Mary Sage, a longtime nurse at United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia with two “retirement” dates on her resume, said she didn’t blink an eye when hospital officials summoned her back into duty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They called me out of the blue. I didn’t expect it but I never hesitated. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come back; not a problem,’ ” Sage said today during a Zoom videoconference set up by the Rochester Regional Health public information department.
Sage has been assigned to the medical surgery floor, located on the second floor’s new wing, and is taking care of a variety of patients, including those infected with the coronavirus.
She said she is tapping into her vast experience and knowledge gained over 30 years in the profession to provide just what is needed during what she calls a “very frightening” time.
“I am a better nurse today and a better person today because I’m older (she’s 72) and as you age, you certainly get wiser,” Sage said. “I’ve had to take care of a sick husband, I’ve been a patient myself, and I do believe that makes me a better nurse …”
She said that she has dealt with all kinds of illness, but nothing like the coronavirus that has swept through the world.
“I had a patient last week who they all of a sudden put her on COVID restrictions. It’s very frightening for them. I didn’t hesitate. I garbed up and did what I do,” she said. “But I realized very quickly that the patients are very frightened because they don’t understand what’s happening. You have to go through a lot of explanation – there’s a lot of testing, a lot of this and a lot of that. We have to garb, they have to put the mask on – and it’s just very frightening. But I think with a lot of reassurance, they get through it.”
Sage, who has held several positions at UMMC including supervisory roles, said she recalled the time many years ago when an infection control specialist came to the hospital and taught the nursing staff about pandemics.
“We kind of laughed, but I’m not laughing today … this is the real deal. It’s scary for everybody,” she said, adding that the woman patient with the virus was retested and fortunately the results came back negative.
Since coming back for another stint at UMMC, Sage said that learning the computer has been a “big-time change but it has been fun.”
“I understand that we’re in the information age, however I am a bedside nurse,” she said proudly. “You come into this facility and I’m going to take care of you. So, for me, the computer is secondary but it’s still important. Nursing at the bedside and taking care of your every need is more important to me.”
Sage, who also has volunteered in the surgical waiting area at UMMC since 2011 – racking up 728 volunteer hours through 2019, said she is currently working on a per diem basis. She retired as a full-time nurse for the first time in 2010 and then again in 2016.
“I have been working a couple days since I came back trying to gear up – orientation, learning the computer, getting back in gear,” she said. “It just depends … if we have another surge in the fall, I may work sporadically through the summer and come back in the fall – and I’m perfectly willing to do that.”
Her willingness to jump back into the fray exemplifies the caring nature of nurses and casts a bright light on the profession, which is celebrating National Nurses Week through May 12th, which happens to be the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
“I remember that when I was very young, this was something I always wanted to do,” said Sage, who grew up in Wyoming County and now lives in Clarence. “Unfortunately, … my parents didn’t see education as very important in those days. But I was still determined. I worked for a year, I saved my money and came to Catherine McAuley School of Practical Nursing here in Batavia that was associated with St. Jerome Hospital. That’s where I got my initial training – in 1967.”
A graduate of Genesee Community College and Daemen College in Buffalo, Sage explained just how far nursing has progressed.
“We carried our meds on a little tray, we gave enemas and passed a few aspirin. The doctors did everything else. When the physicians came into the nurses’ station, you stood up and gave them your chair,” she said. “The information age has certainly enhanced nursing, but once you’re a bedside nurse, you’re always a bedside nurse."
Sage said as she matured she “changed her MO” as far as taking care of patients – shedding a task-oriented approach – and finding satisfaction in knowing she is helping another person.
“I probably would have come back here for nothing because I like doing what I’m doing,” she said. “… that’s what I love the most, that I can go into a patient’s room, I need some basic information and pick up right away. That’s what I care about the most.”
Her children have followed her into the medical field.
Daughter, Barbara, an Elba resident, is a registered nurse at UMMC in charge of the surgical associates’ office, and her son, Jeff, whose home in Akron is not far from his mom’s house, is an athletic trainer at Daemen College in Buffalo.
Asked if it was a good thing that her son is nearby, Sage said it usually is but not at the moment because of the social distancing mandates.
“I can’t see the grandkids right now, so on my way home I’m going to stop and do a dance outside their window,” she said, noting she also enjoys gardening. “You gotta keep moving.”
Photos at top: Mary Sage, taken while speaking via Zoom videoconferencing service earlier today with Stacey Pastuszynski of Rochester Regional Health public information office in background; Sage, second from left, on the UMMC medical surgical floor; Sage and her nursing colleagues.