Who: Ale Dickerson, 52, and WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital intermediate care unit team members and others who cared for Ale while he was in the hospital, including physical therapy, respiratory therapy, dietary, social work, and care management teams.
What: Ale was taken to WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital in September, after he slipped in the shower, had a brain bleed and stroke, and developed respiratory problems. He ended up staying in the hospital for three months, spending much of his time in the intermediate care unit (IMCU).
Because of his prolonged stay and some challenging health problems that included a tracheotomy for a breathing tube in his throat, Ale quickly became overwhelmed and anxious.
“This was all scary and new to me. I’m a 6-foot-4-inch man and I’m a relatively big guy. There’s not too much I’m scared of,” says Ale, who survived being shot during a robbery in his past. “But this was all new to me.”
Kayla Walck, the IMCU nurse manager, said her team noticed that Ale, who is single, seemed overwhelmed, not moving around much and often sleeping most of the day.
“The staff had a heart-to-heart with him,” she said. “We had nurses go in and say, ‘We’re not doing this. You are getting up. If you don’t do this, you’re not going to get better.’ It took tough love, and they were willing to give him that. It motivated him.”
The team gave him extra TLC during his stay. They ordered him coffee if they had a Starbucks run. They brought in Mexican food and had a fiesta. At Christmastime, a physical therapist set up a little tree in his room and each team member put an ornament on it. On Christmas Day, caregivers took their breaks in his room, listening to music and talking with him.
They patiently yet persistently kept after him, rallying in his room to get him out of bed, a seemingly simple task that took many people due to Ale’s size. After three months, Ale was well enough to leave the unit and go to a long-term acute care hospital in Pittsburgh, where he is continuing to recuperate.
When he left Chambersburg, the hospital team surprised him with a goodbye parade as he was wheeled out the door.
“As I was coming around the corner, I see people lined up on both sides, cheering my name and clapping – all my nurses and aides, the kitchen staff, the physical therapists – they were hugging me and I was crying like a baby,” Ale says. “The ambulance driver said, ‘Let’s go! I’m going to start crying too. I’ve never seen anything like that. They really like you.’ I said, ‘No, they really love me, as I do them.’”
Words to live by: “If you have people who care about you, that can help you just as much as the medical care, sometimes even more,” says Ale, who stays in touch by phone with the IMCU staff members who became his second family. “And they cared so much.”
Kayla notes, “Even when people are going through hard stuff, if you truly step back and put in the time and effort, if you believe in them, you can help them overcome barriers and obstacles.”
Though she’s not a crier, Kayla notes that she teared up when Ale left the hospital, saying, “He needed us to tell him, ‘It’s OK to leave. You’re going to be in good hands.’ That’s what we did.
“Our goal is have people progress. I think it’s hard for us as nurses when we see potential in people, and they don’t see it in themselves. We can’t just let that go. My staff are confident, they are go-getters, they are patient advocates. When they see a need in a patient, they are going to find a way to meet it. This was a way, through love, to make him feel like a person not a patient. We believed in him.”