Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stepping away

Posted on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Last week Missoula suffered a great loss, quietly. There wasn't a death, nor was it that someone had decided there was a better place to live than Missoula. This loss was Marta Meengs deciding that she had reached her limit regarding the medical nursing industry. Last Wednesday, while performing what would be her last impaction, she turned to her fellow nurse and said, "Kelsey, this is my last hurrah. I didn't tell anyone else, but this is my last day (on the medical floors of St. Pat's.)" They both chuckled with complete understanding of why.

Marta, with over 30 years of nursing experience, walked quietly out the door that afternoon. This would have been a much different moment had the thousands of people she touched been there to say goodbye. Marta would often come home with a story, or stories, of individuals she couldn't name undergoing very trying times in their lives. Whether it was from a patient in great pain, or a child confused about why her mother was sick; and yes, the rare comical moment on what I think must be the most trying floor at that hospital5 North, the oncology/renal floor at St. Pats. She treated many that had their days numbered, or faced years of challenges.

The health care industry has a lot to do with Marta deciding that she couldn't carry on with this career. The pressures the medical system places on hospitals and the financial pressures from running a business when "clients" have no way to pay for services have changed the way all the "clients" are treated. Instead of being faced with three patients, Marta often had six. Instead of concentrating on the patient, with a calm demeanor, Marta had to struggle with a new computer system that she never was able to master. Instead of taking the time to adequately explain a procedure to the patient or their family members, she had to worry that another patient was x minutes late in getting some medication. Instead of holding a patient's hand during his last breath Marta had to figure out which computer screen was correct. Instead of helping a patient get a straw to their mouth she had to answer a call from patient No. 5 who has been relentless all day. The examples are endless.

These nurses go non-stop all day long. Eight hour days are really nine or 10. A 12-hour shift is more like 13 or 14. I don't know if it is unique to 5 North, but those nurses hardly even break for lunch. It is a day of constantly juggling crisis after crisis.

There should have been a party in some form for Marta's contribution to nursing, but maybe more importantly, a celebration for all those still in the trenches of not only 5 North but all the nurses and Health Care Assistants in the industry that continue to do what is all too often a thankless job.

This decision of Marta's wasn't done lightly and has been long in coming, but was made quietly. I only knew about it finally happening that afternoon after hearing about the last impaction of her career. It was a decision made with an element of sadness for leaving a medical career that allowed her a life of a great amount of freedoms (there is an enormous demand for nurses), but also a decision that brought a level of relief that I could see in her face that evening.

The paycheck could no longer be compensation for Marta. Let's hope we find a way to solve this health care crisis before more Martas leave.

Thanks Marta!

Tim Skufca


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