A Healer’s Touch

Apropos for Holy Week, at least from my vantage point, is a story I submitted after receiving a life-giving bone marrow transplant. Coincidentally, my transplant took place on Good Friday (2018), a day that Christians around the world focus on the gospel’s good news in anticipation of the joy of Easter.

Amidst current COVID-19 events, there has been an outpouring of very well-deserved recognition for the nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals who care for us in good times and bad times. This is the story of one such nurse who cared for me.

“Is it OK if I take care of you today?”

That was the question Robin asked, soon after my arrival and check-in at the Infusion Center for a routine blood transfusion. Pleasantly surprised to see her in an unexpected location, and amused by the question, I readily agreed! After all, I knew Robin quite well, as she was my primary nurse while hospitalized for a bone marrow transplant six months earlier. I soon learned she had recently transferred from the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) program to the Infusion Center.

Over the next few hours, as Robin administered expert nursing care, we caught up on each other’s lives and celebrated my post-transplant health improvement. It was a nice way to spend a morning; hospital visits are rarely (if ever!) better than this one.

Robin gained my unequivocal trust at our very first encounter during my hospital stay. Disguised as a relaxed and friendly conversation, she interviewed me to better understand my history as a lymphoma patient, the precise circumstances of the ongoing BMT process, and perhaps most importantly, my concerns and fears. Though other healthcare providers were coming and going, she made no attempt to prevent them from hearing the conversation; that is, until the questions became more personal. At that point, Robin inspected my IV access port, allowing her to continue the conversation with one-on-one privacy. It was skillfully done with the utmost calm, gentleness, and sincerity, and gave me space to answer questions with complete honesty.

Over the next two weeks, at every encounter, trust in Robin’s abilities as a skilled nurse, as well as an empathetic and compassionate human being, was reinforced. She became a confidant to me and my wife, Sue, patiently answering our questions and helping us navigate a difficult and often frightening process.

A simple gesture, though one that provided a great deal of tranquility, was Robin’s practice of telling me her schedule at the beginning of each work shift. As she regularly worked 12-hour days, it was comforting to know the same person would care for me for an extended period. This is not to imply concerns for those days and times when others were on duty, as I received consistently high-quality and professional care from everyone in the transplant unit: nurses, nurse aides, doctors, NPs, and PAs, as well as myriad others like custodians and the cafeteria staff who delivered my meals. Rather, it was the bond of trust, through the repetition of skilled nursing care and many, many conversations, that made Robin stand out among an amazing group of caregivers.

At my company, we pride ourselves in “taking care of people”. The expectation for each employee is to give full attention to the needs of our clients and do the best job possible while at work. For myself, as a project manager, this means producing construction documents that reflect our clients’ physical space requirements, and then working with contractors to get designs built accurately and within budget. Analogous to Robin’s work as a nurse, it focuses effort on the needs of others.

A profound difference between my work as an architectural consultant and nursing care at UW Health, however, is the personal and very “hands-on” aspect of nursing. This is particularly true for those of us requiring extended care for difficult and sometimes life-threatening conditions. The care and compassion displayed by Robin was truly extraordinary and will always be remembered. The DAISY Award sculpture entitled “A Healer’s Touch” is apropos for her attention to detail. As Robin passed the foot of my bed at the end of each visit, she would often give my big toe a gentle wiggle, as if saying “Don’t worry, Jeff, I have you covered – you’re safe”.

I can think of no one who better exemplifies the ideals of “taking care of people” and the mission of the DAISY Foundation.

Postscript:  The DAISY Award is a worldwide program that rewards “remarkable care and extraordinary compassion” in nursing. I was pleased upon learning of Robin’s selection as a DAISY Award recipient.

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