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Medical treatment, emotions hard to separate

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily TribuneNurse Pat McGlothlin gives a goodbye hug to 3-year-old Emma Rose McGovern after spending nine days in Barton Hospital.
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During National Nurses Week, Barton Memorial Hospital’s nurses demonstrated how their field comes with big challenges and small pleasures.

Take the impact of 3-year-old Emma Rose McGovern, who left the intensive care unit Tuesday with hugs from the nurses after nine days of recovering from being deathly ill.

Emma was apparently so comfortable with the care at the South Lake Tahoe hospital, the Coleville child referred to it as home, her mother said.

“The nurses have been asking for three days if she wants to go home, and she’d say no. She said she had to go home and wash her face, and she went in there,” her mother Cheryseis McGovern said, pointing to an ICU room. “They’ve all been wonderful.”

There’s a critical balance between caring for a patient and not becoming too emotionally attached, a few nurses said.

“But you always do,” Pat McGlothlin said, cuddling with Emma before her departure.

McGovern, a nurse herself, had her child admitted with a temperature of 106 and no appetite. She left with smiles and the first piece of meat in her tummy since her stay.

Emma is headed to Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, where she will have surgery for conditions affecting the spine and kidneys. Emma has three kidneys.

The three ICU registered nurses have seen some interesting cases — especially in the last three months.

One involved a man with a flesh-eating disease in his abdomen. He was mainly treated with antibiotics and “vac” dressing, a type of wound care that absorbs extraneous fluid.

“We didn’t think he’d make it,” Nurse Manager Susan Altman said, calling him one of the “miracle patients.”

Most often the ICU serves to stabilize patients, treating many for the effects of smoking, diabetes, obesity and cardiac arrest. Some people who experienced the latter were at the time unaware of the effects of altitude change.

The 24-hour aspect of Tahoe also brings in cases of alcohol abuse and drug overdoses. In addition, the unit treats many cases of ruptured bowels.

“I wonder who’s going to take care of these people in the baby boomer age,” said Karen Kaahuit, a nurse for 18 years. “If things go the way they’ve been going, there will be a huge shortage.”

The national nursing shortage has failed to catch up to Tahoe to the same extent as other hospitals in California and Nevada, but this could significantly change in five to 10 years when Barton nurses start retiring and the population continues to live longer, practitioners and administrators say.

The average age for Barton registered nurses is 46, slightly older than the national average. Many have been with the Barton for more than a decade.

The hospital has been aggressively setting up recruitment programs to fend off the looming situation that increases patient loads.

Like the emergency room, the ICU handles two patients for each registered nurse. It’s a 1-to-1 ratio for patients requiring more acute care.

Barton nurses say they don’t kid themselves. It’s a demanding job.

Some nurses like Chris Lynds exercise, and others read to reduce stress. Emergency Services Director Mary Flores sings in the Tahoe Choir.

Like many nurses, Flores loves her work.

“If I was to make a career choice in 20 years, I’d do the same thing all over again,” said Flores, a nurse for three decades.

Flores says ER nurses often thrive on being “adrenaline junkies” and critical thinkers. There’s also a charm for all nurses to use their license to change specialties, she said. But the key component to nursing is balancing the medical care with the intimacy of helping people.

“I like the ability to be there for the family and to be there for the patient,” she said. “It’s drama. Then, there are those times you wish it wasn’t so dramatic.”

Although she believes it’s technically accurate, Flores passes on watching the television show “ER” because “it’s too much like work.” She watches “The West Wing” instead.


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