When my Dad had a completely unexpected heart attack (the first trouble he's ever had like this) while coming through Indianapolis on the way home from a vacation in Florida, he pulled off the road into the nearest immediate care facility where they promptly sent him by ambulance to St. Vincent. He's a healthy active 78 year old guy who was completely unprepared for the news that his heart had major serious blockages AND that not only were he and my mom NOT going to get home to sleep in their own beds in South Bend that night after traveling all day, but that they'd likely be staying in this hospital for more than a week while tests were run and open heart surgery scheduled.
Michelle Thomas is extraordinary in every way. From the minute she entered the room, she established a relationship with my dad that has made him confident he is being cared for by someone who is like a member of the family. She asked him to tell her about what happened, patiently listened to him recount the story once more, along with his adamant insistence that he is perfectly healthy and just wants to go home. She listened to him talk about weightlifting and riding his bike and quickly realized how undignified everything about a hospital stay and having any kind of physical weakness was making him feel. In every conversation, she gave him the opportunity to be in control of choices and also to feel like she was "on his side".
"You have a chance to choose your meals here from this menu and call to order whenever you want," she told him--handing the very unsavory looking cardiac menu to him. Dropping her voice to a whisper, she said, "Now I'll tell you...the omelet is really the best thing on the menu." It was the first smile I'd seen from my dad. Over the next few hours, I watched her joke with him, help him get comfortable, and patiently answer questions he had about heart disease and surgery. While she was always careful not to give medical opinions about things that were the purview of the cardiologist or the surgeon, she answered questions about the different jobs they do, the way surgery gets scheduled, how good the hospital is, how good it is to be in a place where they do many procedures a month, etc.
She continued to help my dad focus on positive news--like the fact that while he had definitely had a heart attack (something he really didn't want to acknowledge), he was so lucky that he had been close to St. V, was here getting help, that his catheterization procedure had shown little to no damage to the heart muscle, that even though they couldn't put stents in, he was healthy enough and active enough that he could be a candidate for this lifesaving surgery...that he had all his kids here, etc. She continued to tell him he was blessed that this happened as an "early warning" so that he was still with us.
"You did the right thing," she said when he complained that he should have kept driving and he'd be home instead of in the hospital. "I'm glad you are here." I've seen many nurses who are tired and doing their best to mask it, who have been kind or cheerful in a professional way because it is part of the job. Michelle is really kind and really optimistic. More than that, she is loving.
When she helped my dad sit up or talked to him about going to the bathroom or dealt with his cranky frustration about not being able to go home when he "feels fine," she was as loving as a daughter and as intuitive as someone with a real gift for reading people's needs. She went above and beyond when the physician's assistant for the surgeon came to visit for the first time. The PA was wonderful and professional, but so much of the information she shared was really difficult for Dad to hear. The very clear description of what open heart bypass surgery means was pretty graphic and more than a little scary for him. The discussions of the rehab and lifestyle changes that accompany this type of event were also overwhelming. Michelle had come in to do some small task just as the PA entered. I watched from my side chair as she glanced at my dad's face, and I could see her decide to busy herself quietly and stay in the room. I could see my dad glance at her occasionally when the conversation got a little stressful. She would smile and nod, and he would relax. Once or twice, when he was trying to make himself understood during a confusing question, Michelle interjected to help the PA understand, "He's been very concerned because he is really active and wants to know when he'll be able to do his normal exercises..." or "He's really confused because he didn't have any symptoms and this happened while they were on the way home from a vacation and he's feeling fine." I was deeply touched.
Somehow in a short time, this quiet and caring person had figured out my dad and what matters most to him. She had listened and learned about him. And she was going above and beyond to advocate for him so that he felt heard and understood. After the PA left, my dad was very down. "I feel like I've lost my whole life," he said. "I feel like my body isn't my own. I feel like I won't be me anymore." He looked over at Michelle who was offering him something to drink. "You got anything for depression in that cup?" he said. She smiled and explained it was just ice water he'd asked for earlier. Then she said to him, "You know you did just get a lot of information. You've had to process so much in the last 24 hours. It is perfectly normal for you to feel overwhelmed and depressed and it doesn't mean you're weak to feel that way or to say so. You need to remember that you are really lucky and you are alive, but if you are feeling anxious or really down, we can do something to help with that so that you can stay positive and keep your energy. My dad said he would think about it, but when she left he said he felt better.
When I came in today he told me, "Everything's ok. Michelle's here for the next twelve hours." Wow. I am humbled beyond words when I think of why people choose nursing. I could never do it. But when I see someone like Michelle and the impact she's had in just three days in our lives and the way she's been in there with my dad during this experience. I truly believe that nurses are here to show us how God wanted us to love each other. She is amazing. You are lucky to have this person in the lives of the patients and families you serve.