This Valentine’s Day, I’m not writing about romance. I’m writing about a different kind of passion: the kind that Nurse Practitioner Debbie Benitez embodies.
After work and her son’s track meet, Debbie recently met me at a Starbucks and talked to me for two hours about the importance of infection control for patients with Cystic Fibrosis (the interview was for our clinic newsletter). I sipped my latte and nodded like a metronome. I tried to keep up with Debbie, who was starving but couldn’t manage more than a few bites of her sandwich because she had so much to teach me.
Frankly, Debbie scares the crap out of me. You know what? It’s working. I’m doing more treatments than I ever have before, and I’m doing them more consistently. Debbie shows me pictures and tells me how CF works. She explains how infection outbreaks have happened at other clinics. She warns me about what will happen if I don’t do my treatments. She talks about the patients awaiting lung transplants, and the ones who are dying or have died. It takes a special and caring kind of person to work in health care, but it takes an even more unique person to work with patients who suffer from a chronic and incurable disease, a disease that has no end point, that gets progressively worse, and that will eventually kill the patient. It must take a certain strength of soul to work in that environment day in and day out, to stare hard things in the eye when the rest of us look away.
I don’t want to glorify health care providers any more than I want to glorify people living with illness. However, when CF caregivers like Debbie improve the quality of our lives (and literally extend them), it’s hard not to feel grateful. I imagine that Debbie’s job—like every job—is often thankless. I’m certainly not thankful when I come to the clinic. I’m cranky and tired of waiting. I’m resentful that I have to be there for hours and that I have CF in the first place. (Basically, I become a teenager; luckily, my clinic knows how to handle teenagers like me).
One of the only upsides to having CF is the quality of care. At quarterly appointments, CF patients see multiple caregivers, which can include a nurse, doctor, pharmacist, social worker, respiratory therapist, and dietician. If I’m sick, I get an appointment the very next day. If I need a prescription refill, I send a quick email and voila: my prescription is ready for pick-up that afternoon. If I don’t understand something, I ask my doctor, and he sits with me until I understand. If I’m scared because I’m coughing a lot before bed, I email Debbie, and she writes back that same night.
Before I was diagnosed with CF—when I saw a doctor once or twice a year—I would’ve thought it wild that an entire team of people would ever care so deeply about my exercise habits or bowel movements. It would’ve been crazy to have such direct access to my doctor’s office, to get answers to questions via email, to spend more than five minutes in the same room with a doctor.
Today I want to thank all the health care providers at CF clinics across the nation, especially the ones like Debbie, who work so tirelessly to keep us healthy and informed (even when we’re sometimes resistant to it). Please forward this to the “Debbies” in your life today and let them know how much you appreciate their passion!