Monthly updates from the Office of The Patient Experience
Scott Hamerlinck, now a senior application developer in Health Care Information Systems, tells us about his personal story with cancer, and how his experience as a patient inspired him to come work for University of Iowa Health Care.
Hamerlinck’s journey from cancer patient to staff member
“As a young man, I was introduced to cancer by watching my father battle lymphoma. I lost him when I was in first grade, at age 7. Even more unfortunately, my mother developed pancreatic cancer when I was 11. She quickly passed away, and I moved to my aunt and uncle’s farm in time to start the 6th grade. Life moved on.
“I found myself not feeling well when I was 34. After a long period of chasing wrong diagnoses, I did a self-check on ‘the boys’ and discovered a tumor. My son was 6, my daughter 14. Dying of cancer while my kids were young was my worst nightmare.
“We lived in Waverly at the time. The decision to seek treatment at UI Hospitals and Clinics was not hard. I wanted the best. So I headed south for staging and a plan.
“I was stage 3, and there is no stage 4 with testicular cancer. It had travelled farther than my groin and abdomen and up into my neck, and maybe a little touch into my lung. Dr. Vaena decisively made a plan, and went through it in great detail with me—which I very much appreciated as a nerd. I got a crash course in biology and medicine, and this detail eased my anxiety and also piqued my curiosity. The plan was three rounds of chemo and a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND).
“I don’t know what you’ve heard about chemotherapy, but the flavors they give guys with testicular cancer (TC) are hell on earth. From the second that first drip hit my system, my body started throwing red alerts that stayed for months. My chemo cycle meant eight hours a day, five days in a row in a chair. A dark relief is that I would black out by Thursday, and not remember anything until Sunday afternoon. This is nobody’s fault—this is the state of TC treatment today. It’s done because it works.
“Let me tell you about everyone in Cancer Clinic B and the Infusion Suite. I’m talking EVERYONE—from volunteer to clerk to phlebotomist to oncologist, EVERYONE I encountered was both compassionate and qualified. I could go on for paragraphs about chemo nurse Matt’s rice crispy treats, the labs ladies’ decoration contests, Dawn the sniper phlebotomist, and ridiculously talented music therapy students. I wasn’t a number in a pink chair, I was a friend who needed some empathy and compassionate care, and I sure got it.
“And the eye contact—so much can be communicated with the eyes. When I was scared out of my wits, I was met with nurses who could instantly tell me with one look: ‘I know you’re concerned, I’m sorry you’re sick, and I care so much that I have dedicated my career and life to helping you get better.’ The look was a genuine, almost a pained half smile met with attentive and caring, somber eyes. The real and the genuine was an amazing relief—emotional connection was desperately needed and always present in the Infusion Suite. Those people are rockstars.
“I needed a third and last surgery on my neck, as we hadn’t gotten all of the cancerous lymph nodes out yet. I think the conversation with Dr. Vaena went something like, ‘We need a cancer surgeon who specializes in zones 3 to 5 of the neck. We have three of those.’ I would have been surprised if we had one. Dr. Sperry’s team was so considerate, that right before surgery he voiced concern that I didn’t have any natural skin folds on my neck to hide the scar, since I had lost weight after chemo. I told him that I’ll just tell my son I got in a knife fight with a Ninja.
“I’m two years cancer free now. Every step of the way at UI Hospitals and Clinics, during chemo, two surgeries, and a bunch of check-ins, I’ve been treated so well, by highly effective and expertly trained staff from top to bottom. I was so impressed by the team during my treatment, that after my recovery I was determined to pick up my family and move here to work for this organization.
“So here I am. I’m a nerd, specifically a senior application developer, on the Claims and Remittance team in Health Care Information Systems (HCIS). I might not be on the front lines of patient care, but I do feel fulfilled being a support player making sure claims processing and payments go as smoothly as possible for our patients and our finance team.
“Even here in HCIS, way out in the Health Care Support Services Building, the team is committed to excellence, every time. Our staff makes us great. We are guided by the same values and same vision from intern to IT director as the care teams are at the main hospital. I’m proud to be able to work on such an excellent team, and giving an extra inch is the least I can do for the organization that saved my life.”
Recent patient comments about respect and dignity
- “I felt the warm family atmosphere during my stay. All the nurses in this unit were amazing. And I was treated with dignity and respect during my stay.”
- “This provider was extremely generous with his time. I appreciated his respect for my views.”
- “Immediately felt like we had some control and dignity over our situation. Very impressed.”
- “I was very grateful how they worked with my elderly mother—treated her with care and dignity.”
- “The medical assistant that took me to the procedure room was amazing; quiet, reassuring, respectful. I wish I could remember her name. She was a star.”
- “I felt my questions, concerns, and knowledge of my child was listened to and respected.”
- “Everyone made us feel like dad was their only patient and treated family members with the upmost respect.”
Missed the mark
- “I had to request numerous times that my door be shut for my own dignity. My complaints were laughed off or ignored.”
- “Before being taken back to our room,the receptionist and the check-in nurse were extremely rude. They did not seem to have any respect.”
- “After this gentleman read my file and the way he touched my arm was just disrespectful and without saying a word, just dropped my arm on the chair. Even if he is having a bad day, leave it home—PERIOD.”
- “Doctors need to respect parent knowledge of their child and give adequate reasons to do or not do things.”
- “Evening/night nurses outside room were loudly swearing and laughing. Asked them twice to quiet down, did not comply. Left alarms beeping over 5 minutes before responding. Horribly disrespectful of our family’s recent terminal illness diagnosis.”
- “No respect for patients’ rights. DNR scoffed at. Surgeon more focused on self and track record than on patient.”
New patient education handouts
The titles below are new handouts added since Jan. 1. These can be found on the Patient Education site on The Point. Departments may submit their own materials for plain language review through the site.
- Comfort Menus
- iPad and Laptop Instruction Sheets
- Patient Wellness Goals
- Do I Want CPR?
- Central Line
- What You Need to Know About Anesthesia and Epidural
- Cancer-Related Fatigue
- Taking Care of Yourself During Radiation Therapy
(multiple handouts for different types of radiation
- Hair Fragility
- Muscle Biopsy (pre-education)
- Sugammadex Instructions for Women of Childbearing Age
- Central Line
- Music Therapy
- OneView Tips
- Child Protection Program (multiple handouts on child abuse issues)
- Type 1 Diabetes Care for Children and Adolescents (long book)
- Kidney Options
- Clean Intermittent Catheterization (version for boys and girls)
- Sickle Cell Disease and Cognitive Risks
Family Education Center debut
See the new Family Education Center in the Janice and Bruce Ellig Children’s Library featuring “X-Plain” education on iPads. Demonstrations will be held from 10 a.m. to noon, Thursday April 13, in the Children’s Library.