As the sun is just beginning to rise over the Hudson, and many Chilltown workers are still wiping the sleep from their eyes, Amber Cioffo is already bright-eyed and buzzing around the Cardiac Care Unit at Jersey City Medical Center.
By 6 a.m. she’s cutting through the crowds of nurses and doctors bustling about, amid the noise of buzzers and alarms going off. Shortly thereafter she’s joking with coworkers during the change of shifts.
“Mornings are hectic,” Amber says between phone calls that come into the nurses’ station nonstop. Staff who called in absent and high census in the hospital are making it even more hectic this particular day.
As the Charge R.N., she is strategically placing people where they need to go and paying attention to which staff and patients have good relationships to make sure the unit runs smoothly.
With jewels on her Crocs (including one particularly glittery shamrock) and large, funky jewelry, Amber’s bright personality shines through her standard-issue scrubs—dark blue signifying her affiliation with critical care. As part of the Emergency Response Team, nurses from her unit are called on to manage code situations. Some might call those in her line of critical care “bitchy,” but Amber prefers to think of it as getting things done.
“Emotions run high in a high-stress environment,” she says. “You can’t be meek.” To work in critical care, she adds, you must have the patience of a saint, be able to read people, and most important, know when you can or can’t crack a joke.
The unit houses dozens of patients in need of intensive cardiac care, including those recovering from open-heart surgery. Amber has worked there for five years and relishes the challenges and learning opportunities that each new day in her fast-paced job brings.
“Learning never stops in medicine,” she says. “That’s the most interesting thing.”
Learning may never stop, but, for Amber, neither does the job. A resident of Pennsylvania, she drives an hour and a half each way to and from work. And though she might be just another driver on the road to the legions of commuters, as she makes her way home after three days of 12-hour shifts, she’s still a nurse.
Amber has been known to stop on the side of the road to see if passengers of a car stuck in a ditch need medical assistance or to offer an extra pair of hands to EMTs at an accident site. When she finally gets home, where all her neighbors know she is a nurse, the questions and requests for help keep coming.
“It’s almost like a lifestyle,” she says. “You don’t walk out of here and stop caring about other people. It’s just who I am.”
As Amber finally heads down the highway at the end of her day, across town another R.N. is just beginning her workday in Jersey City. It’s 8 p.m. at Christ Hospital, and the hallways of the Emergency Room are lined with patients waiting to be seen. In the midst of the typical ER craziness you’d expect to see at any hospital—or in any medical drama on television—stands an unimposing, gentle woman who peacefully manages the scene unfolding around her.
Jane Figueras has spent her entire 40-year nursing career at Christ Hospital in the Heights. As the Head ER Nurse, she directs patients and staff members alike while administering care and exuding a sense of calm.
The emergencies come back-to-back, but over the years Jane has learned to deal with the varying attitudes and stress levels of her work environment.
It’s her coworkers, she says, who have kept her at the same hospital for so long. “It’s like family,” she says. “Especially my night shift. We work together, it’s very important.”
The proud grandma spends her days off with her family and grandkids when she can, but during her real vacation time she heads back to the medical field—halfway across the world.
For 19 years Jane has spent her vacation time travelling to the Philippines along with doctors from all over the globe to help children requiring reconstructive treatment for facial deformities such as cleft lips and palates.
The group she travels with, PAGES (Philippine American Group of Educators and Surgeons) Operation Hope, was founded by her husband in response to a need he saw during another mission to the area. They care for 35-plus patients each day of their mission, and Jane plays a critical role in the surgery, screening patients and prepping IVs before the procedures.
All that work on what is supposed to be a vacation is tiring, but Jane says it’s worth it to see the way lives are changed. And when she comes back to Christ Hospital, those experiences affect her work here as well.
“It gives a different perspective,” she says. “A new appreciation.”—JCM