Happy to help
Enloe Medical Center wound, ostomy and continence nurse Linda Reynolds stands out for her passion and ability to help patients in need
Ever see the TV show Dirty Jobs? That’s the impression many people get from Linda Reynolds’ profession. Along with certification as a registered nurse (or RN), Reynolds is a certified wound, ostomy and continence nurse (CWOCN). She treats patients whose wounds won’t heal, patients whose bladder or colon flow have been surgically rerouted, and patients who have trouble with incontinence.
More crudely put, she cleans festering sores and cleans up after urination and fecal movements.
It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it—and Reynolds does it gladly.
“It’s definitely considered the most icky [of nursing specialties],” Reynolds said in a recent phone interview. “There’s definitely a negative connotation. People ask me, ‘How are you able to do it?’
“It’s truly a love of being able to change people’s lives and give them their life back.”
She’s not exaggerating. After spending 17 of her 25 years at Enloe Medical Center focused on wounds, ostomy—“an operation (as a colostomy, ileostomy, or urostomy) to create an artificial passage for bodily elimination and continence,” according to Merriam-Webster.com—and continence, Reynolds has treated myriad patients who’d have grown more reclusive and/or more infected without the care of a CWOCN.
Take an elderly gentleman with cancer (whose name she won’t share out of respect for confidentiality). The man lost his eye to the disease, and while radiation treatments brought him into remission, he was left with dead bone in the socket and a wet wound that would not heal.
Once or twice a day, he required new bandages. The only time he’d leave his house was to see medical specialists at Stanford University. No longer would he attend Chico Performances events at the university. He nearly missed his granddaughter’s wedding.
Reynolds got connected with the man through Enloe Home Health & Hospice. Together they honed his bandaging regimen to the point where he just needed to change it once a week. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy played a significant role, too, healing roughly 80 percent of the wound.
“He lived 6 years and 11 months going out and doing the things he enjoyed,” Reynolds said. “When he died, he died of old age! I never could heal the wound but kept him pretty much infection-free, which I consider a life-altering success.”
Reynolds also remembers the 22-year-old bull rider who got bucked off and stepped on by a bull, crushing his abdomen and injuring his bowel. The young man required a temporary ostomy … and a supportive nurse to help him transition to the external bag for his bodily functions.
She remembers a woman with diabetes who could have lost a foot to amputation, but wound therapy saved the limb. She remembers a man with bladder cancer who, since receiving his urinary ostomy, has become “like family to me”—going so far as to craft a wooden Christmas ornament for her tree.
“That touches you in a way I don’t have words for,” Reynolds said. “As a nurse, I am so blessed that I have this healing ability, this skill to touch another human being that way. It’s an honor, because they’re making my life better. That’s why I do it.”
Reynolds started her career as a critical-care nurse. After six months at Enloe, she wanted to branch out into educational nursing, so she took a position in the medical/surgical ward. She found she loved helping patients get ready for discharge and transition back to their home lives.
About eight years later, she discovered the field of ostomy and wound care at a national conference.
“People would have these life-altering surgeries, and I didn’t know how to help,” Reynolds said. “It excited me there was a specialty dedicated to wounds, ostomy and continence.”
She went to school in Texas to receive training and certification, then returned to Chico, where she found plenty of patients in need of her services.
Education remains a major component of her nursing. Along with leading a support group, Reynolds performs community outreach to help patients learn about the services available to them.
“People might be living with a wound or ostomy problem and don’t realize they don’t have to,” she said. “There is help out there. There are people who care.
“The practice of wound care and ostomy care has changed so much—there’s more information, more technology. … People may remember a relative who was reclusive or smelled. That family got imprinted with a negative perception that’s not accurate anymore.”
Reynolds is now nurse manager of the Enloe Wound/Ostomy & Hyperbaric Center and oversees wound care at the hospital. Reynolds also leads the Chico chapter of the Ostomy Association Support Group, which meets at the Enloe Conference Center. Administrative duties take only a portion of her time, though; she still treats patients.
Connie Rowe, Enloe’s vice president of patient-care services, has been touched by Reynolds as well.
“Linda has a caring and generous spirit, and always balances sentimental and emotional needs with practical considerations,” Rowe said in an email. “She is particularly creative and resourceful when unusual needs arise, and her first thought is what is best for the patient.”
Reynolds has received multiple honors, including the 2007 national Nurse of the Year award from the United Ostomy Associations of America and one of the four 2011 Enloe Leadership Awards. Yet she is quick to deflect focus off herself: “I work side by side with my doctors, nurses and technicians. I say ‘my’ because it’s a team approach. It takes a team to heal a patient and get them back into life.”
Still, she recognizes that she and her colleagues have a special calling.
“It does take a special group of health-care providers,” she said. “Taking care of wounds, oftentimes [the sores] are bloody, infected and smell. I’ve had to take care of rotting limbs. With ostomies, you are touching a person at their most vulnerable moment. From childhood, we’re taught our bladder and fecal movements are private; you’ve stripped away any of their privacy.
“Wounds, ostomies, they’re just normal to me. What you’re doing for the person overrides anything uncomfortable.”