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It Pays to Care 

Patricia Ogren is one person who’s always on the go.  That made her surprise hospital stay earlier this year pretty hard to take.

“I’m really busy and being sick put me very, very behind and it’s not a position I’m comfortable in,” says Ogren, who spent several days – including her birthday – at St. Mary’s Hospital this year.

She soon recovered and went back to her routine.  This she expected.  But what she hadn’t anticipated was making a special connection with her nurse, Zai Cole.

“Everybody at St. Mary’s took good care of me, even the food was good!” says Ogren.  “But what set Zai apart was her absolute patience, her smile, her taking the time to not get caught up in the whole world.  She seems like she puts everything behind her when she’s there and all she’ll do is take care of her patients.”

Ogren says one of the things that really stood out for her was the fact that Zai remembered her birthday.  It was a simple gesture of writing “happy birthday” on the board in her room, but just knowing someone recognized her special day made all the difference.

“She’s kind of like air – you wake up and she’d be there doing stuff in the night.  Or if you’re feeling bad she’d come in and take care of things,” says Ogren.

“I didn’t realize that writing her birthday on the board would resonate with her,” says nurse Cole.  “I just knew I should make her cheerful – everybody likes to be jolly on their birthday and here she’s in the hospital and why not make her happy while she’s here?”

Ogren felt so strongly about the care she received from Cole that she made a gift to St. Mary’s Foundation, asking that Cole be recognized as a Guardian Angel for her exceptional care. Ogren’s gesture made Cole the first nurse to receive this recognition from two different patients.

“I had no clue what was going on except I was coming out of patient’s room and they pulled me aside and presented me with the award,” says Cole.  “After that, all day long I was smiling, doctors congratulating me.  It made me bubbly all day!”

Cole doesn’t think what she did for Ogren was above and beyond the call of duty, instead she thinks of it as just treating another human being as you’d want to be treated yourself.

“Nurses are at the bedside at all times with patients and that’s why it’s so important to have a connection between the nurse and patient,” says Cole.  “Because it may not just be the surgical procedure that brought them in, sometimes there are other factors in play.  So I look at my patients holistically -- not just at the ailment they came in with.  Some have family issues; they might have some financial strains putting a burden on them.  If you get to know them you are able to analyze these problems and help refer them to programs that they could benefit from to help not just with their illness but also anything else that burdens them.”

Nurse Wiley Lawrence also understands the importance of the patient-nurse connection.  He works on the orthopedics floor at St. Mary’s Hospital and often sees some of the same patients when multiple hospital stays are required. Many ask for him by name.

“Certain people come in and they ask for Wiley to take care of them,” he laughs.  “Most of the people who work here, if their family member was on this floor, I’ve taken care of them.”

So what’s drawing people to nurse Lawrence?  It’s likely because he’s gone one step further to make their experience a special one.

“I had one patient come in who drinks a lot of Diet Coke so I bought him a pack of Diet Coke one time and he always brings that up every time he sees me,” says Lawrence.  “It’s certain things you don’t have to do but when you do, it makes them feel special.”

Lawrence says being a good nurse is all about the approach.  It’s small talk over the course of the day so that by the end of the day you know exactly what your patient is thinking and can anticipate their needs.

“If you know your patient well, you know what they want before they turn their call light on,” he says.

Still, he doesn’t consider what he does to be anything more than “part of the job.”. 

“I try to treat my patients the way I want to be treated,” he says with a smile.  “I ask them if they need anything or try to joke around a little bit, or spend a little extra time to get to know them.  I’m not sure I do things differently than anyone else.”

Nurse Cole agrees, “It’s nice for patients to appreciate us, but it’s our duty to take care of them as it’s one of the down times in their lives.  They want to be treated right.  I always put myself in their shoes and think about how I would feel if I’m treated right when I’m sick.”

“Grateful Patient Syndrome”

People really care to be cared for.  In fact, in the past few years the term “grateful patient syndrome” has arisen.  This is not a disease by any means, but rather a strong connection some patients have to their caregivers.  According to the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University, in 2005 nearly one in four Americans gave to health-related causes and many of those donations came about due to an appreciation for the outstanding care those patients received. 

 Shining a Light on Guardian Angels

St. Mary’s Foundation recently started a Guardian Angel program giving grateful hospital patients, nursing home residents, and family members an avenue to recognize someone who made a difference in their visit.  Whether providing direct or indirect care, any St. Mary’s employee can be identified as a Guardian Angel.  The employee is notified that a gift was made to The Foundation in their honor and he or she receives a specially designed lapel pin.  These pins are worn with pride by those who have been selected as Angels.  As you see in this story, it can certainly brighten a nurse’s day.  For more information on the program visit www.stmarysfoundation.org or call 608-258-5600.

 Did You Know?

There are 3.1 million registered nurses in the U.S. with 2.4 million actively caring for patients on a regular basis.  To celebrate the great work they do to care for all of us in our time of need, we shine a light on nurses during National Nurses Week each year.  This year that celebration takes place May 6-12.  Take time this year to let a nurse know you appreciate the work they do.  Even a small gesture of kindness goes a long way to brighten a nurse’s day.


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