Called to Serve

April 01, 2005

She still can’t tell the story without crying.

The middle-aged man had been brought, unconscious, to Walla Walla General Hospital (WWGH) in the grip of a severe heart attack, and Rebecca Bissell, R.N., was part of the emergency team trying to keep him alive. As they placed the defibrillation paddles and aggressively attempted life support measures, they talked to him constantly, imploring him to survive. “Hang in there,” she remembers saying. “You can do it. Stay with us.”

Against the odds, the man lived, and weeks later returned to thank those who had saved his life. As he waited in the lobby, a familiar sound floated over the bustle and frenzy of the busy ER. “That’s my nurse,” he told his wife excitedly. “I hear her voice.” Finally connecting it to a face he’d never seen, he hugged Rebecca and the three laughed and cried together. Through her tears, his wife said, “Thanks for giving me my husband back.”

Experiences like this help explain why Rebecca has been part of WWGH’s emergency department since 1994. It’s the daily fulfillment of a dream she’s had since early childhood, when she carried a toy doctor kit and cared for injured family members and pets. As a little girl, she remembers listening in awe to Bible stories of Jesus, and it was then she realized that miracles of healing really happen. “My belief in God helped me decide to become a nurse,” she says.

Rebecca loves the challenges of her job, and especially the excitement of not knowing what’s coming next. “I was born for the ER,” she says. “I love the pace.” That passion for her profession is most evident in how she talks about it— fast and in sentences sprinkled with technical abbreviations, like the MI (heart attack) that got the TPA (clot-buster drug), or the MVC (motor vehicle crash) that’s on the way. But she sees beyond the thrill of constant professional challenges to the heart of her real mission: helping people. “The kind of nurse I want to be is one who is not only good at what she does,” she says, “but one who has that human touch.”

Rebecca clearly understands the opportunity she has to make a difference in the lives of patients and families in crisis. “Nobody wants to go to the ER,” she says. Knowing patients are overwhelmed, Rebecca makes a special effort to connect with each one, and her efforts do not go unnoticed. “Rebecca was the angel of mercy who delivered me from my pain,” said one patient. “She’s the most compassionate nurse I’ve ever met.”

Though not every story ends positively, Rebecca has learned to accept and even to be motivated by that unfortunate aspect of ER life. “We can’t fix everything,” she says. “But we can offer kindness and support, and genuinely empathize with their sorrow.” In moments of both heartache and happiness, she takes the hospital’s mission seriously—to restore peace, hope, and health as Christ did—and feels blessed by those she’s blessed. “When I’m able to touch someone’s life in a time of need, I feel like I come away a better person,” she says. “I’m truly lucky.”