I can’t imagine not having a voice.
I said to my fiancé as we made our way through an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York this past February.
I don’t think anyone can imagine YOU not having a voice.
He replied lovingly as he planted a kiss on my forehead.
We were making our way through an exhibit of the history of activism in New York City. We stood in front of a large display detailing the timeline and efforts of the Suffragettes in Upstate New York. For whatever reason, it suddenly hit me that in the not too distant past, in towns similar to the one I grew up in, women were rallying to fight to have a voice that mattered.
I began to feel emotional, overwhelmed. My mind started racing as I imagined myself without a voice that mattered, lucky at best to have a husband who would allow me some say into the opinions he would share publicly. As I looked at the dates it suddenly felt so recent, so close.
I started to think of nurses. How so many of us are women. Is that maybe why our voices have struggled to rise above the crowd?
As my thoughts tornadoed through my mind, we continued on to the next wall of the exhibit.
I read about the Henry Street Settlement and Lillian Wald, a young nurse who moved to one of New York City’s poorest immigrant neighborhoods at the turn of the 20th Century. She worked to provide services to the underserved, the women and children who had no money to pay doctors. Her organization is still alive and well, serving those without healthcare in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
I learned that through Lillian’s work the concepts of visiting nurses were born. Families were seen in their own environments and taught how to prevent illnesses and their spread through the cramped impoverished tenement housing of that time.
I learned about the movement of Public Health Nurses, eventually starting a professional nursing organization to solidify their cause. The infant mortality rate was addressed by young nurses who evaluated causes for infant deaths and worked to educate families, many of whom were new to the United States.
Over and over again I saw examples of how nurses had a voice. It had been used to speak for those that no one would listen to.
I left the exhibit not with the sunken feeling I had gotten from the Suffragettes, but rather, with a new found hope and confidence that I have come from a long line of outspoken advocates.
For the years since I became a nurse, I have gone into Nurse’s Day or Nurse’s Week, hoping that this year would be the year we would finally find our voice.
Today, that feels different. You see, we have already found our voice; it has been heard loudly and clearly time and time again. But in the nature of what our profession deserves, we have used it to speak for our patients rather than ourselves. Our voice has brought changes, dignity, and healing to the patients we serve. And that is something that makes me beam with pride.
Perhaps our voice is the strongest, the loudest of them all, because it speaks not for ourselves, but for those we care for.