Patsy Haeg moved from empty room to empty room, making sure each was properly stocked.
It was a little after 1 a.m. in the emergency department at Trios Southridge Hospital in Kennewick, and all the patients — there were only three at the moment— were taken care of.
But Haeg still had plenty of work to do.
She’s a nurse — a charge nurse at that. For her, there isn’t a lot of down time.
But that’s OK. Haeg has worked in many departments during her almost four decades in nursing, and she has a special affinity for the ER.
“I like it the best,” the 61-year-old Kennewick woman said. “I think part of it is the pace. You see people coming and going. It keeps you on your toes.”
Haeg’s shift started six hours earlier, at 7 p.m.
When she came on, all of the emergency department’s rooms were full and a handful of people were in the waiting room.
But Haeg and the staff worked their magic.
And the early morning hours brought a bit of calm, a bit of quiet.
In between checking rooms, going through charts and the like, Haeg talked about her long nursing career.
The Tri-City native started in the field when she was still in high school. As a senior, she worked in a nursing home.
I was a den mother. I had to laugh, one of the guys who works here is about the same age as my son would have been. He calls me ‘Den Mother.’ I’m kind of like the mother hen.
She went on to study nursing at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, graduating at age 21.
Not long after, she went to work at Kennewick General Hospital, now called Trios Health.
She’s worked there for 38 years.
A good chunk of that time has been in the emergency department, and a good chunk has been at night.
“I started working the overnight shift when my kids were little,” Haeg said.
She stayed with it because it suited her.
Haeg and her husband, JJ, have four kids between them.
Their youngest, Jared, is a senior at Washington State University. After graduation, he’ll join the Marine Corps — following in his father’s footsteps.
Haeg also has a stepson, Scott, and a daughter, Jennifer.
Her oldest son, John, died in 2010 at age 32. He had Huntington’s disease, a progressive and fatal genetic disorder.
Haeg has a nurturing way about her, a mother’s way.
Patsy and I have cried over things for 16 years — whether it’s our knee replacements or our children or what’s going. She knows everything my son is doing. I know what’s going on with her son.
Dr. James Newman
In the emergency department, the staff is like a family, with each playing their roles.
“I was a den mother,” Haeg said. “I had to laugh, one of the guys who works here is about the same age as my son would have been. He calls me ‘Den Mother.’ I’m kind of like the mother hen.”
She’s one of the department’s most-tenured workers. Over long years, long nights, bonds have developed.
“The best part of emergency medicine is the contact you have with patients and working together with staff,” said Dr. James Newman, during the overnight shift. “I mean, Patsy and I have cried over things for 16 years — whether it’s our knee replacements or our children or what’s going on. She knows everything my son is doing. I know what’s going on with her son.”
Haeg plans to work for a few more years before retiring.
One of her goals, she said, is to make sure others are ready to pick up her mantle when she steps away.
“I really want to make them feel comfortable, so that they feel like they can do the position I am doing,” she said.
Haeg loves her job; she loves nursing.
When patients come in, Haeg does her best to care for them like she would a family member, she said.
They’re scared, and she comforts them. As a nurse, she tends to both ailing bodies and shaken spirits.
The work is fulfilling because of the interaction with people, Haeg said.
And this — “knowing you’re making them better,” she said. “I don’t know what else I would do.”
As 2 a.m. neared, a couple more patients checked in.
Haeg only had time for a quick goodbye. She had work to do.
Over the next several months, Tri-City Herald photographer Sarah Gordon and reporter Sara Schilling plan to document 24 hours in the Tri-City area, spending a different hour of the day with a different person.
They’ve sought diverse subjects — people from different backgrounds, with different jobs, different interests, different stories.
The men and women they’ve found reflect the Tri-City community. They are the community.
So, what will their hours tell us — about who they are, about who we are?
We hope you’ll follow along and find out.
The first six installments of the series — we’re calling it 24 Hours — will run in print and online this week, covering midnight through 5 a.m.
Watch for more installments down the road.