On April 16, 2019, Washington State Senator Maureen Walsh catapulted nursing onto an international stage after accusing nurses of probably “playing cards for a considerable amount of the day”. The disdain in her voice and the body language is not easily overlooked even with her apology the next day. Yes, we can all say things we do not mean at times and she quickly brushed this off to being “in the heat of the moment” and “exhaustion”. Hmmm … is this what happens when people are tired? Passionate? What about those nurses who are asking for protected breaks so they don’t suffer from burn out? I suppose it would be okay for them to talk to their patients and their colleagues in such harsh manners. Senator Walsh, you will need to do more than excuse your remarks.
She drew a hard line in the sand; calling nurses to battle – and they answered.
It was not long before the hashtags #showyourcards and #justplayingcards were making rounds on Twitter as nurses, physicians and healthcare workers around the world united to stand up to this offensive public statement. Emotional stories poured out from nurses in a variety of specialties, opening up about the emotional and physical challenges of their recent days.
As a nurse, I can say we do not go around yelling about our value from the rooftop regularly. We often keep the emotional and physical challenges of our day to ourselves, among other healthcare workers. We do that to protect you from knowing the pain we know.
You don’t want to know what it is like to have to provide CPR on a patient while his family is screaming and yelling “please God”, and then call the code while the wife lays over his chest crying, insisting he is only sleeping. You don’t want to hear about what brain matter looks like when it is oozing out of the skull of a young man who suffered a gunshot wound while simultaneously talk with the family who insists we can save him and that we have not tried everything or that we are giving up too soon. You don’t want to hear about how a family had to say goodbye to the 16-year-old son because he made a bad decision and got in a car with a drunk driver, and the drunk driver is in the bed down the hall.
These stories we keep to ourselves but Senator Walsh’s callous remarks about the dedicated professionals I work with required that we share the details of our challenging and rewarding profession. In nursing, we are taught the patient is more than a diagnosis, more than a room number or an item on a to-do list; they have a spiritual, physical and emotional needs. In my career, there has been an odd day where I had a deck of cards to help a patient pass the deafening sound of silence as they sit in their pictureless room waiting for time to pass. It is called nursing the spirit and soul and giving them dignity and a sense of belonging because when they were admitted, they lost all that. Sometimes patients go months without a visitor. Some patients never leave the hospital, and a game of cards lets them feel they are loved and have value, even if just for a few minutes. Senator Walsh, I hope we never need to play a game of cards, but if we do, know that I am doing it for you.