Here's to Nurses
May is National Nurses Month. This special issue of Health Connect is dedicated to the nurses of Mary Greeley. These women and men, who, alongside their co-workers, have weathered the worst (we hope) of COVID-19 and provided outstanding care for our patients.
Nurses are the largest group of employees at Mary Greeley, and the amazing photos by McClanahan Studio in this issue feature a selection of them. These images capture the pride our nurses take in their work. Their words further illustrate deep connections to their chosen profession, their patients, and their colleagues.
There was much discussion during the pandemic about the number of nurses who opted to leave their jobs. Indeed, we are facing a nursing shortage. But so many stayed, and many have begun their nursing careers during this time.
I'm incredibly proud of Mary Greeley's staff, and how all of them have worked together to care for patients during such an uncertain time in healthcare. I'm especially proud of our nurses. Faces of nurses scarred by hours of wearing N95 masks became a common image in the early days of the pandemic. The stress came in many other ways, as well. Imagine having to tell a concerned son or daughter that they couldn’t visit an ailing parent. Imagine working a 12-hour shift and then coming home to your own family, worrying about their safety and if you could infect them. Imagine facing backlash over masking and visitor policies. Imagine how one day you can celebrate as a patient finally gets off a ventilator, and the next day feeling crushed when a patient succumbs to the virus.
This has not been an easy time for nurses. But they are still here. Still standing. Answering the call. Doing what they love. Inspiring us all.
There at the Beginning
Dee Dee Boike estimates that she’s been on hand for 15,000 births during her more than three decades as an obstetrics nurse.
“The most I’ve attended in one day is eight, and that was just recently at Mary Greeley,” she said.
Within seconds of delivery, Dee Dee is ready with a blanket to dry the newborn. This helps keep the baby warm and stimulates crying to get the breathing process going. Once the cord stops pulsating, it will be cut and then the baby goes skin-to-skin with the birth mom. This “helps regulate temperature and blood sugar, as well as normalizing vital signs. We leave them skin-to-skin until the first feeding, hopefully within an hour of birth,” said Dee Dee.
After being there for so many deliveries, you’d think it would all be a routine for Dee Dee. It isn’t.
“Being present for a birth never gets old,” she said. “Watching a new baby and the parents meet for the first time is breathtaking. I am honored to be able to help make this experience as amazing as possible. It is a day the parents will never forget.”
Heart of a Nurse
A nurse’s life can be changed forever by a single patient.
Such was the case with Jane Jackson. The director of Mary Greeley’s Surgical Services unit, Jackson retired in May 2022 after a nearly 45-year career. She joined Mary Greeley 14 years ago to open the Wound Healing Clinic. She went on to oversee Ambulatory Care, GI Lab, Diabetic Education and Nutrition, Pain Clinic, First Nurse, Cardiac Cath Lab, and Cardiac Rehab. Recently she had her stepdaughter create a tattoo on her right wrist. It is a stethoscope—a reminder of her varied and amazing life as a nurse.
Early in her career, she was an OR staff nurse. She was 23 when a woman her same age was rushed to surgery. She was bleeding internally following a C-section.
“We were taking her back into surgery to find the bleed. Before she went to sleep, she was talking to me and telling me that she was going to die,” remembers Jackson. “I told her she was in very good hands and then I naively promised her she wasn’t going to die. But she did, right there on the OR table a few hours later. To this day when I think about her, I cry. I’ve lost other patients in my career, and I’ve taken care of thousands of patients, but never again did I make a promise that I couldn’t keep. I learned to always offer hope but never promise.
“Many nurses have had the same experience. Many of us have patients that we’ll never forget. Some patients take a piece of your heart. But a nurse gives from their heart each and every day. This is not a job, it’s a calling; it’s a mission to care for people in their greatest time of need. I hope every nurse who reads this takes a minute and thinks about what an honor it is to be part of this profession. Keep giving a piece of your heart. You will never regret it.”
Men are nurses.
Yes, the profession is dominated by women, but men make great nurses. Recruiting more men into nursing will help address the shortage of nurses in the United States.
Nationally, about 12 percent of nurses in the United States are male, compared to 9 percent in 2009. While only 4 percent of Mary Greeley’s nursing staff are men, they are caring for patients throughout the medical center.
This is Family
There’s no “bring your daughter to work day” for hospital nurses.
Monica Bohnert kind of ended up doing it anyway … though her daughters were adults when it happened. Monica has been an ICU nurse at Mary Greeley for 18 years. Her daughters, Danielle Ruben and Alaina Bohnert, followed in her footsteps—both not only becoming nurses, but becoming nurses at Mary Greeley.
“My daughters are great nurses,” said the proud mother. “They are very smart and always looking to provide the best care to their patients who come into the emergency room. I am very proud of them both.”
Monica always knew Danielle would be a nurse, noting that “when she was little, she nursed her dolls back to health and even casted her Baby Bop’s tail.”
“My mom went back to school when I was 9 or 10 years old,” Danielle said. “I remember looking through her nursing textbooks and being really intrigued by the pictures, and I loved getting to help her with various nursing school projects, such as being her ‘patient’ for an assessment video she was working on.
“After I had received my CNA certification, I was trying to decide where I would like to work. My mom had worked for Mary Greeley for several years at this point and really enjoyed the relationships she had as well as the smaller atmosphere of Mary Greeley. This is definitely the same experience that I have had. If it wasn’t for my mom’s guidance and support, I would not be the nurse I am today.”
Nursing did not have an immediate appeal for Alaina.
“I come from a family of nurses and always swore I would be ‘different,’” she said. “After starting in the hospital in Dietary delivering trays, I got to watch my mom interact with her patients, and she was just amazing. People were always telling me how wonderful she was to work with and asked when I would be a nurse too and I would always say ‘never.’”
Working in Dietary helped Alaina realize her true calling.
“I started to really love my interactions with patients and how just taking an extra moment to help them with something as simple as setting up their meal could make the biggest difference,” she said. “I realized that it was in my blood to want to care for others. My mom has always been my biggest role model. If I can even be half the nurse she is, I will consider it a great achievement.”
Danielle and Alaina have worked in a few units at Mary Greeley, and both are now in the Emergency Department. The ICU and the ED can be two of the more intense units at the hospital, and it’s not unusual for Monica, Alaina, and Danielle to share “war stories” at the end of a hard day.
“Absolutely, much to the dismay of everyone around us,” said Danielle. “A nurse’s loved ones see their pain and exhaustion after a tough shift, but not many truly understand what they are feeling. Having a sister and mom who can truly understand and offer words of comfort or advice is something I am incredibly grateful for.”
Adds Alaina, “One of the most difficult things about nursing is feeling like you have no one to talk to who understands what you go through daily. Sure, you can tell your spouse that you had to code a 6-week-old infant and you can cry with them and they can support you. But no one ever truly knows what that’s like unless they’ve been through it. Nursing is hard work, but my mom and sister are my biggest supporters.”
Nursing is hard work, and COVID made it all the more challenging.
The country’s nursing shortage complicated things even further. The good news is that there are still talented young nurses entering the field, and many of them started during COVID.
This is Generation COVID and for them, nursing during a pandemic has been their normal.
Each year, Mary Greeley is school for hundreds of nursing students.
They come to Mary Greeley to learn from experienced nurses, like Hannah Gunn, who serve as preceptors.
“Being a preceptor has given me a bigger purpose with my nursing career. It has given me the opportunity to guide others in a way that sets them up for success,” she said. “As a preceptee, you put everything together and learn how to manage everything you will have to do as a nurse.”
Garrett Belzer, a Des Moines Area Community College nursing student, is Hannah’s preceptee.
“I chose to be at Mary Greeley because I love the nursing staff here and because of how great of a healthcare center it is,” he said. “Working with Hannah has been the best thing for me during this stage of my nursing path. She has shown me the ropes and taught me much about being a nurse. At this point in my nursing path, Hannah's trust in me allows me to learn in a healthy environment.”
While Garrett is learning the clinical aspects of nursing, he’s also learning something just as important.
“The key thing that I have learned at Mary Greeley is that patient care is much more than doing tasks and giving medication,” he said. “Patient care is centered around not how much you can do for someone, but how you do things for someone. It is one thing to complete tasks for a patient, it's another to care for them. I have learned here at Mary Greeley that care is a ‘How are you?,’ the simple smile behind a facemask, or holding an anxious patient's hand.”
Ruth Castro Santana has been a comforting presence on Mary Greeley’s Oncology unit for 22 years, more than half of them as a nurse.
“My patients keep me going,” she said. “Most of the time when I tell somebody that I’m an oncology nurse, you can tell a shift in the person. They will say, ‘Oh, that must be so sad.’ Some days it can be, and we are there to support our patients. Other days we celebrate those that get better, go into remission. We enjoy when some of our patients, who have been able to go back to live their lives, come back to say thank you.”
Ruth is also a breast cancer survivor.
“Being a cancer survivor and going through the diagnosis, surgery, and radiation gave me insight on how it feels. It has helped me to support patients from a more personal standpoint, providing education of what it is and what it’s like to go through this process,” she said. “More than once I’ve been able to calm down the anxiety that someone is feeling when waiting for radiation after a diagnosis of cancer.”
Ruth has been named a Great Iowa Nurse and has earned accolades for the quality of her care through Mary Greeley’s Grateful Patient program. Despite all that, this gentle, soft-spoken woman has also had to survive something that far too many nurses do: racism. Her brown skin and mellifluous accent are part of Ruth’s proud Puerto Rican heritage. Over the years, there have been patients who only see her skin, and not her skill. They react to her color before experiencing the compassionate care for which she is known.
A hospital is a place of healing, so when someone displays racist behavior, it is often easier to remove the target than to confront the instigator.
“After I assisted an older lady, she voiced she didn’t want me in her room again. Knowing that I didn’t fault the patient, I asked my supervisor to please find out the reason. After a conversation with the patient, I was informed it was a racial situation,” she said.
These are painful moments, but she copes by talking to her sister. She appreciates the support received from supervisors and that Mary Greeley is actively working to raise awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.
“Anger, tears, conscientious processing have taken place along the way. For every racist moment I’ve lived through, I’ve received hundreds of blessings from patients and their families,” she said. “The best reward of being a nurse is walking into a room and noticing without spoken words that your patient is doing better. After they confirm that they are in fact feeling better, I always tell them that ‘these are the days that we live for.’”
There at the End
Jessica Hiatt was approaching the end of a two-year battle with cancer.
Angela Ryan was there to help Jessica enjoy her remaining time at home.
In 2019, Jessica was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Like so many people facing terminal illness and weary of hospitals, Jessica wanted to be at home, surrounded by the people and possessions she loves. That wish is being fulfilled, in part, with the support of Mary Greeley’s home hospice program. Angela has been a Mary Greeley nurse for 12 years, including 10 with the ICCU and 2 with home hospice.
“It is a privilege to be able to see how people live at home, hear their stories, and see the compassion that families have,” Angela said.
For Jessica, “It’s nice to have Angela come here and make sure I have everything I need, and that I can call at all hours of the day, even on a Sunday night, when I am not feeling well.”
Angela has witnessed an amazing story with Jessica. In 2020, on a trip to Maryland to explore a potential clinical trial, Jessica decided to chronicle the journey via a TikTok video. The trial didn’t work out, but that video proved to be the first in a series of dozens about her cancer journey. This video diary began with a degree of hope but over the ensuing months, the sad, tragic reality of cancer became clear: despite medical advances, sometimes all options are exhausted.
Jessica’s TikTok videos have generated millions of views. Her small Ames home is filled with gifts sent by people from across the country and Europe. Owl figurines cover the walls and shelves, symbols of her Harry Potter fandom. When she learned about beignets, the powder-sugar-coated delicacy so popular in New Orleans, Jessica added the seemingly impossible goal of tasting one to her bucket list. Soon boxes of beignet mix from New Orleans’ legendary Café du Monde arrived on her doorstep. A California man who has a beignet food truck even traveled to Ames to make her some. She is grateful for everything she’s received, especially Angela’s care and friendship.
“I like end-of-life care. I can help comfort patients and their families in this difficult time. I get the opportunity to be the advocate,” Angela said. “I call to get them the medications or the equipment they need to be comfortable. I can help them achieve their end-of-life goals, like spending quality time with family or having their favorite cake.”
(NOTE: Jessica passed away a few weeks after this photo was taken.
“I wish that I had gotten more time with her,” Angela said. “It was a unique experience with her having such a large media following. She would show me videos of the experiences she had in her journey—the beignets, and a night where her family had a firework display put on for her. It is bittersweet. You see such beauty in her family, friends, and community showing such love and support.”)
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