Six months later, I went to work as a nurse in emergency – my original plan. There were only three stretchers and an examination chair. It then changed in the mid-seventies with a new emergency department. I was given the title of head nurse and with Dr. Bob McMurty, medical director of the ER, we prepared to open the regional trauma unit, the first in Canada.
Our first patient was a 19-year-old who had been in a motorbike accident. He lost his left arm and right leg, both very traumatic amputations. We talked to his friends about the severity of his injuries. It was difficult for them to hear, but he needed their love and support. I was adamant that spiritual care be incorporated into the unit for families and loved ones.
In those days, we saw mostly recreational and motor vehicle accidents, and blunt trauma. Our first gunshot patient was a bank robber shot by police in Leaside, Ont. My first thought was: ‘Served you right for robbing the bank,’ but my feeling was quickly suppressed by compassion for his family. That was our first foray into the need for forensic evidence.
Emergency was the love of my life. I like to go into complex situations and simplify challenges down to the ABCs. I like the fast pace and the constantly changing priorities.
I went on to implement a nursing workload measurement system in the mid-eighties, wrote many corporate patient-care policies and created the first and second generations of emergency response plans. Twelve years ago, I transitioned to risk manager, a natural progression for me. If the wheels are sticking out, I have to kick them in. A spill on the floor, I have to clean it up.
Some of the most memorable parts of my career were empowering others and transferring knowledge. I taught nursing students during those years. It’s a joy to have students and to see their enthusiasm. They trusted me and came to me for help. It’s important to nurture our young, give them a good experience and empower them to be the best they can be. Help them not by solving their problems for them, but help them to strategize to deal with things. It’s true that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime. – As told to Nadia Radovini
NURTURING PATIENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Karen Smith has been the Patient Care Manager at Sunnybrook’s Ross Tilley Burn Centre since 1998, and was involved in the centre’s move from the Wellesley Hospital to Sunnybrook’s Bayview location on December 5, 1998.
I started my career as a nurse in 1985 at the Ross Tilley Burn Centre when it was at the Wellesley Hospital. I have always worked in burn care, because I believe it is a privilege to look after someone in his or her darkest moments. You take care of their eyes when they can’t blink. You take care of their mouth when they can’t swallow. You hold their arm while a complex bandage is applied. It’s extremely satisfying to help and serve other people.
I started as Manager of the Burn Centre at Sunnybrook in September 1998 and three months later we made the big move to Bayview. It was a highly co-ordinated effort that involved Toronto EMS and staff from across the hospital. We successfully transported eight burn patients that day, three of whom were critically ill.
While we settled into our new home, we had a lot of support from the hospital. I worked closely with everyone from Pharmacy to Labs to Shipping & Receiving to make sure they knew what our specific needs were.
The Burn Centre is a unique environment that cares for a challenging patient population. We’re a combination of an ICU, a ward and an emergency department (ED), because most burn patients are brought directly to us. They usually don’t go through our ED.
When I describe the job to people I say, ‘You could be looking after three burn patients – one is going to rehab that day, and two others require simple bandage changes. Then you get a tap on the shoulder and you’re told a patient is coming in with burns to 60 per cent of their body. Your work day can go from quiet to caring for the sickest patient in the hospital.’
It’s an environment that can change quickly, and you have to be highly involved not just in the beginning, but through every stage of a patient’s stay. Families can be with us for several months, so we nurture those relationships, keep communication open, and help them conserve their energy throughout the process. Patients will come back and say, “You didn’t just take care of me – the team took care of all of us.” – As told to Laura Bristow
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