Hospice nursing is some of the hardest nursing there is. It takes courage, compassion and the ability to anticipate and address both medical, emotional and spiritual pain. Most of all, it takes love. Lots and lots of love. Hospice Austin RN Debbie Cooper exemplifies the qualities that make all of our nurses so special.
Debbie was honored recently at the Austin American-Statesman’s Recognizing Nurses Best in Class Awards Gala. The red carpet reception was held at the Paramount Theatre to celebrate Austin’s extraordinary nursing community. The Best in Class Awards honored seven local nurses who were nominated by their colleagues, patients, families and friends. Nearly 400 nominations were submitted!
Debbie was the only nurse to receive three nominations. She was nominated by Hospice Austin social worker Kristin Santiago, co-worker Melinda Marble whose husband was under Debbie’s care, and former patient Brenda Conley-Batts. Debbie was Brenda’s nurse for two years before Brenda went into remission this spring and was discharged from our care.
Brenda said she nominated Debbie because she’s been a nurse herself. “I watched her every move,” Brenda said, “and she never failed me once. She always went above what I expected. Many days I couldn’t eat, sleep or do much for myself and Debbie worked with me untiringly to get me stronger. When the doctors were trying to get me controlled on my pain medication, Debbie refused to let me give up because nothing was working right. She made me keep trying until we finally got the right medication combination.”
Debbie is a wonderful teacher to her colleagues as well. When a new nurse is hired at Hospice Austin, Debbie often volunteers to train him or her, which involves the nurse shadowing her for a full six weeks. It can require extra time and effort during her day, said social worker Kristin Santiago, but Debbie takes it in stride. She also tends to her colleagues’ emotional needs. During the weekly interdisciplinary team meetings, Debbie ensures that the team takes time to process the loss of patients they have come to care about.
Debbie was the nurse assigned to care for Melinda Marble’s husband. Melinda said that during her visits, Debbie would lean forward and listen intently and ask lots of questions. Later in the day whatever was needed would magically arrive – medical equipment, a new medication. As he grew increasingly weak, Debbie would sit closer and closer to him during visits.
“A day or two before my husband died, they were sitting together talking quietly and she was holding his hand,” Melinda recalled. “I was talking to another team member, and I looked over and Debbie had rested her forehead against his. It made my heart swell with gratitude.”
Melinda said we have a haiku at Hospice Austin:
Deep water can drown
Or support a calm voyage
Our small boat matters.
“ Debbie was our boat,” she said. “And it mattered.”
For Debbie Cooper, who has worked in hospice care for nearly 20 years, her work all comes down to love.
“I feel very humbled for being nominated for this award,” she said. “I feel like every nurse I work with at Hospice Austin deserves this award as much as I do. If hospice care is nothing else, it is genuine authentic love in action. It is also soul shaking and one of the most difficult times that life gives us. It is an honor and privilege to help people at this intimate time in their life.”