“Thoughts on the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, Brackenridge Hospital and the New Medical School”
My mother’s cousin was a general surgeon in Austin, and I started working for him when I was eighteen. Originally, he had me help out by preparing and sending out all his paper statements to patients and insurance companies.
You see, back then, we sent bills out once a month. Once a month! That would probably freak out any office practice manager today. The paper statements themselves fascinated me because each piece of paper told a story. Almost all his patients came to him initially for surgery, but a lot of them ended up coming back to him for years as a general practitioner.
Many of his patients had no insurance and no money. Some of them used to drive long distances to his office every week or month to bring him five or ten dollars and slowly pay their bill down. While they were there, he’d check them out, knowing that they were unlikely to seek any other medical care. So he figured he’d better go ahead and take care of them when they dropped in to make their payments.
And, after driving for so long, they loved to sit and talk to his wife who was also his receptionist, assistant and constant companion. She had a smile that beamed when you walked in the door, and you couldn’t wait to visit with her. Some folks came from farms in the Valley, and since she was crazy about fresh fruit, and he loved to make her happy — and loved to eat, too — he’d accept produce from patients to pay off surgical bills.
One time I was doing the monthly statements and said, “Hey, Mr. So and So brought in that bushel of cantaloupes last week; how much do you want me to knock off his bill?” He said, “That fruit was so sweet, go ahead and wipe out the whole bill.” I figured those cantaloupes ended up being worth about twenty dollars each. That happened a lot, but my cousin and his wife always had a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables at their office and in their house, which was okay by me.
His patients came to him for years, well after their original surgeries had healed. They liked his direct, gruff but sensitive approach and they loved his wife. She did almost every job in the office until her muscular dystrophy wouldn’t allow her to assist in the exam room any more.
They were together 24/7: at home, where I used to stay with them a lot while attending college; at his office, where they worked together for long hours; at the old Brackenridge Hospital, where the emergency room, intensive care unit and operating room staff knew her as well as they knew him.
She was in the surgery lounge, often at 3 or 4 a.m., because he was one of the on-call surgeons, which meant gunshots and appendectomies and crazy stories at all hours. His wife was always by his side, holding onto his arm, especially during the last several years when she couldn’t walk alone.
And he was happy to support her on his arm. He was a big bear of a guy who enjoyed having his lovely and sociable wife with him and he knew what a positive impact she had on all his patients. She was there in the hospital with him on rounds and she was the first face you would see when you came to his office for post-op visits.
Soon after I started working at his office, I found that I loved dealing with all the patients and their conditions — even the blood and guts — and so he taught me to help him in the exam and treatment rooms, which came in handy, especially when his wife got to where it was hard for her to stand up.
He told me I should consider going to nursing school, but I told him that I was pretty sure my assertive personality would get in the way. He would roll his eyes. I didn’t know why, but he started taking me to the Brackenridge emergency room and intensive care unit (ICU). He’d say, “Watch those nurses and tell me that they aren’t the smartest, fastest, most assertive people around.”
Of course he was right. He challenged me to get a job at Brackenridge as a ward clerk and then come back and tell him what I thought about nurses.
I got a job in the brand new coronary care unit (CCU) at the old Brack’s brand new wing. The unit was state of the art, all new and modern and bright. In spite of that, our big cardiac weapons were still lidocaine and defib paddles. It seemed like a lot of patients died.
In retrospect, I’m not sure what “a lot” means, but every death was so intense because every person who died was so precious to someone. That someone could be just one person there for them, or a few, or a mass of family and/or friends, but every single loss seemed painfully huge.
The minute a patient came to the unit, our team of nurses and helpers formed a relationship with them, and if there were no family or friends there, the nurses took over and our team became that someone for them. I saw a lot of people die, but thanks to our team, I never saw a person die alone.
My experience as a ward clerk sent me straight back to school to get a bachelor’s of science in nursing. I got that “golden ring” at the UT Austin School of Nursing, and my cousins took enormous pride in my career over the years.
So much has changed in the health care system during the decades that I have been immersed in serving others. But one thing has not: the power of compassion. Evidenced-based practice is essential to providing health services. Human caring and kindness extend that scientific knowledge to allow us to connect with our patients in ways that improve their engagement and their health outcomes. Compassion is what makes the science and art of nursing so powerful.
My mother’s cousin was a general surgeon in Austin, and his wife was his team member who kept his patients engaged. Together, they were amazing. The nurses I worked with in the ICU and CCU at Brackenridge were brilliant and kind.
I look back at all these individuals with respect, and I look forward to all the training at both the School of Nursing and the future Dell Medical School and new teaching hospital that is expanding on the same ground where I learned so much.
A lot has happened and changed on this property in Austin between 15th Street and MLK Boulevard. I am lucky to have learned my basics from some of the masters who helped make these grounds around here so special.
Norine Yukon grew up in Texas, Bermuda and Tokyo. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing and worked in an inpatient setting for nearly ten years. After becoming engaged in health care policy and the allocation of health care resources, her interests led her to the managed care industry, where she led several health plans. She began working for UnitedHealthcare in 1987 and then for Prudential HealthCare and the AMERIGROUP Corporation. Norine returned to UnitedHealthcare in 2009 and retired in May 2014 as the CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Texas, serving beneficiaries in Medicaid, CHIP, Long Term Care, and Dual Special Needs Programs.
Norine has served on the boards of several non-profit organizations, and she has been a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and a neonatal intensive care unit. She has lectured at universities in Texas, Arizona, and New Jersey, and been appointed by several governors to various task forces, advisory committees, and transition teams for health and human services. She currently serves on the Austin Meals on Wheels Board of Directors, the Texas Conference for Women Board of Directors, the Advisory Council for the UT Austin School of Nursing, and the Texas Exes Council.