Winona Health nurse Laurel Kruse updates charts on her computer in between patient visits. Kruse is one of the hospital’s 255 nurses, working as the center point for Winona Health’s many care providers.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
At 6:30 a.m., Laurel Kruse buzzes in to Winona Health and prepares herself for her daily watch. Over the next 12 hours, Kruse –– along with the other 254 nurses at Winona Health –– will be part of the first line of defense for the hospital’s many patients, teaching them and working with them through some of the most difficult moments of their lives.
Kruse, a nurse for more than 40 years, went to Normandale College in Bloomington, Minn., but before that, she had already had some experience with nursing –– way back as a teenager, she worked as a volunteer “candy striper” in high school, helping out in the local hospital in whatever way she could.
“I like working with people, and I like that direct contact,” Kruse said. “Nursing is really interesting because you are always learning, because medicine is always changing.”
Kris Cichon, director of inpatient services at Winona Health, explained that nurses cover a wide variety of different services throughout the day. While most nurses work in multiple departments, there are some with preferences and specialties, like working in the birth center or with mental health care. However, their list of duties for their patients is numerous.
“Nurses are continually assessing every hour. What are some things to contact the provider about?” Cichon said. “They’re really the eyes and ears for 12 hours for that particular patient.”
Kruse elaborated on that, highlighting how, as a nurse, she has to adapt to different people to meet their needs. A lot of nursing involves educating patients on care methods, medication side effects, and providing bedside care, but it’s never the same from person to person.
“Every one is different,” she explained. “They’re not just numbers on an assembly line. They learn differently, and have their own personality. Some may have families who are very involved, while other people may be on their own.”
While nurses are the most recognizable members of the Winona Health staff, as the most directly communicable role to patients, Kruse explained that what nurses actually do can often be overlooked and misunderstood.
“I think [the public] doesn’t know how much we do. There’s a lot more than just taking temperature and giving medication,” Kruse said.
Helen Bagshaw became a nurse in 1983 while living in England, and moved to Winona 20 years ago after her husband received a manufacturing job in town. She explained that being a nurse is about creating relationships between themselves and their patients, as they help them through trauma and sickness –– which can be both good and bad.
“You do see people at their worst, best, excited, sad –– you see people in the whole spectrum from birth to death, really,” Bagshaw explained. “You see people going through prevention, birth, rehab — you really do share things with people that you really don’t see in other jobs.”
In addition to working as a nurse in the intensive care wing of Winona Health, Bagshaw also teaches free, hands-on CPR classes across town. The classes, which run around 30-minutes long, focus on CPR methods, as well as preventative measures.
“I think you don’t think about your health until something goes wrong, so it can be really difficult at times where all sorts of things can happen,” Bagshaw said. “There’s no path to follow, is there.”
Often times, patients can be stressed or anxious after hearing news from their doctors and struggle to take in the information. The nurse’s goal, in turn, is to help patients work through the news and take it in, sometimes involving repeated explanations for them to accept and understand what’s going on.
“It’s hard –– especially in a critical care environment,” she added.
Communication with patients is a highlight for many nurses, including Bagshaw, who said she enjoys getting to know patients through her long shifts. However, the job isn’t without its own difficulties.
“It never gets easy when patients die, when you’ve been with their family,” Bagshaw said. “Sometimes when everything could be done, and the person isn’t in pain, you can find comfort in that. I try not to dwell on the negative things.”
While Bagshaw has been a nurse for several decades, Kayla Krueger is still just starting her career out in the field. After graduating from Viterbo University, Krueger joined Kruse in the birthing center three years ago. She is the first in her family to go into the medical profession, but it was through her family that she learned about her desire to care.
“I’m very close with my grandfather, and he always needed some help, like washing his feet,” Kruese said. “I’ve never been in a situation where I needed care, but my dad and grandfather often did, and I watched how the nursing profession worked. It just made me interested.”
She explained that since she was six, she had always wanted to be a nurse, primarily because of the communication side, building relationships and making a difference in people’s lives.
“I’m a chatterbox,” Krueger said. “Nurse practitioner isn’t something that is completely outside of my reach, but I really enjoy the bedside care. Nurse practitioners do more of the directing of the orders for the nurses, and I really enjoy the bedside care and getting to know the patients.”
Krueger had nothing negative to say of her career, highlighting the staff, especially the collaboration among her co-workers, and the small-town feel of working at a community hospital.
“At other hospitals, you might be just a number, but here you get a ‘Hello Kayla, how’s your day going,’” Krueger said. “When people ask me where I see myself in five years, I say ‘Here.’”
However, nursing can be a stressful job, with long hours and difficult work, Bagshaw explained. The number-one thing she sees every year is heart disease, which has increased over the past three decades, and is now the number-one cause of death in the United States. Many of those patients can have trouble comprehending the issues, and as she grows older, Bagshaw now sees stress as an opportunity to help.
“Sometimes adrenaline is a good thing, to have a bit of stress. It makes you faster, quicker, and all your senses are on fire,” Bagshaw said.
The 12-hours shifts can be long, she explained, but being with people and helping them through their most difficult times is a blessing on its own. “If I wasn’t a nurse, I would have been a teacher or an advocate. But then I thought, yeah, that’s what you do when you’re a nurse,” Bagshaw said. “It’s a great career, and it’s a privilege really to see people at all those times. The worst, the best, the happiest and the sad.”