It is one thing to say nurses have topped a Gallup poll of the most honest and ethical professions for 10 consecutive years and 12 of the last 13. It is another thing altogether to try to capture the sentiment behind the statistic.
For this years National Nurses Week issue, eight patients or family members shared their meaningful encounters with RNs. In some ways, these patients could not be more different. They live all across the country. They range in age from infancy to 81. Their clinical conditions varied in type and severity.
Yet one theme unites all eight cases: their eagerness to express their undying gratitude for the nurses who cared for them. In each situation, nurses professional expertise and personal skill made a profound difference to these patients and their families.
Although each patients story is unique, each surely would describe his or her nurses as incredible.
Patient at Beth Israel Medical Center, New York City
The pain was as intense as anything Andrew Schulman could have imagined. Resting in a med/surg room at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, having survived a near-death experience in the SICU, he was coming off the morphine a resident had administered after removing his surgical drains.
Schulman was on the verge of slipping into dysphoria. Karen Gottlieb, RN, the nurse who had been attending to him that night in med/surg, was a floor down when, somehow, she sensed Schulman needed companionship.
She said it was kind of like an ESP thing, Schulman said. She came up and sat at the edge of the bed this was at 3 in the morning and in very soothing tones talked to me about how this was the time for healing. She took me right out of the abyss I was falling into.
Care like that, not to mention the lifesaving treatment he received from nurses and doctors in the SICU in July 2009, made Schulman want to give something back to the hospital. For 90 minutes a day, three days a week, he takes his guitar to the SICU to play soothing music for staff and patients.
It is the best way he knows to say thanks. Ive been saying my heroes are the nurses, he said. They are the frontline troops.
Schulman, a classical musician by trade, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but received near-miraculous news when doctors determined the tumor was benign. However, the tumor would have destroyed his pancreas if allowed to grow.
During an eight-hour procedure, Schulmans body went into anaphylactic shock in response to a blood transfusion. It was a fluke, unforeseeable reaction, but it just about killed him. During a three-minute ride from the OR to the SICU, Schulman said, he was clinically dead for the last minute.
He was assigned Bed 11 in the SICU, but Bed 5, which was closer, happened to be available. Had it not been, Schulman said, I wouldnt be talking to you right now.
It took them a minute to get my heart started, he said. They got me back, but I was still as critical as I could possibly be.
Schulman was in a medically induced coma for six days. During the first three days, nurses later told him, none of the staff thought he would live. What helped him turn the corner was a suggestion from his wife, Wendy Sayvetz, to play Bachs St. Matthew Passion. Within 30 minutes, I had stabilized, he said.
Schulman thinks of the care he received during the next few days from nurses such as Will Burga, RN, CCRN, the only nurse who could lift him into and out of bed, and Rosievic Hamilton, RN, and Madelene Castro, RN, CCRN. He thinks of the support his wife said she received during those traumatic few nights from Fe Cayabyab, RN, and Flora Balasa, RN, CCRN.
After Schulman awoke from his coma, Castro sat on his bed, patted his arm and told him how happy she was to see him alive and alert. She had not thought he would make it.
She was a professional nurse there doing her job, and yet expressing this very deep, emotional thing, Schulman said. They were so caring. They bring a very special quality to their jobs.
After getting his bearings, Schulman thought about how music might help other patients. He is a staff musician with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, playing at occasions such as membership events.
In the past few years, Schulman has logged almost 500 hours of playing time at Beth Israel. He has unofficial titles of visiting artist and medical musician.
His motivation is not only to give back. I thought it would be really cool to be around these people [because of]their camaraderie, their interaction with each other, he said. Nurses are not jaded to suffering. They really, genuinely care. Patients get it. Thats why theyre so good.
Patient at Childrens National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
Some of the nurses at Childrens National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., have watched Stephen Monaco grow up right before their eyes.
Stephen, 14, suffered a severe brain injury as a result of a metabolic disorder that was diagnosed when he was 3 1/2. He slipped into a coma that lasted almost three weeks. Even after he was out of immediate danger, the resulting brain damage meant he would be a frequent patient.
Stephen needs a wheelchair for mobility and a gastrostomy tube for nutrition. He is nonverbal, but can vocalize, smile and communicate through various facial expressions.
At Childrens, the nurses interaction with Stephen is so heartwarming, his mom, Jana, said. They always greet him affectionately, even though they dont get Hi back from Stephen, and hes not this cute little toddler, either.
Stephens brain injury arose from a genetic condition called isovaleric acidemia, which causes metabolic acidosis. Stephens acid levels became toxic, causing the brain damage and a host of complications that continue. Jana and her husband, Tom, were both carriers of the altered IVD gene that causes isovaleric acidemia, but were unaware of any possible issue until Stephen nearly died.
It was all so new to us, and the nurses really understood that, Jana said. They were the ones listening, holding your hands, giving you confidence. They were available to talk to at all hours of the night.
Jana remembers the night they first got the diagnosis. This was at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., before Stephen began going to Childrens for treatment.
As the physicians gave Jana and Tom the dreaded news, she recalled, several nurses were getting Stephen settled back into bed and reconnecting him to the various machines.
Jana saw the nurses were crying.
Nurses have an incredible way of showing compassion, care and support to us during the most stressful and critical times, which puts us at great ease, Jana said. At the same time, they have a gift of making you laugh even during some difficult times.
Stephen has two healthy older brothers, Nicholas, 20, and Alex, 18; and a younger sister, Caroline, 9, who also has isovaleric acidemia, but has fewer complications than Stephen because her condition was diagnosed before birth. She is monitored regularly on an outpatient basis and last year had her first hospital admission for the condition. Jana and Tom have become advocates for newborn screening, knowing firsthand how much of a difference it can make in a long-term prognosis.
The day Caroline was born at Childrens, doctors rushed her to the NICU. During her stay, Denise Craven, RNC-NIC, would hold a phone up to Carolines ear, allowing her to hear her moms voice.
Right before Jana was discharged a few days later and finally was able to see Caroline, Craven dressed Caroline in baby clothes that had been donated to the hospital. She wanted her to look extra special for me, Jana said.
This February, the Monacos had to take Stephen to the hospital after making their first 911 call in more than 10 years. He was at Childrens for 17 days getting treated for seizures aggravated by a fever and a urinary tract infection, along with a previously hidden infection that had begun the year before and required surgery.
During a previous admission, in January, Jana lost a set of religious medals people had given Stephen as gifts over the years. During the familys latest visit, Jennifer Decker, RN, gave Jana a medal she had gotten at the March for Life. It was the start of a new collection for Stephen.
I was so deeply touched because she knew how special the others were and she gave it to me after a rough few days that we had together, Jana said. Thats the sort of thing that wonderful, compassionate nurses do.
Zayana Grace Mendez
Patient at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, Portland, Ore.
Not even the sadness of losing their infant daughter could diminish the appreciation Christina and Ernesto Mendez have for the nurses in the NICU at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.
Zayana Grace Mendez was born Dec. 23, 2010, at the Portland, Ore., hospital with a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta. Informally known as brittle bone disease, OI is a genetic disorder characterized by fragile bones that break easily. The physicians at Providence St. Vincent told the Mendezes their daughter had a lethal form of the condition and most likely had only days to live.
We had no idea what to expect, Christina said. All we could do was hold out as much hope as possible.
Zayana beat the odds and was able to go home after nine days. She lived for almost four months before dying April 19, 2011.
That was enough time for her parents to cherish the love and courage that radiated from Zayana throughout her life. And for those memories, they thank the nurses and the rest of the staff in the NICU.
They gave us the greatest gift possible by giving us more time with her, Christina said. Were absolutely indebted to them.
Christina said the NICU nurses stood out for both their professionalism and their personal touches.
Professionally, the nurses worked as quickly as they could to educate themselves about OI, a rare condition. They researched the disease and printed out materials to guide their treatment. They knew Zayanas bones were fragile enough to break at any time, so they handled her with the utmost care and tenderness.
Christina heard from Ernesto about how the NICU nurses were a pillar of strength for him during the chaos that ensued in the moments after Zayana was rushed to the NICU. Zayana was screaming, and Ernesto, looking on, felt helpless to do anything for her.
The nurses gently guided Ernesto closer to Zayana, and told him speaking to her would help. When he said, Daddys here, she stopped crying and looked at him.
Christina said, The nurses all shared their amazement of her response to him and told him, See, she recognizes your voice! She knows her daddy! You are helping her. I dont know if there is any way the nurses could know just how much that moment will always mean to him.
For those and many other instances in which the nurses went above and beyond, the Mendezes felt a profound appreciation even in the months after Zayanas passing.
On Dec. 23, 2011, which would have been Zayanas first birthday, Christina and Ernesto returned to the NICU. They came bearing gifts a cartload of toys, blankets and clothing for other patients in the unit, as well as presents such as baked goods and hand lotion for the nurses and staff members.
Most of the gifts were donations the Mendezes had solicited through a Facebook organization they created called From Z With Love. They are working toward nonprofit status and hope to make the NICU donation an annual event, while also providing support and resources to other families with babies who have OI (information about the disease is available at www.oif.org).
Christina and Ernesto were expecting another baby a son, DeJuan, in late April. Of course, they were hoping for a routine delivery.
But in the event of any sort of complication, they knew they would be in good hands with the nurses in the NICU at Providence St. Vincent. In a way, Christina said, they would even be glad to see the staff again. Theyre almost part of our family, she said.
Patient at Adventist Bolingbrook (Ill.) Hospital
When she walked into Margaret Cuchettos room at Adventist Bolingbrook (Ill.) Hospital each day, Joanna Hume, RN, invariably had a huge smile on her face and a cheerful tone in her voice. She always greeted Cuchetto with, How are you, Sunshine?
Humes attitude and enthusiasm were contagious for both Cuchetto, a 76-year-old who had terminal melanoma and spent her final four weeks at the hospital last year, and her family.
You could see the happiness pouring out of her, and she passed it on, wrote Cuchettos niece, Yolanda Villanueva, in a handwritten note to the hospital. I am so grateful to have had her as my aunts nurse.
Cuchetto looked forward to seeing Hume every day, Villanueva said in a phone interview. And during the second week, after Cuchetto was transferred to a different floor, Hume still found time to visit daily. Im just checking on you, Sunshine, shed say.
She was just so upbeat, which is what my aunt needed, Villanueva said. She was tired of being poked when having blood work done. She needed upbeat.
Hume did her best to make Cuchetto feel at home in the hospital. Relatives brought family photos, and Hume posted them all. When family members arrived with flowers, Hume hustled around the facility, finding cups and other containers to use as makeshift vases. She asked whether Cuchetto wanted her holy water by her bed.
Cuchettos hospitalization was difficult for Villanuevas mother, Blanche Martinez, who is Cuchettos older sister. Of Martinezs six sisters, Cuchetto was the last living. (One of Martinezs two brothers is alive).
Hume knew all the right things to say to Martinez and the rest of Cuchettos family. She did not try to offer false hope about the prognosis. She simply told them to make sure to enjoy all the days they had left with her, to go out of their way to make her happy and fulfill any wishes or requests she might have.
When Joanna would see Mom, she would just walk up and hug her, Villanueva said. She let my mom know that just being there made her sister feel so much better.
Cuchetto died Sept. 15, 2011 her 77th birthday. When she passed, Hume was an immediate source of comfort. Villaneuva, who lives in Virginia, was unable to be there that day. But she felt confident her aunt, mom and the rest of the family were in good hands.
The day Cuchetto died, Hume was working on a different unit but came to the room as soon as she heard the news, Villanueva heard from her family. She hugged Martinez and others among the assembled group.
She hugged Cuchetto, who finally was at peace, and told her she knew she was in a better place. She told her, We see you smiling down on us, said a prayer and tied a knot in Cuchettos prayer blanket, which had been a gift from Cuchettos son and daughter-in-law and their church.
All those touches helped make a tragic time easier to handle, and even a source of warm memories, for Cuchettos relatives.
Villanueva said her mom summed up Humes contributions the best: She went above and beyond what we thought a nurse would do.
Patient at Anberry Rehabilitation Center, Atwater, Calif.
At its most basic, to minister to someone means to provide aid or service.
Bill Sanford, a retired United Methodist minister living in California, found himself pondering how the concept of ministry applies to nursing after two stays totaling 33 days at a skilled nursing facility following neck surgery to eliminate pressure on his spinal cord.
The nurses at Anberry Rehabilitation Hospital in Atwater, Calif., ministered to Sanford in many important ways, including one he thinks may go overlooked in peoples appreciation of nurses: They helped him urinate.
Nurses are familiar with the routine. Sanford pressed a call button. A nurse arrived at a room and helped him use a urinal, then settled him back into bed.
To RNs, the sequence probably does not produce as much as adrenaline as, say, running a code. To Sanford, their contribution was profound.
They just saw I had a need, and they met that need, said Sanford, 81. I thought: If ever there was a ministry, this is it. This is what its all about.
Sanford was so moved by the experience, he wrote an unpublished essay on his experience with the nurses at Anberry. He called it Unheralded and Underappreciated: Ministers of Urination.
What a marvelous calling, he wrote. I would certainly hate to live in a society lacking such ministers.
Sanford also wrote: She provided a urinal, and I was hugely relieved and profoundly grateful. There was no embarrassment. A human being was in need. Another human being was able and willing to meet that need. Ministry happened. No frills. Very basic.
And: Never think that this ministry is unskilled. I know from personal experience that it can be performed error-free or badly botched.
The encounters reminded Sanford of the way people confide in religious ministers. Neither party should feel shame or awkwardness even though the discussion may be deeply personal in nature. A person has a need in this case emotional, not physical and the minister is in position to help.
Sometimes a minister has to perform a service even if he or she is having a bad day.
During one interaction with a nurse at Anberry, Sanford sensed something was a little bit off. As a religious minister, he is adept at reading people, and the vibe he got from the nurse was along the lines of, Now, dont bother me again for two hours, although she said nothing of the sort. He later heard other patients had mentioned her relatively dour demeanor to staff.
When chatting with Sanford during a subsequent shift, the nurse mentioned she had been dealing with a migraine and, in fact, had been struggling just to get through the day.
Rather than criticism or complaints, Sanford said by phone, I was thinking, she deserves a great deal of credit and courage.
When Sanford checked out after a 22-day stay at Anberry, he made sure to give special mention to no fewer than six nurses. When he needed follow-up surgery and returned for 11 more days of rehab, he again cited four or five nurses for commendation.
The skill and personal touch they showed in helping him take care of a basic human need certainly factored into his assessment.
They are underappreciated, he said. If theres anything we can to do to increase that appreciation of them, we should do it. If theres anything we can do to boost their sense of morale, we should do it.
Patient at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia
As an elementary-school teacher for eight years, Margaret Zuccotti honed the ability to relate to children with all types of personalities.
The interpersonal skills she experienced with the nurses at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia were similar, yet different. Seeing those RNs in action made Zuccotti think teachers have things easy in comparison.
Being a nurse at Fox Chase, I would imagine, is like a juggling act, said Zuccotti, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer at age 37.
They must maintain their professional standards, a personal connection to patients, and control in the workplace, all while coping with a wide variety of patients whose diagnosis, age and background make every point of contact totally unique, she said. As a teacher, there is much more limited variety, but nurses dont have that luxury.
Zuccotti said she has made at least 115 trips to Fox Chase for chemotherapy infusions, plus more for follow-up appointments and other visits. With the help of the nurses and other clinicians at Fox Chase, she is doing as well as she could have hoped considering her diagnosis.
At the time of diagnosis in 2006, the breast cancer already had metastasized to Zuccottis liver and occipital orbit. She has had no evidence of disease since June 2007.
The nurses at Fox Chase have been integral to her progress. Before she started her chemotherapy, she remembered, the nurses sat with me and carefully talked me through a folder full of information about the chemo and the drugs I would be given. They fielded all of my and my familys questions.
The first time Zuccotti received chemo, she had an adverse reaction. She felt very hot and her skin turned red. She began thinking horrible thoughts, almost panicking.
Her nurse, Donna Ozovek, RN, did not come running over, which probably would have added to Zuccottis sense of alarm. Instead, she walked over and told Zuccotti everything would be OK.
[She] sat there for a long while watching and waiting to see me improve and relax, Zuccotti said. It was frightening, but I never had the sense that my reaction was something that couldnt be handled. There is a sense of calm in the infusion room that is very soothing.
Interacting with the nurses has been good for Zuccotti in another way. They have become friends, part of a welcoming atmosphere that stands in contrast to the cold, clinical environment people might envision in a hospital or care center.
I have definitely gotten to know some of the nurses on a more personal level. Many of them tell me about their kids, upcoming vacation plans and simple things like a haircut or new workout routine, said Zuccotti, who has three children of her own, all younger than 12, with her husband, Andy.
So often, patients go to the hospital and they talk to the medical staff, she said. I have enjoyed being able to listen about their lives as well. Its wonderful when you can trust them professionally, but theres also a friendship.
An avid runner before and since her diagnosis, Zuccotti has participated in the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Philadelphia each year starting in 2008. For four consecutive years, she has been the first breast cancer patient or survivor to cross the finish line.
Several years back, Zuccotti donated her bib number from the race to the infusion room staff. It went up on a bulletin board for everyone to see, symbolizing the progress she had made under their watch.
I feel so fortunate to be able to balance my life as a cancer patient and a runner, and all the other pieces mom, wife, etc., Zuccotti said. And I owe that to Fox Chase. I like the nurses, and I guess I offered up my bib number as a small token of appreciation.
Jane Van Jaeckel, RN
Nurse at Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center
During moments of solitude, Jane Van Jaeckel occasionally thinks about how different everything would be if not for two certified nurse-midwives back in 1987.
Van Jaeckel might not be alive today. She might not have delivered a healthy baby girl. She might not have gone on to become an RN herself, inspired by the example of those nurses.
The nursing profession is usually stressful and sometimes frustrating, said Van Jaeckel, RN, BSN, CCRN, who works in the ICU at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey. There are days we know weve made a difference. Yet, there could be many times weve made a tremendous impact in the lives of our patients and their families that we are totally unaware of.
Van Jaeckel, for example, never wrote those nurse-midwives to express her gratitude. Like many patients, she got caught up in day-to-day life, in her case caring for a newborn and two other kids.
Van Jaeckel and her husband, Bob, had used OB-GYNs for their first two deliveries. When Van Jaeckel was pregnant with their third child, Rebecca, the couple turned to nurse-midwives because they did not have insurance.
Three months into the pregnancy, Van Jaeckel felt pain in her abdomen. She stubbornly refused to go to the ED because of her lack of insurance. After examining her, the nurse-midwives finally persuaded her she had no choice.
The decision probably saved Van Jaeckels life. Her appendix was necrotic black and turdy-looking, the surgeon told her husband and could have quickly led to fatal septicemia. Instead, after surgery, Van Jaeckel made a full recovery and gave birth to Rebecca with the help of another nurse-midwife six months later.
Even aside from saving her life, the nurses affected Van Jaeckel in other ways. I was very impressed with the rapport they had with patients, and the way they spent time with you and were personally involved. You knew they were really involved and wanted everything to go well for you even the nurse who was just doing heights and weights. They were very caring.
Long after she had launched her own nursing career, Van Jaeckel again was on the receiving end of a nurses touch. This time, in late 2001, her mother was undergoing surgery to repair her endovascular abdominal aortic artery. Van Jaeckel was in the waiting room, wondering why the procedure was taking so long.
An RN stopped by and asked whether a surgeon had given Van Jaeckel the news. When Van Jaeckel said no, the RN sat down and told Van Jaeckel a stent ruptured her mothers iliac artery, requiring an emergency open triple-A repair.
Van Jaeckel learned the nurse was at the end of her shift, and had children and her outside life waiting at home. Still, she was patient, engaging and warm, connecting with Van Jaeckel not only nurse to nurse, but on a human level.
She really impressed me, Van Jaeckel said. She just cared enough to take the time with me after what was obviously a grueling shift. I felt like Id known her all my life.
Van Jaeckels mom died after bleeding out during a second surgery that night. And yet the experience left a positive impression: I knew my mom was being taken care of. That was my lasting thought. They gave her loving care. Nurses excel at that.
These days Van Jaeckel tries to pay it forward with her own patients. Meanwhile, Rebecca, 24, the daughter the nurse-midwives delivered, is an RN and works in the orthopedics unit at MMC.
If those nurses hadnt helped me the way they did, who knows, I might be dead, Van Jaeckel said. And then maybe two nurses wouldnt be out there, themselves helping to save lives and providing comfort to others.
Patient at Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital
When 12-year-old Mikayla Wiles awoke from a nine-day coma in the PICU at Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital, the first person she saw was Corey Shapiro, RN, BSN, CCRN.
Shapiro had been speaking to Mikayla, urging her to wake up after seeing signs of consciousness. Upon waking, Mikayla saw the CCRN credential on Shapiros ID and decided her name was CC.
Mikayla refers to Shapiro as My CC, and makes a point of seeking her out during outpatient visits to Tampa General. Of course [the nurses]all remember her, which is so fantastic, said Mikaylas mother, Leslee.
The bond between Mikayla and Shapiro exemplified the connection between the Wiles family and the staff at Tampa General in the aftermath of Mikaylas injury last November. She had been jogging with Leslee, training for a half-marathon, when a car hit her and threw her 70 feet in the air.
From the beginning of their ordeal, the family appreciated the nurses positive outlook and encouragement. Even after doctors broke the news that Mikayla might not make it, nurses would drop by the waiting room and make sure the family did not sink too deep into depression and distress.
It might have been 3 in the morning, and they would pop in and just sit and talk with you to try to get your mind off things, Leslee said.
The nurses treated Mikayla with as much caring and tenderness as her family could have hoped. One nurse, Samantha Roer, RN, BSN, CCRN, brought sweet-pea soap from Bath & Body Works to clean Mikayla while she was in a coma. Roer said Mikayla should smell pretty, not like hospital soap, Leslee recalled.
Roer did her best to shampoo Mikaylas hair, Shes such as pretty girl and she would want her taken care of, Leslee recalled Roer saying. Mikayla had part of her head shaved and tubes sticking out, but she went around them and cleaned her hair, and combed it and French-braided it down the side, Leslee said. That way she wouldnt lie on it and get it all matted up.
Hearing later that the nurses had taken care to make her hair look good, Mikayla said, made her feel so much better.
Early in Mikaylas stay, the nurses moved her to the biggest room in the ICU. The space allowed Leslee, Mikaylas dad, Mike, and older sister Alyvia to stay with Mikayla every night for two weeks.
The nurses helped Mikaylas friends and family members spruce up her room, hanging up posters and other paraphernalia. They allowed Mikayla to accumulate a collection of stuffed animals and pillows on her bed. Leslee thought some clinicians might be annoyed by all the decorations, but Mikaylas nurses remarked that it was quite possibly the cheeriest hospital room they had seen.
The best part was that the nurses let my whole family stay with me in my room and let people come see me when it was OK for them to, but were really nice to everyone even when they had to tell them they couldnt come in because it wasnt a good time, Mikayla said.
Mikayla returned to school part-time in January and attends tutoring sessions at Tampa General. Her speech and cognitive therapy continue, but she has been discharged from physical and occupational therapy.
Mikayla has expressed her gratitude to the nurses with actions in addition to words of thanks. She donated soap from Bath & Body Works to the nurses to use with other patients.
Perhaps the most revealing thing Mikayla said about her experience was recently, when she thought about a time in the near future when she no longer would have a reason to regularly visit Tampa General. She told Leslee she would miss the place.
To me, thats huge, Leslee said. It didnt feel to her the way you might expect a hospital to feel to somebody.