Irene Torres’ Story – 45 Years with UMC

May 23rd, 2023 | Progress Notes

It was perfectly characteristic of interviewing a busy MICU nurse to be told immediately upon arriving and preparing to conduct Irene’s interview that I had “ten minutes.” As Irene and I stood in a hallway just outside of the MICU, amid the constant flow of medical staff and family, ten minutes seemed like it could have been hours in an environment where each second counts so critically. Gracious for the time at all to spend with one of our 45-year employees, we talked about her history, her fond memories of working at UMC and with her colleagues, and what she thought about the hospital system moving forward.

“When starting at UMC, it was the place to go,” Irene said. To her, one of the most distinguishing factors about working at UMC is that it received the most complex patients, which presented challenges to the medical staff in the teaching hospital. She seemed excited about that challenge, another sign that Irene is an ICU nurse through and through, built for facing adversity and overcoming it, helping people get to a better place. Irene is passionate about caring for people. It shows in everything she says, with the assured inflections in her voice, a lifetime’s worth of developed confidence, and a demeanor that billows trust into those around her as if stoking a fire. Undoubtedly, anyone who meets Irene will feel a contagious positivity about her, an air of kindness that’s generationally unique. She was born to be a nurse.

Irene started with UMC in the SICU and worked with burn patients. Today, she works in the MICU and remembers several experiences that stood out over the years. Early in her career, she recalled taking care of the Dean of the Medical School’s wife after she had a sudden heart attack. The nurses provided an environment in which the two could stay together, close to one another, as his wife recovered. “We worked around the clock to care for her, of course. He sat there at the bedside the whole time.” Thirty or so years later, a swing of time distinctive to employees with this special type of longevity, the former Dean returned as the patient. They arranged the rooms for him and his wife as they did thirty years prior, facilitating the same healing, comfort, and trust built all that time before.

“Another moment stood out to me, too,” Irene said. “I took swim lessons as a child at McKenzie Park and was taught by a lovely lady named Mrs. Haney.” Again, Irene made a sweeping gesture in reference to thirty or so years passing since, and she said, “We had a Mrs. Haney on the schedule. Of course, I didn’t assume it was her since people have such similar names.” Irene smiled and turned her eyes up as she reminisced, a smile coming to her lips as she remembered. “Well, as I’m giving her a breathing treatment, the woman says, ‘I have very strong lungs because I did a lot of swimming.’ Of course, at this point, I had to ask, and said, ‘Did you ever teach swimming lessons at McKenzie park?’ She said that she did!” Irene’s extraordinary experience with her childhood swim teacher, who taught her those important lessons in what Irene called “one of the best summers of her life,” is the kind of experience only afforded to those that have given themselves to the care of others for so long. Irene recognizes how truly special that is. “Tears were streaming down her face at the realization that I was there, taking care of her, and after learning about the impact she had on my family and me with those early swim lessons.”

Irene’s now giving lessons of her own, tempering the skills and dedication of newer nurses working alongside her in the ICU. In thinking about the things she’s learned after 45 years of service to UMC, in committing herself to her passion for caring for others, she said, “Be present. Participate in rounds and learn everything you can to help evaluate and treat our patients. Do what you can to better contribute to their care. When you have the information you need, get prepared and always be ready.”

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