Epiphany about caring, dedicated male nurses

Wang Yong
After spending many nights with my father-in-law in his hospital room, I witnessed how meticulous and caring a male nurse can be for the first time in my life.
Wang Yong

“Hey, grandpa, take a deep breath and don’t worry,” said a young nurse as he tried to calm my father-in-law before injecting him with warm water to clean his inflamed intestines. “If you don’t feel well, let me know and I will adjust the speed.”

Such was the soothing style of Zhang Long, a recent graduate from a vocational health college and the only male nurse at the No. 1 ward of the gastroenterology department in a leading hospital in Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province, about 300 kilometers north of Shanghai.

Last week, I witnessed — for the first time in my life — how meticulous and caring a male nurse can be when I spent many nights with my father-in-law in his hospital room. I asked Zhang if he needed me to hold a water bag for him so he could use both hands to handle a plastic pipe. He thanked me but continued to hold the water bag in his right hand while cautiously handling the pipe with his left — attesting to his professional skill and profound sense of caring.

One day, I discovered someone had made my father-in-law's bed, with neatly folded quilts like in a military dorm. I didn’t know who but found out the next day. Before testing my father-in-law’s blood sugar level, Zhang folded the quilts as if he were following steps in a training manual.

“You make patients' beds every day?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied with a shy smile from behind his surgical mask. At work, he always smiled behind his mask. His colleagues sometimes displayed their various moods on their faces, but Zhang was always happy. In the faintly murmured words of my father-in-law, Zhang was the best.

That's not to say he's more skilled than the other nurses, most of whom are highly competent and often work more than 12-hour shifts. It merely underscores how a new generation of male nurses is quickly maturing. If Zhang is indicative of this new generation, it's clear that male nurses are as capable and caring as their female counterparts.

Chen Ji, an associate professor at a local medical college in Yancheng, told me that male students at her school are in high demand.

This week, Zhang shifted to work in the hospitals' hematology department, where he likely will care for terminally ill patients. 

“I will do my best,” he said, knowing he would enter a new environment and face new challenges — a can-do spirit that distinguishes both male and female nurses. This spirit, nurtured every day, was readily apparent during China's fight against COVID-19 in Wuhan.

Chen Jiahui, a male nurse at Shanghai’s Ruijin Hospital, was supposed to  get married on February 2, but the novel coronavirus outbreak put that plan on hold. With the consent and encouragement of his fiancé and family, he volunteered to be on the front line in Wuhan. After returning, he finally got married on May 21.

“When my country calls for help, I must answer,” he said.

According to May statistics, 28,600 nurses went to Hubei Province to fight the virus, almost 90 percent of whom were female nurses.

More than 100 nurses from Beijing Hospital alone were sent to Hubei Province, including five men. Li Jinze, one of the male nurses, said he learned from his female colleagues how to be more sympathetic and meticulous, but male nurses could do better in certain jobs requiring both physical strength and stamina. 

“I hope more men become nurses,” he said.

Today in Beijing, China held a meeting to commend role models in the country's fight against the epidemic.

Indeed, Zhang, Chen and Li paint a positive picture of male nurses despite their small numbers. Of Shanghai’s 97,100 nurses, only a hair more than 2 percent are male.

I used to doubt men’s ability to care for patients as well as women. But if seeing is believing, I now think differently. I realize everyone, regardless of gender, has the capacity to care. I tip my hat to nurses and all they do for society.

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