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    Critical care perspectives: Travelers share high-touch stories from high-tech settings


    The healing touch of a nurse's hands lends more than just a quick overview of a patient's status. Rather, it conveys caring and comfort, especially to those who are seriously ill. In the high-tech surroundings of a critical care unit, where there are the constant bleeps and beeps of monitors and pumps, this professional's understanding and empathy can make a world of difference to patients and their families.

    Just ask Althea Heatwole, BSN, RN, who is on assignment with Boca Raton, Florida-based Medical Staffing Network and Cindy Gibson, RN, a traveler with InteliStaf Travel, located in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. Like other mobile critical care nurses, they admit some of the most memorable moments on the road involve the people they meet along the way—from patients and family members, to coworkers and community residents.

    Making an impression Practicing for 3 years, Althea started traveling last June and is currently assigned to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Enjoying the post-operative environment, she chose to practice in intensive care after observing nurses on various units. "I had worked in a hospital before becoming a nurse and I saw the type of duties required on medical floors and critical care units. I like the exhilarating feeling of practicing in the ICU—you never know what may happen next."

    Although she has only been traveling a short time, Althea has created lifelong memories. "After my shift, I write down many of my experiences in a journal." She recalls two unforgettable patients who she met while working at a hospital in Modesto, California. "The first was a Japanese gentlemen who had been visiting Yosemite National Park with his family when he collapsed," Althea comments. "The situation was particularly challenging for him because he fell ill in a strange country. Although the eventual outcome was poor and he did not recover, I will always remember caring for him and helping his children through that difficult time. The lessons I learned were invaluable."

    Another client Althea often thinks about is a 14-year-old victim of a near drowning. "He was able to recover well enough to be transitioned to a rehabilitation facility, but his outcome was unsure at the time my assignment ended. There was still a question about his neurological status, and I will always wonder what might have happened to him. His family was extremely positive throughout his stay. Their strength was such a blessing to him and to the members of the healthcare team."

    High demand
    Forming relationships A veteran nurse, Cindy chose critical care as her specialty 25 years ago and has loved it ever since. Presently assigned to Craven Regional Medical Center in New Bern, North Carolina, she conveys, "In fast-paced ICUs, patients are often very ill and you have the opportunity to make a big difference in their outcomes—literally seeing conditions improve before your eyes. I enjoy helping them regain control of their lives."


    Anne Baye Ericksen
    Anne Baye Ericksen is a freelance writer based in Simi Valley, California.