When a nurse becomes a patient

Cindy Urbina standing outside of CHMC

Nurses perform countless acts of humankindness every day and it’s all those moments that make them so deserving of our gratitude. But what happens when the tables turn and a caregiver becomes the patient? This is Cindy's story.   

Cindy Urbina has a long history with California Hospital Medical Center. Her earliest memories include visiting her mom, who worked in Accounts Payable, on “Bring Your Child to Work Day” and greeting her baby brother who was born at the hospital.

“I remember walking down the hallway with the balloon in the maternity section and coming over to visit him,” she says.  

At 13, Cindy started volunteering in Human Resources and with the Medical Staff office during the summer.  And after graduating high school in 2003, she got her first full-time job working in Medical Records.

Driven by a desire to connect with people and help people in her community, she decided to pursue her nursing degree at Mount St. Mary’s University, graduating in 2007—all while still working per diem at the hospital. She joined the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) team in 2007 as a bedside nurse, then was promoted to relief charge nurse and then to charge nurse. In 2019, she became Nurse Shift Manager for the NICU and Pediatrics Departments a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. 

A young Cindy dressed as a nurse A questioning attitude turns fortuitous
One morning last September, Cindy came to work and didn’t quite feel like herself. “I woke up with a headache. I was very sensitive to light and people sounded muffled when they spoke to me.” Cindy associated it with having high blood pressure and took her medication to see if that helped. 
But when she still wasn’t feeling well she went to her supervisor, Tony Marcelli, RN, Director of the NICU, who decided to have her blood pressure checked before letting her go home. “Sure enough, it was the highest I have ever seen in my life,” Cindy recalls. 

Tony immediately instructed her to go to the Emergency Department for treatment.
“‘You’re not a manager right now, you’re a patient,’” Cindy recalls her California Hospital colleagues saying as they quickly triaged her, even taking away her laptop so she couldn’t work. “It is hard to be on the other side after taking care of so many people yourself,” she says, remembering the sudden role reversal.  

After a round of IV fluids and Tylenol, they were able to stabilize her blood pressure, but her headache still remained—prompting a CT scan. What came next was unexpected: the scan revealed Cindy had a brain aneurysm, a potentially deadly condition if not treated immediately. 

Caring for one of our own 
Cindy Urbina in a hospital bedUpon her diagnosis, Cindy was immediately transferred to St. Mary Medical Center, our sister Dignity Health hospital in Long Beach, for treatment. “I never thought I would be a patient at one of our hospitals,” she says, “One of my biggest fears was ‘Am I going to be ok?’”  

Her caregivers at St. Mary successfully placed a stent around the weakened blood vessel to prevent it from rupturing.  After recovering for eight days, Cindy was discharged home. 

“The group was awesome—I felt like they gave me another chance at life,” says the mother of two young sons. She got to know the various teams well and had an instant affinity with them. “We [nurses] are so used to taking care of other people that we tend to forget to take care of ourselves,” she adds.  

A new perspective on life  
Cindy returned to work in January of this year and attends follow-up appointments to monitor her recovery. After her experience, she has a new perspective on life as she looks to the future, and is grateful to her Dignity Health teammates for saving her life. 

Cindy Urbina and colleagues standing in front of the new patient tower“I've seen California Hospital go through a lot of change and I'm excited to be a part of the new patient tower opening soon,” she says. “I remember the building they tore down to pave the way for this new building. I remember hearing plans for it when I was a new grad, and now I’m here helping build it.”  The new patient tower will house two expanded floors dedicated to mothe-baby care.

“In nursing, you don’t treat the disease, you treat the person,” Cindy says. “Every aspect in making that human connection is possible because you get to know patients from everyday interactions. I am grateful for the care I received and I will carry that with me as I continue practice nursing.” 

This National Nurses Week we recognize and celebrate the contributions, heroic efforts and positive impact that nurses have on our health, our community and our world. You can thank these everyday heroes and support their work by making a donation in their honor at SupportCaliforniaHospital.org/NursesWeek.

Caption 1: A young Cindy dressed in a nurses uniform. 
Caption 2: Cindy in a hospital bed at St. Mary Medical Center.
Caption 3: Cindy and colleagues standing in front of the new patient tower. 

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