It was the third time he had hit the call button in the past five minutes. Finally, a nurse hurried in ready to assist a man who had been told he only had days to live.
“Can you just move that fork and just leave it right there,” the man said. “Yeah, thanks.”
A few minutes later, he hit the button again, requesting that another object be moved. Another couple of seconds later, and this repeated. The nurse never failed to come into the man’s room promptly and was ready to assist the man in every one of his tedious orders.
By 3 p.m., his wife had finally had enough. She stormed out of his hospital room and questioned the nurses as to why they were allowing her husband to push them around in the way that he was. She said she could no longer stand how mean he was behaving.
The patient’s nurse stepped forward and responded, “Do you realize that he has just lost all control of his whole life? The only control he has is to ask me to move something else, and I’m going to do it for him because it’ll make him feel like he gained a little bit more control today.”
The nurse’s name is Ruth Cummings and this is the kind of care she gives her patients—attentiveness, comfort and a little bit of hope.
Cummings is a registered nurse who was honored The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses at Central Texas Medical Center January 2020. The award recognized Cummings as a compassionate nurse who goes above and beyond to give her patients the best care possible.
The DAISY Foundation, an acronym used for Diseases Attacking the Immune System, is a nonprofit to say “thank you” to nurses nationwide who care for and impact their patients.
While selecting the DAISY award winner, the committee receives letters from former patients, other nurses or family members who are nominating a nurse. The committee members choose the winning story based on the impact the nurse had on the patient. The committee has no knowledge of which nurse each patient is writing about until post-selection.
Clinical Program Director for Advanced Wound Healing at Central Texas Medical Center Kim Ford was a DAISY committee member involved in selecting Cummings for the award. She said Cummings’ former patient’s story of how Cummings touched their heart and changed their life epitomized what the DAISY foundation is all about.
“The story that the patient and the other nurse who submitted Ruth just exemplified what we do, and how it touches people’s lives,” Ford said. “How Ruth intervened changed this person’s life and that’s what we hope to do every day.”
Cummings was nominated by a former patient who she helped get through a life crisis, contemplating suicide and a time of extreme distress.
“Instead of just treating her like my patient, I saw the pain in her eyes, and I just couldn’t help but feel that,” Cummings said. “I wasn’t afraid of her feelings and I think that’s what shocked her.”
According to the nomination letter her former patient wrote to her, the patient thanked Cummings for reassuring her that she was loved, cared for and important.
The former patient also shared in the letter how Cummings planted that seed of life and growth in her and how the hospital community watered it and fed it until she was ready to overcome the dark place she was in.
Cummings said the experience her former patient had at the hospital really helped the patient turn her life around. According to the patient’s letter, after speaking with Cummings, she underwent intense therapy and eventually was able to see the light in her life.
“I pulled up a chair, I sat down with her and I listened to her cry,” Cummings said. “I listened to her tell me what was going on. I just sat there most of the day and just talked to her.”
According to the patient’s letter, she left the hospital with an incredibly positive outlook on life and will be forever grateful for the impact Cummings made during that tough time.
When talking about the importance of extending compassionate care to all people, Cummings said it is simply ingrained in her every day.
“We take care of people no matter who they are, and we’re all people when it comes down to it,” Cummings said. “Whether they are a CEO, a housekeeper or the homeless, it doesn’t matter. You’re still a person. We all get the same feelings. We all have to deal with the same disease processes.”
Cummings said she believes the beauty of her profession is in how she gets to treat every person the same. There is no hierarchy and there is no status because, at the end of the day, every person is a person.
“To us, everybody’s the same, and that’s priceless to me because you get to treat everybody the way that you’d want to be treated,” Cummings said.
Cummings graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler in 2006 and has been an RN since. She said her heart is in working in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
While 19 weeks pregnant with her daughter, Cummings’ doctors said her newborn would be diagnosed with Di-George disease. Her daughter experienced health complications and needed a couple of heart surgeries. Cummings left working as a nurse in the ICU for three years and became a case manager in-home care in order to be less exposed to infectious diseases.
Cummings said her time in health care was an educational and eye-opening experience for her. She said she was able to witness the struggles a patient goes through after being discharged from the hospital.
“It’s very enlightening because as a person who just works in a hospital, you’re not exposed to what you’re sending that patient home to or what kind of environment they’re going home to,” Cummings said. “(You realize) they really don’t understand or it wasn’t explained well enough or one time telling them what their medications are isn’t enough.”
Cummings said her daughter has had a huge impact on the way she treats her patients. She said during that time when her daughter underwent surgeries and treatments, it did not matter how much medical terminology she knew as a nurse. She looked at her daughter and thought “that’s my person.”
“When it is their person, it doesn’t matter if they’re a doctor or a nurse or that they work in a hospital, they are just as shocked and blank-faced and just need somebody to tell it to them in the most simple terms possible and to even have someone take care of them too,” Cummings said. “It definitely helped me understand what families go through.”
Cummings returned to her work as a nurse in the ICU after her daughter’s doctor confirmed that she did not have any immune system issues.
Cummings said giving compassionate care to patients is something found all around the hospital and was surprised that she was the one who received the DAISY award.
“I feel like I see my coworkers do this every day,” Cummings said. “I don’t feel that what I do is special. It doesn’t feel like something that you need to get an award for.”
As a nurse, one of Cummings’ goal is to prepare her patients to properly care for themselves once outside the hospital.
“It goes a lot farther than just giving you a blanket,” Cummings said. “I’m not just doing a task for you that helps you right now. I’m helping you manage yourself. I’m helping you be able to take care of yourself better when I’m not there.”
Cummings is now working as the critical care educator within the hospital’s ICU, ER and catheterization lab. She said she is hoping to help other nurses transition from school into the ICU through the hospital’s newest nursing education program.
“When I started nursing, I had a great experience with a residency program that really helped me get through the shock of going through the ICU as a brand new nurse,” Cummings said.
The program includes both digital modules and class time as well as in-field experience. It aims toward helping nurses ease into the hectic lifestyle of a nurse in the ICU.
“A lot of nurses get their critical care experience and then leave because it’s overwhelming,” Cummings said. “I feel like if you’re better prepared for it or better coached into it or supported through it, you don’t get burnt out as easily.”
CTMC is a Christian faith-based hospital, now managed by the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa medical system. The hospital’s motto, “Extending the Healing of the Christian Ministry,” has influenced Cummings’s perspective on how she, and her fellow coworkers, care for their patients and other nurses.
“The same concepts of caring for the whole person and taking care of the person spiritually as well as physically is what we try to do,” Cummings said.
Chief Nursing Officer Catherine Amitrano said Cummings is an influential nurse who has made an impact in many of her patient’s lives while upholding the Christian values of the hospital.
“She is an amazing nurse, who provides the best care possible for our mission in vision of extending the hailing ministry of Christ,” Amitrano said.
Cummings has had numerous patients over the 14 years that she has been working as a nurse. She said she hopes to continue to intentionally care for and be present to each one of her patients in the future because that is what changes lives.