During the war [WWII] a helicopter arrived on a remote island in the Pacific carrying a doctor who was needed urgently for emergency surgery. The doctor was led to a small hut which staff had readied for the operation. Once scrubbed, he approached the makeshift operating table and surveyed his patient. Ready to begin, he reached for an instrument, but the nurse shook her head and handed him a different implement. “Oh…don’t tell me,” he sighed, “a Hopkins nurse!”
—Excerpted from Hopkins Nursing: 1889-1989
For more than a year, you’ve been sending us stories for our “They Must Be Hopkins Nurses” celebration. Now, we share with you some of the most touching, humorous, and courageous moments; stories of nurses showing a true Hopkins spirit.
Happy Birthday, Hopkins Nursing!
Finally, a Hopkins Nurse
Eileen Leahy ’78
In October of 1978, after graduating with a B.S. in Nursing from the School of Health Services at Hopkins in May, Eileen Leahy reported to University of Virginia Hospital for her first day of work as a nurse. She was nervous and acutely aware of the fact that she was the only “newbie” on her floor.
I was just doing something simple, maybe making a bed, when a big-shot physician and his entourage of medical students unexpectedly burst into the room. As he walked by, the Maltese cross–which was then the trademark badge worn by Hopkins graduates–on my uniform caught his eye. Bringing the entire entourage to a halt, he addressed me directly and said, “Thank God we finally have a Hopkins nurse.”
I grew up in Baltimore, and I didn’t know that Hopkins was such a renowned place, but from that day forward, I never forgot it.
A Broad Career Calls for a Broad Mind
Betty Borenstein Scher ’50
One day during my senior year–a very taxing year–I struggled down the hall with a load of books and unexpectedly found myself standing before Anna D. Wolf, the Director of the School of Nursing, tall and stern, and wearing a grey cape. She called me by name, freezing me in my tracks.
“What are you reading?” she asked.
“Reading? My textbooks, Miss Wolf,” I replied.
“No, I mean for pleasure. What are you reading for pleasure?”
Later, I became very friendly with Miss Wolf, but as a student I was in awe of her–and a little afraid. But she always encouraged us to broaden our interests, saying that, “nursing is a broad profession, therefore a narrow person can never be an excellent nurse.”
While I was still a Hopkins student, I got to see first-hand how a broad cultural and social awareness could be an important asset for a nurse. One day, I entered the room of a notoriously difficult patient and found that a radio was playing.
“Oh, Beethoven!” I exclaimed.
The patient looked at me skeptically and asked, “How do you know that?”
“Everybody knows that! It’s Beethoven’s Fifth, good heavens.”
“But you’re a nurse, aren’t you?” asked the patient, her voice full of condescension.
“Yes, I’m a nurse. There are a lot of us who know that,” I told her, and then we had a conversation about our favorite works and composers. From that time on, the patient was an absolute delight to work with.
But, Patient, I Really Loved You!
Renee Glisson, accelerated ’09
I was leaving the hospital on a Friday afternoon this February, after having worked two days with the best patient ever! She was a tiny old lady from abroad (yes, I know where she’s from, but I’m sure saying so violates a HIPAA thing). I had helped her take showers, I had suctioned her trach, I stuck her with needles, I gave her tube feedings. I hung out with her equally awesome older sisters, and taught her daughter how to do tube feedings and trach care at home. I had seriously bonded with this family.
So Friday afternoon rolls around, and I’m not going to see these people again. With a room full of her extended family, I got a little emotional and thanked her for being such a wonderful patient and that I really enjoyed working with her, and it was awesome to see such involved loving family, blah blah blah…I mean, I really laid it on thick.
She weakly lifts her hand up to her throat and presses on her bandaging (as per doctors orders) to speak, and I’m thinking, “here it comes, she’s going to say an emotional ‘Thank You,’ or she’s going to tell me I’m the best that’s ever been, or she’s going to say how awesome of a nurse I’ll be someday.”
And literally I am holding back the tears of emotion…the entire room is silent…and she says, softly in a hoarse voice, using ALL of her energy: “The trash in the bathroom is full.”
… and this last hilarious impression she left with me simply solidifies her, in my mind, as the best patient ever.
A Special Angel
Meggin Griffin Crawford, accelerated ’98
I am a Hematology-Oncology Nurse Practitioner at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where I have been based at the local Harris County public hospital on and off for the past five years (mostly on!). As most county hospitals do, we service those who are underinsured and uninsured, and as one can probably imagine, the system is completely overwhelmed.
About a year and a half ago, I met a patient named Maria (not her real name). She was 26 years old and had the misfortune of having been recently diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer, which is very rare in someone that young. When I first got to know Maria, she was very quiet and shy. She didn’t have much to say and didn’t share much. As I slowly got to know her through our clinic appointments and seeing her in the chemotherapy area, she began to mention her five-year-old son.
Her son, it turned out, had been taken by her estranged husband on a weekend visit, and her husband had never returned her son back to her. Maria tried, unsuccessfully, to get her son back on her own, but she was afraid to pursue it through the local authorities as she was an undocumented citizen and her husband was not. Maria did not want to be deported to Mexico; not without her son. She asked me, and several other providers, to please write a letter to her husband explaining the poor prognosis she had, and to please let her have her son back, or at least see him. We did this, but had no success. Maria’s husband just ignored her pleas.
One evening, I was particularly perturbed by this situation. I had a function to go to with the Pink Ribbons Project (www.pinkribbons.org), a local Houston group which uses the arts to promote breast cancer awareness and education, mainly for underserved women. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling up to going, but as a member of the Board of Directors, I went anyway.
At the event, I ran into Susan Rafte, the founder and executive director of the Pink Ribbons Project. Susan is an amazing woman, and she began our pivotal conversation with the simple question, “How’s it going at the hospital?” I shared with her, because I knew she would truly listen, the story of Maria which had been weighing on my mind so heavily.
After listening to the story, Susan said, “I know someone who might be able to help; a lawyer who works with my husband.” So began the legal process of getting Maria’s son back with the assistance of a wonderful and very caring lawyer, Ileana Blanco. Ileana took Maria’s case pro bono without batting an eye. She filed suit, and, in return, Maria’s husband hired a lawyer. A court date was set for February 2008. The day before the court proceedings, Maria’s husband bowed out of the race.
They settled out of court, allowing Maria to have custody of her son every other weekend, on holidays, and for part of summer break. Maria had wanted her son full time, but given her health, it made sense that Maria’s son share time with his father, who would in all likelihood end up being his primary caregiver.
Maria was able to spend several months with her son before passing away in August 2008. She and her family wrote me a thank you note, calling me “A special angel in her life.” I am pleased and privileged to have been able to help her.
They Never Once Complained
Shari J. Lynn, MSN, RN,
Transitions Practicum Coordinator/Instructor
Sunday, October 11, 2009
For the last six weeks (and one more to go) I have been taking my students to Nelson 4 for their Adult Health clinical rotation. Last Friday we were getting ready to leave the unit at our usual time, 2:45 p.m., when there was a code on the floor. I took the students to the code and had them stand outside the patient’s room as an observational learning experience.
Before long they became an integral part of the team. Not only did they run to other units, even as far as the ED, to obtain needed supplies, but they took it upon themselves as a group to check on the other approximately 29 patients on the unit while the nurses were busy with the code, and they brought chairs for the distraught family members of the patient who were standing out in the hallway.
They never once complained that we did not actually leave the unit until 5:00 p.m. Even the Nelson 4 staff praised them for their assistance. I am very proud of them and feel that their dedication should be commended.
Celebrating A Milestone: Two Weeks in Ghana
Maureen Moore Dodd ’69
To celebrate the milestone of my 60th birthday in 2008, I decided to participate as a medical volunteer abroad. After considering several volunteer options, I signed up with a Ghana-based organization, Disaster Volunteers of Ghana (DIVOG), for two weeks in November 2008.
Ghana is touted as one of the friendliest countries in Africa, serving as a good introduction to the African continent. Everyone was friendly, and I usually felt quite safe, even when traveling alone. However, culture shock was hard to avoid. Being on my own, living and eating just as the Ghanaians, was sometimes difficult. It took me a while to become accustomed to the new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences.
During my two weeks there, I ate all local food, including lye soup, bonku, fufu, and other local specialties. I drank water that was sold in large, flimsy, plastic sachets. You bite off one end and drink from the reservoir of “pure water.” Even though I drank water all day long, I only urinated once in the morning and once at night. But, I didn’t get sick once during my visit.
As a medical volunteer, I was assigned to a Municipal Hospital in the Volta Region. I worked with the hospital staff on a women’s ward and had an opportunity to observe surgeries in their theater. The staff spoke English, but, everyone used Ewe, the local language, in their routine interactions. Some patients spoke no English and my Ewe skills were non-existent, so nonverbal communications became important.
The Municipal Hospital did not have what Americans generally expect to see in hospitals. Basics like towels and linens were scarce. Patients sometimes slept on torn plastic mattresses without sheets. When there was no running water, we used water from buckets to wash our hands. There were no crash carts, and hidden somewhere in a closet under some loose linens, I found an ambu bag.
During my short experience working in Ghana, I realized the importance of having a template for nurses to develop plans for patient care. In looking through the patient charts, I saw that there were no nursing assessment or care plan forms to help focus nurses’ attention on basic patient needs. However, the nursing staff was friendly and open to allowing me to participate in patient care, and I will soon be sending them nursing resources to use in their facility.