‘Old school’ nurses wrap up more than nine decades of combined service
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com January 29, 2014 6:37AM
Updated: January 30, 2014 1:21PM
Christ Hospital recently lost 91 years of combined nursing experience when Pat Hamilton, 68, and Helen Janiak, 64, both retired on the same day.
It was a chilly December day — Friday the 13th, to be exact — but neither Oak Lawn resident felt it was unlucky. Rather, they both said they were lucky to have spent so many years in a profession they love.
Hamilton was a nurse at Christ Hospital and then Christ Medical Center for 48 years. Janiak was a nurse there for 43.
They both took time on their final day on the job to reflect on their lifelong passion.
Hamilton, who grew up in Oak Lawn, retired as a nurse liaison. She was the person who acted as a go-between for doctors and patients’ families, providing updates from one to the other, keeping the families updated about their loved one who was having surgery.
Families can be angry at the first meeting, she said, because of concerns about the surgery. The second time she meets with them, they usually apologize. And by the third time, “we’re best of friends.”
It’s a long way from where she started, in pediatrics at the tender age of 20. Just two years later, she was named the head of a surgical unit at the hospital, heady stuff for a 22-year-old, but “no one gives you a job unless they think you can handle it,” she said.
Hamilton, a proud member of the Class of 1962 at Mother McAuley High School, got her nursing degree in Elizabeth, N.J., after her father was transferred there.
She met Tom Hamilton, the man who became her husband, and they returned to Oak Lawn. She started at Christ in 1965, long before it became the sprawling medical center it is today.
“Nursing is a team effort. You utilize your skills, but you never forget you are working with a team that will make your job better and you hope you can make their job easier, too,” Hamilton said.
In 1973 she helped open the hospital’s dialysis program, “a new type of nursing this hospital never had.” Ten years later, she “floated” into the intensive care units and short-staffed areas before becoming a nurse liaison.
“There’s not a lot of downside to my job. I love what I’m doing and I hate to leave. The opportunity came to accept a buy-out,” she said.
Janiak is a lot like Hamilton, starting there “right out of nursing school” in June 1970. The offer of early retirement with six months salary, was too good to pass, she said.
She ended her career as a surgery nurse, “so I do the hands-on stuff,” Janiak said.
“I’ve done all kinds of surgery, every one of them,” she said. “(I have) a lot of good memories.”
She rode two buses, starting at 48th and Hermitage on Chicago’s South Side, to the hospital when she started working there. She later got a car and was able to be an on-call nurse. She was at Christ when it became a trauma center “and then everything changed.”
“We were adding and adding to the hospital and that’s when they built the new pavilion here in ‘94. We’ve seen a lot of renovations,” Janiak said.
“Yes, it’s hard to leave. My husband still razzes me because I watch hospital shows, like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and hospital movies on TV. My husband (Ronald) says, ‘You don’t get enough of that at work?’ ” Janiak said with a smile.
Janiak has two sons and two grandchildren. Hamilton has a son and a daughter, and five grandchildren. Her parents recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
Hamilton and Janiak both look forward to spending more time with their families. Neither was tempted to find work at a different hospital, they said.
“Nursing isn’t what it used to be,” Hamilton said. “When I started here, my goal was to work here till the end. Why look around? Why leave?”
Janiak said younger nurses “have a different work ethic than we do.”
“These young people, if they don’t make enough money, they leave. We did it for the glory, for our own satisfaction because we loved what we were doing. I just loved nursing. Every day is a new experience,” Janiak said.
Hamilton’s advice to a new nurse is about satisfaction of a job well-done.
“The rewards you get in yourself doing your job every day, that’s the reward that is lasting. Money comes and goes quickly. In the field we’re in, we see how quickly people lose their health. What good is it to be wealthy? Certainly money buys a lot, but the satisfaction of going home knowing you’ve done your best that day, that’s the reward,” Hamilton said.
The hardest part of their jobs? Dealing with death.
“You allow them to talk about their feelings, acknowledge their pain. When you hold them, physically hold them, it gives them support emotionally and physically,” Hamilton said, adding “it’s not easy” to leave those moments at work.
Janiak won’t forget the time a 5-year-old patient died about 30 years ago.
“The mother and I sat on the floor and cried together because children aren’t supposed to die. Even the doctor sat with us and cried,” she said. “You do all you can, but sometimes it’s just not in our hands.”
One death was inspiring for Hamilton. There was a shooting victim whose family had gathered for the inevitable farewell.
“They all came in and held hands around this patient who had died, and each gave him tribute,” Hamilton said. “It was the most moving time I can remember. You stand there and cry, but they were so strong, I had to admire their strength.”