You see them with a grateful heart as they walk on their hands and do somersaults with a patient’s extreme despair and suffering. They turn trauma into joy, and rage and despair. It is something that ordinary people like us experience only a few times in our entire lifetime.

Witnessing and being involved in death, birth and celebration, nurses sign up for life.

They possess unique qualities: an abundance of human compassion and a kind of wisdom born of the heart. Fulfillment could only come from the knowledge that one had made a positive, if not, profound difference in another’s life. They would rearrange fate.

They are remarkable men and women who quietly provide the day-to-day grit from the edge of life, practicing a variety of specialties (including cardiac care, emergency care, intensive care, obstetrics and orthopedic surgery) which provides poignant, if not  outrageous stories drawn from the edge of life.Their patients come in all shapes, sizes, ages and colors.

They are frightened, brave, gentle, arrogant, demanding and considerate. They are young and old, clumsy and adept.

They are human beings who know what it is like to be sick and vulnerable.

They witness and record the isolation and alienation that comes eventually to all of us, when we become patients.

They live a life where frustration comes uninvited, horrified by what the insurance companies and hospital corporations are doing to the medical world.

But this isn’t a piece about politics. It simply wants to get to know more about these angels of mercy, as they go on about the business of caring and healing.

You can only feel respect, awe and love for these devoted, tireless  human beings, whose work is arduous and complex, requiring the exercise of the very brightest faculties of the mind while  constantly appealing to the emotion and higher feelings, as said by Sir Williams Osler.

At any ICU ward is a kaleidoscope of broken lives. Day and night flow into each other.

Nurses go through their daily toil: feeling pulses; listening to the heart; lungs and abdomen for finite sounds of prowl for complication; loading vitamins and minerals like pumping fuel into a powerful car, with no steering wheel or tires.

Tension permeates in the ICU — the type of strain which turns into hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

When tragedy strikes, the nurses deal with the patients, who are only half of the tragic story. Completing the cast are the walking wounded — surrounding family members who thrive in blind hope.

In the medical arena, even as healthcare debates rage on with the growth of the HMO industry, the nurses quietly continue to provide the daily grit and deeply-felt dedication, which hold the healing profession together.

I started interviewing nurses from my police beat days, (a time when a nurse at the Veterans Memorial Hospital was paid P200 a month.)

But fear of career backlash and reprisals have made them reluctant to talk to outsiders about their experiences.

Truths drawn were stranger than fiction. Nurses were allowed to speak to us in their own words, with narratives ranging from inspiring to tragic, to the outrageously funny. There’s real life medical drama, experienced both in the Philippines and here in the US.

Their gripping accounts give us new perspectives on the horror of tsunamis, earthquakes; or when someone runs amuck or is burned alive.

Home care, critical care, pediatric, psychiatric nurses with distinct voices are unique. Through tears and laughter they are are unflinching, as they tackle issues that afflict nursing care today.

On the totem pole, nothing beats the nurse assigned a tragedy.

Nurses who worked through registries are used to caring for hapless patients who would never get better,  never wake up from their coma, or never be weaned off the ventilator, no matter  what the medical warrior did for them.

For some, it could be quick and painless, but for others it could be like a 79-year-old heart flipping in and out of a ventricular defibrillator at any hospice – at will.

Nurses wonder how thin the lines are between life and death, between joy  and sorrow, chance and fate.

These are invisible forces which can forever change a life in a split second.

They wait until they hear the soft explosion of unrestrained weeping.

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