Karen McKenny, RN, is a nurse educator at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Karen McKenny, RN, is a nurse educator at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

National Nurses Week is May 6 – May 12, 2014. We salute our incredible nursing staff!

I have been a nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center for 30 years now, but my UVM Medical Center story actually started long before that.

You see, I was born here way back in the day, when the Patrick and Smith buildings were the front door of my house. There was no McClure building, or ACC. The Brown wing, Burgess House, and Adams residence were still here.

In the years following my birth, I spent quite a bit of time here as a child suffering from severe asthma. There were many late night trips to the ER in my jammies with my parents driving as fast as they could while I gasped for breath. I also spent a week here after I broke my leg skiing when I was in second grade. A full leg cast made of plaster. I remember I was so excited to have a cast that all my friends could sign and that I would get to use crutches. All of that changed the first time they took my leg out of the bed and the blood rushed to my foot and I realized that the cast weighed almost as much as I did!

Imagine being in the hospital for a week with a broken leg…it may have been that it just took that long for the old plaster casts to dry. We had wheelchair races, painted, and played during that week, but it was the nurses that I remember the best. That is when I fell in love with nurses.

They were the angels who took care of me, who gave me back my breath in the dark of the night in the ER, who padded the crutches under my arms and hands, and who taught me how to manage my leg cast. I was too young to understand that there were doctors involved, writing the orders, directing my care. I just knew that the nurses were the ones at my bedside giving me medication, holding me, teaching me, calming me down, and giving me back my breath.

Over the years, I came to know many of them by name and my love of them became a love of nursing. As soon as I was old enough I became a candy striper, which is what they called junior volunteers at the time. We wore pink-and-white-striped pinafores, filled water pitchers, delivered mail, and played with the kids on the pediatric floor. I felt so comfortable here; I was growing up here. It was truly my house. Of course, there was never any doubt for me as to what I would be when I grew up and my dreams came true when I was accepted into the nursing program at the University of Vermont. I spent four amazing years there learning how to be a nurse in my house.

nursemeWhen I graduated I applied and got my first nursing job here in 1984. Since then, I have worked on many floors and in many roles from staff nurse to assistant head nurse to nurse manager to ambulatory nurse to my current role as a nurse educator for Invasive and Non-Invasive Cardiology. It has been my great joy to be a nurse and to make a difference one person at a time. It’s the best job in the world.

My life and times at the UVM Medical Center continued over the years, both working here and living here. I have had many surgeries over the years; I had my beautiful baby girl here 19 years ago, and I spent 2½ months  on Shepherdson 5 as an undelivered mom on bedrest, trying not to go into labor early with my twins. I happily went on to have them only 6 weeks early more than 15 years ago, and they only stayed in the NICU for a week. I have been here through great times, tough times, multiple leadership changes, and expansions.

So, when I hear friends, family, or friends of friends say they are coming up to my house, I say please let me know when you are coming, or when you are here. I want to welcome you to my house. I want to make sure you can get around, I want to say hello, keep you company while your mother has her test, or hold your hand while your child is in the OR, or help you find your way from place to place.

If you are “in house” as a patient, I will come and visit you, try to answer your questions or help you find the answers, help you advocate for yourself, comfort you, educate you, care for you and yours. I know it can be scary to visit a new house where you may feel like a stranger, but we will help you. We are a huge family here and you are part of it. We are all family when you are in my house. We are all One.

So the next time you are in my house let me know, and I will welcome you.

Karen McKenny, RN, is a nurse educator at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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