John Carfora flanked by caretakers-turned-friends (L-R) Emily Weiss '07, Connell School of Nursing part-time faculty member Mary Willis and Catherine "Cat" Hickel í07.
Developing a Very Healthy Respect
A hospital stay showed one University administrator that BC nursing students are all they're cracked up to be, and more
By Sean Smith
John Carfora lay in his hospital bed, feeling utterly isolated and alone.
Carfora, the director of BC's Office of Sponsored Programs, had been diagnosed with colon cancer in early October, and only a week later underwent surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital. It was, he says, only the third time in his life he'd been in a hospital - including the day of his birth - and the first time in 35 years.
There were visits, cards and calls from family members, friends and colleagues, all of which Carfora credits with buoying his spirits. But reassurance had its limits.
"The diagnosis and the surgery caught me completely by surprise," said Carfora last week, on his first day back on campus. "I did not know what to expect and was just overcome with genuine fear of mortality and the unknown."
Then into his life came four people who would play a vital role in his spiritual and emotional revival as well as his physical recovery - all four of them from the University community to which Carfora hoped to return.
Mary Willis, a part-time Connell School of Nursing faculty member and clinical educator at Brigham and Women's, and CSON juniors Emily Weiss, Courtney Pladsen and Catherine "Cat" Hickel at first had no inkling the patient on their rotation worked at BC. But by the time Carfora left the hospital on Nov. 5, their therapeutic relationship had grown into friendship.
"They were all full of energy and good cheer," said Carfora. "Emily, Courtney and Cat worked vigorously not only to attend to my medical needs, but also to lift my spirits and make me laugh. I'm extremely grateful to them."
For Carfora, the experience has prompted his interest in, and advocacy of, promoting good health habits. Perhaps just as importantly, he says, he has heightened appreciation for the quality of students at BC - especially those in the Connell School - and for the education they receive.
"I want to thank the Connell School for introducing me to a small sample of their wonderful students, and to give credit to Mary Willis and faculty advisors [Prof.] June Horowitz and [Assoc. Prof.] Rosanna DeMarco for the education and training our BC nursing students receive.
"When I've talked with veteran hospital nurses, every one has commented to me: 'The BC students are excellent; you can see the difference.'"
Pladsen, from Mansfield, Mass., said, "It was wonderful to work with Mr. Carfora. He always asked how we were doing, how our studies were going, and we had some great conversations. Those are the kind of nurse-patient relationships that are good for everyone."
Willis says clinical rotations are often the proving ground for nursing students like Weiss, Pladsen and Hickel. "They learn to interact more with patients, including those with a significant illness. It's important for the students to know how to get a patient to talk, to describe how they're feeling so the nurse can get as clear and complete a picture as possible on their health and well-being.
"While there are certain techniques for doing that, it all really gets down to a person's interpersonal skills - you can't really teach that. Emily, Courtney and Cat are all very motivated and have shown they are quite capable of fostering good communication with their patients.
"You can tell their parents have done a good job with them."
Houston native Weiss says, "It's not always easy to establish a rapport with a patient. You have to rely on your compassion and sympathy, while at the same time being professional enough to do what you have to do."
Hickel, an Alpharetta, Ga., native, agrees, "You don't come into the room knowing what to say. You have to learn what to say, and you can only do that by getting to know the patient as best as you can. I think that the education we get at the Connell School and BC is intensive and well-rounded enough so that you can become confident in yourself to be able to relate to people."
Carfora plans to keep in touch with his newfound friends. But as he continues on the road to recovery, he also wants to make sure his old friends, as well as his colleagues and fellow employees at BC, never endure what he did.
"We have excellent health benefits here at BC, and we should use them," he said. "My message is that we all make time for our health, and, regardless of gender, pay attention to early warning signs, risks, prevention, and screening associated with good physical health."