Looking Back on Patient Care

It’s hard to imagine I graduated from Riverside School of Professional Nursing eleven years ago.

I remember what it was like to walk into ICU on my very first day as a new employee.  When I had to give a patient a bath, I was sure every tube he had was going to fall out.  Turn him?  I thought I would have to be sedated first.  I remember these fears every time I see a new group of nurses in ICU and witness that glazed look in their eyes.

The equipment we use in nursing has changed.   Electric blood pressure devices, cardiac monitors that interpret and print the patient’s rhythm; we would have never believed it.  I remember the panic that used to accompany the news that we were about to get a patient who had an arterial line.  It was a major event to set up for it.  And we certainly didn’t trust it.  How could that new device work as well as our ears and stethoscope? 

And then along came the Swan-Ganz catheter. Not only did it go into the heart, but we could actually tell something about how effectively the heart was working.  We didn’t use fluoroscopy back then.  When the doctor inserted a catheter, you had to tell where the catheter was by its waveform.  To this day, I’m paranoid about waveforms; seeing is believing.

The types of patients admitted to the hospital back then were different.  We took care of a lot more trauma patients – a 65-mile per hour speed limit, no motorcycle helmet and no seatbelt law ensured that!  Society was not quite as health conscious as today so we had more patients with esophageal varices and with lung cancer.  Patients who had abdominal aneurysm repairs usually did not survive.  Patients who had Trans-urethral Resection Procedures spent their first night in the Intensive Care Unit.  Today, they don’t even come to ICU.

What excellent advances we have made.  What wonderful devices we use.  But even as these things change – the reason I went into health care stays the same – THE PATIENT.

No matter what else changes, the patient is still most important.  The patients and their families that I have cared for helped me to change and grow.  Back then, in 1978, it was Buddy and his mother.  Buddy was “just a teenager.”  I was the “grand old lady” at age 21 and just out of school.  Buddy had been in an automobile accident and had been profoundly injured.  I thought for sure with his head injuries he wouldn’t make it out of ICU.  Did he show me.

Buddy, through his sheer will to live, taught me that you never give up.  He struggled and worked – and he made it.  I remember when he first followed commands; what an impact that made on me.  He had not given up; even when I had.  And today, though he is not how he would have been if he had never had an accident, he is happy and loved by his family.

His mother taught me patience.  Day after day, visiting time after visiting time, she was there for him.  She would read to him and talk to him about what was going on outside of the hospital.  She encouraged him; she fussed at him.  And she was always patient.  I have folded in my cedar chest at home, an afghan his mother made for me during those long stays in the waiting area.  It is one of my special mementos; one that reminds me why nursing is important.

In the eighties, it was Ellen and her family that changed me.  Ellen came into CCU after a heart attack during the time I was acting head nurse.  She was very sick and scared, but she definitely liked to joke!  She reminded me that it doesn’t matter how much technology we use, it’s the caring that is most important. 

She had open-heart surgery here.  She was scared and had questions.  She just needed someone to listen and to hold her hands.  And her husband just needed a smile and reassurance.  Those things can’t be done by all of our medical wizardry – those things need a nurse.  We need to be reminded of that; too often we get caught up in the “beeps” and “whistles.”

Ellen is doing fine today.  I still see her and her family both in and out of the hospital.  There is a mouse that Ellen made for me that sits in my kitchen to remind me about what is important.

Technology will change.  I’ll change.  I’m sure that in ten more years, I’ll be even further amazed about how far nursing and I have come.  But my reason for being a nurse, the reason why I think our jobs are the most important, hasn’t changed.  Each patient is important and provides us with the opportunity to bridge the gap between the high tech environment and what truly is the reason our profession exists – and that is touch.

Some things do change – but the important things stay the same.

Phyllis Corker Stoneburner, BSN, RN

Director, Critical Care Nursing, Riverside Regional Medical Center


Click here to view story pg. 1 in book.

Click here to view story pg. 2 in book.