Operating Room Nurse Becomes Surgical Patient While on the Clock
Published: July 17, 2019
“It’s not often that an operating room nurse endures the vulnerable position of becoming a surgical patient,” wrote Angela Knigge, BSN, RN. But Knigge, an operating room (OR) nurse at Methodist Hospital, did become such a patient. Not long after, she nominated fellow OR nurse Heidi Jacob, BSN, RN, for the national DAISY Award, which is given to nurses who demonstrate extraordinary care.
While Knigge believes Jacob shows unrivaled compassion for patients every day, this was the first time Knigge was on the receiving end of that care.
Isolated pain and panic
At the start of a recent OR shift around 6:30 a.m., Knigge felt pain in her stomach.
As the pain grew worse, Jacob, who was working the same shift, began asking questions: “I kept saying, ‘Hey, Ang, where exactly is the pain? Maybe we should get it looked at. What do you think? I don’t like where this is headed. Let’s start asking some questions, OK?’”
Knigge reached out to her Methodist doctors, who eventually determined she needed surgery – an appendectomy.
“I heard the surgeon say, ‘I think we’re going to have to take you back. We need to do this now,’” Jacob said. “I remember looking at her, and it was as if that was said to one of my kids or my sister.
Jacob, a single mother of four, called her older children to make sure everyone was taken care of that evening. She told them she’d be working late.
“It’s always my family first,” Jacob said. “If there’s any way I can rearrange my work schedule to make sure my kids are the priority, I’ll do it. But in that moment, Angela was also my family.”
Recovering with humor
Laughter is a source of therapy for much of the Methodist OR team. Jacob believes that’s what gets them through the hard days.
“The big joke around the OR is that if one of us needs surgery, we want each other putting our catheters in,” she said, letting out a belly laugh. “You know?! Like, ‘Make sure it’s you – I want no judgement when it comes time for that.’”
Then Jacob’s smile faded, and her tone became soft and serious.
“Ang didn’t have to say any of that out loud. I knew she needed me.”
Even though her husband was home sick with pneumonia, Knigge had family with her after all. Jacob stayed by her side until she couldn’t any longer.
“It was a little bit much for me when they put the tape on her eyelids and started putting her to sleep,” Jacob said. “I’ve been here for 10 years, and that was the first time it hit me. Like, ‘OK, I’m not a nurse anymore. I need to step aside.’”
But not long after Knigge’s procedure, the two coworkers exchanged jokes and jabs, relying on that one thing that makes everything better in the OR: laughter.
“I was like, ‘What just happened?’” Jacob said. “I told her, ‘You could have come up with something better to skip out of work for a whole week!’”
All jokes aside, Jacob said Knigge’s procedure showed her that The Meaning of Care is very much alive at Methodist.
“Everyone in that room taking care of her that night,” Jacob said. “It’s not like we pulled special strings because Ang was now a patient. This is how it’s always done. Patients are so well taken care of here. I just saw it in a different light. All of my expectations were met.”
And according to her nomination letter, Knigge feels the same. She wrote: “I wouldn’t want anyone else taking care of me in the most vulnerable of circumstances.”
Honored to receive the DAISY Award, Jacob said she’s never expected any kind of recognition for the work she does or the friendships she’s made.
“It means a lot,” she said. “But I know Ang would do the same for me.”
"We all work so closely with each other for long periods of time," Knigge said. "We are bound to become family away from family."