Married to a Marine at age 18, Donna Fischer got a crash course in military life at her husband’s first duty station in San Diego, California. To make ends meet, she went to cosmetology school and became a hairdresser, then the couple had kids and she became a stay-at-home mom. Later, she worked for a couple years at the FBI Academy in Quantico, and finally went back to school to earn her nursing degree.
Donna launched her nursing career at Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, North Carolina while her husband was stationed at Camp Lejeune. She worked in a medical-surgical unit, primarily with elderly patients. After a few years, Donna was employed at the Naval Hospital on base and worked in the post-partum unit and nursery. Then, she moved to family practice, incorporating her years of experience as she cared for patients across the generations.
While at the Naval Hospital, Donna got to know the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society visiting nurses. “I would run into the Society’s nurses while I was on the mother-baby floor,” she recalled. “They were visiting military moms with newborns, getting to know them, and telling them that the Society visiting nurses could come to their home to check on them in a few days after mom and baby were discharged.”
Donna was ready for a change, so she applied for a traditional visiting nurse position with the Society, but by the time Donna interviewed, the position had been filled. The office also needed a combat-casualty assistance nurse, so she was offered that job. Unfortunately, during her first month with the Society, she received terrible news. “My husband got sick and was told he only had six months to live,” she explained. “I told the Society’s director of nursing, ‘I can’t do this. My life has completely changed. I can’t live up to the expectations you hired me to fulfill.’ She told me not to worry, that they wanted me to stay, and I wouldn’t have to travel. They said they would work with me to figure it out. It was like family. They were kind and supportive and caring.” Donna shifted to be a traditional visiting nurse for the Society, a role she’s enjoyed ever since.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I have moms that send me pictures of their kids years after I helped them with their newborns. And I have elderly retirees and widows whom I’ve visited for years. Recently, one of my clients, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, passed away. He was a bronze star recipient and a really good man.”
While many of her clients are very young or very old, Donna also works with people in between who have extraordinary needs. “I work with a young mom, a military spouse, who was paralyzed. I’m trying to help her with rehabilitation and support. If you’re on active duty, you have military health care and the VA. But military dependents don’t have the same options. If we weren’t helping her, who would be? Her family lives far away and her husband works all day. They don’t know what resources exist.”
Even seemingly routine clients, like new moms, can become unexpectedly challenging. “I had a new mom who called me after I’d made a couple of home visits. Her husband was concerned that she was struggling since the birth of their first child. He didn’t understand post-partum depression or anxiety. She couldn’t go into the kitchen to cook because she was afraid of germs. I helped her get counseling and checked in with her every few months. Obsessive compulsive disorder after delivery happens with about four percent of post-partum women. More than a year later, pregnant with their second child, her husband was killed in a helicopter crash. I’ve worked with her ever since and I’ve seen her get control over her life again. As a military widow, I relate to her on another level as well.”
“The Society’s visiting nurse program is unique,” Donna explained. “Often, people only know about the financial assistance the Society provides, which is phenomenal, but they don’t realize their donated dollars also support the visiting nurse program. They may think, ‘I don’t have financial problems,’ but they’re going to grow old someday and the Society will be there to help. Or, when their baby arrives and the new mother is experiencing post-partum depression, we’ll be there to help. I figure, in 20 years or so, I’ll be ready for a Society visiting nurse to come to my house to check on me!”
Congratulations, Donna, on 10 years of dedicated service to Sailors and Marines and their families.
Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso