Throwing away empty paper goods; disposing garbage; scouring toilets; mopping floors; stripping sheets – it may not be a job for everyone, but for Qourtney Bush it’s an act of service.
“What I do is janitorial work but cleaning a patient’s room from top to bottom is really a glamorous job because I’ve been in that bed. I’ve been that patient and I know what it’s like to have gloomy days,” said Bush.
As she pushes her utility cart down the hall and rounds the corner of the waiting room on the fourth floor Transplant Unit of IU Health University Hospital, Bush sees someone sitting alone.
“Whenever I see someone sitting there, I just say a little prayer because I know they are anxious and worried,” said Bush, who works a couple weekends a month at the hospital to supplement her income. She also works as a patient service assistant at a local neurology office.
When she’s at University Hospital Bush uses her housekeeping job as a way to connect to others.
“I’ll meet people in the elevator and just start talking. I can listen or I can talk. I’m also a hugger and every opportunity I get, I assure someone they’re in good hands,” said Bush. “When I was here the family members couldn’t always understand the moods. I see family members here stepping out in the hallways confused about why the patient is mad or sad. I can relate. They are hurting. They want to be independent and they don’t want to depend on others. It can hurt your pride. But here I am now.”
Her first visit to the transplant unit was one of the most challenging times of Bush’s life. As a teenager, she made a decision to stop taking the life-saving insulin that was prescribed to maintain her blood sugar levels.
“I just thought I was cured. I didn’t want to think otherwise,” said Bush. But over time, negative impacts of diabetes began to take a toll on her body. There were other things going on her life too that wrecked havoc on the Pike High School graduate.
She started writing bad checks and eventually ended up serving time in Rockville Correctional Facility – a penalty that Bush says may have saved her life.
“It was a blessing in disguise because I actually had a medical check up and started taking my medicine again,” said Bush. “Prison turned my life around. I kept doctor appointments and worked to keep my blood sugar levels down.”
She was released in 2006 and even though she was working to take care of her body, the diabetes had damaged blood vessels in her kidneys, causing them to shut down. She began dialysis two years later.
“I didn’t even know about transplants. I didn’t even think it was an option,” said Bush, who credits her nurse practitioner for educating and encouraging her.
“He wanted me to realize I was too young, I needed to get in school, and he told me about transplant,” said Bush. She has completed a number of IUPUI’s Workforce Readiness courses as a pharmacy technician, medical assistant administrator, and patient access specialist. Eventually she wants to work in the hospital full time and start a non-profit that offers community support for prisoners reentering civilian life, and others needing resources for parenting, nutrition, and employment.
Bush begins to cry as she talks about that tough time in her life.
“It was a kidney. That’s big but when I look back . . . it could have been my eyes, a limb, or my heart.” She dabs the tears off her cheeks and mentions the names Dr. William Goggins, Dr. John Powelson, Dr. Tim Taber and nurse Tina Ray – all members of her transplant team. Bush jokingly refers to Ray, who was her transplant coordinator as her “cousin.”
“I still see her and update her on my life,” said Bush of Ray. “That bond we formed is strong. She doesn’t realize the impact that she has.”
Bush was on the transplant list for four years. During that time she underwent bariatric surgery. “I needed to lose weight to prepare my body for the transplant,” said Bush. “I still can’t believe all that I went through. I was incarcerated with people who killed their own family members and yet everything I’ve gone through with my health has been the toughest of all.
“Prison helped me make better choices, but my transplant helped me be more empathetic toward other patients.”
As she recently went to work clearing and cleaning an empty room Bush, talked about celebrating this her 40th birth year.
“I don’t hide who I am. I’m not ashamed because I’m not that same person that I was back in my 20s. I was an only child. I felt entitled. I didn’t want to hear ‘no’ so I wrote bad checks. There was no drug habit, no abuse. I just made unwise decisions.”
She also doesn’t hide her physical scars.
The discolored mark that runs the length of left arm is a reminder of her kidney failure. The mark from the arteriovenous fistula reminds her of years spent on dialysis.
“I used to think this scar was the ugliest in the world. Dialysis was by far one of the most difficult seasons in my life, but now I look at it as a connection to others,” said Bush. “I always use discretion when I talk to patients but I can usually see that they want to engage. It’s like they know I’ve been in their shoes. I won’t turn down an opportunity to help people who worried,” she said.
“Every chance I get I tell people, ‘You are in a great hospital. You are with a great team. You are in the best hands.”
— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.