When Arbutus Mullins was 16 years old, her dad spent two and a half months in the hospital in Gainesville, Florida. “I knew then that I wanted to be a nurse,” Arbutus recalled. “I wanted to be a better nurse than some of the nurses my dad had and as good of a nurse as his best nurses.”
Arbutus’ aspirations, however, were delayed for a while. Her dad continued to battle illness and Arbutus was his primary caregiver. After high school Arbutus attended community college for a year, but left school to take care of her dad. A year later, she got married, and three years later she and her husband started having kids. “My most important job was raising my kids,” she explained. Eventually she started working in a hospital, but not as a nurse.
“I did work at a hospital, in billing and compliance,” Arbutus said. “but I didn’t go to nursing school until I was older.” When her own kids were in high school, the local community college created a degree program for working professionals. “I worked full-time and went to school on nights and weekends. The hospital where I worked paid for me to attend nursing school. Over the years I had already taken my prerequisite courses whenever I could, so it only took me a year and a half.”
Once she had earned her nursing degree, Arbutus moved from the billing department to the joint center, and then the post-partum unit. She worked as a nurse at the hospital for five years. “I was a floor nurse, and you don’t get a lot of time with your patients. Then one day I was reading the newspaper and saw an ad for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Visiting Nurse program, the advertisement said, ‘nursing the way nursing should be.’ I thought, ‘how is it supposed to be?’ so I decided to apply.”
Arbutus started as a traditional visiting nurse for the Society in 2013. Shortly after she was hired, the Society asked her to work with some combat-casualty assistance clients as well, so she added several to her caseload. She has continued to work with both programs, although she will transition to exclusively traditional nursing once the Society’s CCA program becomes part of the Semper Fi Fund later in 2019.
“I see a lot of mothers with newborns and a lot of retirees and widows,” Arbutus explained. “With moms and babies, I’m doing a lot of breastfeeding support, weight checks, and just encouraging the moms. Sometimes when I walk into the house I see this look of despair on their faces. They just need reassurance. I tell them, ‘the baby is gaining weight and you’re doing a great job, mom’ and I see relief. It’s supposed to be the happiest time of your life, but it’s also one of the most stressful times, especially with your first baby.” Most moms that Arbutus sees are wives of active duty servicemembers, but occasionally the moms are active duty themselves, or both mom and dad are active duty.
Her clients who haven’t just given birth are typically elderly individuals. “There are so many of them who have no one—they don’t have children here, their spouse has died, most of their friends have passed away. It’s heartbreaking when you run across these people who don’t have anyone to advocate for them or make sure they’re understanding their doctors’ orders.
Sometimes it’s really simple things they’re confused about that nobody’s taken the time to explain.”
“I have worked with so many elderly people who will forever be imprinted in my heart. One client I remember was an 87-year-old lady living all by herself. Her daughter was in Jacksonville, Florida. I went once a month to check on her, to make sure she had gotten her medication and understood what to take. She has diabetes. I went one afternoon to check on her and she was very confused. She ended up being admitted to the hospital with kidney failure and a gastrointestinal bleed. I feel like if I hadn’t visited that day, there’s no telling what could’ve happened before someone realized what was wrong.”
“Another gentleman I worked with was 88 and had served as a commander in the Navy. He had done amazing and top-secret work. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s. When I visited he would tell me about how he used to remember codes and numbers in his head that were never written down. He knew something was wrong with him because he couldn’t remember these things, but he didn’t know why. One day after I had visited him, he insisted on walking me out of the garage. He was stooped over on his walker. As I was leaving, he stood up about six inches taller, as straight and tall as he could possibly stand, let go of his walker, and saluted me. I felt so honored. I’m a civilian, and here’s this commander saluting me.”
“I absolutely love my job,” Arbutus said. “I’m so thankful that God has put me in this position. Some days you feel like you’ve really made a difference.”
“I don’t know what some of these clients would do, truthfully, without a visiting nurse, especially the ones who have no family nearby. The parents with newborns would just muddle through, I guess, just as I did with my kids. But I think about older people who don’t have this amazing program, and I wonder who helps them.”
Occasionally Arbutus is assigned a client who is neither a parent with a baby or elderly. “I had one active duty patient who was a young man diagnosed with cancer. I met him here in the office, and he was very scared. He was young and facing cancer and didn’t have family nearby. I went to some appointments with him, and he was so grateful to have a mother figure with him. During one conversation I told him, ‘if you run a fever, call your doctor.’ He said, ‘I don’t have a thermometer.’ So I went to the drugstore and bought him a thermometer. The following week, he had treatments and then started running a fever. He was so grateful for the thermometer I gave him! ‘I told all my buddies about the Society’s visiting nurse program and the nurse who gave me a thermometer!’ That $5 thermometer made a pretty big impact on him.”
Thank you for everything you do for your clients and the Society, Arbutus!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso