Caring and compassion were a nurses best tools
Friday, June 12, 2009
WENATCHEE — No one really believes Rose Gunkel that she’s going to retire today after 50 years of nursing.
Her patients say she’s not allowed to quit. Her colleagues aren’t sure that she, the nurse who calls to check on everyone even while she’s on vacation, can stay away.
To compromise, they made her promise to at least take the summer off.
Gunkel, 68, said she has mixed feelings about leaving. She’s worked at the Colonial Vista long-term care center for 30 years, and everyone there seems like family. But she decided a long time ago to “give it 50 years” and then retire from nursing. She’s determined to stick to the plan.
“I’m having a hard time with it,” she said Thursday, taking a break and watching a patient at the same time. “I don’t know where the last 50 years went. I feel so good. Maybe I retired too early.”
Gunkel knew she wanted to be a nurse by the time she was 9, helping the nurse at her orphanage make beds. The nurse, Mrs. Jones, was kind and compassionate — exactly the kind of person Gunkel wanted to be.
“She taught me that it was the touch of a nurse that soothes more than a pain pill,” Gunkel said.
Mrs. Jones taught her compassion, caring and listening, she said. And according to her colleagues, she’s been imparting those values to those around her ever since.
Gunkel doesn’t believe in a difficult patient. She can list on one hand the reasons patients may be upset. If they’re not hungry, lonely, scared, in pain, and they don’t need to use the restroom, a kind ear and a held hand usually do the trick.
While she won’t miss the paperwork, it’s hard for her to imagine days spent without patients and their families.
“I’ve just been really close to all my residents,” she said. “Each one means something special. The families are fantastic. I’ve met such beautiful people here.”
Her colleagues aren’t sure what life in the care center will be like after Gunkel leaves today. They told jokes Thursday about a woman who taught them to make their beds early and keep their rooms clean. If one of their patients didn’t eat, they had better find out why.
And while they love to tease Gunkel, they described her as a hard-working mother, artist, role model and friend — a friend who, they joke, might not be able to keep away from the care center.
In the coming months, Gunkel plans to work on her paintings and writings and attend her 50th high school reunion in Ronan, Mont., with one of her three adult children. She’ll probably do some antiquing and furniture refurbishing, two of her favorite hobbies.
As for Gunkel’s “retirement,” her supervisor Deb Noel, director of nursing at the center, says they can talk about her coming in a day or a two a week — after Gunkel enjoys her first free summer in many, many years.
Rikki King: 664-7155
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