A 40-Year Red Cross Volunteer’s Ongoing Quest to Learn More

Sue Hassmiller, on left, as American Red Cross volunteer following 2011 Alabama tornado strikes.

By Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) senior advisor for nursing, and director, Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, American Red Cross volunteer national ambassador. (Second post of ongoing Clara Barton Study Tour series.)

The ‘Red Cross lady’ on the phone.

Earthquake hits Mexico City! said the news flash on my television screen 40 years ago as I sat in my childhood home. I was a college student, house-sitting for my parents, who were in Mexico City for a long-deserved vacation.

I had no idea what to do. There were no cell phones in those days, no Internet. I hurried to the yellow rotary phone on the wall at the end of the kitchen cabinets and dialed 0 for the operator. I implored her help. She said she couldn’t help me, but would connect me to an organization that could. It was the American Red Cross. […]

September 23rd, 2016|Clara Barton 2016, Public health|1 Comment

Their Story: Each Patient is Someone’s Family Member

By Amy S. Jacobs, BSN, RN, CCRN. The author works as a critical care nurse in Tampa, Florida.

hospital corridorWhy does it usually take a personal experience of having a family member become a patient to make us see our patients in a new light—to see them as someone’s grandmother, father, sister, or spouse and not just a room number?

I’ve been a nurse in critical care for the past 10 years. Three of those years were spent as a travel nurse working short-term contracts in intensive care units across the country. And most of my ICU experience has been in trauma units.

I’ve watched a family come to grips with the fact their son is now brain-dead after a car accident.

I’ve comforted the husband and children of a patient who suddenly developed an infection and died after an apparently successful two-year treatment for cancer.

I’ve witnessed a daughter realize her dad is never going to be the same after a stroke takes away his mobility and speech.

I’ve seen a patient realize that, while he’s lucky to be alive after his motorcycle accident, he’s going to have to learn to navigate a new world without one of his legs.

As nurses we see these situations. We have sympathy for our patients and their families. We try to keep in mind the emotional support our patients need while also taking care of their physical problems. But we don’t know what these patients were like before their accident or illness brought them to our unit. We don’t know what’s important to them or how much this hospitalization has changed them. […]

September 20th, 2016|Nursing, patient experience|2 Comments

Confronting the New Normal: A Family Caregiver’s Perspective

By Kay Patterson, MA. The author lives in Buffalo, New York.

fork-in-the-road“All I wanted was a cortisone shot,” my wife moaned as we left the doctor’s office after an MRI investigating several falls she’d taken. Her dazed look reflected my feeling exactly. She was one hip surgery down, another one to go, and now . . . back surgery?

The neurosurgeon had been breezy but concerned as he showed us the results on his tiny iPhone screen.

“The lumbar MRI caught a small area of your thoracic. Good thing. You’ve got a stenosis and if we don’t decompress it right away, you could lose all function in your legs.”


He said he needed another MRI for a closer look. We had just enough time to buzz home for a sandwich and some frantic research. Thoracic stenosis, Google told us, is a compression in the middle of the spine that cuts off messages from the brain to the lower extremities. It’s rare and potentially dangerous.

Potentially. Was the neurosurgeon rushing it? “He’s like Hawkeye on MASH,” Susan groused. “A hot shot.”

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, struggling to remain in helper mode after two months of watching her mysterious wobble. My heart skipped several beats at another thought: It’s fixable.

Later, second MRI in hand, the doctor was less breezy. Abandoning the iPhone, he used a big screen to show the blockage that was well on its way to cutting off Susan’s spinal cord. After that, Susan was well on her way to deciding that a hot shot was exactly who she wanted to tackle this.

“If I stick out my leg”—he demonstrated and his long leg went halfway across the examining room—“I don’t even need to think about it. You do.”

Slow on the Uptake

We both nodded. He was right. Four months after her first hip replacement, Susan wasn’t bouncing back the way we expected. She faltered as she focused all her concentration on each step, frequently unable to feel her legs or feet underneath her. Steroids didn’t help. I watched each of four falls with alarm and increasingly fervent pleas that she call the doctor. Eventually, she relinquished her idea that this was her rehab failure and called for the MRI that revealed the truth. […]

September 20th, 2016|Patients|0 Comments

Following in the Footsteps of Clara Barton

clara-barton-photographed-by-matthew-bradyAt Antietam: From government clerk to “Angel of the Battlefield”

This Saturday marks the 154th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Antietam—what has been called “the single bloodiest day in American military history.” Confederate army and Union troops faced off in Sharpsburg, Maryland. They fought for almost two days and when the battle ended, there were over 22,000 casualties among both sides. In the middle of it all, Clara Barton, a former teacher and government clerk, drove wagons of supplies around battle lines and tended to wounded soldiers.

Antietam marked the beginning of the legacy of Clara Barton, who on that day earned the title “Angel of the Battlefield.” Today, a monument to her stands at one end of the battlefield.

Bringing the Red Cross to America

arc-logoWhen the war ended, Barton continued to work for the soldiers, founding the Bureau of Records of Missing Men of the Armies of the United States to identify the millions of missing and dead soldiers. After a visit to Geneva with the International Red Cross in 1880, she returned and established the American Red Cross and became its president until 1904. […]

September 16th, 2016|Clara Barton 2016, Nursing|0 Comments

Adapting to the Emotional Toll of Nursing

take2refectionsillustrationsept2016New nurses may find themselves confronted with great human suffering, enormous technical challenges, and the norms and pressures of the nursing profession and the individual workplace.

Most eventually learn the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the profession. But some may struggle more than others with the emotional intensity of the work. A question that seems to come up a lot when nurses write about their work goes something like this: How do you keep caring as a nurse and not get burned out? How do you develop a resilient professional persona?

This month’s Reflections essay, How I Built a Suit of Armor (and Stayed Human),” by Jonathan Peter Robb, enumerates the challenges faced by a sensitive new nurse and the ways he found to protect himself over time. Here Robb, a district nurse for the National Health Service in London, England, describes one kind of challenge he faced:

The weight of being responsible for a person’s health wasn’t one I had prepared for. Sitting in lectures doesn’t train you for the moment when you’re standing at the end of a bed looking at a patient who is struggling to breathe, semiconscious (but who just last week was sitting up and talking), and thinking: Did I miss something? Is this my fault?

As Robb writes, “caring hurts.” Gradually he found himself building defenses that helped him to continue doing the work. Robb calls the development of these defenses “building a suit of armor,” one he can take off when he goes home to his family—but as he describes the process, it seems clear that he’s never allowed himself to slide into callousness about his patients.  […]

September 14th, 2016|Nursing, nursing perspective, Patients|0 Comments