The Healing Power of Housekeeping and Hilarious Pants
They’re the words Glenda Brooks, a cleaning technician at Methodist Hospital, always says as she leaves a patient’s room: “Ya’ll have a good day, and I hope you feel better.”
But those weren’t her last words to Nancy Eisenbarth, who spent nearly two weeks on the seventh floor of the hospital’s north tower.
Nancy developed meningitis following surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.
“When I woke up in the hospital,” Nancy said, “I didn’t know where I was or how I got there. My son said prior to that, we were at home, and I told him I didn’t feel well. I guess I eventually passed out, and that’s when he called 911. I don’t remember any of that.”
According to Dr. Rudolf Kotula, a board-certified infectious disease physician at Methodist, that’s common with meningitis.
“Those are two of the first signs: fever and confusion,” he said. “If someone is confused and has a fever – these symptoms could be suggestive of meningitis, an infection in the central nervous system.”
Nancy was taken to the hospital by ambulance.
“What happened to Nancy was very serious,” Dr. Kotula added. “Without someone witnessing it, and without someone calling 911 immediately, Nancy probably wouldn’t be here.”
What doctors wear really does matter
Those early moments in the hospital are still somewhat of a blur, but Nancy remembers how peaceful she felt.
“I remember looking up and seeing angels smiling down at me,” she said. “I mean, truly. They were nurses, but that’s the best way I can describe them. They were angels.”
Nancy can’t say enough about the wonderful care she received from all the nurses, nursing assistants, students and doctors. Dr. Kotula was one of them.
“I’ll never forget his Christmas pants,” she recalled.
She chuckled as she described them: “The first pair he wore had little skulls with Santa hats. He also had some bright red ones with little martini glasses on them. Oh, they were funny.”
And when Dr. Kotula learned of the joy those pants brought Nancy, he smiled and nodded because that was the reason he wore them.
“Just like a pediatrician might wear a Winnie the Pooh tie,” he explained, “I wear colorful clothes because it cheers up the patients. That, and I’m getting older and gray – ha! I need color.”
Laughter is the best medicine
Wearing Christmas pants may not fall under Dr. Kotula’s job description, but he still considers that and other similar tactics part of his job – much like Brooks considers striking up a conversation with each patient part of hers.
“It is my job,” she confirmed. “You don’t want someone coming into your room without a smile or without talking to you.”
So in between mopping the floor and cleaning all the high-touch areas in Nancy’s room, Brooks talked to her. A lot.
“I could just tell she needed someone to talk to,” Brooks explained.
“Every day she asked how I was doing,” Nancy said. “We’d get to talking, and then we’d get to laughing.”
And Brooks is a firm believer that when you’re in the hospital, laughing is important.
“It makes their day,” Brooks said. “It helps them get better.”
“It definitely does,” Dr. Kotula added. “When you’re ill in the hospital, people are telling you all kinds of bad things. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. You need that kind of joy and encouragement.”
Nancy also recalled how she received that same kind of joy and encouragement from Dr. Bradley Bowdino, a neurosurgeon with MD West ONE, who was part of Nancy’s care team at Methodist.
“They all knew I needed laughter,” Nancy added. “And I did. I needed that the most.”
Continuing the conversation
Before leaving the hospital, Nancy gave Brooks her phone number. Nancy didn’t expect her to ever call, but that’s exactly what Brooks did a few days after Nancy was discharged.
“I just wanted to see how she was doing,” Brooks said. “Sometimes you get very attached to patients.”
“That really meant the world,” Nancy said. “Nobody’s ever done that for me.”
And in Brooks’ 30 years with Methodist, nobody’s ever thanked her the way Nancy did. Brooks, too, was deemed an “angel” in a thank-you letter Nancy sent shortly after her stay.
“It makes me feel appreciated,” Brooks said. “Because you just don’t hear those things too often.”
“Without people like Glenda, we couldn’t run this joint,” Dr. Kotula said. “We need clean rooms. We need her smile.”
In her thank-you letter, Nancy wrote: “God bless all of you for helping me get through this and sending me home healthy and happy.”
It’s a testimony to the fact that when it comes to patient care, anybody has the opportunity to demonstrate The Meaning of Care.