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Stories: Jody

I want to be president of the Swedish Fan Club!

In her own words …

My name is Jody Engle and I work at Swedish First Hill where I am the Administrative Assistant to the Environmental Services group. During my job interview, I was asked why I wanted to work at Swedish. This is my story.

I’ve been connected to Swedish in almost every way possible: as the family caregiver of a patient; as an employee; and recently, as a patient. I’m also a donor and proud member of the Summit Club.

My first experience with Swedish was at Cherry Hill in 2007 when my husband and best friend of more than 30 years, Michael, suffered his first of many heart attacks. He was born with a heart issue. His doctors told him at 10 years of age that he would be lucky to survive to be 30 years of age, so he better do everything in his life that he wanted to do before then. He took that advice to heart (pun intended). Michael led the BIGGEST life of anyone I will ever hope to meet in my lifetime. He was a cross between James Bond and Ernest Hemingway (the good parts).

He outlived his death sentence by many, many years. In 2007, his body told him that it was time to start shutting down. Michael had such severe blockage in his heart (and subsequent renal failure) that his doctors said that he would be lucky to survive until the end of the year (which would have been nine months).

I learned to be an “extreme” caregiver (despite my propensity to faint at the sight of needles and blood) and hooked him up with some great specialists. His doctors fully expected him to have a heart attack or stroke and die at any moment. Literally. We fought side-by-side for five years to keep him going. His heart was so bad that he needed to do dialysis every night while he slept. He had bad hand hygiene. Took short cuts. Ended up with peritonitis every year. Awful. Painful. Had blood poisoning. Almost died more than once. Ended up in a skilled nursing facility to go through intense physical therapy. He had at least three heart attacks total.

Michael and I spent days and weeks in the hospital near our home. In the emergency room, sometimes multiple times weekly. He was scared. Miserable. At times suicidal. The list of things that this poor guy went through is long. And heartbreaking.

In Feb. 2012 after another heart attack, Michael and I were told that he needed emergency open heart surgery. So he was transported to Swedish Cherry Hill. Michael was treated in a way that was “loving.” Not overtly. But in a way that he felt. I felt. It was obvious that people at Cherry Hill LIKED working with each other. The systems that were in place appeared to run smoothly. I saw kindness between employees. That kindness was transferred to patients.

I saw Michael visibly relax. He was scared. But knew that he wouldn’t face resistance when he was feeling vulnerable. Quite the opposite. Michael had to have carotid artery surgery before his emergency open heart surgery because of extreme blockage. I had to leave Michael for one night during his stay to go home. For the first time ever, he felt comfortable with me doing so. I felt comfortable doing so.

His nephrologist, Dr. Dang, listened to me when I told him about some of my concerns about Michael’s symptoms. Dr. Dang researched my concerns and told me that Michael was most likely having small strokes. I was sad, but at least I knew “why.”

Michael’s surgeon, Dr. Mai Pham, tested him several times before performing the carotid artery surgery on him. I was sitting in his room, waiting for him to come out of surgery, starting to feel that something wasn’t right. And it wasn’t. Dr. Pham came to Michael’s hospital room with her team and told me that he didn’t survive the surgery. He had another heart attack. I was SO devastated! My worst fears were realized. But she made it better. She explained what happened, that he didn’t suffer, and gave me her card to call if I had any questions later.

Dr. Dang came in and told me that Dr. Pham was very upset about what happened (they were friends). I cried aloud that I didn’t get to say goodbye to him. So Michael was transferred to a room in another area of the hospital where Michael’s son and I could say goodbye.

I will never, ever forget the kindness that was extended to Michael and I the last week of his life. Just thinking about it makes me cry still. I didn’t want to lose Michael. I was scared to face that moment. But if I was going to lose him, it was under the best circumstances possible (no pain and awareness of his passing) and surrounded by people who treated him better than any other health care experience he had been in.

Serendipitously, I donated the use of our waterfront second home in Chelan to raise money for cancer research at Swedish and became a Summit Club member. Little did I know how significant this donation would become.

Fast forward to March 2016. I saw a job opening at Swedish. I had left my job and was looking for a fresh start. A job where I could make a difference. I had never worked in a hospital before. Then my life came full circle. I KNEW that I was supposed to work at Swedish. The word “caregiver” has special significance for me. I KNOW to the depth of my bones what that term means. To care for someone intimately at the most vulnerable point in their life. With your entire heart. Your soul. And with everything you can give them. Your entire being. What BETTER opportunity is there than this?

A few months after I started my job at Swedish, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was nervous to tell my director. Silly me. He was SO kind, compassionate, empathetic, and supportive. He reminded me that caring for people is our job. He told me that “we” are going to get through this together. I am very calm about this journey (with the exception of my allergy to needles!).

Watching someone you love suffer is far more painful than dealing with your own health issues. I work at one of the BEST cancer institutes in the country. I am being treated at Swedish First Hill (where I work) and all of my care is here. I have great insurance. Great benefits. I am confident in my doctors and amazed at the resources that are in place for patients with cancer. I have the full support of my director and team members. This is FAR more than I could ask for.

I feel like I won the lottery! I work for the BEST director in the hospital. At the BEST cancer institute in the area. Helping people who are in the same situation that Michael was in. That I am now in. UNDERSTANDING the role that this hospital plays in the lives of those we serve in our community. I get to see babies in the hallway every day. And I get PAID to do this! 

Thank you for reading my long story. I went into so much detail because I wanted you to understand the depth and breadth of my gratitude to Swedish and the significance it holds from every role and perspective that I have been involved in.