All they want is a little bit of news. They want a connection – to feel like they are near their loved one – even when they aren’t.
Family members sit sometimes for hours, wrapped in blankets, sipping warm coffee, watching the television screen, texting and talking on their phones. Sometimes they drive hours to get to the hospital. They may catch a little nap or get a bite to eat, but for the most part they wait.
And while they wait, Rebecca Findlay pops into surgery and then to the waiting room where she gives family members bits and pieces of news about their loved one.
“The best thing about my job is being able to let families know that they are important to the care and recovery of the patient,” said Findlay, one of two family support nurses working the waiting rooms at University Hospital. “They are so grateful for every tidbit of information. That gratitude feeds me.”
She covers three waiting rooms and makes rounds every two hours – sometimes more.
“I say I’m the rat in the maze. I have sticky notes to keep me focused and I have a set path – through surgery, through recovery rooms, then to waiting rooms, then other surgery rooms and recovery,” said Findlay. The routine quickly satisfies her goal to stay fit.
“Surgeries can range from one hour to several hours. We have some that start at 7 a.m. and continue until midnight. It’s a long day. Our role is to keep the family updated on how well the patient is doing. The family is our unit – like our patient – so our focus is to provide a professional support. My biggest piece is to establish rapport,” said Findlay. “My place isn’t to take the place of the surgeon – the surgeon will talk to them at the end so I encourage them to take notes, think of questions.”
Findlay was a newly divorced, single mother of two, when at the age of 30 she decided to enter nursing school. Her daughter was 12 and her son was 10 when she finished her degree. Her first job was working in cardiovascular critical care at Methodist Hospital. She eventually made her way to surgery, pre-op, and recovery.
In 2001, around the same time as 9/11, Findlay learned of a program that focused on holistic patient care combining mind, body and spirit. Within no time at all, she found her career niche. She attended a parish nursing program through the University of Indianapolis. The program requires that the prospective participant be a registered nurse with at least two years of experience, and is sponsored by a healthcare organization. Shortly after she completed her training, the position at University Hospital opened up and Findlay has remained there for the past 13 years.
“I never dreamed that this biggest and longest piece of my nursing career would be talking to people, but that’s what I do,” said Findlay, who remarried 22 years ago and is now a grandmother to three.
It’s difficult for her to describe a “typical” day just as it is difficult for her to describe a “typical” family. She treats each person as if they are her only family member of the day.
“There may be 30 families a day, but with each one, I want to be present, to be focused. That’s my mantra all day,” said Findlay. “I don’t wear a cross but I want my faith to be demonstrated through my acts.”
The toughest part of her job is notifying families when a situation becomes dire.
In her soft-spoken manner, she approaches family members and says: “I have some information that may generate some questions.” She usually takes them into a consultation room and delivers the most up-to-date news.
“The heart rhythm has changed,” “blood pressure has decreased.”
The words are always painful for Findlay. They never get easier over time. Sometimes they ask for a chaplain or prayer; sometimes they ask for help contacting other family members. But almost always, they are grateful to have someone who gives them the most up-to-date information, someone who acts as the patient’s voice.
“There have been many days when I’ve been overwhelmed. The first time I prepared a family for bad news, my heart was pounding out of my chest. Over time I’ve come to realize that this is a path God has chosen for me. He has me where he wants me.”
— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.