Prepping for summer: County parks gear up to keep public safe at local beaches

Lifeguard Thomas Struble keeps an eye on beachgoers at Folly Beach County Park earlier this month.

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As the sun sets on Charleston Harbor, few at the nursing station even notice. It's shift change on Five South, the oncology floor at Roper St. Francis Hospital, and there's little time to enjoy the view.

Linda Moeller is the charge nurse for the other people caring for critically ill cancer patients. And there's no vacancy. Twenty-two beds. Twenty-two patients.

From the time they hit the door at 7 p.m. until they leave the next morning, the pace is hectic.

Charts are reviewed with the day crew. Pain meds. Paperwork. Blood sugars. Decreased drips. Nausea. Antibiotics. Transfers. Blood pressures. Constant cleaning. White counts. Who's going home tomorrow. Who might not make it through the night.

"I learn so much from my patients," said Moeller, who has worked the night shift for 12 years. "They give you a different outlook on life."

Certain serenity

Making up the rest of the crew are registered nurses Anita Bishop, Lindsay Fox, Scott Spillman and Lyn Escoto. They range in age from 24 to 47 and were schooled as close as the Medical University of South Carolina and Trident Technical College and as far away as the Philippines.

The unit secretary is Kristy Snipe and the patient care technicians are LeMetris O'Berry, Leah Gehrke and Lynn Daniel.

Together they make up a team that must fulfill every order and respond to every emergency over the next 12 hours.

With stethoscopes hanging around their necks, and alcohol swabs, scissors, IV caps in their pockets, they jot numbers on their hands to make sure of everything because they are accountable for everything.

And while they're always busy, they possess a certain serenity that lives in the hearts of people who work so close to death.

Sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, the nurses simply sit and talk to patients who are lonely, confused or scared.

"Some people think it might be depressing to work here," Escoto said during a break. "The fact is that people are dying and we try to help comfort them in that situation. But sometimes you cry when they pass."

'Simply wonderful'

Because patients are often here for weeks or months, a closeness evolves with the patients and their families.

One patient said, "If there are any better nurses anywhere, you couldn't prove it to me."

A family member added, "They are simply wonderful."

That, Anita Bishop said, is why she works here.

"I love the night shift," she said. "I want to be that nurse they remember."

On this night, a patient is rushed to intensive care by the rapid response team. Alarms are always sounding. People cry out in anguish.

The nurses do all they can.

"We get a lot of frequent fliers so you get to know them well," Scott Spillman said. "I've decided only nice people get cancer. You get very close to them, but I draw the line at going to funerals."

Reach Ken Burger at kburger @postandcourier.com or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Ken_Burger. To read previous columns, go to postandcourier.com/burger.