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Health professionals see patient needs, not color

James Kelly

Editor’s note: Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren recently was asked what she would do about the fact that black women are far more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. CNN reported that she summed up the root of the problem as “prejudice” and added: “Doctors and nurses don’t hear African-American women’s medical issues the same way that they hear the same things from white women.”

Hey Elizabeth, do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of the 3.1 million nurses in America turning you off. You’re done.

No matter how much free stuff you promise: health care, tuition, reparations; no many how many student loans you forgive or cancel, you haven’t got a chance. The road to the White House isn’t paved with insults to the women and men of the nursing profession who truly work long hours – 12-hour days and nights, extra shifts, mandatory overtime, weekends (and) holidays with the sole purpose of curing disease and ameliorating suffering.

Let me get this straight: After you adjust for income and education – which I’m sure you’ve done – the reason for the disparity in childhood mortality rate between black women and white women in America is because doctors and nurses are prejudiced. Wow.

I’ve been an ICU nurse for 21 years, mostly in New Mexico and now at Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque. Lovelace Women’s Hospital is New Mexico’s first and only hospital dedicated to women’s health. We have a 53-bed Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, 16 labor and delivery rooms, a 41-bed Mother-Baby unit, and a Maternal-Fetal Medicine program for high-risk pregnancies, and a Natural Birthing Center, where women who wish to have a more natural delivery can do so in a safe environment.

We also have the GRACE Program (Guiding Recovery and Creating Empowerment for pregnant women with opioid use disorder) because many mothers are addicted – to heroin, methamphetamine, opioids – and give birth to babies that are addicted, and the struggle to help them survive is long and arduous.

Most of our patients are poor women of color. … When a pregnant woman needs to come to the ICU, that means she’s really sick. And they die sometimes despite everything we try to do.

This is the thing, Elizabeth. I’ve been in room coding a Hispanic mother who just gave birth for two hours. Labor and delivery nurses, neonatal intensive care unit nurses, OB-GYN docs, our own intensivist, the maternal-fetal-medicine specialist, my ICU colleagues all there, helping out. You can’t imagine the grief when they die. You can feel it for days in the hospital. To lose a mother …

Prejudiced? Nurses are like justice, Elizabeth. We’re color blind. We only see one thing: human suffering. We have one goal: to relieve that suffering. That’s our vocation, our calling. There’s no room for anything else, least of all prejudice.

I’m grateful that you said this so early in the campaign season. You obviously don’t know what ordinary people like us nurses have in our hearts. You could never be someone who could be the leader of this nation. Now we can stop paying attention to you.

James Kelly is author of “Where Night Is Day: The World of the ICU” published 2013 by Cornell University Press.