Christmas Day is typically a time to spend with family and close friends. But for nurse Gina Heckman of Liberty HomeCare & Hospice Services, it offered a chance to make an impact.
One of her patients had a cherished Chihuahua named Wimp who had become ill over the years. Wimp passed away at 8 a.m. Christmas morning.
“They had a burial service in their yard on Christmas afternoon,” Heckman said. “Maybe some folks would think I was crazy for giving up some of my Christmas to attend, but I knew that dog was like family to them.”
National Nurses Week, May 6 through 12, recognizes Heckman and the thousands of dedicated nursing professionals like her across the nation who make a difference in the lives of patients by going above and beyond the call of duty.
Heckman says the opportunity to establish relationships with patients is what satisfies her the most.
“You have to treat patients like family members,” she said. “Sometimes you are the only person they will see for a few days. You try to make them understand that you really care about them and want to know what happens to them.”
Patients in Dunn, N.C. specifically request Heckman, and they also turn to fellow Liberty nurse Jan Peterson. Peterson, who has cared for hundreds of patients during her nearly 30-year career, has become a favorite among patients but says there is no secret to that kind of success.
“You go in and treat the patient with respect,” Peterson said. “Let them socialize with you and really listen to what they are saying. You can learn a lot that way and take care of them better.”
Peterson said one of her most challenging patients was an outspoken retired military official. It didn’t take long for her to win him over.
“I would just tell him a little joke, and that would make him smile,” she said. “Other people were amazed that I got him to cooperate because he had always been so difficult. But you have to know that we all have bad days. We all have issues, but sometimes a laugh can help get you going again.”
Peterson and Heckman both say that patients have requested the other nurse during their visits to homes. But they understand it is nothing personal. Rather, it is a credit to the personal relationship the other has already established.
“We’ve had cases where I’d take care of the sister in a family and Gina would take care of someone else,” she said. “We pass members of a family between us sometimes but we don’t mind. We just want whatever makes them happy and helps them get better.”