Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Connect to Purpose"

By Zinta Aistars

The following was a short talk I gave today as something of a tribute, an expression of gratitude, from the health care writers to the nursing leadership at the health organization in Southwest Michigan where I have the privilege of working as publications editor and writer. While working on the nursing annual report, I learned, close up and personal, what remarkable people I work alongside. To protect the identities of these everyday heroes, I have used initials here and eliminated all specific references.

As a writer and editor for our communications and marketing department, I don’t often get to step away from my desk. When I was assigned to be one of several writers for the 2008 nursing annual report, I saw a chance to change that.

This was to be no small document. An annual report—some 60 pages long—digs deep. This report would cover every aspect of nursing here: renovations to facilities, various nursing conferences, nursing initiatives and outcomes, shared governance and green initiatives and Active Staffer and Pyxis and cultural competence and VitalSmarts and EXCEL and LINKS and how heroically and efficiently our nurses responded in a crisis.

Deadlines were tight; there was no time to waste. I scheduled 25 interviews in one month’s time. And, to my delight, the nurses responded. My calendar quickly filled up with appointments for tours and interviews. By deadline, I had turned in some twenty articles, and my fingers seemed permanently cramped over my computer keyboard.

Before the first proofs of the report came back for edits, I let my mind wander back over all the many interviews. All those nurses’ faces. All those hospital places.

There was the afternoon that L.S., director, pharmacy services, took me down into the “bowels” of the hospital to show me how meds are ordered, to be distributed by nurses to some 800 patients. Sure, I knew patients in hospitals received meds all the time, at any given moment. But until then, I had never really stopped to consider just how that happened. That many little pills and dosages, reaching hundreds upon hundreds of patients, all with precision and timeliness. I watched plastic canisters careen through tunnels and drop from the ceiling with prescriptions inside. I saw aisle after aisle of drawers and boxes, filled with every possible kind of medication. I saw rows of computers with pharmacists logging in prescriptions. Back upstairs, throughout the hospital, I saw busy nurses tap in med requests on computer screens, and drawers magically release, little doors popping open, the correct med available inside.


So that’s how it’s done.

I toured the neonatal intensive care unit to learn about the amazing outcomes of treating newborns for retinal detachment, an eye disease in babies born too soon. J.R., director, neonatal services, took time to walk me through room after room in the NICU, nodding with approval every time we “washed in and washed out.” I peered into incubators and saw the tiniest imaginable human beings. Each and every one seemed to have a nurse’s rapt face leaning over it, fussing and inspecting and soothing and, yes, loving, these little people just come into the world. I wondered if any of them would grow up to be nurses.


It clicked.

Then I met M.C., a nurse so young she could have been my daughter, and she worked at the opposite end of this spectrum of life—at ACE, acute care of elderly, at the hospital. M. was enthused and brimming with ideas about how to make the last days of a patient’s life comfortable and kind. She spoke softly, and she knew everyone’s names and habits and preferences, and her bright smile never waned.


This is what it is like to be in the care of someone to whom every life matters, beginning to end.

And then there was D.F., nurse manager of perioperative services-cardio. D. handed me blue scrubs, and watched closely to be sure I had the blue booties on over my shoes, my hair tucked inside the blue cap, and every snap closed, bottom to top. D. would show me the newly renovated operating rooms in the cardio center. The new ORs, she said, were nearly twice as big as the ones before, every one equipped with leading-edge technology. Heck, I didn’t know, all I had seen in my life was either through the groggy eyes of a patient wheeled into surgery and quickly fading into oblivion … or on the television screen of the curmudgeonly Dr. House.

Then D. opened the double doors to the new ORs … and I stood inside that shining and sterile white room, holding my breath. Oh.

Monitors in every direction gave the surgeon and attending nurses every possible view. D. easily explained the purpose of every piece of equipment in the room, but I simply stood staring, mouth agape. Here, I thought, was true drama. Here is life and death, all in the trained hands of the OR staff. In my mind’s eye, I could see the bustle, see the health care team in intense concentration, see the patient lying on the table in the center of the room.

The nurses of this hospital make one-chance-only, life-changing decisions every day. What YOU do changes lives, saves lives, and touches many, many hearts. In more ways than just with surgical tools.


I get it. I understand now—why all of you, the nurses, are so amazing, and what an important message we, the writers, have been given to carry.

I hope you will all enjoy reading the nursing annual report when it comes off the presses in May as much as we were honored to write it. Thank you.

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