The name of a nurse in the article on the Visiting Nurses Association of Northern Virginia was spelled incorrectly in an article in yesterday's Virginia Weekly. The correct spelling is Karen Hanscom.
When nurse Daren Hancom of the Visiting Nurses Association of Northern Virginia arrived at Mary Curran's South Arlington apartment one recent Friday, the 81-year-old patient was ready for her medication and a friendly visit.
During four injections and a blood pressure test, Curran reminisced about her high school graduation in 1911 and the time she was stranded during a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth several years ago. While Curran, a widow, was weighed at an encouraging 93 pounds, she also had a chance to discuss with the nurse a dizzy spell she had suffered earlier in the week.
To Curran and 1,015 Northern Virginians the Visiting Nurses Association serves each year, VNA is more than reasonably priced, home medical treatment between doctor's appointments. It is a way of coping with a limited convalescent lifestyle and of avoiding confinement in a hospital or other institution.
VNA celebrated its 40th anniversary last month. The United Way agency serving Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church has come a long way in those years, Executive Director Mary Elizabeth Dunn said. In the early days the Instructive Visiting Nurses Association, as it was called then, employed a single nurse who thought new mothers child care techniques.
Since then VNA nurses, therapists and home health aides have aided people in the prime of life through the last days of cancer and helped chronic stroke victims in their 60's adjust to the confines of partial paralysis. They have mended gunshot wounds and broken bones and cared for double amputees, Dunn said.
"If you think of care as a circle, we keep the circle closed," Dunn said. "We pick up the pieces in between the hospital, the nursing home, the doctor and the family."
In marking its birthday recently, VNA honored 16 of its members with a combined length of service of over 150 years. Those honored included: director Dunn, Frances Schitz, Rebie Biller, Doris Cobun, Mildred Green, Margaret Madson, Norman J. Bentley, Elaine Davis, Catherine Gailliot, Estella Graham, Elizabeth Jackson, Daisy Johnson, Alice Nield, Mollie Sabol, Catherine Rollins and Mary Turner.
"The work we do is rather demanding. Some of it is full of joy . . . to help people rehabilitate after an illness and return to their maximum capacity . . . and a great deal of it is not so happy," Dunn said during a VNA awards presentation at the Lyceum in Alecandria Sunday.
The 48 VNA staffers made an average of five calls a day in the last year to Northern Virginians' homes. Patients were seen an average of 26 times in the past year and the nurses, therapists and home health aides drove over 150,000 miles from well-to-do homes in McLean to sub-standard housing in Alexandria, nurse Christine Lopata of Clinton, Md., said.
Most of the clients are over 60 years old and nearly half are 75 or older, Dunn said.
"So much of what we do is not dramatic but it keeps people in their homes and elderly couples together," Arlington nurse Elaine Davis said.
Some of the nursing duties include such simple tasks as teaching stroke victims with the use of only one side of their bodies to prepare a sandwich or close a shirt cuff unassisted.
Davis remembered a widower suffering from diabetes who had been restricted by his physician to a chair to elevate his swelling legs. While taking insulin injections, the man was ordered by his doctor to keep food in his stomach. However, Davis said, the doctor had not realized the patient had no one in his home to prepare a meal for him.
There have been small moments of reward for VNA workers. Nield recalled an Arlington stroke victim who wanted more than anything else to be able to walk again so that she could attend a special wedding ceremony. With physical therapy, the woman was able to reach that goal, Nield said.
There are less pleasant memories.
The women recalled a 15-year-old Fairfax girl who died from a brain tumor late last year who they assisted. They mentioned two patients suffering from terminal cancer who might have their blood vessels rupture at any time and bleed to death before a VNA visitor discovers them.
"You learn to be a good listener, especially with people that are dying," Nield said. "You learn not to cut them off and say 'oh no' when they talk of their fears."
Residents of Northern Virginia under a physician's care may use VNA services. The visits cost $30 but many patients unable to pay are served and financially assisted with United Way contributions, Dunn said.