After Cancer: Finding Who You Are
June 30, 2016 – Kim Johnson
Modesty Out the Window: One Woman's Mammogram Experience
June 29, 2016
Cancer Hoaxes, Hackers and Hucksters
June 29, 2016 – Khevin Barnes
Moving On After Cancer
June 28, 2016 – Mike Verano
Chemobrain? Get Out the Pen and Paper
June 28, 2016 – Stephanie Hammonds
False Cancer Reassurance Hurts
June 27, 2016 – Gregory Carroll, PhD
Fighting Robots and Fighting Cancer
June 27, 2016 – Kevin Berry
Leukemia Relapse
June 24, 2016 – Edward McClain
Advocacy and the Science of Cancer Research: The AACR Scientist-Survivor Program
June 24, 2016 – Janet Freeman-Daily
After Breast Cancer, Looking Normal Isn't Always Feeling Normal
June 23, 2016 – Barbara Tako

The Makings of a Hospital: The Hearts That Keep It Beating

It is the people that make up a hospital, not the building.
PUBLISHED June 16, 2016
Kim is a nursing student who is hoping to find her place amongst the phenomenal oncology nurses and doctors who cared for her sister. She loves reading, volunteering and enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.
My sister has been incredibly lucky. Yes, I know that is a strange sentence because she was afflicted with cancer, but the reason that I count her lucky is because of the care team that she received. It was by simple chance that her main hospitals are The Medical Center of Aurora (TMCA) and Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Aurora, Colorado. And in my opinion, she got the best care that you can possibly ask for. If I were forming an ideal treatment spot in my head, I would not have chosen a 40-year-old hospital setting, but that is exactly what we found. Many parts and people make up a hospital. From the emergency department staff to the janitors, it takes all of them to make up such a unique place to be treated.

For instance, you have the float pool. They are the nurses that float about the hospital and are in and out so often that most patients don’t even learn their names. Her first nurse, Dan, was a member of the float pool. Erin and Austin were in oncology when she was diagnosed, before going to float. Michaela appears so often on the floor that she might as well be an oncology nurse. Galena is an effervescent glitter that makes the whole floor sparkle. Stacey recently left to float, but makes an appearance to say hi every now and then. In the face of inconsistent assignments, they still provide consistently good care.

Transport and techs are people who tend to fade into the background, but not to us. We have met many of them. They have transported her to every nook and cranny of that hospital. Even when they are slammed and have been moving beds for hours, they do it with a sense of humor. Alex, in particular, has kept me sane on many long nights. His dark sense of humor has kept me laughing many times when it would have otherwise been tears falling from my eyes.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a white coat person, but we have had many great doctors as a part of her care team. Dr. Basheer, DeLa Garza, Reznick and Tompkins are among my favorites. From the beginning, they all had a different demeanor than the rest. They would pull up a chair and sit to talk. When she wasn’t the easiest patient, they exuded so much patience and compassion as she made her way through a seemingly endless journey.

As for her oncologist, he is a unique man. Dr. DiBella was given an anomaly before we knew it to be true. It was a struggle from the very beginning, but no matter how bleak things got, he continued to push on, knowing that was the wish of his patient. He has been so accommodating to my family that I wish every patient with cancer could have somebody like him to lead their medical battle. 

Then, you have the rest of the hospital. The women in radiology make getting through some of the most nerve-wracking scans easier. The chaplains, Martha and Andy, are friendly faces with such big hearts. Toni, Jane and Willis, who happen to work in the kitchen, have become friends due to their endless kindness and compassion.

Honestly, I can’t even list all of the people who have helped us along the way. I’m eternally grateful for all of the people that we have met. Each one, in their own way, has not only helped my sister beat cancer, but has also helped me. They knew I would be in the field of medicine before I did. They helped me to believe in myself and let me know that I was choosing the right plan by following my heart.

The nurses had far more faith in me than I had in myself. I can remember nights in the beginning when my sister wasn‘t doing well at home. I would call and explain the situation. A few nights stick out in my mind the most. The first, Jolyn answered. When I was done speaking, she had a singular question for me. “Kim, do you think she should go in?” It was not an answer to any of my questions, but it was her letting me know that I knew the answer all along.

The second night I called, Eric answered. Kat was having endless anxiety about a major treatment decision and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get her to calm down. I had dosed a decent amount of Ativan, and after medically explaining what I should do, he ended the call on a lighter note. “If she is still breathing and respirations are good, keep dosing it. It’s not going to hurt her.”

The final night that I recall is when Nick answered the phone. My sister had only been home for two days after a nine-week stay. I wasn’t sure if this was her new normal, or if I should take her back in. Nick responded, “Kimmy, you’ve done this many time before. You’ve got this. You know what to do. I’ll see you later tonight.” Yes, he did tell me to bring her in. But what he was really telling me was that I needed to have faith in myself. Of the 50-plus times that I have taken her in, she has only not been admitted three times, meaning that my judgment in these scenarios is fairly sound.

I am unsure if the individuals who work at both locations fully understand the impact that they have had on me. They have taught me so much about the kind of professional that I would like to be. They have always asked my opinion and admitted when they didn’t know the answers. They made me see that my opinion held value. My sister has always been that strange case that some read about, but not many experience first-hand. By asking, they tested me to test myself and to grow as a person and feed my want to be a colleague, not just the family member of a patient.

This has been a very long and complex battle for my sister. She has been and continues to receive care at TMCA. In the nearly two years that she has done so, we have seen so many faces come and go. It is always sad to see somebody you trust with your sisters life, somebody who you spend countless hours with, leave. However, it is wonderful to watch them get offers for different experiences because of how excellent they are at what they do.

Earlier this year, we said goodbye to the previously-mentioned Eric. He was one of the hardest faces to see go. Later this month, we will be losing the previously-mentioned Dr. Tompkins to a competing hospital in the area. As he was a favorite, it’s hard to say goodbye to him as well. With that being said, I wish him nothing but the best in his upcoming fellowship.

All of them are not only why I will be nurse, but more importantly, they are why my sister is still here with us today. The kindness, compassion and investment that they have placed in what they do is why, against all the odds, she turned 29 this year. Why when so many never thought it would happen, we are nearly six months post-transplant.

No matter how many faces change the care always remains the same. Nursing students pass through. Doctors leave. Residents graduate. Nurses rotate within the hospital. They also leave for other opportunities in the broader field on nursing. Above all the things that I have listed as to why we are so lucky that we ended up where we did for her care, it is far and away because of the care. To me, it is not the building, location or place that a care center is located. It is the people that make a hospital. It is their enormous hearts, boundless compassion and endless kindness that make it so special in the face of such adversity.
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