Nurse juggles desk work and time spent with patients


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This is part of an occasional series looking at the day in the life of someone touched by health care.

It was difficult to tell who was more contented: Judy Ruane or tiny 1-month-old Tiernan Ruddy, who snoozed as he nestled against her. The infant, born 6 weeks early, had fallen asleep in Mrs. Ruane's arms after she had fed him and taken his morning vital signs.

Cuddling babies is one of the things Mrs. Ruane, 53, of Pleasant Hills, likes best about her job as day charge nurse of the Pediatric Specialty Hospital, a part of The Children's Home & Lemieux Family Center in Friendship.

But the emphasis is on the word "one."

"The favorite part of my shift? Darn, there are a lot of favorite parts," she said.

And that's a good thing since she has so many things to do during shifts that are supposed to be 12 hours but sometimes run as long as 17.

She works three day shifts a week -- 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- at The Children's Home as well as two 12-hour shifts on the surgical unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Good stamina, her son's medical school tuition and the diversity of the two jobs keep her going.

At the Pediatric Specialty Hospital, Mrs. Ruane has a lot of administrative duties, like scheduling and charge reports, but she also pitches in to do bedside-nursing when needed. On this particular day, she's taking care of Tiernan, who is being prepared for discharge to his parents' home in West Union, W.Va., because staff is short. She fills in to give another baby an afternoon bottle, too.

Equipped for acute care, the 28-bed Pediatric Specialty Hospital functions as a transition facility for kids ages birth to 21 who are ready to leave a larger hospital but not ready to go home. There are premature babies who need to mature; kids with conditions like cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease characterized by excessive mucus in the lungs; kids on long-term intravenous antibiotics for severe infections; or kids before or after receiving organ transplants. The hospital also offers palliative care for terminally ill children.

"Being at The Children's Home is not as much hands-on care," said Mrs. Ruane of her duties. "A strong clinical background is necessary because I'm the go-to girl with questions [like] 'Look at this wound,' 'What about this medication?' 'This child's got a fever -- what do you think we ought to do?' 'Hey, we need an I.V. in this patient -- can you help us out?' 'Hey, we need blood work.'

"When I'm at Children's Hospital I'm doing more bedside nursing, and I tremendously enjoy that and try to get as much of that in at The Children's Home as I can, too. The Children's Home is a little more medically based care. ...

"But they complement each other very well."

This particular day at The Children's Home was somewhat atypical for two reasons: Mrs. Ruane said she was not fielding nearly as many calls for help as usual, and she was being followed and interviewed by a reporter and a videographer.

Mrs. Ruane kept apologizing to the journalists for the "slow day," but it seemed pretty busy to them. During a one-hour lunch meeting of department heads with hospital director Kim Reblock, for example, she was interrupted three times for phone calls. Two of them were about arranging return transport for a post-transplant patient who went from the specialty hospital to Children's Hospital for a procedure.

In the morning, she had started writing her charge reports in between caring for Tiernan, checking on medication supplies, and consulting with the admissions and discharge coordinators. She also checked a dressing on a teenage patient awaiting an organ transplant and stopped to play with a toddler who giggled in delight when the long-haired woman in the cheerful yellow scrubs planted noisy kisses on his cheeks.

During the early afternoon, Mrs. Ruane made calls to nurses to fill staffing needs, fielded more phone calls, arranged for a nurse to accompany a new admission coming from another local hospital, and checked in on the patient who had returned from her procedure.

Then she led the reporters to an empty ward and sat down in a rocking chair for an interview in which her quick wit and a penchant for self-deprecation were on display. Even more obvious, though, was the passion and dedication she has for pediatric nursing.

"I feel that pediatrics chose me more than I chose pediatrics," Mrs. Ruane said. The decision was made when she was a senior at the now-defunct Uniontown Hospital School of Nursing and went with several classmates to a "tea and tour" at Children's Hospital.

"Coming from a small hospital school of nursing, of course, any major illnesses, be they pediatric or adult, are going to get sent to either a Pittsburgh hospital or down to Morgantown [W.Va.]. ...

"I saw things [at Children's] that were words or pictures in a textbook, and I was just awestruck and thought, 'Wow, what I could learn here. This place is just amazing and that's where I want to work,' " she said.

"That was 31 years ago. I've not regretted it ever. Pediatrics just spoke to me, I guess you could say. ...

"I love kids. They're great. It's a challenging field. [There are] two patients, so to speak, or three, because you've got parents who would wish the sun and stars that it was them needing surgery instead of the child, so that you've got them to get through the process as well as the child."

And Mrs. Ruane ranked dealing with the parents right up there with nursing the children when asked what she likes best about her job at The Children's Home.

"I love when I can do the bedside nursing, any chance I get to snuggle with a baby, feed a baby," she said. "I love teaching parents."

There is much to teach, like how to take care of medical equipment such as feeding tubes, dressings, colostomy bags and tracheotomies.

But there is more to it than that, she said.

"I think, in addition, we teach them just how to be comfortable with their child, feeding techniques, how to swaddle a baby so they're more comfortable and content," she said. "If it's a first-time baby, it's intimidating enough, let alone if you have a sickly baby. Even if it's not a first-time baby, parents are nervous."

To see those parents become confident is one of the rewards.

"I get out of bed every day because every day is different and because every day you feel you've made a difference in somebody's life," Mrs. Ruane said.

Her boss, Ms. Reblock, agrees that indeed Judy Ruane makes a difference:

"She exemplifies nursing."

on the web

For a video of Judy Ruane's typical day, go to www.post-gazette.com.


Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228. First Published June 2, 2010 4:00 AM


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