By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
As a young girl, Sue Lado watched her sister and her husband struggle to find services. Her brother-in-law was injured in Vietnam and became a quadriplegic. Sue had no idea that she would one day be helping people just like her sister and brother-in-law find local and national resources to help them recover from seen and unseen injuries. “When I took the job of a Combat Casualty Assistance Visiting Nurse I had no idea what it encompassed,” Sue explained. “It’s the most diverse program out there. There’s nothing else like it. Once we take on the case, it’s ours forever. We’re always touching base with our clients.
Even though she was a military spouse for 26 years while her husband served in the Navy, Sue didn’t realize there was more to the Society than providing financial aid. She’s been in nursing for 21 years, taking on whatever nursing opportunities were available where she and her husband were stationed. Then, in 2006, a friend told her about an opening with NMCRS.
“I just thought it would be a perfect fit,” she recalled. Hired as a traditional visiting nurse to work with moms and their newborns, Sue worked part-time for two years. “They’d just started the CCA VN program and the husband of the CCA visiting nurse was being transferred. [NMCRS Director of Nursing] Ruthi [Moore] asked me if I wanted to try and I’ve been a CCA VN ever since. I still do some traditional nursing— I still see two widows I’ve followed for 10 years—they’re both near and dear to my heart. Now that there are two visiting nurses in the Groton office, when my counterpart goes on vacation, I do “mom and baby” visits. But officially, I’m a full-time CCA visiting nurse and it’s the best job in the world.”
Sue has worked hard to educate herself so she can educate her clients. “The learning curve was great,” she explained. “I did a lot of research so I could understand what programs were out there and how they work, and I’m still learning.” More important than just knowing about available resources, however, is always being ready and able to go to bat for clients, Sue said. “When you’re a nurse you always advocate for your patients. Whether through the VA or other organizations, or with their doctors, we advocate.” Sue values collaboration on behalf of her clients, and works closely with the local District Injured Support Coordinator through the USMC’s Wounded Warrior Regiment. “We share some cases and we’re constantly picking each other’s brains about different scenarios,” she said of her Wounded Warrior counterpart.
Education is still central to Sue’s work as a visiting nurse, whether in a traditional or CCA role. “Whether you’re teaching someone how to set up a medical prescription planner, or finding local community resources, the teaching piece is always there. Now I’m teaching about the symptoms of PTSD/TBI, or the side effects of medication.” Sue also spends time educating the spouses, significant others or parents of her clients. “Caregiver support is so important because burnout is high. I recently referred some of my clients’ caregivers to a caregiver retreat on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It’s important for them to understand they’re not alone in this. We also try to get counseling for the children, if needed. There are a lot of retreats and resources for families. I encourage clients to take advantage of them.”
Of course, listening is just as important as instructing, Sue explained. She gave an example of a Navy Corpsman and his wife who are her clients and whose lives she helped transform because she listened. “When I met the Corpsman, he could barely speak. He couldn’t enunciate words, he had a Parkinsonian shake, and his wife had to help him with almost all activities of daily life,” Sue recalled. “She sat there and cried and said she had slowly watched him deteriorate over the last couple years and no one would help them.”
Sue looked at the Corpsman’s medications and suspected he was suffering from sensitivity to medication and overmedication. “The VA wasn’t realizing he was slowly declining. After much debate we were able to get him a referral to an outside program for help that would look at him holistically. I requested he be sent down to Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia to go through its SHARE Military Initiative. My client was so nervous about going. Before he went to Georgia, he called me to say he was very anxious. He cried on the phone. It took him an hour to tell me a paragraph. I kept reassuring him it would be a good thing. He was down there for three months. After a month, his wife went down to see him. They called me on the phone and her husband talked to me in full sentences. They had totally revamped his medication regimen and were teaching him how to cook and bathe. ‘He is becoming normal again,’ his wife said to me. Now, he’s totally functional. He’s driving again. He’s totally independent in terms of daily life activities. You can have a conversation with him. He’s in school. Someone really needed to just listen to what his wife was saying about his condition. Nobody would take the time to listen.” But Sue listened.
“A couple years ago, at Yale New Haven Hospital, a physician told me that I do ‘God’s work,’” Sue said. “I took a step back when he said that, but I do have a great faith. I believe we are making a difference. Plus, I have a wonderfully supportive husband. So when the phone rings at two o’clock in the morning, he understands someone’s reaching out for a reason. We work crazy hours, but we do make a difference. You can’t lose sight of that.”
Congratulations Sue on 10 years’ of dedicated service to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society!