Ask A Magnet Nurse
Wesley Shipes, RN
Coronary Care Unit, St. Joseph’s Hospital
“Cardiac Care Nurses Help With The Physical And Emotional Challenges Of Recovery”
Smart Living: In your unit, you take care of patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions as well as patients recovering from heart surgery. What special roles do nurses have when they are part of this team?
Wesley Shipes: We monitor a patient’s heart activity, administer medication, perform stress test evaluations and
generally help them get back to the same, or better, level of function than they had before their heart attack or before they needed surgery. Many of us have extra certification in critical care or in treating cardiovascular surgery patients. You need to understand the cardiovascular system inside and out to be able to help treat the patients here.
It’s a team approach to get patients hemodynamically stable, meaning their heart is pumping well and they have good circulation, at the bedside. Of course we work with cardiologists, but we also work with cardiothoracic surgeons, respiratory therapists, and the cardiac rehab unit. One of the major tasks before discharge is education for patients about taking care of themselves so that they don’t end up back in the hospital.
SL: You know the cardiovascular system inside and out but the patient and their loved ones probably don’t. How do you help them understand what they need to know?
WS: Their cardiologist will usually give them quite a bit of information to absorb, and we are there afterward to answer questions or break something down into smaller pieces if needed. For some it’s clear right away but for others we can be that bridge between the physician and the patients and families.
Another important part of treatment is emotional support. Even after a successful procedure, patients feel that they have gone through a life-changing event. They wonder if they can go back to work, have fun with their family, all of the things they did before. Some learn that they’ll be on medication for the rest of their life. Others may wonder if their life expectancy has shortened because of their disease. So there is a big risk for depression in these patients. We are always there to be supportive and understanding, and to help them find any resources they may need to fully recover and get back to enjoying life.