ROCKFORD, Ill. — Tom Zuba has experienced unthinkable amounts of grief.
The Rockford native first dealt with the death of his 18-month-old daughter, Erin, in 1990 from hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Nine years later, Zuba’s wife, Trici, died from the effects of a hereditary blood disorder at age 43. In 2005, his 13-year-old son, Rory, died of brain cancer.
“I have been in the deepest, darkest, most confusing, most overwhelming hole that we call grief,” he told nurses Sept. 15 at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center’s Nursing Ethics Fall Conference, titled Consciously Nurturing the Heart of Healing. “Not once. Not twice. But three times. I would not wish this amount of pain on anyone.”
Faced with overwhelming grief, Zuba shared how he healed from the tragedies and offered tips for nurses and healthcare professionals on how they can make a difference in their own lives and the lives of their patients.
“You change one thing, and it has a ripple effect,” Zuba said. “This, I know for sure.”
Zuba, an author and inspirational speaker, encouraged dozens of nurses who attended the event at the Northern Illinois University Conference Center to “set the intention” for change by adding one thing to their lifestyles before the holidays.
The goal, Zuba said, is to “become a better version of who you are.”
By improving one’s self, the change will trickle down to coworkers and patients.
“I don’t care how busy you are,” Zuba said. “There’s no reason why you can’t add one thing to your life. … It will drastically affect who you are when you wake up every morning. And, it will drastically affect the quality of the care you give to the patients that you are charged with caring for.”
Creating a plan for change also is necessary. Zuba said the most important aspects of that plan should involve being gentle with yourself, trusting your intuition, taking it slow and persevering through difficulties. “I’m talking about initiating a process of transformation,” he said. “This is not New Year’s resolutions. This is really it. … You do have some power to affect the environment that you find yourself in every single day. As you change, everything else changes. It begins with you.”
The event also featured a panel discussion involving Zuba and five healthcare professionals, including Lisa Bruno, RN, BSN, OCN, a patient navigator at the OSF Center for Cancer Care, and Michele Smith, RN, TNS, CNRN, an OSF Saint Anthony critical-care nurse.
The discussion touched on how government reforms will impact healthcare professionals, how healthcare workers try to find work-life balance and the process of approaching a coworker about correcting an error.
Showing care and love for that coworker, Zuba said, can set the tone for such situations.
“It’s certainly not to embarrass them,” he said. “It’s not to destroy a friendship. It’s to correct that which needs to be corrected for the good of the patient and for the good of the team.”
Smith, who serves as a safety officer, admitted, “it’s very difficult to be the person to have to say, ‘Hey, you didn’t wash your hands’ or ‘You didn’t wear gloves.’ [A person[‘]s] first reaction is to be defensive, so I try not to be defensive when someone points something out to me. It’s just to improve the environment for safety.” •
Barry Bottino is a regional editor.