PRINCETON — Anita Bowling’s first trips to the hospital weren’t happy.

Her mother was battling a terminal illness, forcing the young girl to spend many of her days in the hospital as her mother faced treatments and family members hoped for a medical miracle. It didn’t come.

Bowling lost her mom when she was just 10 years old, but she also found her calling in life.

“I just knew I wanted to be a nurse, after seeing the ones who took care of my mother,” she said.

Today, Bowling is a Princeton Community Hospital nurse, stationed on 3-West with 30 years of experience as a medical-surgical caregiver.

In contrast, Jeff Yahya found his fate when he and a friend helped save a man’s life on a fishing excursion. After seeing him collapse, the pair of friends rushed to the man’s assistance and watched him get better.

“A couple of years later, I remembered that and what it felt like to help him, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” the 3-West PCH nurse said.

As the nation honors all nurses May 6-12 with Nurse Appreciation Week, four of PCH’s finest medical-surgical specialists took time away from their stations to share what makes their profession unique Tuesday.

Each day is different for nurses who handle most of the hospital population. On any given shift, a med.-surg. nurse will be responsible for six or seven patients, and though managers match patients’ medical needs with the nurses on duty, the caregivers see a wide variety of conditions and people daily.

“I wanted to find a place where I could get the most experience. I wanted to use my skills and put them to full use,” Kathryn Dooley, a 3-West nurse, said Tuesday. “On med.-surg. you see a lot of patients with a lot of illnesses.”

Shannon Hilling, of 3-South, said each shift is fast-paced and exciting, as nurses prioritize care and make their patients as comfortable as possible while they and their families fight through illness.

And, Bowling said she never doubted her decision to turn her first experience in hospitals into a career helping other people heal.

“It’s challenging, but it’s also rewarding,” she said, listing the thank-yous from families and patients as the top rewards any nurse receives. “It’s all about caring.”

Since the hospital never closes and patients never stop needing their help, nurses work odd shifts and rarely see a work week that starts on Monday and ends on Friday. They often miss birthdays and holidays with their own families, which forces them build extended families among coworkers.

Though their job description inherently means they see a lot of sad things, they also find blessings in the patients who get better.

“You have days when you’re around, and everybody’s getting better,” Yahya said. “Those are really good days.”

Dooley agreed completely that nurses’ demeanors often revolve around the conditions of the people they’re caring for.

“When the patients feel better, the nurses feel better,” she said.

When they happen, the rewards are really big.

Bowling recalled one former patient who had been stable, as far as nurses knew. Suddenly, he collapsed in the hospital floor, suffering in the throes of a massive heart attack. He coded and nearly died, but nurses and physicians responded quickly enough that the man lived.

He even returned as living proof of what their training, fast action and caring were capable of.

“He walked down the hall a few days later and thanked us for saving his life,” Bowling recalled.

Nursing presents an awesome responsibility, because lives always hang in the balance, but Supervisor Janet Shrewsbury said people who make a career caring always touch hearts and hold futures in their hands.

Recently, she said one medical-surgical unit experienced two patient codes at once. While her staff was trained to handle emergencies, extreme conditions are always more difficult to deal with when they start stacking up. Still, Shrewsbury said the nurses and staffers in the unit handled the situations like the professionals they were educated and expected to be. When the code alarms silenced, both patients survived.

“I met with the staff at the end of that shift and told them, ‘Today, you can leave here knowing you saved two lives. Whatever else happened today, you have that,’” she said.

But, with the good, comes the bad, and the PCH nurses said they never stop feeling the pain of their patients and families who leave the hospital with dim diagnoses or without the loved ones they hoped to heal.

“Even after 30 years, you still experience people’s heartaches,” Dooley said, as nurses around the table nodded that they’d seen each other and countless colleagues standing at a bedside, crying with the families who were hurting.

Though medical-surgical nursing may be the heart of the profession, Shrewsbury and Supervisor Marlene Martin said more and more nurses among their ranks are being lured away by specialty units, choosing to focus on one area of treatment. High turnover and slipping recruitment rates have made it hard to keep the medical-surgical floors fully staffed.

That’s why the two nurse managers have made boosting the hospital mainstay a priority with PCH’s second West Virginia Nursing Leadership Institute. Shrewsbury and Martin have already participated in two three-day workshops in Charleston, and they have two more to go in the initiative designed to train nurse managers to build better hospitals from the inside out.

Complete with skill scopes, personality profiles and home — or hospital — work assignments, the program helps the managers address conflict resolution, patient advocacy issues, teamwork and more, all in an atmosphere that steers them to find solutions through widespread networking options.

As a result, Shrewsbury and Martin said they were bringing innovative ideas back to PCH and plan to recruit for new nurses heavily in middle and high schools, cultivating new health-care professionals at an early age.

“It’s just such a unique profession. We’re always multi-tasking,” Shrewsbury said.

The profession itself might change by the day, hour or even minute, but the qualities a good nurse needs remain steadfast.

They need kind, caring hearts, skilled hands, quick minds, assertive manners and the ability to translate doctor-speak into English for patients who haven’t made it through medical school. But, most of all, they have to understand that the patients always come first.

“A good nurse has to be willing to put someone else’s needs before their own,” Yahya said.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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