December 4, 2017

3 Times Patients Changed Their Nurse's Lives Without Knowing It.

By Lee Nelson

Everyone has that person that stands out in our hearts and minds. They might have been a teacher, coach, aunt, neighbor or boss. 

Well, nurses also experience that situation when certain patients touch their souls. They many times are the patients that challenge them, give them strength, change their perspective or connect with them deeply. 

Here are a few samples of nurses explaining how that one patient touched them beyond the norm and made a significant impact through their character, their families, their optimism and their courage:

AIDS Didn’t Affect His Heart 

It was the early 1990s in an inner city health clinic in Boston for gays and lesbians. Greg Foley already had a master’s degree in ethics and counseling. But he was working as a medical assistant at the clinic to get a feel of what he wanted to do next in his life. 

He soon found out that being a nurse was his next goal after working with a young man, Jose. 

“He was Latino and very young looking. He must have been like 28 years old, close to my age at the time. He had lost his job, but he always came in the health center perfectly dressed,” he says. “He would come in with a different coat all the time because he was wasting away from the AIDS.”

He also would bring in baked goods all the time to share with the staff. 

“This kid had no one. He had been kicked out of his house. He basically was alone in the world. But he was still sweet and kind,” he adds.

A nurse practitioner named Mia would sit with Jose for the hour or so it took for his lung treatment. They would place him in a contraption sort of like a little phone booth. It was claustrophobic for him, so having Mia outside of the booth comforted him. 

One day, she couldn’t be with him. So she asked Foley to sit with him. 

“We got to know each other very well as we talked through his treatments. Seeing how Mia had cared for him was remarkable. It’s what is missing in today’s healthcare model,” he says.

Jose was one of thirty people being treated at the center who died during the 28 days of February that year. 

“We called it Black February. But I knew at that point I wanted to be a nurse practitioner. The amazing compassion for patients that I saw from Mia to Jose had a great impact on me,” he says.

Foley works as a nurse practitioner at the Tom Waddell Urban Health Center in San Francisco. He also has a second job as a trauma nurse in Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif.

“I always wanted to work with the underserved. I work with the homeless and drug addicts. It challenges me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he says.

Three Year Old Touches Nurse’s Deepest Core 

The floor where Wendy Stanzione works can be quite intense. She works in the Heart Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, working with infants to young adults. 

“As a nurse, you try not to get attached to your patients. Sometimes, that is hard especially when you are feeding the babies and cuddling with the children,” she says. “You try to put your guard up, but there is always that patient or two that get far into your heart.”

She says that most people would never imagine how much these children endure. One little boy came to her department in pretty bad shape. He was hooked up to an oxygen tank.

“His mom had to push him around in a stroller because he just was too tired to walk on his own,” Stanzione says. 

The child lived in the hospital for months, and she was with him most of her shifts. When he turned three in the hospital, they had a big birthday party for him. 

“Those kind of moments help keep you going. You feel fulfilled that good things can happen to even the most sick. It makes you warm inside,” she says.

Finally, when the child got discharged to go home, he told the nurses he wanted to stay in the hospital. It was the only home he really had known in his young life. 

“But now when they come back for his checkups, I get to see him running down the hallways and see him living a somewhat normal life now,” she explains. 

Brain Tumor Patient Shows So Much Positivity

Despite brain surgeries, infections, weeks and weeks of antibiotics, temporary paralysis on one side of her body and physical therapy, Sandra Remer’s patient Nestlynn showed only grace and a positive attitude.

“Her willingness to reassure and help other patients has me in awe of her as a person,” says Remer, neuro-oncology coordinator at Hermelin Brain Tumor Center at the Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. 

“She reaches out to everyone who comes into her life, no matter what they need. She is humble and understands what tumors can do to a person’s life.”

Nestlynn was diagnosed a little before Christmas in 2012 with a brain tumor after suffering a very bad headache and dizziness. Things did not go smoothly the first time, but she eventually got better. 

In June 2015, she had a setback when her MRI revealed new changes. A second surgery was scheduled. More antibiotic therapy was ordered followed several months later by another surgery for cranial reconstruction. 

Through all of this, Nestlynn remained positive and hopeful, and continued being involved in the hospitals’ Brain Tumor Support Group. She also was able to return to work full time. 

“She is able to share her experience in a touching, caring and non-threatening way, which inspires people to learn more about what is happening to them. It allows them to talk about their fears and concerns,” Remer adds. 

Nestlynn continues to work full time and is involved in many activities supporting patients who need care with a personal touch of ‘having been there,’ Remer says.  

“I am very proud of her and happy to have shared a small part of her life. She is an incredibly strong woman.”

Next Up: 9 Tips For Reigniting Passion For Your Nursing Career

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