An Extraordinary Healer Essay honoring Karen Ebert, BSN, RN, OCN [ Trinitas Comprehensive Cancer Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey ]
Karen Ebert, BSN, RN, OCN PHOTO BY KRISTEN THORNE
I would like for you to, in some small way, get to know Karen Ebert the way my mom, Christine Terroni, and I do. Ever since we were introduced to Karen, my mom's oncology nurse, in November 2013, she has brought love, laughter, respect, compassion and dedication to healing into our lives in what was a very bleak and scary time.
My mom was diagnosed with stage 3 adenocarcinoma of the right lung in October 2013. Due to other serious health issues, she was not a candidate for surgery. So her doctor and the team at Trinitas Comprehensive Cancer Center determined that the best course of treatment for her, an 85-year-old woman with osteoporosis, heart disease, dementia, Crohn's disease and an old ileostomy, was chemotherapy accompanied by radiation.
My mom was extremely nervous walking into the cancer center that November morning to begin treatment, but Karen's infectious smile and warm welcome helped put her at ease, and soon they were chatting away like they had known each other for years. In between my mom's questions regarding her personal life, Karen patiently explained everything that would happen during each visit and took great care to answer all of our questions.
Because of Karen's dedication to her patients and her experience, several life-threatening crises have been circumvented over the past two years that my mom has been receiving treatment. For example, it was Karen who guided me in getting help for my mom when she was having difficulty breathing at a follow-up post-radiation visit. She obtained orders for home oxygen to alleviate her shortness of breath. But, in fact, she was experiencing internal bleeding due to a ruptured esophageal ulcer, damage from her radiation therapy.
When I found my mom's condition worsening, I called Karen, as she had seen my mom the previous day. When I described the situation, Karen instructed me to call 911 and get her to the emergency room ASAP. Once there, I was to call her so that she could contact her doctor and apprise him of my mom's status. As it turned out, my mom's hemoglobin had dropped 5 points in 24 hours, from 12 to 7, requiring 4 units of blood, cauterization of the ulcer and a week's hospital stay followed by convalescence at a rehab center to regain her strength and mobility. If it weren't for Karen's advice, I might have delayed getting my mom to the hospital and the outcome could have been very different.
In another instance, Karen suggested that my mom get a port-a-cath to make the infusion process easier on her. Early on, it became increasingly apparent that my mom was suffering each time she went for an infusion treatment. Mom has very poor veins, which historically roll and “blow” during venipuncture/IV use. This routinely requires multiple sticks to find access for treatment and causes pain and bruising at several sites on her arms. During one of these times, my mom became visibly upset, crying and asking Karen not to stick her again. I followed up on Karen's suggestion, and my mom had the procedure to implant a port in her chest. It was the best decision we made. My mom no longer has problems with her infusion treatments and actually chats up a storm with Karen while Karen gains IV access via the port. We will be forever grateful to Karen for just that one bit of information, as it has made a huge difference in my mom's ability to deal with her treatment.
Karen takes time out of her busy schedule to visit my mom in her hospital room during her admission or making sure I get my mom's prescriptions when I leave the infusion center without them. She helps me to navigate complex forms that health care suppliers require for Medicare payment so that her in-house oxygen supply remains unaffected. Karen makes sure there is a bed available for my mom to use so that she is comfortable and pain-free during treatment (remembering her severe osteoporosis and compression fractures of the back), as opposed to sitting in a chair for hours. And she listens to me rant and rave like a lunatic when I'm on overload and need a sounding board.
I could go on and on with additional examples of how Karen goes above and beyond her job to provide care and comfort to us, but this gives you a picture of what an extraordinary nurse and human being Karen Ebert is.