THE ARTIFICIAL HEART PROJECT
Before I continue the story of the experience of being on the artificial heart team, let me regress for a moment for a brief background that will give you some insight of my working in the Coronary Care Unit.
My dad died in 1960, and our family was shut out of everything at the hospital. I flew in from Milwaukee where I was living at the time, and although I was there through three shifts of nurses, I was never allowed to see my father, alive.
Hospital “rules” have seldom made sense to me. They are for the convenience of the staff, not the kindness of the family and/or patients. At least that was how I saw it.
About a year after his death, I knew that I wanted to change things without having the least idea how. But I started by becoming a nurse myself. Step one was accomplished. Then, even though I wanted to go to the Coronary Care Unit to make my illusionary sweeping changes, I lacked the confidence to take this step. I, instead, went into emergency nursing and that’s how I ended up as a street nurse with EMS. I loved the job, as you know, but the time came when it was time to face my demons.
I left EMS and applied for a job in the CCU at Audubon Hospital. It was a bit rough going at first. My ideas of how critical care “rules” should be changed were not easy to obtain. I was met with resistance and it became clear to me that it was going to take a while. I couldn’t just walk in the door and make changes. In actuality, the only change I really wanted to make was the strict visiting policies. It made no sense to me to have the patient lying in a bed, separated by a wall from where his supportive family waited. To bridge the gap between what I wanted and what existed, I would ask the family to gather at a certain time of convenience and meet with them, chart in hand, and go over everything with them and answer any questions they might have. This satisfied me a great deal and the families were so appreciative.
I always had a great sensitivity to the families, as well as the cardiac patient, who could have been my own father in another time. Although I was looked upon as a bit of a misfit, I didn’t hit any censure on doing things my way in this manner. Later, as I became better known and had become friends with the other nurses in the unit, I talked to them about easing visiting rules. Eventually we did this by agreement and, although some nurses did not agree, and did not let families in except at visiting times, most of us did. It worked well, and I felt that finally I was doing what I wanted to accomplish from the time I entered nursing.
As time went on, the tight-knit group of nurses in the CCU were like another family. We worked well together, and my skills regarding the equipment in the unit increased to the level of the more experienced nurses. We were a good group. I think in a critical care unit there is a feeling that develops of being the best and the brightest. We were respected by the physicians and rarely was there any conflict of any kind.
Then the news came that we would be doing the pilot program with artificial heart patients. A new unit was constructed of eight rooms. Room one and room eight were both huge, in anticipation of receiving these patients. A lot of equipment was needed to be in the room. It could have gone so well, and should have gone so well. But it didn’t.
Our illusions were not matched by reality. We were invaded by a small group of doctors, most of whom were Middle Easterners who had no regard for women, least of all nurses. At the head of this team was Dr. L. A nice guy , who was well liked. But, he brought with him the mystery woman to whom I have previously alluded. Miss Dolly. She was about 5 foot tall, a former nurse, had the face of a horse, bleached dry hair that stood out from her head, and a wretch of a person. She had never been married and somehow attached herself to Dr. L. As I mentioned, we never figured out the connection on how she held so much power. She was from one of the richest families in Louisville, but I failed to see how, even that could pull much weight. She liked to dress in these white paper clothes-covers that were used in surgery. Sort of made one look like a space person. She marched around in these clothes, even though she wasn’t in surgery. She even wore the mask and the booties of the same white paper material. She looked like an alien right out of outer space. She ordered us around, yelled a lot, threatened, and made a general nuisance of herself. So, between her and the Arabs, we had a lot to deal with.
We requested weekly meetings as soon as the first heart patient, Bill Schroeder, arrived and we saw we had a real case on our hands. All of us (the nurses) wanted this, but it was denied by Miss Dolly. Anything to be discussed would have to go directly to her. And she got by with it. Our nurse manager didn’t intervene, and was on the “lecture circuit” a lot, as tons of speaking requests came in to our unit. Dr. DeVries didn’t want to fool with her and Dr. L. had had her with him for a long time, at another hospital, so that was not an avenue for us.
Our tight little group of nurses began to fracture under the unbelievable stress and tension, primarily caused or worsened by Miss Dolly. Our unit was under a magnifying glass and we were never without “visitors” from all around the country. Our cohesiveness, which made us what we were, was being divided and bruised. We had the world on our shoulders and I had nowhere to vent except my journal. I’m at the lake house now and I will begin my search for it here. It has to be somewhere…
To be continued.
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