It’s a stressful time. You or a close family member or friend is about to have some kind of heart surgery.
Everything seems to be moving so quickly, but suddenly a nurse with a wide smile walks into the room. She speaks with a calm voice sharing information you can understand.
That scenario unfolds frequently in the professional lives of WakeMed cardiac nurses Hazel Covington, Summer Groff and Shirley Wagner. The three serve as the cardiovascular surgery educators, spending time with patients and families before and after surgery.
“The basic idea is to alleviate anxiety,” Covington said. “Heart surgery is a foreign subject to most people. We try to educate patients and their families to make them more knowledgeable and alleviate fear.”
That alleviation usually begins the day before surgery. One of these nurses spends time with the patient reviewing the sequence of events that’s typical for a cardiac surgery procedure, reinforcing instructions that a physician might give and answering any questions the patient might have.
Groff noted that she lets patients and families ask as many questions as possible before going into surgery.
“There are so many things I could be telling them, but if I’m not telling them what they want to know then I’m not helping,” Groff said. “I think giving the opportunity to answer their questions helps to alleviate their fears.”
Either Covington, Groff or Wagner comes back to see the patient and families following surgery. That session includes suggested instructions on care at home, which can be especially helpful for the people who are there to aid the patient.
“It’s very important for whoever is going to be with the patient at home to know what to look for and how to take care of the patient,” Groff said. “When the patient is at the hospital, they’re often not at the most teachable point in their life. They just had heart surgery, so they’re probably not sleeping or eating well. Having a healthy ear to listen to everything is very important.”
Before the patient is discharged, the educators make an attempt to visit one last time. That’s a point when all of the explanations seem to have the most value.
“We’re told a lot of times, ‘Everything went exactly like you said. Even though I was nervous, you helped me to understand,’” Wagner said. “They always seem to appreciate our efforts.”
Covington, Groff and Wagner are not novices to cardiac care. Between them, they have 31 years of experience at WakeMed. And cardiovascular surgery education is not the only job they have. Each has a regular patient care rotation on the post-operative nursing floor.
“That’s a good thing because it gives us a chance to not only do the teaching portion, but we still know what goes on within the floor,” Covington said. No matter when a cardiac patient might see Covington, Groff or Wagner at WakeMed, the approach each nurse has to care is similar.
“It makes our job so rewarding to know that you have helped somebody. You see the patient and they’re so appreciative and it makes you want to go that extra mile for them,” Covington said. “It’s very important to always remain positive. It’s not just a facade. It’s genuine. I always say that could easily be me or it could be a parent of mine, and I know how I would want to be treated.”