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Friday, 09 December 2016 09:44
Five Decades: Saratoga Hospital’s 1st 50-year Employee
SARATOGA SPRINGS — More than fifty years ago, when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing and Medicare was in its infancy, the national median household income was $7,143, and Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first black Supreme Court Justice, Thelma Williams studied at Manpower and started a career in nursing at University Hospital in Syracuse. Shortly afterwards, she began working in the operating room at Saratoga Hospital, and stayed there for 45 years, single-parenting her five children. Now a surgical liaison, the 80-year-old Williams has reached her 50th anniversary, the first Saratoga Hospital employee to do so, and is feeling blessed. “I believe I was the first woman of color to work at the hospital. I never had a problem, always felt respected, and the hospital has become my family,” said Williams. On Dec. 1, the milestone was acknowledged throughout the hospital on banners, buttons and even the cafeteria menu, as well as an evening reception in her honor. “Thelma embodies the culture of Saratoga Hospital: the commitment, dedication and compassion that drive every interaction with every patient,” Saratoga Hospital President Angelo Calbone said. “The fact that she has continued to work here for half a century says as much about our hospital as it does about her. In Thelma and Saratoga Hospital, our community has two amazing ‘institutions.’” A three-time cancer survivor, Williams is well known for her tenacity and compassion, qualities she says are important in a nurse. “You got to be able to talk to people. You have to work it out, work it through, so they understand what they need to hear. You see a lot in the operating room,” said Williams, “and you know within your first couple days if that’s the work for you or not.” “We saw a lot of tonsillectomies and appendicitis cases,” said Williams. “There have been a number of cases that made me cry. Like the gentleman who held my hand and said, ‘don’t let me die.’ And we did everything we could do.” There have been many hard cases and joyful ones, and she said she got through the tough days by counting her blessings. “I go home, I look at my kids, who are healthy,” said Williams, “and I just thank the Lord that everything’s turned out the way it has. Denise Orszulak, CNOR, RN, said she has known Williams for 32 years. “We’ve been in the O.R. together, on the vascular team for many years, long days,” said Orszulak. “In a busy surgery day, she can outlast them all. Sometimes we’ll go six, seven, eight hours.” Orszulak and Williams have been through quite a bit together. “I survived colon cancer and two breast cancers,” said Williams. “Denise, my buddy, she took me, took care of everything, talked to the doctor, the whole nine yards. These people, they are my family.” Orszulak was with Williams during her cancer treatments. “Thelma is a fighter,” she said, “and she doesn’t let anything get her down. She just accepted it and fought it like a champ. I don’t recall her missing any work during her treatments. She did what she had to do and bounced back and kept going. She is very strong, very independent.” Williams grew up in Saratoga Springs and began her Saratoga Hospital career in 1966 at age 30. Her first assignment was as a nurse on a medical-surgical floor, working 3 to 11 p.m. Six months later, she transferred to her dream job as a nurse in the “O.R.,” a position she held for 45 years until becoming a surgical liaison nurse, providing information and support for families while their loved ones are in surgery. Williams is especially grateful to several members of the hospital staff who have encouraged her in her career. “I need to mention Dr. Bell, Dr. DelGiacco and Dr. O’Conner,” said Williams, “those three are my big support. And Dr. Isenberg, he was the man.” During her tenure, William has seen extraordinary growth at the hospital and in the community. She remembers when the hospital had three O.R.’s, all on the ground floor. Those are long gone, replaced most recently by a multistory Surgical Pavilion that’s home to 10 state-of-the-art operating suites. “There’s something about this hospital and the way we treat our patients and each other. Everyone here is like a second family to me. I am going to keep working here until I can’t work any longer,” Williams added. For more information: www.saratogahospital.org or www.facebook.com/SaratogaHospital.