'The best staff I’ve ever seen': West Valley Hospital makes all the difference in recovery

Chris R. lives in Salem with her two rescue cats, Zoey and Charlie. Recently widowed and retired for several years, she volunteers with the Assistance League of Salem-Keizer. “I’m pretty busy with that,” Chris said. “It’s like a job, only without paychecks. But I do it because I believe in it.”

A former elementary teacher for the Salem-Keizer district, Chris later went on to work at the Title I office in town, then the Department of Education. From working to volunteering, her heart is with children living at or near the poverty level.

“There are a lot of kids in poverty living in Salem,” Chris said. “So that's why I that's why I volunteer for the Assistance League — it's the same clientele, the same kids.”


Health complications lead to hospital stay

After a hip replacement went awry, Chris got very sick with a high fever. Her gut told her something was wrong. A close friend urged her to call an ambulance and at Salem Hospital, Chris discovered she had a serious staph infection.

“I had surgery the next morning,” Chris said. They removed the first hip replacement, performed a second one and started her on intense antibiotics.

Chris stayed at Salem Hospital for about a week. “I’ve always had good care there,” she said. “My husband, too. He was there for a month in the Neuro unit before he died from lung cancer and I just can’t even say enough about how fabulous they were. Gosh, they were wonderful. They were so gentle with him and so gentle with me. Even though they knew that it was terminal, they didn't treat him like that. They treated him like there was a possibility, you know, and that that meant a lot to me. They didn't give up until I finally said, ‘That's it. We need to stop.’”

Her husband’s death and her own battle with a serious infection make Chris more mindful of her health and mortality.

“I need to make sure I'm doing everything I can to stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can,” she said, whether that’s Pilates, water aerobics or eating healthy.

“Even though we all know it logically, time is short,” Chris said. “You need to appreciate every single moment because it could have been taken away from me if that infection had gotten much worse.”

“That's all part of why I feel I need to make every single day count,” she said. “You just never know when it might be your last one.”


Why West Valley Hospital?

When it came time to discharge from Salem Hospital, Chris couldn’t go home alone. With a big house and lots of stairs, staff pointed out that unless she had someone there to take care of her 24/7, it wouldn’t be wise for her to go. Chris agreed.

“I knew I didn’t want to hire somebody to come to my house,” Chris said. “I needed 24/7 nursing care because I was having these antibiotic infusions three times a day. So they gave me a choice of where I wanted to go — so I did a little Googling.”

In her research, Chris saw that West Valley Hospital’s transitional care unit (also called the swing bed unit) had glowing reviews, so she chose to go to Dallas. Even though she was uncertain, West Valley staff quickly quelled her fears — she knew she made the right choice.

“At first it was shocking to me because I had never been in a place like that except to visit people,” Chris said. “I was scared about this infection. It was serious. But right away the people there made me feel like I was in a good spot. The nurses were fabulous. I mean, I just don't have enough words to say how great they were. And the CNAs were all so helpful. It was among the best staff as a whole that I've ever seen.”

The swing bed experience

Chris stayed six weeks in the unit. Almost a summer. She had occupational therapy and physical therapy twice a day.

“When I first got there, I was shocked they were going to drag me out of bed four times a day,” Chris laughed. “There were times they’d come in at 8 a.m. and I’d say, ‘Oh golly, I just don’t feel like it today.’ And then they’d cheerlead for me, so that made me get up. It was good. The physical therapists and occupational therapists helped me so much.”

Chris grew more mobile and self-sufficient. They practiced moving around in the kitchen, fixing meals, showering, going up and down the stairs. By the time she was ready to go home, Chris was able to walk with a cane and get herself in and out of bed.

The care from staff will stick with her.

“They weren't just doing a job,” Chris said. “I felt like they really cared about me. And you don't always feel that way when you're in the hospital, you know? But I did over there. And I've recommended it to many other people. I've said, if you end up in that same situation, that's the place to go.”

Staff grew close to Chris in her time there. Six weeks is a longer stay than most. And Chris’ bright positivity — amid great difficulties — inspired them.

“In a field of horses, Chris is a unicorn,” said Rachael Matthews, RN, care management lead and admissions coordinator at West Valley Hospital.

Fittingly, the team threw Chris a unicorn-themed party as her time came to go home.

She attributes her inspiring outlook to her role model, her mom.

“She would always say when things get bad, you just have to buck up, you just have to,” Chris said. “I learned that from her. So, I was kind of channeling her. She had major health issues at the end of her life, but she was always positive.”