Hospitals across the nation recently celebrated its nurses who work to save lives every day within the walls of their buildings during National Nurses Week May 6-12.
The Log Cabin Democrat reached out to two Conway Regional Medical Center nurses to hear the challenges they face day after day, the miracles they see and more.
Mary Hagenlocker, who currently works in the case management department, has been in the nursing profession for more than 40 years and will soon celebrate her 45th year.
She said she has seen many changes over four decades, including the uniforms. Hagenlocker said she is grateful for today’s required scrubs versus the pure, white stockings, nurses dress and nurses cap she used to have to wear.
Another noticeable difference is the growth and evolution of technology in the field, which now allows them to see what’s happening in real time — they used to have to diagnose the symptom and pain first — and decipher what was occurring. She said how nurses approach a patient is different now.
“It’s wonderful,” Hagenlocker said. “It’s just so different. It’s a completely different ball game.”
While new technology may decrease bedside nursing, which was prominent in the beginning of her career, she said they can do a lot more a lot quicker with the automatic versus manual advances that have been developed.
“The goal is still there to do the best for whoever comes in … that has never changed,” Hagenlocker said. “We just do it a different way [now].”
She said hospitals also have more physicians available and in the building where, years ago, they had to page a doctor to get them back in during emergencies.
One thing that has stayed constant is the need to focus, get it right and handle any situation with utmost care.
Mercy Vaughn, nursing manager for the critical care unit, graduated in 2009 from the University of Central Arkansas and has been at Conway Regional Medical Center since 2011.
“Every day is different,” she said. “You don’t know what to expect. Every patient is different when you come in [to work] in the morning. It’s not the same as a regular floor patient.”
Vaughn said it only takes a second for a patient to be doing well and then, before a nurses’s eyes, code. She said knowing the patient and their history and being careful and critical with the numbers can mean the difference between life and death.
“Every day is a challenge,” Vaughn said. “Your biggest challenge is to make sure your patient stays alive.”
While there are times the “what-if’s” can pop up, she said in those moments, relying on coworkers is vital.
“You have to rely on your coworkers,” she said. “When you’re under a lot of stress, you want that person to tell you ‘hey, take it easy, it’s ok. Tomorrow is another day.’ There’s a lot of teamwork. If I’m there stressing, people can see that I’m struggling and they’ll come in there and help you. You don’t even have to ask people. We know what’s going on around every patient so we all know who’s stressing and we all just jump in and help each other.”
That comradery is what gets both Vaughn and Hagenlocker through their shifts. That … and the miracles.
“There are some things you can’t stop,” Hagenlocker said. “It’s in the Lord’s hands what happens sometimes, no matter how hard you work. And there are some deaths that you may never forget and you always have memories of, but then you turn around and see something else that happens to someone and they survive what you cannot imagine how they survived … it makes up for everything and I think that’s how we cope.”
She said when a patient comes in near death but ends up walking out, she can’t help but realize she had a part in that.
“It’s fulfilling to your profession,” Hagenlocker said. “It makes you want to stay to be a nurse longer. That good helps you through the bad.”
Taking part in those type of circumstances, Vaughn said, drives her.
“It’s what keeps you going,” she said. “It makes you want to get up in the morning and come back because you want to be that nurse. It’s gratifying when they come back to see you and to show you how well they’re doing.”
Both agreed there are great moments on the job and some lows, including being there for family members who’s loved one isn’t going to make it.
“We just cry with them because that’s a part of [it too],” Vaughn said. “You learn to comfort the families, just being there for them. Sometimes it’s just holding their hands.”
Hagenlocker said those moments are tough and while nurses still have a job to do, remembering is key.
“I think most of us .. we have been on [the] other side … the same as a family,” she said. “I think that makes a difference too. If you’ve been there you know they’re scared to death. You do the best you can to comfort them.”
When Hagenlocker first started exploring nursing as her career, she said she instantly took to it.
“I just fell in love with doing something for someone else,” she said.
When she first came to Conway Regional years ago, she said it immediately felt like family.
“The staff, coworkers, administration … they’re just a great support system,” she said. “It makes you want to come to work. Everyone is treated with respect. It’s still that way now.”
Vaughn was recently honored for her work and was recognized as one of the state’s Great 100 nurses, alongside three other nurses at Conway Regional.
“It was an honor, to be honest, because this is not something a director picks,” she said. “It’s your coworkers that write these letters. For you to know that people feel that much about you … it’s important. It’s humbling. I just say it’s breathtaking.”
Vaughn previously said in a news release that she was excited to know she had made such an impact on the people she worked with every day.
“I have always loved [critical care nursing],” she said in the release. “Conway Regional has an amazing team of critical care nurses and doctors. I enjoy working here because everybody cares about patients. It’s the dedication that the staff members have that keeps me going.”