Surprise ‘thank you’ a career highlight for 29-year health professional
Story by Heather Marcoux
Glenda Volk thought she was attending just another meeting on just another day at the Wainwright Health Centre.
But then a recent patient, former paramedic Dan Schmidt, made a surprise appearance and turned the day into one of the best in Volk’s 29 years in nursing.
“To be singled out and to be recognized like this is probably the most special experience of my career,” says Volk.
Adds Schmidt: “I was always raised to give thanks – and I’m thankful for her.”
A year ago, Schmidt – a 38-year-old father of one – was driving the highway late at night when he lost control of his truck after trying to avoid an animal on the road and the vehicle became airborne.
“The truck dipped forward and I saw the grass coming at me,” he recalls. “My first thought was, ‘This is going to hurt.’ ”
The vehicle crumpled in the ditch, resting on the driver’s side.
Schmidt reached for his cellphone and called 911. Soon he was hearing sirens, then the familiar voice of a firefighter he’d worked with, and finally the sound of the Jaws of Life cutting into his truck.
He was transported to the Wainwright Health Centre, where he used to bring the ill and injured during his years as a paramedic. Upon arrival, he was relieved to see Volk’s familiar face.
“I recognized her right away,” he says. “She’s beyond ‘nurse.’ She was an absolute angel to me.”
Volk recognized Schmidt as well, but knew she had to treat him like a patient, not a fellow health care professional.
“When you’re injured and you’re stressed, sometimes that medical knowledge goes out the window and you’re not an EMT or a paramedic, or a nurse, or even a physician at that point in time,” Volk says.
“You’re a patient with the same fears that lay people have.”
Volk’s approach worked perfectly for Schmidt, who knew his injuries were severe, but didn’t feel like he was overwhelmed with information.
“She kept giving me just enough detail so I could rest my mind a little bit,” says Schmidt.
He had a concussion and a partially collapsed left lung. He didn’t yet know that his spleen and liver were also damaged. It was Volk who made that important connection.
“I had a left shoulder pain and it hurt so bad that I couldn’t lift my arm,” says Schmidt.
Volk suspected the shoulder discomfort was actually referred pain from a torn spleen. According to Schmidt, Volk also noted he was jaundiced, suggesting something could be wrong with his liver.
“She knew all of this stuff before the tests were done. I didn’t know. I thought I had hurt my shoulder,” says Schmidt, who believes Volk saved his life by identifying his internal injuries so quickly.
After months of rehabilitation, Schmidt returned to the Wainwright Health Centre with balloons and flowers in hand to surprise and thank Volk, who hadn’t seen him since his hospitalization. The emotional reunion was filmed by Alberta Health Services for the Because You Cared video series, which enables Albertans to thank their health care providers in a special way.
“On behalf of myself and my daughter, I hugely thank you for going way past the call of your duty to help me out,” he told Volk. “I am forever grateful for that.”
Volk says the surprise visit from Schmidt reminds her of why she chose a career in health care.
“I’m just incredibly touched and just so incredibly pleased that I was able to provide the care that he, as my patient, needed,” she says.
“This is why we do what we do every day. It’s why I do what I do.”