An Extraordinary Healers essay honoring Barbara Wilson, RN, OCN, CRNI, BSN [Simonds-Sinon Regional Cancer Center in Fitchburg, Massachusetts]
Barbara Wilson, RN, OCN, CRNI, BSN - PHOTO BY MATT WRIGHT
Who was that hustling, smiling nurse who reminds you of that energetic bunny in TV commercials? That was Barbara Wilson, an oncology nurse at the Simonds-Sinon Regional Cancer Center. As busy as she always is, she never fails to stop and ask, “How are you doing, honey?” Barbara and I go back ten years to when I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma. She gave me my first “chemo cocktail,” and many, many following treatments. Barbara is a nurse angel.
My oncologist agrees that Barbara is exceptional. When I asked Barbara if she would like me to write about her, she humbly said she would be honored. That is another thing that makes her so special — she is so likeable. We sat for a while, and she told me her story, saying her “life was an open book.” Her story describes her persistence, expertise and compassion.
Her story is very interesting, and one that many of us can relate to. When Barbara graduated from high school, she thought about going to college and being a teacher. Marriage and a baby followed soon after, so her plans were put on hold. Then a second and third child followed. One day her little boy fell and had a concussion. She watched the nurses in the hospital and thought, “I can do this.” It was a long, difficult journey for Barbara, but she earned her RN, OCN and CRNI, and her BSN took her 11 years. She was a single mom raising three children. During some of those years, she even had to work three different jobs at the same time to make ends meet. Her mother and two of her five sisters also are nurses. I think nursing had been calling her all along. Her persistence and work ethic are extraordinary.
Barbara has a calming effect on patients. I am never afraid when I am in her capable hands. For one thing, she is an expert at starting IVs on the first attempt. She was able to deal with my rather temperamental port, which was often difficult to access. Sometimes she would have me stand, arms up over my head, to get it started. We laughed out loud together one day when she had me twirl around like a ballerina, which, with my rather portly build, must have looked ridiculous! But she could always get my port to work. Except one time.
Barbara had just settled me into a recliner, given me a warm blanket, a drink, some snacks and some magazines, and started the IV. She stayed with me to make sure everything was all right. Immediately, she could tell by my expression that something was wrong. I told her I felt a burning sensation going down my arm. Right away she stopped the IV and knew what to do. She said, “Everything will be fine, Gloria. I just need you to go have an x-ray.” It showed a broken line, probably caused by a mammogram I had had the previous week. That port had served me for five years, but I was ready and glad to have it removed.
Speaking of IV infusions, Barbara treats all of her patients in the same attentive way. Those IV pumps have a tendency to “beep off” frequently. Barbara shows her take-charge attitude, hustles to the machines, presses all the right buttons, says “Stupid machine!” and fixes the problem. A little humor is always welcomed by her patients, and this expert knows how to relieve the stress. She’ll take another look around, checks that everyone is fine, and “keeps on going.” I’ve seen other nurses ask her for advice, respecting her experience and expertise.
Lastly, Barbara is an exceptional healer because of her empathy and compassion. She follows the Golden Rule. She treats others the way she would want to be treated. She is a genuinely kind person, happy about her job, her family and her five grandchildren. She told me the best part of her job was helping patients with cancer, seeing them smile and doing better.
In a way, Barbara and I are kindred spirits. I was a teacher for 37 years, and she originally wanted to be a teacher. She has been a nurse for 29 years, but she has also been a teacher for 29 years because a nurse is also an educator. Oncology nurses must explain so many things about cancer, treatments, medicines, what to do, what not to do, and sometimes do so over and over again to frightened and nervous patients. Barbara always does so with the kind patience and understanding characteristics of a good teacher. My school principal used to say, “You are performing the most important work on this planet.” I think the work done by nurses and most especially, Barbara Wilson, is just as important. I have been blessed to have her as a ray of sunshine during my journey with cancer.