January 25, 2017

An open letter to a remarkable nurse

Daily Briefing

Tommy Covington, a hematology-oncology nurse at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, retired earlier this month after 46 years on the job. In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Daily News, columnist Dennis McCarthy writes an open letter to Covington, whom he calls "a hell of a man."

Covington got his start as a nurse during the Korean War, when he treated patients in Guam. He found his calling and got his civilian nursing certification when he came back from the war. In 1970, he found a job working the night shift as a hematology-oncology nurse at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

That is where Covington learned to truly "love" his patients, McCarthy writes. "You cared for these kids and cradled them in your arms for 46 years, giving their emotionally drained parents a chance to catch a few hours of precious sleep," Covington writes. "You'd sit at your nurse's station at 3 a.m. on the night shift and turn on soft music to calm the babies down."

But there was also pain. "You knew many of these babies and young children would not see another birthday. You had to block that out and just do your job," McCarthy writes. As Covington explains it, living with the pain was unavoidable. "It's part of life," he tells McCarthy. "It's been my way of life for 50 years."

Covington's commitment to the job has paid off. McCarthy says he was a "legend" at the hospital—and parents still call Covington to thank him for his care and compassion. "If it hadn't been for you, the heartache they went through would have been so much worse," McCarthy writes. "You helped get them through the lowest point in their lives, and they still feel a need to thank you for that all these years later."

But now, after decades of service, Covington tells McCarthy it was time to step away from his job. "If I can't function at 100 percent for [my patients], it's time for me to go," Covington says.

Covington's more than earned his retirement, McCarthy writes, but he adds " it's not going to be easy walking away from a job you love." Even after retirement, Covington tells McCarthy, his heart will "still be at work with all those beautiful babies and children who gave you so much love and pain throughout your remarkable career."

"Thank you, Tommy Covington, for the last 50 years," McCarthy writes. "You're a hell of a man" (McCarthy, Los Angeles Daily News, 1/6).

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