Photo by Becca Sabot
Charge Nurse, Emergency
Cambridge Medical Center, Allina Health
Forty-two years in the E.R. and Curtis has seen things: the guy who staple-gunned his shirt to his chest—and his aortic artery; the child with a lawn dart in her neck (Note from Curtis: “Never pull it out.”); the police officer she nearly tranquilized during a tussle with a patient; the college kid who drank too many shots with live minnows.
“I would never call emergency room nursing glamorous,” Curtis says with a wink. “Unless you call being puked on by a mouth full of minnows glamorous.”
Call it a calling. “Nothing was going to stop me,” she says of her choice, at age 15, to be a nurse. Not even the cost of school: $860.
Using a computer gave her a run, though. “That was almost the death of me,” she says. But the fact that any hospital can call up an individual’s records if they request, “that is amazing.” Also amazing: sending a heart attack patient by chopper to the Twin Cities, “and by the time we have cleaned the room and finished our charting, he has a heart stent and is stable.”
She will be most remembered as the pioneering—and sometimes only—nurse in Isanti County trained to do sexual assault exams. In the 1970s, Curtis actually made and administered her own evidence-collecting kits. “They probably wouldn’t have stood up in courts, but we didn’t have anything,” she says. Now, thanks in part to her work, there is a committee that assesses assault victims, including police, mental health providers, clergy, and lawyers. And yet, she says, “There is still so much to do.”
Not for Curtis. She retired in May. It’s been frustrating, she says. “I miss that decision-making power, people listening to what I say, the action. But you can’t work forever.”