After finishing my surgical residency at Emory University, I took over a surgical practice from a retiring surgeon in Decatur, Georgia. His office was in a renovated stone house in downtown Decatur, and he had three employees, all of whom continued working for me for some time. A few years later, two other retiring surgeons asked me to assume their practice as well. They also had some employees who stayed on, one was Marian Hopper, a registered nurse. Little did I know at the time what an asset she would be to me and our patients.
Marian had worked at the adjacent hospital, DeKalb General (now Emory Decatur) prior to working in this surgical practice. The surgeons had seen how fantastic she was, and they offered her a job in their office. Fortunately for me, she continued to work for me after those surgeons retired.
Marian was on the quiet side but with a very nurturing demeanor. She always went about her work very efficiently, thinking two or three steps ahead of our process. She always made sure that everything I might need was already laid out and ready, as if she was setting a formal dining room place setting.
Marian was a perfectionist, and at times was much harder on herself than I would ever be. I recall once when she made a trivial oversight, something so trivial I don’t even recall the specifics. She held back tears as she “confessed” and offered her resignation, because she had not met her own uncompromising standards. I reassured her that she was doing a great job, and I had no intention of letting her go. That would have been my loss indeed.
Marian also was loved by our patients. She always remembered them at their subsequent visits, and she would ask about their families. She would alert me to any concerns that had been shared with her by the patient that might help me determine the best treatment option for them. Marian was a calming force, for instance when a patient would come in because of a new breast lump or abnormal mammogram. Her soothing spirit helped each patient to prepare for what lay ahead, whether it proved to be a benign lump or cyst, or a newly diagnosed cancer.
Marian would call patients at home following their surgery to be sure all their questions were answered. This was her practice before it ever occurred to me that we should do this routinely. I tried not to be envious that the patients looked forward more to talking with Marian at a post operative visit than to me. She was as much their friend as she was their nurse.
It was a sad day for me when Marian told me it was time for her to retire. We still miss her daily arrival in the office, 15 minutes early, starched white nurse’s uniform, and humble smile, but after a long career devoted to providing love and caring to our patients, it is a retirement well-deserved.
Please watch for the final installment, where you’ll meet “Nurse Kay”.