Many Missions

Feb 14, 2017

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When the doctors want an interpreter, I walk in and they are like, ‘Where is the interpreter?’ and I have to convince them that I, the tall pale red-headed gringo, am the Spanish interpreter.

Seth Durant

It’s been said that nursing is almost a language onto itself. While that may or may not be true, it’s clear Seth Durant has taken that idea to an extreme. Durant, RN, CCRN-CMC-CSC – an eight-year veteran of the Cardiac Surgery ICU at Community Regional Medical Center of Fresno in California – literally did learn a new language, serving as a missionary in Mexico City while learning Spanish. The experience has proved invaluable for his career and development.

Durant was introduced to nursing early, and used some simple logic in making his career choice.

“When I was 15, I got accepted into the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program at Stanford University,” he said. “This was a five-week program focused on introducing disadvantaged kids to the health sciences. For five weeks, we lived on campus and spent all day doing activities, lectures or volunteering in the hospital."

“I knew from that point on that I wanted to do something in healthcare. I thought I wanted to be a pathologist, but I got married, and with every year that went by I realized that to me being home with my wife and kids was more important than spending 12 years becoming a doctor. So, at that point I thought to myself, ‘I could be a nurse practitioner and basically do the same thing a family practice doctor does.’ That decision got me started on the nursing path, but once I was working as a nurse, I realized I didn’t even want to be a nurse practitioner. I was perfectly happy being a bedside nurse. That gave me the best fulfillment and enjoyment."

While Durant sees many obvious advantages to being a nurse, the best part is what nurses in general are most known for.

“There are many advantages to being a nurse, like job security, mobility, great pay, flexible schedule and more, but I think the thing I enjoy the most about being a nurse, is the fact that you get to take somebody at their worst, and hopefully help make them feel better. Not just better physically, but emotionally and mentally. It’s fueled by compassion, and I love that."

Serving in Mexico

Durant got his start in compassionate service doing non-nursing work for two years in Mexico for his church. It was an experience that impacted his life in many ways.

“When I was 19 years old, I served a two-year service mission for my church down in Mexico City and the surrounding areas,” he explained. “It did many important things for me. We served people all day, which was good preparation for nursing. We also walked all day, and had a demanding schedule which was also good preparation for being a nurse."

“Missionaries don’t just go to the touristy spots. They get down in the trenches with the people. I remember I was a gringo from California who couldn’t speak Spanish, and my very first area in Mexico was an area called Ciudad Nezahuacoyotl, Chimalhuacan and Xochitenco. These were slum cities on the edge of Mexico City that literally looked like the ‘Save the Children’ commercials on TV with little kids picking through the trash, etc. I remember feeling like I had arrived on another planet."

“I quickly fell in love with those people, and I have had a special place in my heart for them ever since. I also fell in love with the food, and there is also a special place in my stomach for real Mexican food, although I still refuse to eat menudo (a traditional Mexican soup made with portions of beef intestines that is admittedly an acquired taste)."

“We have lots of Hispanic patients because Fresno is in the San Joaquin Valley, which is super big on agriculture. I end up using my Spanish every day at work. When the doctors want an interpreter, I walk in and they are like, ‘Where is the interpreter?’ and I have to convince them that I, the tall pale red-headed gringo, am the Spanish interpreter.”

Durant has found the additional language to be more than just a convenient ability.

“My Spanish has not just been handy, but it has been a godsend,” he said. “Many times we have changed a patient’s outcome or totally changed a family’s perception of what is going on, by the simple fact that we can communicate without things getting lost in translation. So many times the nurses will tell me, ‘I think my patient is having chest pain’ – which is a very important issue in a cardiac ICU – but I go in and ask them, and they tell me that they are hungry and everything else feels fine."

“Another blessing of knowing Spanish is that you become the patient and family’s favorite nurse instantly. All of a sudden you go from just another nurse, to THE nurse that speaks their language and can talk to them. I take advantage of this and talk about Mexico and see if they are from the same areas that I served my mission in.”

Service of another sort

Even having begun practice as a nurse, Durant soon found the bug for international service had festered, so he found another outlet.

“Liga International is an organization also known as the flying doctors of mercy,” he explained. “Health care professionals and private pilots fly tiny private planes down to Mexico to hold free clinics and give other medical services to small pueblos in the middle of nowhere that would not otherwise have access to or money for healthcare. I absolutely love it because it combines three things I love: Mexico, taking care of people and adventure."

“The Fresno Chapter of Liga International does about six trips a year to Ocoroni in Sinaloa, Mexico. I took my 14-year-old daughter down on a Liga trip to help her see how spoiled we really are here in California. I interpreted and did other nursing duties while she did easy stuff like taking blood pressures, counting pills and keeping the kids entertained why they waited to see the pediatrician. It was a fantastic experience because we got to fly in a little plane from Fresno, California to Guasave, Mexico. When we landed on both sides of the border all the planes got searched top to bottom to make sure we weren't bringing anything ‘non-prescription’ like drugs or other contraband in or out."

“The usual routine is fly all day Thursday then relax in the evening. Hold a clinic all day Friday and Saturday, and then go home Sunday. They partner up with the local Rotary International chapter there and the local doctors. Overall, it is a really good experience because you get to have fun while you are helping others.”

All about NTI

This past year, Durant was once again able to attend the National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition (NTI), this time as a recipient of an AACN NTI scholarship.

“NTI was fantastic,” he recalled. “I had gone once before, so I was able to skip a lot of the nervousness, and jump right into the good stuff. It was hard to not get too distracted in New Orleans because there was so much fun stuff to do, but I think I kept a good balance between learning through the classes, exploring the exposition floor and having fun afterward."

“The fact that I was even there was a dream, because I was not planning on going due to cost. But when I saw the scholarship announcement I thought I would give it a shot. I have six small kids, so every penny counts. I brought home lots of great information, and we are actually trialing three of the products and purchasing a fourth from the conference.”

Impactful experiences

“One time in our ICU we had a patient who spent at least a month with us. He wasn’t necessarily much different from a lot of the really sick patients you would see on a regular basis in an ICU, but what made this special was the fact that we put a lot of work into the patient and he kept getting better, then getting worse again, and finally died. The unit and the family had invested a huge amount of emotion and work into his care."

“The family invited the nurses to come to his funeral, and for the first time in my career I actually went. During the services, the family asked me to get up and speak as part of the program. I did, and felt honored, but at the same time in my head I was thinking, ‘This is ridiculous. I should not be speaking at this guy’s funeral. I’m not this guy’s family, I’m not his lifelong friend; I’m not even a long-time neighbor. I’m nothing more than one of the nurses that took care of him for one small moment which was part of my job anyway.’ That was when it really, really hit me how nurses are looked at by people."

“A second experience I had happened about six years ago. This was a patient that had her right ventricle supported with ECMO and her left side with an LVAD. She was in the unit for six months. We used to take her down to the rose garden, which is an open courtyard at our hospital with flowers. This was back before early mobility was such a hot topic. So I would be in the break room eating lunch, and the nurses from the other ICUs would ask how my day was going. I would calmly say between bites, ‘Oh pretty normal, we took our ECMO patient out to the rose garden to get some fresh air.’ It was always great to see their disbelief and awe. That experience has always encouraged me to try and do the impossible if it means helping somebody heal better.”

Maintaining balance

With his professional plate full, and a houseful of young ones at home, keeping some semblance of balance, while essential is difficult.

“To maintain balance, I spend a lot of time having fun with my kids,” he said. “With six kids there is always something to do with them. My two oldest are musicians, so I end up going to a lot of their concerts. I love anything to do with the outdoors, sports, hiking, fishing, even just lying in a hammock."

“It is very difficult to maintain balance, but is definitely worth the effort. I notice that when I am off balance, my nursing skills suffer. Not so much my ability to assess and apply drips, but my ability to communicate and actually care."

“The hardest thing is resisting the urge to pick up that extra shift. With six kids it is nice to have the extra income from an extra shift, but at the same time, when you work the extra shift it makes your family suffer, so you have to be very careful to not overdo it one way or the other. I think keeping my family as my first priority also helps me to be a better nurse, because if I am happy and have a good family then it is easier to invest myself into caring for other nurses and patients.”