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Nursing strengthens a Northtowns mother-daughter bond

Anne Walters quit nursing school the day her first patient handed her a pair of just-used dentures.

It was enough to make her realize that the human condition presents itself in all of its forms when people are vulnerable and feel lousy.

She wasn't up for that – yet still told her youngest daughter to pursue a nursing career.

"My mom wanted me to be a nurse so I would marry a rich doctor," said Kitty Scribner, with a laugh.

Scribner landed a job at Kenmore Mercy Hospital in 1980, the day after graduating with a bachelor's degree in nursing, and has worked in the Town of Tonawanda hospital ever since.

She didn't marry a doctor but did fall in love with a demanding profession she also wanted at least one of her six children to choose. She got her wish eight years ago, when her youngest daughter, Maria Richardson, graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Nursing and went to work alongside her.

Mother's Day and other family celebrations haven't been the same since.

"We have some interesting conversations at dinner," Scribner said, "where other people in the family ask us, 'Can you please not talk about that now?' Nurses can talk about body fluids or anything else."

Mother and daughter are one of several parent-child coworkers at Kenmore Mercy Hospital – and typify the dynamic that can be found with similar pairings across the Western New York health care landscape.

"We have a number of relatives that work here, and throughout Catholic Health, including mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, and many others," said Cheryl Hayes, vice president of patient care services at Kenmore Mercy. "When you see families that choose to be part of the same organization, it demonstrates a legacy of caring, a shared commitment to their values, and dedication to their community."

"I love being a nurse," Scribner said. "I wish I could tell everybody, 'Be a nurse because you get paid decent money for helping people. You make them feel better and you learn so much. Every day you go to work, you meet six to eight new people. You learn about their lives. You get so much wisdom from other people, especially when they're in a time of crisis.' "

The Scribner-to-Richardson nursing proposal was an act of desperation, one that mom feared might never happen.

Scribner's oldest, Paul Jr., 38, joined her husband, Paul Sr., at the father's financial services business. The second-oldest, Michael, works in pharmaceutical development on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The youngest, 26-year-old Steven, is in the grocery industry.

Oldest daughter, Katrina Ryan, works part time for her father and second-oldest daughter, Brittany Jesserer, a mother of four, pondered a nursing career but quit her job as a nurse's aide the day after a Kenmore Mercy nurse ordered her to get a stool sample from a woman with diarrhea.

That nurse? Richardson, now 29, who, admitted she's been enamored – and undaunted – by her mother's workplace for the longest time.

Before the days of direct deposit, Scribner, who's worked nights most of her career, would bring in her young children on Thursdays to collect her paycheck.

"We would stop at the gift shop with the volunteer ladies, and we would pick out the penny candy," Richardson said. "I always remember feeling like Mom was a celebrity. We'd walk through the halls and people would say, 'Oh Kitty, hi.' Everyone loves her so much."

The challenges Scribner faced in her younger years helped prepare her for a nursing career.

She was the youngest daughter among 11 children, including nine boys. The family lived in a sprawling house on Devonshire Road in Tonawanda before her father, Bill Walters, who owned a surveying company, died from kidney disease after he underwent one of Buffalo's first kidney transplants.

He was 39; Scribner was 7.

Kitty Scribner says nursing was quite a bit different when she started at Kenmore Mercy Hospital 38 years ago. Her youngest daughter, Maria Richardson, who has worked with her as an RN since 2010, has helped her keep up with the latest research and trends. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Anne Walters and her kids had to downsize homes when insurance money ran out. She held a series of jobs that included modeling and working as a secretary for a couple of doctors and the phone company. She died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis in 1997, but not before Scribner followed her career dictate, became a registered nurse through D'Youville College, and spent 17 years on the job.

It was a grind at first – physically, mentally and emotionally.

"I hated hospitals," Scribner said. I was afraid of them. I hated the smell of them. I had a bad memory from my father passing away young."

Computers, automated intravenous machines and cellphones weren't part of the job in 1980. Medical charts were on paper, not online. "You had to count your drip rates," Scribner said. "You had to calculate drugs. You had to mix all your drugs. You had to do a lot of math, a lot of thinking. It was stressful to start but once you learn it, you remember it. It was a lot of mind work and physical work.

"Once I got into it, I did love it. It took me a while. I was very, very shy."

A nursing instructor urged her to quit, predicting she wouldn't be a good nurse, "but that was just one," Scribner said. Other instructors were far more encouraging, so she persevered.

If you had your appendix removed during the 1980s, chances are you'd spend several days in the hospital. Those who underwent knee or hip surgeries could expect to stay a week, with lots of bed rest.

These days, Scribner's knee and hip replacement patients are on their feet and walking, slowly at first, within several hours of surgery. They often go home or to a rehab center after three or four days.

"The patients in the hospital now are a lot sicker than back in the old days," the veteran nurse said. She said health professionals also see many more "morbidly obese" patients, which can strain the physical abilities of staff.

Her daughter stepped into hospital duty first as a volunteer, during her junior year of high school in 2005, when a wave of hospital advancements was underway. In those days, she would answer patient call lights and fill water pitchers one day a week.

Working as a nurse's aide while in nursing school, Richardson's experience deepened.

Her mother – Kenmore Mercy's staff nurse of the year for 2015 – years earlier had mastered inserting catheters and IVs, and other technical demands of the job – but her daughter soon learned that wasn't what counted most to patients.

"Why is mom such a great nurse? She spends the extra time with patients," Richardson said. "She's always with them answering questions. She never goes into a room without a smile on her face. If she walks past a room and there's a call light going off, no matter whose patient it is, she's always going to answer it. She does the little things, goes out of her way to make patients feel better."

"Seeing all of those things," said a choked-up Richardson, "made me realize that's who I wanted to be."

She got her chance to do so as a full-time RN in 2010, first working with her mother on a second-floor medical-surgical unit, then heading off on her own for almost five years in the intensive care unit.

"It was neat to be at work with her," Scribner said, "but sometimes it was a little awkward because she didn't know what to call me in front of the patients."

While at the nursing station, Richardson called her mom.

"In front of patients, I would say, 'Oh Kitty.' It always threw her off," Richardson said. "But it was nice, as a new nurse, to have her by my side. It made me feel so much more comfortable. There were so many questions, and worries, about things that can go wrong. To know my mom was there, I can take a deep breath, and everything's going to be OK.

"Plus everyone loves her so much that as soon as I came in, automatically the nurses liked me. It gave me a little confidence going in. It helped."

Maria Richardson's daughter Grace, 4, left, loves to pretend she's a nurse when playing with her sister, Olivia, 2. She's already enamored with the idea of one day becoming a nurse. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Mother and daughter soon fell into a routine on the night shift, welcoming patients returning from surgery, checking vitals, dressings and IVs, giving them pain medication, and talking with family members who, in many cases, were worried.

Nights often bustle. "Some patients ask us where we sleep," Scribner said. "I tell them, 'We don't sleep because most patients don't sleep in a hospital for more than two or three hours and they need things.' " The hours fly by on many nights.

The mother-daughter-nurse bond has been particularly welcome during the most challenging times, when patients die.

"I can remember a couple of cases in the ICU that I was really upset about," Richardson said. "You get a lot of sick people up there on ventilators and titrating drips. It helps when you have one of those really horrible days to call somebody who knows, who's experienced it, and can talk you through what happened and give you the support you need. You do take it home with you. It's not like you leave and it's out of your mind. If something really traumatic happens, you're going to be thinking about it for a while, so it helps to be able to call my mom and talk to her about it."

The best professional advice mom has given over the years?

"Not to worry about things too much," Richardson said. "I tend to overthink things. She's always the one who tells me it's going to be OK."

“Sometimes things happen and you blame yourself,” Scribner said. “You can’t do that. You do the best you can. There are patients who will have a bad outcome, no matter what. ... It’s nice to have someone else there. That’s the camaraderie of nurses. They console each other.”

Celebrations when work and home life combine also take on greater meaning.

"When Maria got married (in 2011), the whole floor was invited to the wedding and that was a blast," her mother said. "People talked about that for a year."

Last year, Richardson became the night shift educator for Kenmore Mercy. She supports nurses and other staff with questions about anything, including hospital the roll-out of new policies and products. She also pitches in as needed when things get busy on the floors.

"She's always learning and keeping up with knowledge, which is great because she's kept me on my toes when it comes to new things, new medications, new procedures," Scribner said. "She's up to date on everything. The night staff loves having her. They're always telling me they love her because they asked a question and she got back to them."

Richardson works from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday to Friday; her mother, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. three days a week.

Both sometimes bring homemade meals for the other. Scribner said she particularly appreciates it when Richardson's husband, Eric, an Army maintenance shop supervisor, prepares the offering.

Mother and daughter usually are too busy to eat together but they often sit down for a few minutes about 1 a.m., if possible, to chat.

Scribner also is in high demand for babysitting on her days off. Her kids anxiously await her schedule, then phone in requests. That includes Richardson, who has two children and is expecting her third later this year. It will be Scribner's 14th grandchild.

"She's always taking care of someone," Richardson said of her mom.

That's fine with Scribner. She's setting an example, one that Richardson's daughters, Grace, 4, and Olivia, 2, already have started to follow.

The girls often play with Grace's Doc McStuffins toy hospital care cart. Their mother has given her oldest daughter a stethoscope to add to the fun.

"We always say she's going to be a nurse," Richardson said. "Not a doctor."

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