PMB’s own world-class intensive care unit

2009-06-19 00:00

“IF I needed intensive care, that’s the hospital where I’d want to be in the ICU [intensive care unit].”

This is the kind of compliment that any medical practitioner would love to hear. The fact that it comes from a medical doctor and refers to a state hospital, makes it even more remarkable. A not unsubstantial part of what makes the ICU at Grey’s Hospital special is Sister Jenny Stewart, the operations manager, whom, the doctor said, “leads by example”.

The unit has five adult beds and two paediatric beds, but nursing capacity for only four or five patients in total, depending on staff availability. The total staff complement is 30 people, includ­ing support staff. The unit treats a range of patients, including post-operative (people who have had major surgery), trauma (like gunshot wounds and car accidents), obstetrics (women who have given birth) and two children following the closure of the paediatric ICU.

It is a stressful, “one-on-one” form of nursing, as each patient has a dedicated nurse who treats only that person. According to nurses who have worked in other parts of the world and returned to tell the tale, Grey’s ICU is “world-class”.

“Nurses have come back from places like Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom and said we can be proud of this unit. It matches anything in the world,” says Stewart. I suspect that no one could be prouder than her.

Stewart started her career in ICU in 1991 after a break from nursing to be a “semi-stay-at-home mum”.

“To go back to nursing after a break of more than 10 years and be put in ICU terrified me out of my wits. But I had worked in a unit during my training and loved it. It’s a holistic form of nursing care, very different from ward nursing. It is also very challenging, as we take care of some very sick people. Their families need our attention too.” She has been running the unit since 1997.

“Nursing is me. From a little girl, I never wanted to do anything else. I find it very fulfilling to serve others. It has taught me not to live in the days ahead but to take each day hour by hour. I love what I do and I am privileged to work with an amazing team of dedicated people who are very committed. That adds to the fulfilment I get out of my job.

“I am aware that I was ‘old before my time’. I grew up old. I have always taken responsibility and accountability very seriously and give my all to anything I take on. I believe in doing something right the first time. I try to lead by example, because I cannot exp­ect the staff to go the extra mile, if I am not willing to do that myself.”

Stewart uses the word “family” many times during our conversation, when talking about the ICU team and about the ethos they try to create in the unit. “My motto is that it is a family unit. If it was a member of my family lying in that bed, what kind of care would I want and expect for him or her? I strive to provide that kind of care for all our patients.

“When families visit, they don’t focus on the high-tech nursing. They want to see that their loved ones have good basic care like clean sheets, brushed hair and clean faces. They want to know that they are well cared for. We do not have any patients with bed sores in our unit. We are very proud of the care that we give all our patients.”

A doctor who works with patients there confirms this, saying: “It’s a very special place. You can just feel that sense of ‘family’ and you can see the commitment of the staff to their pat­ients. It really is an exemplary unit.”

Stewart speaks fondly of her own family: “I would never be able to do this without them — the late nights and early mornings, the 12-hour shifts. My husband has always been very supportive. When I studied for a year, I studied at college in Durban from Monday to Friday and he took care of the house and the children. They had tasks to do and the house was always spotless when I got home. They also built an amazing camaraderie which has endured.”

Her faith is clearly also important and she grew up in a “very staunch Christian family”. She sees nursing as a calling. “I believe I am where God wants me to be and doing what God wants me to do. I believe I’m an instrument in God’s hands to do this work.”

No job is perfect, so what about the low points? Stewart says losing a patien­t is a definite one. “It’s never easy, as patients become an extension of you, some more than others. Bec­ause of the intensely personal nature of the situation and the seriousness of many patients’ conditions, you build close relationships with patients and their families. It’s a real loss. Almo­st like a death in the family.”

Who is Jenny Stewart?

BORN: Komga, Eastern Cape.

FAMILY OF ORIGIN: Oldest daughter and third of five children in a “loving, nurturing family”.

QUALIFICATIONS: A diploma in general nursing (1973), a diploma in critical care (1996) and a diploma in nursing administration (2008).

MARRIED: to Malcolm, an accountant, for 33 years. “We are best friends and complement one another very well.”

CHILDREN: Janie (29) (married to Brett) and Wayne (27).

GRANDCHILDREN: Luke, (14 months). “I try to spend every minute I can with him.”

HOBBIES: Dam fishing and sewing.

DREAMS: Travel overland from Cape to Cairo with Malcolm.

REGRETS: None so far. “If I had my life over again, I would change nothing.”

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