unsteady, feeling real rundown - but I was refusing to go to the doctor.

I actually bragged to her that “I don’t need no stinkin’ doctor!”

Fed up with my mess, she said, “Look, Negro (folks, if you’re a Black male, and a Black woman goes there with you, that means she’s really pissed), go to the damn doctor, or else!”

So I dragged my dumb butt to Duke outpatient clinic the next day. Filled out the form about how bad I was feeling, and got my blood drawn with everybody else. And sat there. 

And sat there, waiting to be called.

And sat there while other folks were being called, seeing the doctor, and then going home.

And sat there, until I was literally the last one left in the waiting room.

Finally, late in the afternoon, they called me into the examination room.

An older black nurse with a VERY concerned look on her face sat me down, and read me the riot act.

“Have you been checking your blood sugar, Mr. Michaels? No? I didn’t think so. Reason why you’re the last patient we’re seeing today is because we couldn’t believe what we were seeing from your blood test.”

I swear I didn’t know what the poor woman was talking about, but I sat there and listened like a good negro.

The outraged nurse continued, “We had to keep testing and retesting your blood, we couldn’t believe it! Normal blood sugar levels are supposed to be around 120. We consider a serious blood sugar level to be around 200. Very serious around 400.”

“Mr. Michaels, you walked in here …with a blood sugar over 850! We had to keep retesting it, we couldn’t believe it. Did you drive yourself over here? That’s not supposed to happen. All that sugar in you is supposed to rob your body of oxygen. You shouldn’t be able to function right now. See straight, anything!”

So, like an idiot, trying to retain some silly masculine control over a bad situation of my creation, I calmly replied, “ Ma’am, I hear ya. Just give me something to take for this, and I’ll go back home and not leave bed for the weekend!”

“No, no, you’re not understanding,” the now really irritated Black nurse shot back. I halfway expected her to start using the N-word on me any moment!

“Your body, your organs are breaking down right now. You’re lucky you made it in here today, and we don’t know how you did it, but I’ll tell you this much, you won’t be alive tomorrow, not if we don’t get you to the hospital RIGHT NOW! We have an ambulance outside ready to take you, and admissions is waiting’ for you. Don’t worry about your car, it can stay in the lot until you’re released!”

First time in my life a woman other than my mother made me cry and got my full attention. Stunned, like a grateful, obedient wimp, I got on the stretcher, and they took me to Duke University Hospital, put me in a room, and hooked me up to a saline solution, put me on medication and special diet to get my sugar down from over 850 to 157 in a few days, saving my life.

And yes, another nurse at the hospital schooled me on how my high blood sugar could make me impotent, give me heart problems, or even cause amputation of some of my limbs.

I should have listened. 

But at every health challenge I’ve had ever since, I’ve had a dedicated, experienced and committed nurse holding my hand and giving me the strength and fortitude I needed to heal.

In 2014, I had a sudden stroke in my left leg. Nurses got me through.

Then in 2015, I had congestive heart failure and needed an operation to correct it. Nurses were there again.

Nurses were there each time instructing, listening, comforting.

In March 2016, I was diagnosed with hemophilia, and was rushed to UNC Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill.

It was another humbling life experience I would have never made it through without the love and support of my wife, and two daughters. But I also got through that taxing experience of chemotherapy, frequent blood transfusions and operations with the care and concern of devoted nurses who, day or night, were there for me, and whatever it was that I needed, down to keeping me clean and forcing me to want to live (and believe me, there were times), that’s what they did.

Those nurses at UNC Cancer Hospital made it their mission to help me fight for life, to care more for me than I cared for myself at times. Making me take those nasty meds, and they were tough as nails about it. 

When I was finally discharged, after two months, I was of course glad to get out, but I also felt truly sad, because I was leaving a team of angels who became family to me.

Many of them were married with their own families they had to leave for 12 hour shifts at least three times a week. Obviously I wasn’t their only patient on the floor, but they sure as hell made me feel that way. 

It gave me such pride to introduce my family to whoever was taking care of me during a shift. I found myself wanting to follow every instruction to the letter from the doctor, just to make my nurse’s job easier, and see her smile.

And it always comforted me when my night nurse would peek in to make sure I was alright before she had to go on break, or tend to another patient.

I remember a time when I shared with a nurse how much I missed a certain brand of cream soda, and the next time she had me on her shift, she brought a can of it with her. That warm gesture really made me tear up, I couldn’t believe how incredibly kind she was. She so made me smile.

So as you see, I’ve had my share of experiences with nurses over my lifetime, up to and including today, as I go in as an outpatient once a month for injections to treat the stage four terminal prostate cancer I’ve been living with since March 2021.

Do I have a year left? Two? I don’t know, but the professionalism of outstanding doctors and nurses, the grace of GOD, and the love and devotion of  my family have been what’s kept me going.

My nurses, even at this stage of my life, mean everything to me. They continue to be there for me, through my two toe amputations (I should have listened), and no matter what else I’m going through. And I thank them so very, very much.

So join me in saluting some the bravest, most committed members of our society there are. Every nurse at every hospital who is devoted to her task of taking care of patients to the best of her or his ability deserves our love and respect.

Everyday, if you ask me.

But next week, May 6th - May 12th, is their special week in the sun.

Say “Thank you” to a nurse next week. And go to National Nurses Week May 6-12, 2024 | ANA to find out more about how you can help celebrate nursing.