Person of the Week

Ellen Burke

Registered Nurse

When they come in for shots…I can tell they are scared…You have to take care of their physical needs, but you also have to show understanding.

1.  What led you to the mission of Registered Nurse?

I was in third grade and went to Cardinal Glennon Hospital for eye surgery.  The hospital rooms were sterile — white walls and metal beds — not cute like they are now.  The nurses said, “Put your things in the room and come on down to a Halloween party.”  I went to bob for apples and the next thing I remember is another child pushing my head down into the water.  No one seemed to notice that I was being pushed up and down, and up and down into the water.  I was so scared.  Finally someone came over and rescued me.  I wanted to go home.  My parents were over talking in the corner.  They didn’t seem to notice the incident.  When they came over I said, “I want to leave the party.  I want to go home.”  But I couldn’t.  I was only eight years old and was so scared.

My parents took me back to my hospital room and left me in a bed by the window.  I remember saying, “Don’t leave.  Don’t leave.”  But they left because in 1971, parents were not permitted to spend the night with their child.

My roommate was a doctor’s daughter.  She got a lot of attention.  Everyone seemed to know her dad.  But I was not given that kind of attention and was left alone.  During the night and after the surgery, I awoke with a patch over my eye.  My stomach was queasy from the anesthetic and I got sick.  The nurse came in and was impatient. She did not seem to understand that I was scared.  I just wanted mom and dad.  Although I was only eight, I still vividly remember that night in the hospital.  At that time decided I wanted to be a nurse and take care of children.

 2.  What does this mission mean to you?

That night in the hospital, I decided to be a nurse so I could be nice and take care of people.  I can comfort and help them when they come in for shots or procedures.  I can look in their eyes and tell they are scared and apprehensive.  I comfort them and tell them, “I don’t like shots either!”  I understand what they are going through.  No matter where I have worked in nursing – in surgery, after surgery – everyone is scared.  Everyone is worried.  Everyone needs understanding.  You have to take care of their physical needs, but you also have to show understanding.  I feel this is what I bring to my role as a nurse.  It just comes natural.  This is what I give to my patients – understanding.  It’s just taking care of another human being.

 3.  What was your best day as a Registered Nurse?

My best day is when I can help somebody.  I walk down the hall and people know that I have helped them and someone might say, “Thank you.”  I remember a person who was injured and I had to tell her some bad news.  She was thinking the worse case scenario.  I reassured her.  She taught me such a lesson.  She said she would live the rest of her life making the most of each day.  Then she stood up for something she thought was right.  I thought, “She is such a beautiful, positive person.”  She was so brave. This taught me to always stand up for what you believe in and don’t let anyone talk you out of it.  I learned to trust my heart and follow my gut.

 4.  What was your worst day as a Registered Nurse?

I was working in occupational health.  This means that only work related injuries are treated.  The worst days are every time I have to tell someone an injury is not work related.  Then they have to go somewhere else for treatment.

Sometimes a person might come in with multiple injuries.  But because of the circumstances, they are not going to be taken care of and have to leave.  That breaks my heart.  I have to tell people that, “I’m sorry, but we can’t provide treatment.”  So the person has to go find another place.  There are times where you should fight for people.  There are people who need advocates.  It’s frustrating because not only am I having to go back to my patient and tell them that we can’t provide treatment, but I know that some people might not be able to get help any where else.

 5.  How did you survive your worst day?

I use my sense of humor.  It brightens my day.  It gets me through.  The patients enjoy it.  Even when they are in pain, I have them laughing.  Sometimes I even joke!

Then I go to the cafeteria and get my lunch. They are so nice there.  They make my day.  They say, “Hey El!”  They even found my favorite drink and gave it to me.  This makes me feel better.  I go spend time with people who give me joy.  It’s like the television show, “Cheers” —  you go in there because everybody knows your name.  It’s a love fest.  That’s the highlight of my day.