The Lippincott Solutions 2018 "Inspired Nurses: The Heroes of Healthcare" calendar was created for nurses by nurses, from the hundreds of touching and moving stories that were submitted from around the country. Their strength, courage, and compassion, these 12 stories illustrate just how crucial nursing is to optimal patient care and the art of healing.
As the year progress, we hope these stories will be a constant source of inspiration and reminder of just what it means to be a nurse.
Chinazo Echezona-Johnson, Services for the Underserved, Vice President of Nursing Services
I did not want to be a nurse. I always wanted to be a lawyer. But then something extraordinary happened. My mom went into labor prematurely, and since there was no one to watch me, I had to go with her to the hospital. While in the waiting room, the nurses played with me and kept me company until my father arrived. In my eight-year-old mind, the nurses looked like fairy-tale characters because they were so kind and caring. They were also immaculately dressed in starched white uniforms, polished white shoes, and white caps. They looked like angels and fairies to me.
It was a difficult delivery for my mother, but the love and care she and my baby brother received was magical. I did not see the birth, but when I could finally come in and hold my new little brother, I saw many nurses comforting, mothering and supporting other women in various stages of labor, delivering or recovering from childbirth. These kind nurses did not complain – not even when people were yelling at them. They kept their composure and professionalism at all times, and it was at that point that I decided I must become a nurse. And today, after 24-years practicing as an Obstetrical and Gynecology nurse, I can still remember the caring nurses who took care of my mother and brother – those magical nurses who changed my life.
February: Heart to Heart
Cameron Mitchum, Medical Univ of South Carolina, Nursing Professional Development Specialist
Some years ago, I was working in the hospital's ICU float pool, caring for a young man with a traumatic brain injury received from a fall. The physicians had declared him brain dead. He was only 16 years old. He had run away from home several years before, so after many hours, his mother was finally located, but unfortunately, couldn’t make the journey across the country in order to say goodbye to her son, so asked if I would stay with him until he went into the operating room.
After my shift ended, I stayed with him as a visitor until he went into surgery. I stroked his hand, talked to him, and told him his mother loved him. Later I called his mother and told her about his last few hours. We cried together, and I gave her the number of our chaplain support services.
Two nights later, I was asked to pick up a shift in the cardiovascular ICU. When I walked into the room of a new patient, I asked him how he was doing. He had just been extubated, and he replied, "Let me tell you, I'm doing great! I feel like a new man!” This patient was a high school principal and had received a heart transplant two days prior. I sat down, and we talked for a while, trying not cry. While I never knew for sure, I suspected that this vibrant man had received that young 16-year old boy's heart. At a time in my life when I wondered if I should look at other career options, this experience moved me in ways I still can't fully comprehend. The wonder of nursing care hit me full force that night, and my decision to stay in nursing was firm and never regretted.
March: A Social Butterfly
Sharon Vaughn, former registered nurse, Vanderbilt Children's Hospital
This story is about a young man who was born with the most severe type of Spina Bifida known in the medical field. His parents were given the prognosis before he was even born, but still chose to carry the pregnancy to term, knowing the baby may not live very long. Today he is cared for by his mom and requires total care for all of his activities of daily living. And even though this family has had a lot to deal with in caring for him, their strength and love for him and one another is amazing.
I first encountered this child when I was working in the neurosurgery clinic at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital when he came in for his appointments. As soon as he was checked in, he would start talking and yelling for me to come and pick him up and carry him around the clinic so he could be a “social butterfly” and flirt with all of the other nurses while looking for his favorite nurse practitioner.
This child, along with his family, made a lasting impression on my heart and has changed my outlook on nursing. They have shown me that anything could be accomplished, no matter what life deals you. I am so proud to be called a nurse, and I hope to continue to make small differences in the lives of my patients, like this one.
April: Just call me "Boots"
Theresa Faught, Viva Pediatrics Home Health - LVN- private duty nurse
When I was nine, I was sent to Itasca Presbyterian children's home to live after my mother was committed to a mental hospital. My father was no longer able to care for me as he was suddenly left to care for his own eight children, plus three of his young stepsons.
Two months later I became very ill with a fever of 107. I had passed out, but when I awoke, I was alone and in a hospital bed with my right arm taped down to a board. Realizing I couldn't get my thumb into my mouth, I began to cry. A young woman in a white mini-dress and boots suddenly entered my room and then asked why I was crying. When I told her, she immediately went to work un-taping and re-taping my IV to the board so I could bend my arm to reach my thumb! She then told me I could call her “Boots” and patted me gently on my head before leaving my room. I felt I was in heaven and that she was my own personal angel. As I drifted back to sleep, I kept thinking that when I grow up, I want to be just like her. So, wherever you are Boots, I want you to know that the reason I became a nurse is because of you!
May: An Angel Got Her Wings
Crystal Healy, Retired RN
I had just graduated nursing school in May that year and took my boards in June. My first ever patient encounter was on the Oncology floor with a young mother with two small boys. She had undergone a pulmonary surgery with lobe removal and had two dual chest tubes placed. I was her nurse on the day her chest tubes were to come out, so her surgeon asked if I would assist him, but something led me to refuse and tell him I'd rather watch and hold my patient’s hand as she endured the pain of this procedure.
A few nights later, she took a horrible turn. I called her husband to tell him to get there quickly as she wasn’t responding to me and was seeing lights and figures. When he arrived, we cried and prayed together, and held my patient’s hands all through the night. She managed to pull through with the grace of God and went on to tell everyone how much I had meant to her and how much of an angel I was for holding her hands all those times.
It's now ten years later and the woman who had once thought of me as her angel, just gained her wings a few days ago. Cancer didn’t win this battle; she won this battle. I was her angel for ten years, but she will now be mine for the rest of my life!
June: Mind, Body, and Spirit
Aimee Brewer, Clinical Nurse, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital
Mind-body-spirit connection has always been essential to me in critical care nursing; not only for the patients and families but for me as well, as their nurse. I once had a patient with multiple gunshot wounds which were critical but relatively stable. This patient had never been shot before and was obviously scared. The family had gone home, so he was all alone with his thoughts. The day shift was refusing him pain medications, so I told him I would take care of him and would be there when he needed me. I reassured him he was doing well and added how lucky he was to be alive as he had arrived at this situation due to poor life decisions.
He then looked at me and said, “I’ve never been shot before, they tried to kill me.” I simply said, “yes they did.” At that point, he asked me to pray with him, and so I did. And when we finished, I noticed his heart rate had gone down, along with his blood pressure. His respiration had also evened out, with his oxygen saturation increasing. As a result, he had adequate pain relief for the rest of the night. I also sprinkled some lavender oil on his pillow for added comfort. When the day shift came in the next morning, they were amazed at how relaxed he was and how his vitals had normalized. While he still had a very long road ahead of him, for my shift, the post-op night 0 shift, it was a good night.
July: Making a Difference
Randi A Schwarz, RN, CPC-P, Health Partners Plans, Clinical Investigator/Special Investigations Unit
My experience took place years ago when I was working as a hospice case manager. I found hospice care to be the most rewarding part of my practice experience. People would often ask me how I could do hospice nursing as all my patients were going to pass away soon, to which I would reply, “my job is to ensure that these people have the best quality of life for whatever time they have left. I am doing God's work on earth.”
One patient I will never forget is Mary. She lived with her son in an old row home in Philadelphia. When I first began visiting Mary one hot summer, the vehicle I drove was old, and without any air conditioning, so Mary's son made sure he always had a full pitcher of ice cold tea waiting for me every time. Seeing people in their home makes you very close to the patient and their families.
As time went on Mary's health deteriorated as expected - she had lung cancer. One Friday I mentioned to her my birthday was that weekend, and when I arrived the following week, Mary had crocheted a beautiful afghan for me. To this day, that afghan is one of my most treasured possessions. But on that Friday, I saw Mary just hanging on, and I could tell she was going to pass imminently (a skill I hated to have developed). I was the on-call nurse that weekend so told her I would see her the next morning. She was so weak, so I did what I had to do that afternoon, and then left to go to my next appointment. Fifteen minutes later, I got a call from Mary’s son telling me she had passed away. I immediately went back to pronounce her death and fill out the death certificate. Mary's son asked if I would come to the wake/viewing a few days later, and when I arrived, he began introducing me around like I was a rock star. People told me how she would often speak about me and the way I provided her care. “I only did what I was trained to do,” I’d say. But I know I made a difference, which is why I went to nursing school in the first place.
August: Candy and CPR
Dawn Miller, RN, Lexington Healthcare
Being a nurse is more than just job and a paycheck -- it's a calling. The day I decided to become a nurse was when I was 13, and my younger cousin began choking on a piece of candy he’d gotten from a waitress at the restaurant. We were in the backseat of my grandmother's car when he started to cough and then begin to turn blue. My grandmother pulled over, took him out of the car, placed her arms around him and began performing the Heimlich maneuver. The piece of candy had been lodged causing my cousin to become unconscious. I was frozen and couldn't speak, but prayed at that moment for a miracle.
My grandmother asked me to call 911 while she laid my cousin on the ground and began doing CPR. I didn’t know what CPR was at the time but did know that my cousin was dying. I watched as my grandmother began pumping on his chest and then saw the piece of candy shoot out of his mouth. She then began to breathe life back into him, and my cousin started to cough and tried to sit up. I looked at him and then at my grandmother who had started to cry. I asked her how she knew how to do that, and she said: "I learned it many years ago when I was a caregiver in the hospital."
She then told me how she had always wanted to be a nurse, but money was tight. At that point, my cousin stood up and began to tug on my grandmother's shirt asking for more candy. My grandmother and I just looked at each other and began to laugh, knowing that if she hadn’t had the skills needed to save his life, things might have gone terribly wrong. That was the longest 10 minutes of my life, but I knew at that moment that I wanted to save people. I wanted to fulfill my grandmother's dream of becoming a nurse, and several years later I did. And although the journey was tough at times, I succeeded and have been a practicing nurse for ten years now, loving every minute of it.
September: Laughter Through the Pain
Holly Tarta, McGuire VA Medical Center Nurse
There’s one special patient I will always remember. Time spent with her made me realize that nurses truly can make an impact on someone's life.
I was a new nurse on a telemetry floor. My patient was admitted for complications related to lung cancer. During my visits with her, we talked about her family and friends, and she shared her feelings, fears, and the impact lung cancer had on her everyday life. I remember taking the time to be a good listener and shortly became the nurse she trusted most. Being new to nursing, I was not experienced in maneuvering her extra-long oxygen tubing, when he asked that I help her on a trip to the toilet. I was assisting her to a bedside commode, and during the transfer, both she and I became tangled in the tubing. We twisted left and right trying to get untangled, then laughed until we cried.
The following day, when I arrived to work, I noticed she was not on my assignment list. I was shocked to learn it was because she had passed away peacefully, the night before, surrounded by family. To this day, I think about her, and the time we spent talking and laughing too. And from those memories, I find peace in knowing that she and I shared her last laugh.
October: You Saved My Life
Grace Eisen, Nursing Faculty, Mid Michigan Community College
Women's health, particularly breast care, is of special interest to me having had two sisters-in-law who have survived. Working in the woman’s health area for several years and a member of the breast care team, I attended a program about breast cancer in my home community. The mother of one of my children’s classmates was sitting next to me. When the breast model was available to practice palpating breast masses, it was obvious that she didn’t know how to do a self-exam. I taught her the proper technique after she told me she thought going to the doctor once a year was enough. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time how this simple action would touch me or my role as a nurse so deeply.
“You saved my life” are powerful words considering I never worked in a critical care area, yet I heard those words less than two months later from that same woman when we met again in the grocery store. The evening of the presentation, she did a self-exam and found a breast mass, had a mastectomy and was starting chemotherapy. We have since celebrated several of children’s milestones including graduations, marriages, and each becoming grandmothers, while I also celebrate my role as a nurse each and every time I see this remarkable woman.
November: A Helping Hand
Deb Velez, VA San Diego Healthcare System, Prevention of Amputation in Veteran's Everywhere (PAVE)
I have been a practicing nurse for more than 40 years and have had many inspirational encounters with many patients but working at the VA and serving our returning Veterans has been the most inspirational.
One morning at the VA a young prosthetics intern and former army staff sergeant got out of his car before being approached by a woman who had noticed the Purple Heart license plate on his car. “Are you driving your dad’s car?” she asked. “No, it’s mine,” he replied. “Well, at least you came back with all your parts!” But what she hadn’t seen was his prosthetic arm, and it was then that I knew we would would see a whole new generation of combat Veterans. He was only 25 and had lost part of his right arm in an ambush in Iraq in attempts to ambush insurgents firing off mortars.
This particular story inspired me to write an article that was then published in NURSING 2011— “Provide a helping hand to patients with upper extremity prostheses” (Velez, Deborah J.; Dellefield, Mary EllenNursing2011, January 2011,41(1):49-52). While it had been a goal of mine to get something published before I left nursing, this story, one of the many I have encountered at the VA touched me. I know that I will be retiring soon, but I also know that I will always have my nursing life experiences with me and have been inspired every day by those who GAVE ALL.
December: Remembering Why I am a Nurse
Ancitta Sebastin, Staff nurse in ICU, Vijaya Hospital
I am a nurse from India, working in Dubai. I didn’t know what nursing was until my mom explained it to me. She told me that nurses provide care and are very kind-hearted.
When my elder brother was eight, he was diagnosed with late stage Typhoid fever. With his stomach distended making him look like a pregnant lady, he was delirious and completely weak. The doctor said there was no hope, and that he would recover only with God's will. He was being treated at a government hospital – a place with little love as busy staff run here and there tending to many patients. But there was one nurse who was very kind and took care of my brother like he was her own son. She was not only kind to my brother, but also to all of the other children admitted to that unit.
This nurse administered medications and was always there to provide care to her patients during her rounds, even on night shifts. My brother eventually did recover, and my mother says it's because of that one Nurse who was sent from God to care for him. She’s told that story to me since I was three, carving it into my heart and causing me to choose to want to become a Nurse myself.
I know nursing is a profession that through their love and care can make patients well. Back when I was still in school, I was proud to say that my ambition was to one day become a Nurse. I entered the field in 2007, and I can still remember in one of my first classes hearing about Florence Nightingale. I too serve all my patients wholeheartedly and consider each one as a member of my own family. Thank you, Lippincott for making me remember my beautiful past.
It was a cold winter night in 2007 that changed my life. I was driving down a dark desolate highway and suddenly had to slam on my brakes as there was a car lying on its side, blocking the two-lane highway. I pulled over, ran to the vehicle but found no one inside. I then heard moaning and saw a body a few feet away. I raced over and found a young 22 year old woman, crying. Her head was bleeding and her leg was badly twisted and broken. I tried speaking to her, but she kept repeating, “I'm so cold.” And, “Daddy I want my Daddy.”
I saw blood on her jeans, and wondered to do? On that portion of the road there's no cell service so I tried to calm her before running to my car to get a knife to cut way part of her jeans where she was bleeding. I placed my jacket on top of her and then waited 20 minutes before another vehicle arrived and was able to call for help. As I watched her being airlifted, I thought, "if only I had known what to do.” I was later contacted by her family who thanked me for saving her life. She had been in a coma for 10 days, but had survived! It was then I realized no matter what it takes, I want to become a nurse. I waited until my youngest was in high school and then started on my journey through nursing school. It wasn't easy, but in 2014 I graduated and I now work at an awesome hospital where I have learned a lot from my peers and continue in my education.
February: Listening From the Heart
Author: Kristin Mahler, School Nurse, Ann Arbor Public Schools
"My chest really hurts!” Said the scared young man as he entered my high school clinic. He was not one of my frequent clinic visitors, and the look on his face told me he wouldn’t have come if he hadn't felt it was serious. We began the school year reacting to the sudden death of a young male athlete who had been an otherwise a healthy 17 year old, with no known medical history. This was racing through my mind as I began assessing the student in my clinic with questions about his symptoms like dizziness, and shortness of breath. I then listened to his heart, and when a strong, regular beat came through, I reassured him his heart was OK, though I could see he was not totally convinced.
“I’m going to ask my mother to take me to the hospital,” he said.
Remembering hearing a student speaking earlier about losing her grandfather, I decided to take a chance.
“Did you recently lose your grandfather?” I asked. He looked surprised, but answered that he had, and that he had had a heart attack while at work. Then, it all fell into place. I reassured him that his symptoms could be a normal response to his grandfather’s death and told him that it was OK if he wanted to see a doctor for reassurance, but then let him listen to his heartbeat again and explained why I had asked about his other symptoms which led me to believe he would be okay. He rested a then asked to return to class.
Later when I spoke with his mother, she mentioned that her son had sent a text asking to be taken to the hospital. I told her that I thought he was okay, but given the history, I would support whatever choice she made. She thanked me and said she had just received another text from her son stating he was feeling better and wanted to stay at school.
This is just one example of what a school nurses does – help keep students in school and learning, and to listen.
March: From NICU to Nursing
Author: Melissa Collins, RN, WellCare
I became a nurse in my late 20s. I had two daughters that were in NICU who were 19 months apart in age. The care and support we received from the NICU nurses prompted me on my journey to become a nurse. It made me want to “pay it forward” and show others my caring personality. I wanted to help them as much as those nurses helped me. I went to nursing school while my husband was serving in the Army and was overseas in Iraq. Though it was challenging, I've had wonderful support from my family and friends. And my kids are proud to say that her mom is a nurse.
April: Medical Missionary
Author: Rhonda A. Hilliker, Church Missionary Nurse, Village Baptist
There is one person who has played the most significant human role in me becoming a nurse, staying a nurse and continuing to advance my degree - Susan M. I first met Susan after I started working as an L&D nurse in a local military facility. I overheard her talking about the many Missionary trips she had made to Africa, so I enquired further and ended up going on a Medical Missionary trip with her several others to Uganda, Africa, in 2008. On that trip I got to watch a wonderful Nurse Midwife share her skills. Her compassion and love for what she does made me feel completely honored to be there with her, and totally hooked me on being a Medical Missionary forever. God lead me to her, and she led me to the medical field, showing me just what we could do as nurses outside the comforts of the developed world’s Labor and Delivery Unit. Since then, I've been on many Medical Missionary trips with her, serving 8-1/2 months in Sierra Leone as a Labor and Delivery Nurse in an Ebola Holding Unit. As a result, I began my MSN/DNP on July 4, 2016, and wish to thank Susan for her commitment to women around the world and for allowing God to use her to guide me into serving women around the world as well.
May: Through the Stomach to the Heart
Author: Simone Cheong, Magnet Project Coordinator, West Kendall Baptist Hospital
In a previous role working on an inpatient medical-surgical unit, I had an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in the life of one patient. We had been caring for a patient who had worked for a cruise line and had become very ill, requiring prolonged hospitalization and medical therapy before being released to return home. He was from India and had no family or friends.
The staff explained that the patient was not eating and was losing weight. His mood was also depressed. The physical ailment included wound healing, and with insufficient nutrients, the body is slowed in its healing process. Although the dieticians tried their best to make accommodations, he was still not eating well, so I took it upon myself to go to a local Indian grocery store and buy some Indian food items. With the physician's permission, I proceeded to cook and provide him with Indian meals and snacks. The patient was thankful and overwhelmed with emotion, and over the course of his hospitalization, he began eating better, improving his nutritional intake along with his mood as well. He was subsequently released after several weeks.
Over the years, the patient has called back to the nursing unit asking to thank me again and give me updates on his health status. That is what nursing is all about. Going above and beyond to meet the needs of the patient.
June: Hair and Hospice
Author: Marcy Hof, RN, Hilton Head Hospital
Thirty-two years ago when I was 21, I got my cosmetology license and began working in a salon. My father had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma and went from hospital to hospital for different treatments and a clinical trial. It was at that time that I realized how valuable nurses are to the world, and how many different aspects of nursing there are. When my dad got to the point where he needed hospice care, I was the only one who could lift him or clean him up. He would tell people to go away and let me help them because I was stronger than my mom and sister. It was only after he passed away that I went to nursing school. I have been a RN for 24 years and today my daughter is in nursing school too! My father would have been so proud!! It is a very rewarding, frustrating, sad, and interesting career that I am glad I pursed!
July: Meant to be a Nurse
Author: Adriana Pirez BSN RN, Saint Luke's Cornwall Hospital, Medical/Surgical Unit
All my life I've wanted to be a nurse. The inspiration was in my family, as my aunt Mercedes was the nurse coordinator for a private hospital in my native country of Uruguay. She married a doctor and one of their sons became a doctor too.
On Sunday's when we would gather at grandma's house, as a little girl, I remember hearing conversations about new drugs in the market to fight illnesses, and many stories my cousin would tell about his experiences as a new doctor doing an internship in a local hospital ED. I was mesmerized by their stories, their intelligence and mostly for their love and dedication to their professions. It took me a long time as a woman, a mother, and a wife, in my forties to realize that that dream of being a vocational nurse could be possible here in the U.S. So, after working for years in different hospitals as a unit secretary and a registrar for the Emergency Department, I enrolled in a nursing program at my local community college.
Finally, after so many struggles, lack of support and discrimination from some professors for me speaking with an accent and being different, I maintained a positive attitude, and transferred to a new nursing program in a prestigious Christian College in Rockland County, NY. In 2013 I graduated with honors. It wasn’t always easy, but I would do it all over again – nine years, three colleges and a huge debt in student loans.
Today, I work in my local hospital, the one where the nurses in that ED inspired me even more. I love the smiles on my patients when they see me coming on my second day of my shifts. Their smiles and their trust in my care is the greatest support I can get, knowing that nursing is in my heart and in my Christian soul, and that I was truly meant to be a nurse.
August: A Better Life
Author: Helene Vossos, DNP, PMHNP-BC, ANP, Stewart Marchman ACT Behavioral Services
As nurses, we must recognize how vulnerable mental health patients often feel, which can impact their access to mental health services.
As a mental health nurse, I participated in an "Open Access Model" to "walk in" appointments in an outpatient clinic that improved access to mental health services from 54% up to 94%. Many of our inpatient, outpatient, home health care and homeless patients lack communication skills, resources and all nurses can help make a difference when coordinating their care. As a case study, we talk about Miguel, who is a 32 year old immigrant from Puerto Rico, homeless in Florida, has a history of schizophrenia and is a new resident. He came to the states by boat, "for a better life." His history includes three previous self-inflicted stabbings to his abdomen and chest when he was out of medication and when "the voices were loud and commanding."
Historically Miguel was in contact with emergency department nurses, medical-surgical nurses, OR nurses, case manager nurses, mental health nurses and nurse practitioners for the past three years. All of these nurses are "mental health nurses" by proxy, as they all touched his life, saving him and helping him to maintain stability and get the health care services he needs by providing "walk-in" status during open-access for mental health services, and have provided a translator as well as additional assistance in maintaining appropriate medication and continuing outpatient services. Nurses save lives in all ways of collaboration, caring and research translated into clinical practice!
September: I’m Just Like You
Angela Townsend, BSN, RN, Home Health
When I was 17, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It was at that moment when I decided to become a nurse. I've found that my own personal experience having a chronic illness has not only increased my understanding and passion for teaching others with diabetes, it has allowed me an empathy towards my patients that I never thought possible. I teach my patients about their illnesses and let them know, "hey, I have to do this too." It has made my experience as a nurse in an ever changing world of medicine, so much more rewarding!
October: Beautiful Colors
Author: Leeann Vidt, R.N. supervisor, Oakmont Center for Nursing
As all life must come to an end, some families have find it difficult to face emotionally. I observe them looking scared to talk with or touch a dying loved one, so will often enter the room, sit on the bed, and take the patient’s hand in mine, then I will ask them if they think the fall leaves are beautiful with all those wonderful colors. They always answer, yes, and look at me puzzled. I then tell them that those leaves are actually dying and that something so beautiful should not be feared. I tell them the greatest gift to give their loved one is loving memories. I ask starter questions, such as what their favorite vacation or holiday spent together was. As they answer with smiles across their lips, I quietly exit the room and close the door. Nothing warms my heart like hearing the laughter behind that door. And then after the patient passes, I am thanked for making the passage from this life, a better memory for them. I tell them that their loved one left within a circle of love, just as they had lived.
This is why I love nursing. To be able to help someone change such a scary situation into a sweet memory, makes those difficult stressed shifts well worth my nursing cap.
November: It’s My Pleasure
Author: Katie Fadell-Mann, RN, Ebenezer Lake City Care Center
My Dad was a double lung transplant recipient in 2006. What inspired me to be a nurse was seeing the difference his nurse made in his care. His nurse, Sara literally did not leave his side for the first two days after his surgery. When I asked where I could send a gift to for her to thank her for all she had done, she said, "There's no need, it's my pleasure to take care of your Dad." I started going to school for nursing a few months later.
December: Giving Care to “Throwaways”
Author: Carol Hodge, Retired
While working as the Director of Nursing in a Medicaid only nursing home, I had the pleasure of taking care of the many "throw-away" people in the county. These were the homeless, prostitutes, and drug abusers, as well as others who needed long-term care but did not have the resources to pay for it. When a patient, an elderly former prostitute, was admitted to the hospital, I visited her, finding her in a room alone and unresponsive. I sat and talked with her for a while even though I did not get any response or acknowledgement. We weren’t particularly close, so I wasn’t expecting much from our visit. But as I left the room, I heard a weak cry. I turned around, and she was looking straight at me with a tear sliding down her face. It was a moment that confirmed I was on the path that had been chosen for me. I will never forget that day. And now that I am no longer able to work in my chosen career, I know it was truly the hardest job I have ever loved. God Bless our nurses!
January: A Change for the Best
January-Gary Johnson, RN, Kaiser Permanente
Ten years ago, I was working as an operations manager for a major insurance company. My wife was a working RN in the operating room. She had recently returned from a surgical mission in Honduras and began to cry when she told me of her experience. She told of a people who had nothing, but were happier than most she knew. She spoke of how she gave away most of her belongings (including clothes and shoes) to the ladies that cleaned the ORs. It had such a profound effect on her and, little did I know, would affect me in a similar way. After hearing this story, I told myself, "I wish I had that kind of passion about my career." My wife was always trying to make me change careers from the day she became a nurse, and was making a strong case for changing careers again. Fast forward one month, and I was faced with a choice. I was in the middle of a re-alignment in my organization and was given an ultimatum: Keep my current position and move to Los Angeles, or take a year’s severance. I immediately remembered my wife's experience in Honduras and chose to take the severance and go back to school to become a nurse. Ten years later I am so ever grateful for making the decision to make a career move. I love what I do and it seems to bring out the best in me. I wish I had done it 20 years ago instead of ten years ago!
February:The Essence of Nursing is Human Bonds
Fidelindo Lim, Faculty, New York University College of Nursing
The nursing profession continues to evolve. My role as a nursing faculty member allows me the privilege to see future nurses embrace what is yet to be, beyond the linear columns of the nursing care plan. What I see students do in clinical, outside the bulleted educational outcomes, are subtle reminders that caring cannot be truly taught in school. This trait simply manifests as the natural, almost evolutionary tendency of women and men in nursing. Recently, a student of mine spent a good hour braiding the hair of her patient who was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, two days earlier. The patient has bilateral above knee amputation and will probably never set foot in a hair salon, but the student brought a semblance of normalcy to a life thrown off balance. Outside the room, I could hear beauty parlor reflective conversation between the student nurse and the patient. Suddenly, cancer seems insignificant. When the patient examined her neatly arranged corn rows in front of the mirror, we all saw life, not imminent death. I often recall this story to remind myself that the very essence of nursing is human bonds. As a faculty, I partner with my students not simply to aid them in learning the ropes but to strengthen nursing's umbilical connection with life - till the end.
March: Forever in My Heart
Patricia Crooks, RN
I had been working in a busy L&D unit for a few years. That day, it was my turn to work in the antepartum area. I had a young couple who had lost the pregnancy very early, approximately 19 to20 weeks. They both were devastated and said they did not want to see the baby once it was born. They requested that the baby be immediately taken out of the room. When the delivery time came I had another nurse in the room with me. Honoring their wish, I took the baby to our IUFD room. The baby was born with a heartbeat; it was slow, but nonetheless it was there. My colleague and close friend took care of mom and dad while I cared for this small, innocent baby. I sat there and held, talked to, and sang to the baby for two and a half hours until there was no longer a heartbeat. There was no way I could let this small baby pass all alone. This little baby forever remains in my heart.
April: The Amazing Kindness of a Student
Charlotte Feckers, Director of Nursing, Kaplan University
As a nurse for over 20 years I could share numerous stories of growing up in the nursing field, some sad, some funny, and a few from those first years probably downright scary. Nothing truly prepared me for the honor of working with students.
I fill in several terms a year to instruct a clinical section; it is refreshing to work with students side by side and to dig back into that memory bank of pathophysiology. One student recently reminded me not only why I was a nurse by why I am a nurse educator.
We all have been there, mastered the ominous "foley catheter check off" in the lab. You walk out of the lab feeling like you are on top of the world. You know if you can pass that check off and not break sterile field you can do ANYTHING! Until you get to clinical! Our clinical was at one of our larger skilled facilities, and the patient that was assigned was a patient who was admitted for therapy due to Necrotizing fasciitis, extensive skin grafting in her groin and Peri area. She was about five feet tall and down from approximately 450 pounds to 300. We were asked to change out her Foley Cath. My student who was one of my few male students was unbelievable to this patient. He showed a kindness I have not seen in a very long time. I could tell by listening to their interaction that the patient was notably comfortable with the student, however she was also apprehensive and embarrassed due to all of the disfigurement done by the skin grafting. She looked at the student and said to him, "Now you know due to all I have been through, I don't look the same down there as everyone else". The student’s response was so kind and reassuring, telling her that no matter what, no one looks the same and everyone is different. The patient was instantly at ease and you could see that she trusted him. We were able to get the catheter in on the first attempt! The patient asked me if I would give the student an "A" for the day, and I reassured her that I would!
The kindness that this student showed, the caring touch and interaction he had with this patient gave her a sense of hope. I love being a nurse and caring for patients. By mentoring students I can touch many more patients then I could by myself! This was one of my proudest moments! I wish I could really show in an essay the kindness this student showed the patient and the pride I felt when we left the room that we are NURSES!
May: A Lifelong Passion for Nursing
Anne M. Bennett, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CCRN, FCCM, Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Memorial Health University Medical Center - Savannah, GA
I applied for my first Nursing job at age four! Really, I cannot recall a time in my life when I didn't want to be a nurse. I would take a toy nurse's bag and wear a tiny nurse's cap and blue cape to church when my parents would allow. If I was especially good, they would take me to visit the babies in the nursery window at St. Joseph's Hospital. I loved to crawl up on the steps or have my father hold me up to the window to be a nurse to the newborn babies. One Sunday, the head of the hospital, Sister Mary Cornile, came across me "assessing" my babies at the window. She asked me if I liked looking at the babies and, despite being a very shy child, I explained to her that I was a "baby nurse." She asked what I did as a baby nurse. I said that I had a Newborn baby doll Nursery at my house where I bathed, fed, changed, "listened to" (putting a play stethoscope to their chests) and gave shots to the babies. She informed me that she would like me to put in an application and invited me and my parents to her office. She helped me complete my first employment application because I could only write my name. She sweetly instructed me to please continue in kindergarten, go to high school and then nursing school and she would PROMISE me a job in her hospital. I had her word. Fast forward 18 years - I was completing my Senior practicum at St. Joseph's and ran into Sister Mary Cornile - she was retired and on a rascal scooter - I asked her if she remembered the four-year-old "baby nurse" peering in the old nursery windows years ago. Not only did she remember it, she remembered my name AND recited the entire story!!! And yes, I got offered a job in the Newborn Nursery!
June: Because of What You Did, Our Life Will Remain Wonderful
Deborahann Link, RN Educator III, Reading Hospital School of Health Sciences
I once cared for a young client, about 40 years old, with symptoms of a CVA. She and her family were very frightened and unsure of what was happening and how this problem may change the rest of their lives. When all radiologic and laboratory tests were completed, the final diagnosis was, "Yes, you are having a stroke," and the family became even more distraught and frightened. I began to administer tPA to treat her symptoms and try to resolve the clot that was causing the stroke. I was scared to death, but remembered back to what I learned about assessing a client with a neurological issue. This gave me a bit less anxiety and I continued the treatment.
As I assessed her every 10 minutes, I started to see her symptoms resolving; however, my continued assessment angered the client. I knew this was because she was very afraid of what was occurring and how it may change her life. The client kept yelling at me every time I assessed her. I told her, "Keep yelling because then I can assess some of your cranial nerves and how your speech is returning." I knew she didn't understand, but that was okay. I continued with my assessment and she continued being angry with me, but I could see how the treatment was working.
The next day, the client's spouse came back to the ER where I worked and gave me an update on how his wife was doing. He also thanked me for being persistent and kind during the treatment of a very serious condition. He also mentioned that "because of what you did, our life will remain wonderful. I was afraid I was going to lose her." Before this interaction with the spouse, I didn't fully realize how my actions, skills, knowledge, and interpersonal communication would actually make such an impact! Now I use this story to tell my students how things that you may take for granted – knowledge and skills – will have more impact on the lives of others than you realize. Also, as the nurse, you will then know and feel that the decision you made to enter this profession is truly what you were meant to do.
July: I Was Made For This
Daniela Brink, PN Instructor, Ozarks Technical Community College
I became inspired to become a nurse at the age of 20 when I was on a mission trip with my youth group to Paraguay, SA. I was there volunteering at a free medical clinic and I saw how powerful it was to use the skill of nursing to help an under-served population. I saw the skills, interventions and compassion at work and thought to myself that this was something I should do. Within a year, I began an ADN program while still completing all the prerequisites. It was tough! After 23 years of nursing in primarily med/surg areas, I now hold two Master's degrees and teach in a practical nursing program. I teach both in the classroom and lead clinicals. I am passing on the skills and experience to eager new nurses, and I live for those “aha moments” which thrill me.
One poignant story: I was in Pakistan in October of 2005 volunteering after a massive earthquake in the Himalayas, and we were working around the clock in a MASH-type hospital setup in a valley surrounded by mountains. Doctors and nurses from many different countries worked together furiously to triage and treat the victims. Our security guards were the Pakistani army. One frigid night, I remember just coming off of an 18 hour shift and feeling bone tired and numb. I hadn't taken a shower in over a week. I stood outside my tent and looked around. I saw and heard the rumblings of yet another aftershock (there were several occurring each day) and I came to the realization in that moment: I was made for this. This is my destiny. To nurse and help those less fortunate. To use my skills and knowledge to bring healing to those who are hurting. Suddenly, I didn't feel so tired anymore. That is why it is so great to be a nurse. This is my story.
August: She Though I was You
Karin Swiencki, Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia
There is a story from the early days of my nursing career (I have been an Oncology RN for more than 26 years!) that I would like to share that tells how I first became truly aware of the impact I can have on patients and their families as a Registered Nurse.
I was caring for a woman with advanced breast cancer, married with two children, who was undergoing high dose chemotherapy with autologous bone marrow transplant. I requested to have her in my assignment whenever I worked, as I had formed a therapeutic bond/relationship with her and her family. She was in the hospital for about four weeks. While she had many medical complications, she was most distressed by her feelings of isolation, being unable to fulfill her role as mother to her pre-teen daughters and be there for her husband. As I administered her treatments, antibiotics, and transfusions, I was able to help her cope and listen to her share her story. Needless to say, she was so happy when she was able to go home, hopeful of having obtained a remission. She gave me a note that I have kept (I keep all of my patients' notes to me!) and some small gifts, and I was honored to receive them.
A couple of weeks later, my identical twin sister, Kate, called me, to tell me that she had been out at the movies the night before, when a woman exclaimed "KARIN!! It's you!!" and proceeded to throw herself at Kate, and not let go. As twins, we get this a lot, but what my sister told me next has stayed with me ( and with her too) all these years: "Karin, she thought I was you, and if that's the way someone looks at you and hugs you, and is so happy to see you when you have been their nurse, I want to be a nurse."
September: Paying It Forward
Cathy Alexander RN, BSN, Hospice RN Case Manager, Community Health and Nursing Services
In 2004 my mother was dying of end stage metastatic colon cancer and was receiving Hospice care from Community Health and Nursing Services. At that time, I was 41 years old and had never gone to college. The Hospice nurses who cared for my mother delivered such tender care and supported my family in such profound ways, that I was inspired to apply to the University of Southern Maine nursing program so that I might become a Hospice nurse in the community where I was raised. I went to nursing school with the singular goal to work with Community Health and Nursing Services, so that I might give to other families the very special and enduring gifts that had been given to me. It was a rough and arduous road, and despite a divorce that nearly derailed me from my path, I graduated magna cum laude from USM with my BSN on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12th, in 2012 (too coincidental for words, right???). I passed my NCLEX a month later and was hired by the organization that I had toiled so tirelessly to work for, in their skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility. On September 8, 2014 I realized my dream and was hired as a full time Hospice Nurse Case Manager at Community Health and Nursing Services in Brunswick, Maine, and have been privileged to work with end-of-life patients since then. One of the nurses who helped to care for my mother is now the Director of our Hospice. It is so incredible to have her as my mentor and to be doing this blessed work, helping to ensure comfort and dignity to the dying. To become a nurse was the singular, most important decision of my life. I could not have imagined the positive ways my life has changed by this one act, but I am having an amazing life because of it.
October: Passing the Tourch
Laura Logan, Nurse Educator, Stephen F. Austin University
I have been a faculty member for nine years. I am a young educator among many seasoned nursing educators. They have shared their stories of inspiration with me and assured me I would begin to collect them too. The first years were difficult for me because I needed to inventory my own ability to teach fundamental skills to many students who have never spoken to an elderly person, except for their own grandparents. I have taught the current years in my specialty area of Critical Care Nursing. I found my home!
Upon clinical rounds one morning, I spoke to a student who appeared distraught, anxious, and disheveled. Upon pressing the student about where these issues where stemming, I asked her, "How many hours of sleep did you get last night?" Her reply was, “I rarely sleep more than one and a half hours each night.” I explained to her the issue of nurse fatigue and how her lack of rest and sleep affects her care of patients and increases her odds for errors. She began to talk to me about her current life situation and I referred her to the counseling services on campus.
A follow-up appointment with me was arranged and she attended it, in a more restful, hopeful state of mind. She thanked me for caring for her and the patients. She explained how she never thought that her issues could affect her patients, and that she began to understand what I was teaching her. She continued with counseling and saw a physician for her medical needs.
Summative evaluations are always a good time to see if my students agree with my assessment of their work and overall clinical judgment. When this student came for her evaluation, we spoke about her improvements and her needs for growth. When ending the time, she turned to me and said, "You were the hardest instructor I have ever had. You did not let me or any of us in clinical get away with anything. We learned what it is like to love nursing, and why we do what we are educated and called to do. Thank you for caring for me and for teaching me that my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health are important, to those that I care for every day, as a nurse."
I was very touched by her words. I was inspired to keep my standards high for the students I teach. I was encouraged to know that the student understood that I cared for her and the patient. As an educator, it can be challenging to get this across to the students. As I write this, I remember that one of my favorite quotes is: "Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a flame," by William Butler Yeats. This student lit my flame once again and taught me to keep igniting others’ sparks for the betterment of patient outcome and student learning.
November: It Worked
Kerrie Downing, Assistant Dean, University of Phoenix
I remember being a novice faculty member and having a student rush up to me in the hall. She had a huge smile on her face and was unable to stand still. “It worked” she said. “It worked just like you said it would, you will be so proud of me”. “What worked?,” I responded, half wondering what exactly I said or did that made such an impact. “Instead of offering a solution to the patient’s pain, like I normally would have, I asked her ‘how she would best like to be helped?’”. She paused, and told me that no one had ever asked her that before”. The student went on to describe the situation, noting that the patient was so thankful to be heard and listened to in that moment. She said she realized just how little people truly listen to those they help, and that she was going to make sure she always heard those for whom she cared. She also remarked that it was easier to connect than she thought it would be - you just need to be authentic. The student was ecstatic, and so was I. I realized in that moment that I had not only touched that student but also the lives of everyone else she would help thereafter. It felt great to be a nurse and an educator.
December: Now I Can Say Goodbye to Her
Chanda Kim, RN ICU, Honor Health Network
It was just before Christmas and things were extremely busy in our unit. Normally around this time of year we see a drop off in census as everyone anticipates the holiday, but this particular year the unit was running nearly full with high acuity patients. We had some seriously sick people to take care of, and this combined with the holidays being just around the corner made all the nurses a little high strung and grumpy, myself included. Because of this, I was not overly happy when I was assigned a patient who was requiring total care. She was very large, and took up nearly the entire hospital bed and was in such a bad way that she couldn't move herself. It took three nurses to turn her and change her sheets. I took report, and after another nurse and I settled her in at the beginning of my shift, my back was already starting to ache and I could feel a foul mood setting in. I looked up and I saw a gentleman quietly slip into my room. As per protocol, I got out of my seat and introduced myself as the night nurse. The gentleman smiled at me and shook my hand with a warmth that I am totally unused to seeing on a family member’s face under such circumstances. He asked me if I was the one who had made his wife look so pretty in bed, and then thanked me for doing such a wonderful job. I was stunned and my heart melted a little that night. I offered him a cup of coffee and stayed to chat with him.
I found out that night that they had been married for nearly half a century, and that they had one child, a son. He came by later and was just as sweet of a soul as his father. I also learned that they were preparing to withdraw care on their loved one. Hospice would take over in a couple of days, and they were just waiting for the rest of the family to arrive so they could all be together. My heart went out to this father and son. To make such a tough decision any time is hard, but to have to make it so close to Christmas was heartbreaking.
The unit heard and for the next two nights the entire unit kept an eye on the family. Someone would always make sure a coffee cup was full, we brought food up for the family from the hospital’s annual holiday dinner to share with them, and any holiday baking that was done by the nurses was offered up to them for sampling as they sat by her. The father and son were always gracious, insisting they wanted to be no trouble and thanking us profusely for anything. Every night they left, they would thank us for watching over their loved one and every morning they came in they would tell us how lovely she looked and thank us for all our hard work.
My last night, I came in and asked the outgoing nurse how my lady was doing and he showed me a heart monitor strip. Flat line. Hospice had come in earlier that afternoon and they let her go, easily, without pain or suffering. The Hospice nurse came out and spoke quietly with me, letting me know that all that was left was to wait for the mortuary to come but they were over an hour away. He said the family would like to dress her before she left and asked if I would be willing to help, and I told him it would be fine, we'd make it happen. I sent both the Hospice nurse and the day nurse home, as a couple of the other nurses had caught wind of what was going on and volunteered to help.
Her husband wanted to help, and I had no heart to tell him no. He helped us bathe her and then brought out the clothes he had selected, a beautiful scarlet dress with silver embroidery, her shoes, and her favorite wig, as she had lost her hair to cancer the year before and it never really grew back. We dressed her and he helped all the while talking to her, teasing her for being no help, and reminiscing about all the places they had gone with her wearing this outfit. I brushed out the hair piece and settled it in a way that looked pretty, asking for his style advice. We settled on the curls just under her chin, just the way he remembered. At the end he took two lipstick tubes from his pocket and asked me which I thought would go better with her outfit, with a laugh, telling me she was always such a fashionable person. We settled on a bright red and I applied it to her lips. When we were all done he stopped and looked at her, then grabbed me in a huge bear hug. I could feel that there were tears on his face for the first time, and he whispered in my ear,
"Thank you, now she looks like herself again and I can say goodbye to her."
I'm not sure how I didn't start crying. He and his son were joined by more family who stayed with her, waiting for the mortuary to come, and they laughed and told me stories about her. She was clearly the matriarch of a large loving family. They held hands and cried together. When the mortuary came, when they left, they hugged us all, and her son told us that he knew what we did was hard, and that we should never forget the good that we do, even when it feels like no one else notices.
Her husband gave me a hug and thanked me for everything I did. I hugged him back and thanked him, and when he looked puzzled, I told him that to be asked to be part of the beauty that I had seen today and to be made part of his family for even a few hours was an honor, and not something I often was able to experience in my line of work. He smiled, gave me another hug and told me he wouldn't forget what we did for him and that he would come back and visit us, under better circumstances. I have no doubt that he will, and I look forward to that day. I will never forget this moment that I was so graciously made part of, and to this day consider it a gift to be made part of something so special.
Nurses in History
Florence Nightingale - Perhaps the most famous nurse in history, Florence Nightingale is known for her efforts to reform the British military health system. Born to a patrician family, her mother was distressed when Nightingale forsook her aristocratic duties to become a nurse. Nightingale traveled to a number of countries and rejected an offer of marriage as she did not want anything to interfere with what she believed was a God-given calling as a nurse.
Walt Whitman - Few people realize that the famous poet was also a volunteer nurse. Whitman worked as a nurse at Army hospitals set up during the Civil War.
Mary Todd Lincoln - The wife of President Abraham Lincoln was a well-educated young woman from Lexington, KY, worked tirelessly as a nurse during the Civil War, tending to wounded soldiers.
Clara Barton - known as America's "Angel of the Battlefield,” worked tirelessly during the Civil War and was deeply affected by the lack of medical supplies available to the wounded soldiers. Taking action, Barton took supplies to the battlefield, nursing the wounded where they lay. Barton also founded the American Red Cross in 1881.
Margaret Sanger - Best known as an activist for birth control and family planning, Sanger pioneered the women’s health movement distributing pamphlets with information on birth control and other topics such as menstruation and sexuality. In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League which became Planned Parenthood.
Mary Eliza Mahoney - The first African-American woman to become a registered nurse, Mahoney was one of four to graduate from the New England Hospital for Women and Children's nursing program in 1879. Her success allowed more African-American students into nursing schools throughout the nation, and she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908.
Linda Richards - developed the record-keeping that the U.S. and U.K. still use in nursing today after finding herself stunned by the disorganized records she found at her first nursing job.
Dorothea Dix - spent 40 years of her life lobbying for mental health care. In 1861, Dix became the superintendent of female nurses for the Union Army and oversaw a staff of 6,000 hospital nurses and founded 32 mental health institutions to facilitate the nation's growing need for better mental health care.
…found their calling by helping people from all walks of life. What inspires you?
We understand it can sometimes seem like a thankless job, but then something happens to remind you why you became a nurse. Or maybe you’ve been inspired by another nurse, clinician, friend, colleague, mentor or teacher who’s made a difference in your life and in the practice of nursing.
We understand that it can seem like a thankless job at times. But then something happens to remind you why you became a nurse in the first place. Wolters Kluwer wishes to thank you for all you do by providing several ways to honor nurses and sharing your inspiring stories.