Memories are made in hospitals. Some amazing like the birth of a child or the recovery from life-threatening disease or injury; some devastating like the loss of a loved one. Regardless of the memory, regardless of why you were in the hospital, there is always one constant during a hospital stay—a nurse.
He or she medicated you, eased your physical and emotional pain, explained complicated doctor speak, made sure you were bathed and that all your bodily functions performed as expected. Most of all, he or she cared for you and coordinated your team of medical professionals, including keeping the doctors informed, so everyone knew what they needed to do to ensure you had the best care possible.
Few would argue that nurses are underappreciated and undervalued. In an effort to honor and recognize men and women who dedicated their professional lives to the practice of nursing, Baptist Health Care launched the Nursing Honor Guard as a final tribute to nurses who have passed away.
“I found out about a hospital up north that had a similar program,” said Nova McDavid, an RN and nurse advocate at Baptist Hospital. “So, last fall, we gathered a group of dedicated nurses.”
McDavid has an indelible passion for her profession as well as for Baptist Hospital. She has been a nurse for 18 years, but before that she worked as a housekeeper for Baptist Hospital while attending nursing school.
She spoke through tears when talking about the Nursing Honor Guard and what it means to nurses and their families, “(Family members) always come up to us afterward and tell us how appreciative they are and what it meant to them. The family decides how involved we are in the service.”
During the service, the Honor Guard generally stands up front or to the side. Each is dressed in the traditional white uniform and wearing the traditional nurse’s cap. Draped across the shoulders is the blue and red cape made popular by Navy nurses during WWI. One member of the guard holds a lantern with a burning candle symbolizing the lamp carried by Florence Nightingale (perhaps the most iconic nurse in history) during the Crimean War as she walked through the darkness administering care to wounded soldiers.
“As part of the service, the family usually asks that we recite ‘A Nurse’s Prayer.’ We end by saying ‘Your final shift is over.’” McDavid said. “The last thing we do is present the lantern to the family.”
In just the few months the Nursing Honor Guard has been a part of Baptist Health care of Northwest Florida, they have stood in four funeral services.
“We reached out to the local funeral homes, the first being Rosemont Funeral Home in Gulf Breeze, and asked if there was a need (for the Nursing Honor Guard),” said McDavid. The answer was an emphatic “yes.” Then, the work began.
Local medical uniform store, Uniformly Yours, donated the caps and uniforms. Theresa Lee, RN and clinical educator at Baptist’s Gulf Breeze Hospital, made and donated the capes.
“It is crazy how the universe works,” McDavid said. “Just as everything came together, we were asked to participate in our first service. It is a very moving experience.”
“Nurses have a very special bond,” McDavid added. “We can always spot each other in a group.”
And, understandably so. Few professions deal with such pain and suffering or see the trauma of human life as the nurse. The Nurse’s Honor Guard offers a final tribute to members of a selfless and demanding profession.
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