I didn’t receive my scheduled chemotherapy due to the recent strike at Swedish Medical Center, although it was reported that quality patient care was not interrupted. Although my care was indeed interrupted, I fully support the nurses and other staff who have walked out to bring attention to issues at Swedish, including understaffing and turnover.
I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in 2005. In the ensuing decade, I had multiple surgeries and more than 200 cycles of chemotherapy. Everything was done at Swedish, and I loved Swedish because I got terrific care there.
I actually looked forward to my treatments at the Swedish Cancer Institute. I could always count on being treated by the same friendly group of nurses who seemed to love their jobs and genuinely cared about me, taking time to get to know me. They knew me, my friends and family, and all my preferences during treatment.
In October of 2015, I got a break from the cancer life. But in early 2018, my disease returned in a big way. I required two major abdominal surgeries and spent 27 days inpatient at First Hill, then started chemotherapy again.
My stay in the hospital showed me how understaffed Swedish had become during my absence. Luckily I had visitors every day who would assist me with walking around my floor because staff didn’t always have time. I learned to clamp and disconnect my own nasogastric tube, so I wouldn’t have to wait indefinitely tethered to a wall when I had to use the restroom.
I have been doing chemo every other week since the summer of 2018, besides breaks for radiation and surgeries. I don’t enjoy my time in the treatment center much anymore. I value building relationships with the people providing my health care, but many of the nurses I knew have moved on for various reasons, some being the reasons for the strike.
It seems now when I go for treatment, I get picked up by a different nurse, many of whom are traveling nurses, and we barely get to know more than each other’s name. They also are so short-staffed that they are running from patient to patient, and I just hope they are doing everything right for all of us. We are getting serious drugs, and their attention matters. The attention to the medicine, our health concerns and our lives matters. Patients are people. Oncology patients are people with complex issues and concerns. Some of us spend a great deal of time at Swedish, and we want to feel that all staff are able to care for us to the best of their abilities.
The nurses and other support staff want to feel cared for too. I hope Swedish management can think of their well-being, as well as that of their patients, and show they care. Care is the most valuable commodity.