The WellSpan Spotlight

Bright spots

WellSpan BrightSpot: A husband's wistful note, a team's loving response

WellSpan BrightSpot: A husband's wistful note, a team's loving response

Who: Rachel Wingert, a nurse at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital and her teammates in the critical care unit. 

What: In February, Rachel cared for Mary Shirley, 70, of Shippensburg, a cancer patient and former WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital emergency department nurse who was critically ill with COVID-19 and had to be placed on a ventilator. A few days before Feb. 14, Mary's husband, Bill, 74, wrote a wistful note on the whiteboard in his wife's room, noting that she needed to be discharged by Valentine's Day, as he had a romantic date planned for her. 

"Initially, I was hoping she was going to get out of the hospital," Bill says. "When she got intubated, we knew the end was coming. The nurses recognized that too, but it was the genesis of what happened next." 

Rachel asked Bill if he liked crab cakes, and he said he did. The next thing he knew, the door to Mary's room opened and a group of nurses walked in, carrying a small table. They set it with a crab cake meal for him, a bottle of sparkling cider, roses, heart decorations, and cupcakes, not far from his wife's bed. There were balloons and cards. All of it was arranged by Rachel and the critical care unit team. Some of the nurses who came in the room were former co-workers of Mary who wanted to pay their respects. 

"I felt so special," Bill says. "I had been there for like 24 hours. Everybody was very caring. I really can't say too much about the compassion. A lot of people don't understand the nursing workload, but I was married to a nurse, so I know, and I really appreciated that. I knew it was above and beyond. 

"That turned out to Mary's last day. She died later that afternoon. I said, oh she would have loved this." 

Words to live by: "The first day when I came in, I saw his note on the whiteboard," Rachel says. "Even without meeting him, I knew it was wishful and hopeful. And he is just one of those people who instantly you get attached to. 

"The next day, the night shift nurse told me he took the note down after his family meeting with the doctor. He said, 'I guess we won't be needing this anymore.' I said, 'Oh, that breaks my heart!' I started to think that morning what can I do for him?" 

The pandemic has made Rachel more vulnerable with patients. That's a good thing, she says. 

"It helps me as well to help other people if that makes sense. I just like being a caretaker and I want everyone to feel OK and as good as they can with the outcome, even if it's not the one we wanted. I just want people to feel loved. It helps me to sow into people as much as I can. To invest in people. 

"Before COVID, I would keep myself guarded. It's not easy in nursing. After COVID and seeing what people have gone through and going so long without having patient who can talk to you or have family here, it became very depersonalized. Now that patients can have visitors, I have leaned into that and learning about the patient and their family. I value it more. I see a change in my own practice with that. I'm grateful for it. 

"I want to make people feel loved. It feels good to do that."