Nursing Narratives turns the spotlight on unique experiences

Kevin Barrett tells his story at Nursing Narratives. (Photo by Joshua Corbett)

Every day, nurses come home with stories. This week, seven nurses got on stage to share some of their favorites as part of National Nurses Week in a segment called Nursing Narratives. From life to death, serious to funny, they showcased the whole gamut of the profession.

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Kevin Barrett was a senior in college, working towards his nursing degree. During his OB rotation, he found that pregnant women often didn’t want to be cared for by a male nurse. But, after assisting successfully with one particular birth, Barrett ran into a new kind of obstacle: the baby’s father, who had missed the birth, just a day earlier.

“I walked him to the end of the hall and that’s when he asked if I was flirting with his wife,” Barrett said. “‘No,’ I responded immediately. ‘I’m just working toward my degree in nursing,’”

After deflecting some more aggressive behavior, Barrett finally figured out what was going on:

“He looked at me and started, ‘I feel terrible.’”

“‘Why?’ [Barrett] asked.”

“[The baby’s father] continued: ‘You were there at the birth of my son and I wasn’t, you fed my baby before I did, you held her hand and coached her. She depends on you more than me.’”

Barrett acted quickly, giving away all the duties he could to the new father. Well, almost all of them.

“He looked at me with a smirk on his face, and he said ‘well, you can change the diaper if you want.’ We both laughed,” Barrett said.

Barrett is now a professor at Charter College and a nurse practitioner in Anchorage. He recently told this story to a packed crowd of nurses as part of a storytelling event called Nursing Narratives at Williwaw in Anchorage. Six other nurses also told their stories, ranging from the sentimental to the clinical, and often the hilarious. The event was one of many during National Nurses Week.

“They’re some of the hardest working people that are out there,” Andrea Nutty said. She’s part of the Alaska Nurses Association, which planned Nurses Week. “They take care of people in their very worst moments, and their very best, happiest moments of their life, from birth to death, so they deserve a break, and we try to do a lot of things that just show a small token of appreciation for nurses across our state.”

The week also included a 5K run, a movie screening and a birthday party for Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. The events were meant to shine a spotlight on the important work that nurses do, with an eye towards benefiting an even larger group.

“So when you advocate for nurses you’re advocating for patients as well,” Nutty said.

National Nurses Week is just a small part of what the Alaska Nurses Association does on behalf of its members. The Association advocates year round to advance policy goals. Those goals include supporting a bill in the Alaska Legislature to make health care costs more transparent to patients, and efforts to protect public health resources around the state.

But, this week, they were focused on the nurses themselves.

“So we started talking. I said ‘what, what did Jack do?’” Cynthia Booher said. She’s a UAA nursing teacher telling a story about an 86-year-old stroke patient who was unresponsive for many days. “‘Oh he’s a retired preacher.’ I said ‘oh, great.’”

“‘Oh and honey he is the sweetest man you ever wanna know, there’s never a word that’s ever come out of his mouth that’s been mean,’” Booher continued. “So his wife grabs his hand and Ruth, tears coming out of her eyes, going ‘please, Jack, please, just respond to us Jack, please, just show us one finger,’ and all of a sudden, out of the corner of the bed, you see –”

Booher then turned to the audience, extended her hand and showed them how Jack responded, by raising her middle finger.

The crowd of about 100 nurses, family members and friends loved it. The stories resonated.

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Independent producer Vikram Patel works full-time for the Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department. In his free time, he volunteers for local storytelling program Arctic Entries and produces "New Arrivals," a profile series on KSKA about newcomers to Anchorage.

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