When nurse Gina Day showed up at Golden Heritage Assisted Living in Scottsdale to care for Joan Cullen, she noticed right away that her sweet patient’s hair had been set and styled for a special occasion: her 91st birthday party. Her immediate response was to tell Cullen how pretty she looked.
That’s because Day checks her patient’s disposition as closely as her blood pressure. Nurses do so much more than care for physical symptoms. The truly remarkable ones know how to nurture people’s hearts, too. For Day and other Hospice of the Valley nurses, lifting patients’ spirits is an essential part of providing compassionate care.
“It’s a very sacred time of life to be with a family and a patient,” Day said. “We want our patients to have quality — quality of life. We really make that happen so that they’re going to have the best experience that they can possibly have.”
National Nurses Week, May 6 to May 12, gives us an opportunity to thank these health care heroes for their incredible skill, tenderness and resilience. Throughout this pandemic, Hospice of the Valley nurses also have played a critical role in bringing families together in our inpatient care homes so loved ones could safely be at the bedside to share precious moments.
“I love being a nurse because you get to share people’s lives,” said Moriah Colon, who is part of the after-hours team.
“I’ve had patients who were fighter pilots in World War II, surgeons, ballerinas and all kinds of wonderful individuals. To have a connection with them and be a part of their story is amazing. It’s very meaningful to be able to provide this service and really touch lives this deeply.”
It’s what drew nurse Patrick Murage to hospice care.
“This job is not an 8-to-5 job that you punch in and out. It’s a call that you answer every day. I think the biggest part is knowing that I helped somebody today. That’s what makes me wake up and come to work.”
In many ways, “We are the eyes and ears for the doctors,” said Bessie Medigovic, a visit nurse. “At the end, our visits increase because patients need more support. With each encounter, I try to take in what’s important to each family.”
Sometimes, a simple act of kindness makes all the difference. Patient Ruth Ray, 95, had been grieving the loss of a son-in-law and feeling helpless about her daughter’s own illness. When Ruth’s nurse, Wendy Hendrickson, learned that her nickname was “Wonder Woman,” she got her patient some very special superheroine accessories. Ray wore them proudly all day long with a big smile on her face.
When nurse Kim Werton’s patient needed help with a bed bug treatment in his apartment, she and her team packed and washed 11 bags of his clothes and linens at a laundromat while he stayed at one of the inpatient care homes.
And perhaps the most touching moment of Matt Hughens’ career had nothing to do with what he learned in his practical nursing program.
“My patient’s son was singing and playing for his dad,” Hughens said.
“He asked if I played, and when I said yes, he handed me his guitar. As soon as I strummed ‘You’ve Got a Friend,’ the room became silent. I noticed tears falling. When I finished, the son said, ‘You don’t know what you have done!’ Turns out his father was a music composer who loved James Taylor, and this song was the last one sitting on his dad’s piano stand at home.”
The next evening, Hughens returned with his own guitar and played gospel songs at the family’s request. The patient died peacefully as Hughens sang “Amazing Grace.”
Nurses may never know how deeply they impact people’s lives, because how can we possibly measure the value of comfort and compassion? But it definitely is more of a calling than a job.