In the 86 years since I was born, I’ve been admitted to nine different hospitals from Fredericton to Vancouver and from Whitehorse to Toronto. The causes were hockey, football, boxing, aging and sometimes just stupidity.

While spending my 86th birthday at Whitehorse General Hospital, I had time to reflect on the letters “n-u-r-s-e” and just what they stand for. That, of course, is “nurse,” but it’s something more. Like I said, I’ve had plenty of experience with hospitals. I’ve seen some heartbreaking things, including serious injuries and crying children. I’ve also seen my share of nurses. In 1964, in Cornwall, Ontario, a decision made by a nurse actually saved my life. I will always be grateful to her.

My worst experiences came during the weeks I spent in a military hospital. The room next to mine held a pilot and his navigator. They had crashed, sustaining first, second and third-degree burns. You could actually smell the burnt skin and hear the odd moan from the two brave survivors. Across from me was a 19-year-old soldier who had been injured in an explosion, badly damaging his one leg. When he woke from his operation, he had lost the leg. The shock hit him like a ton of bricks. No one could get near him for the next two days.

In that hospital, when those of us who were bedridden could finally get up and move around, we were detailed to help the nurses make the beds of the less fortunate patients. Once, I was one of two to accompany a nurse into the room of a man who seemed to be a senior. He wasn’t, but he looked it—white as a ghost, badly scarred, very thin and in enormous pain. He could hardly see us. He could only faintly hear the tender voice of the nurse as she called him by name and talked reassuringly to him.

We had to carefully roll him to one side of the bed while we put new sheets on the other side. The slightest move made him moan in pain. It was shocking to me and the other helper. The nurse, with a tender smile on her face, kept talking reassuringly to the patient. While tears rolled down our faces, her facial features never changed. This nurse, like all other nurses, experienced this kind of thing every day of her working life.

Back in Whitehorse, I was sitting up when the nurse came in with a bunch of sheets in hand.

“Hop out, Murray, I am going to make our bed,” she said. Her voice was happy. She had a pleasant smile on her face. I asked her how come she had to make beds alone when she had so many professional medical responsibilities? The nurse replied that it was all just part of her 12-hour daily routine.

I then asked how many years of study it had taken to become a nurse and why she chose to work a job where she was always dealing with death and the sick or injured. She said that she always felt good as a young person when she could help someone. She knew that becoming a nurse would be her dream come true.

I thought back over some of the things I have seen in hospitals. To me, they were a nightmare. I’ve watched grown men pass out at the sight of some incidents, yet nurses took it all in stride. Four years of dedicated study and sacrifice to work 12-hour shifts, day and night. To see the worst in blood, guts and death, all in the name of helping a stranger. It may seem hard to appreciate or understand, but that’s what the letters “N-U-R-S-E” stand for. Yes, it does spell out “nurse” but the meaning is “guardian angel.”

From the bottom of my heart, my most sincere gratitude and appreciation goes out to all nurses. They truly are our guardian angels.

A closing thought – “There is no better exercise for the heart then to reach down and help someone else up!”