May 24, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – When you think about the Motherhouse (headquarters) of a congregation of religious Sisters, you might not automatically think of nurses. Yet, among those serving at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse are 49 nurses and 105 nursing assistants, predominantly serving the retired Sisters residing at the Dominican Life Center (DLC).
The nurses were honored at the Motherhouse during National Nurses Week, held 6-12, 2016 to coincide with the birthday of Florence Nightingale on May 12. The celebration culminated on May 13 with a special blessing of hands of the nurses by members of the pastoral care staff.
“The nurses here care about the Sisters,” said Cheryl Pickney, DLC Administrator an Associate of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “They go out of their way to give them extra care.”
“It takes a special person to be a nurse,” added Sandy Place, Director of Nursing. “It takes an extra-special person to be a DLC nurse.”
The DLC nurses work closely with the residents who have special medical needs and with Sisters who live outside of the DLC but are in the Maria building temporarily to recover from surgery, accidents, or illness. The nurses and nursing assistants work as part of a team with other departments in the DLC, including Resident Services, Pastoral Care, Social Work, Food Services, and Environmental Services, and each Sister’s Chapter Prioress to provide the Sisters with the care that they need in the DLC, which is truly the Sisters’ home. “We try to find a balance between the medical plans and the Sister’s own needs,” working with the various departments to help each Sister meet her particular goals, Cheryl explained.
Both noted the challenges that nurses face, as well as the rewards – such as being present to people in the most vulnerable times of their lives. They also noted the special qualities that good nurses need.
“I read somewhere that there are three tools that nurses have to have: heart, head, and hands,” Cheryl said. While nurses need a heart to feel compassion and empathy for their patients, they also need a head to observe the patient, take note of any changes in the patient’s condition, and be aware of the patient’s needs. In many cases, nurses also work with their hands in caring for their patients, she added.
Two DLC nurses also spoke of their personal experiences. Lonnie Kison, Nurse Manager and also an Adrian Dominican Associate, began work at the DLC in 1992, left for a short while, and returned in 1997. She has been working at the DLC since then. Andrea Beagle, the daughter of a nurse, has been serving as a nurse at the DLC for 25 years.
“It’s been very rewarding for me to stay here this long,” said Lonnie, who previously had worked in diverse situations, from surgical units and a dermatologist’s office to a California state facility for children with mental disabilities. “I guess you could say that when I came here, this just felt like the place I should be.”
During her time at the DLC, Lonnie was in the first class of Siena Heights University’s RN to BSN program for nurses, graduating in 2010. Her education – first to become a licensed practical nurse, then a registered nurse, and finally a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree in nursing – has prepared her for the medical aspects of her service as a nurse.
While nursing assistants typically perform the hands-on, daily work with the Sisters, Lonnie explained, “the nurse is usually the person who deals with the doctors and the orders and the procedures and the IV…all of the extra tasks to make sure that the person stays well.” While the doctor is ultimately responsible for making the medical orders, Lonnie said, nurses also have an eye for what treatment might work for the patient and need to have a “questioning mind” when it comes to the treatment that each patient receives or the medication that is prescribed.
For Andrea, the best part about being a nurse is the opportunity to help others. “Being able to serve is the best part, just being there for somebody in their time of need,” she said. She added that it’s particularly rewarding to serve at the DLC. “I find it here to be very peaceful, reassuring, calming, [with a] Godly atmosphere, a positive atmosphere.” While working at a hospital is also rewarding, she said, hospital work involves “a lot of rush, rush – not a lot of time to take to make the difference that you’d want to make.”
Being a nurse has also taught Andrea to “watch, listen, learn all that you can learn.” The nursing field brings “something new every day” and the opportunity to learn about an unusual diagnosis or surgery. “Just get involved and watch and get exposed to as much as you could be to get that under your belt.”
All four spoke of the most poignant time at the DLC: the death of a Sister, especially a Sister to whom they had grown close.
The death of a Sister can be “emotionally hard,” Andrea said. “It’s never easy, but you learn to let go and let God be in control.” She added that, in some cases, a Sister’s death can bring a “sense of release,” that she’s finally free from her suffering. “It’s hard to see them struggle. The main thing you want to focus on is comfort care – easing pain, making them comfortable as they make their transition to God.”
Lonnie said that, in spite of nurses’ training to be objective, it can be very difficult for nurses when a Sister dies. She tries to bring in nurses from other areas of the Maria building to help after a death, so that the nurses and nursing assistants who have grown close to her have a little time to grieve.
At the same time, Lonnie said she’s often struck by the sense of joy among the Sisters when one of the Sisters dies. If it occurs during the day, she said, the Sisters gather around the Sister who died to sing the Salve. When she teaches her Vo-Tech nursing assistant classes or works with new hospice staff, she said, she holds up the DLC and the Adrian Dominicans as examples of people who see the joy in a death – with the knowledge that the Sister was called home to God – in spite of the natural sadness at the temporary parting of friends.
In spite of its challenges and sad moments, all four would also recommend nursing to people who feel the call to it and who have the heart and skill for it. “I would encourage them, if that was their heart’s desire, to pursue it – if that’s what would make them happy – to work hard at it,” Andrea said. “You learn something new and different very day.”
Perhaps Cheryl best sums up the significance of nurses to the patients they serve. “This is the only job I know of where you get to be with people at the most critical parts of their lives – when they are born and when they are dying,” she said. “You see people at their most vulnerable. You see them when they receive very bad news and when they’re deathly ill. But you also see them at times of happiness – when they have a child or when they’re getting better. I don’t know of any other profession where you get to see people at these critical times.”
Feature photo: DLC nurses were recognized on May 13 during National Nurses Week with a Blessing of Hands. Photo by Scott Miller