Celebrating Nurses nominee profile: Ruth Roebuck

Rockdale Medical Center

Nurses in some health care settings – such as emergency rooms and surgical departments – interact with patients for a short time and move on to treat more people. Chemotherapy nurses, however, often work with patients for months and even years at a time.

Long chemotherapy courses can result in close relationships between nurses and patients. Jeremy Crawford, who has a rare auto-immune disease, has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Rockdale Medical Center in Conyers every two weeks for six and a half years. For about five of those years, Ruth Roebuck, an outpatient chemotherapy nurse and a charge nurse in the medical oncology unit, has administered Crawford’s chemotherapy.

“Over the years, she has been an outstanding nurse to me and all of her patients,” Crawford wrote in his nomination. “I see her every other week. She has become one of my dearest friends and confidants.”

For Crawford, that close relationship wasn’t always a given. His first chemo nurse at Rockdale Medical was Karen Wise, who was tragically killed in an auto accident about five years ago.

“For many of us, especially for me, it was devastating to lose such a dear person in such a tragic way. It was very difficult,” Crawford wrote.

Roebuck, who had filled in for Wise when she was on vacation, took over as the outpatient chemotherapy nurse. At first, Crawford was a little leery about someone filling the shoes of a nurse he had trusted and befriended. That wariness soon subsided.

“Ruth never approached the job as taking someone’s place or ‘this is my way now.’ In her own way, Ruth gradually made some changes – subtle changes – but always making sure that no one felt uneasy,” he wrote.

Crawford’s disease, which killed his father and two brothers all by the time they were about 40, is considered terminal. He has undergone many surgeries over the years, but has decided to have more only if it’s absolutely necessary. That means chemotherapy – and the nurse who administers it – is “prolonging my life,” he said.

For Crawford, 40, a comfortable relationship with his chemo nurse is essential.

“She’s a special person. She’s a special nurse,” he said in an interview. “I’m a sick person. I have a terminal illness. I’ve had a lot of nurses care for me, and there’s something special about Ruth. You can tell it’s coming from the heart.”

Crawford appreciates acts of kindness that go beyond what constitutes quality care.

“Just one example is when she bakes cupcakes and brings balloons for the patients’ birthdays. Ruth understands just how precious the next birthday is, and she never forgets to make it a special day for that patient,” he said.

Roebuck, 56, has worked at Rockdale Medical since 1996, when she was a patient care technician; she became a nurse in 2000. When asked for a reaction to Crawford’s praise, she fought back tears.

“I’m very honored,” she said. “I’m just doing my job and my patients love me that much. I’m just blessed.”

Like Crawford, she values relationships with patients. She also thinks that closeness helps her deliver better care.

“You get to know patients’ idiosyncrasies. When they walk into the room for treatment, you can tell how they’re doing,” she said. “You really get to know them. They tell you their hopes and dreams.”

She also knows the important role she plays in patients’ lives.

“One patient said to me, ‘You give me hope in a bottle, and that’s all the hope I have left,’ “ she said.

Although Roebuck deals with people who are very sick, and some of them die, she doesn’t consider her workplace to be depressing.

“This is a room full of laughter, which is bizarre, considering what they’re dealing with,” she said. “I love what I do.”

Each month, we’ll bring you a mini-profile of one of the special nurses nominated for the sixth annual ajcjobs Nursing Excellence Awards, which will be awarded on May 4, 2011. For ticket information, go to www.ajc.com/go/celebratingnurses.