Serving with a joyful heart

Surrendering ourselves to God’s will for our vocation can be one of the most freeing, yet challenging, things we will ever do. Prayer, discernment, more prayer and then listening for the words that God speaks to our hearts allow us to truly know what he is calling us to do. He is the vine; we are the branches. We are his body here on earth. He uses each of us so differently according to our unique gifts and talents. All of us are called to show his love, mercy and compassion through our vocations. “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Stephanie Hanlon recalls the very moment she realized one of her vocational callings. She was an undergraduate nursing student at Franciscan University in Ohio, shadowing an OR nurse at a large Pittsburgh hospital. The patient was having spinal surgery and was in a prone (face-down) position to provide access for the surgeon. His oxygen saturation levels were starting to drop because his breathing tube had become displaced. The CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist) at the head of the bed was very calm, steady; unshakeable really. She paused the surgery, dashed under the table to adjust the tube and the oxygen saturations returned to normal. “I saw what a vital role the CRNA played in the surgery and felt alive with excitement. I knew right then that God was calling me to pursue a vocation in anesthesia,” says Stephanie.

Image of Stephanie on the job

Being a nurse anesthetist is not for the faint of heart. For Stephanie it is “extremely rewarding to make a personal connection with a patient and their family, usually in a very small amount of time in the preoperative area, and create a well thought-out plan for the patient’s anesthesia, while taking into consideration their health history.” After all that, she must continue to “vigilantly provide anesthesia while managing their airway and maintaining their vital signs during the surgery.” Watching the patient wake up comfortably after the procedure and bringing him or her to the recovery room must feel like completing an Olympic event! Stephanie really has only a few minutes to earn the trust of a (sometimes terrified, anxious, worried) person about to have surgery. She carefully keeps her patients safe and pain-free during surgery, and finally delivers them comfortable and unharmed to the recovery room. This is no small feat!

Stephanie reflects:
What a gift it is to be given the opportunity to meet so many beautiful people who may be anxious, experiencing pain, in need of healing and be able to play such an important role in their healing process. I sometimes think of my fellow anesthetists as “Guardian Angels,” each tasked with safely guiding his or her patient through surgery.

Prayer is vital to how she approaches work each day:

I like to know as much as I can about my patients the night before, so that I can create an excellent anesthetic plan and can intently pray for them before their surgery. At the last hospital where I worked, Trinity Hospital in Augusta, GA, there was a Catholic chapel with a huge crucifix and a beautiful statue of St. Joseph. I would spend time before each workday asking for God’s protection for all the patients I would put to sleep that day. I have a bit of a commute to work now, but it allows me time to pray a rosary for my patients, surgeons and OR staff before each workday. I specifically ask for the intercession of St. Rene Goupil, the patron saint of anesthesia, St. Teresa of Calcutta because her entire life was devoted to healing of the sick and St. Gianna Molla, as she is an excellent role model of a mother working in the medical field.

Stephanie and her family photo by Nick Finochio

There are so many different types of patients and various situations in which Stephanie provides care. Some include: surgical anesthesia, OB/GYN anesthesia, pediatric anesthesia and colonoscopy/cancer screening. She has such a tender heart and pours out Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in every situation she experiences. In the delivery room, Stephanie often thinks of Mary embracing Jesus in her arms for the very first time when she is guiding a new mother during a C-Section. What a powerful image! Stephanie knows the gift and miracle she is witnessing as new life enters into the world and is humbled to play a role in such a joyful experience. In pediatric anesthesia, she knows the helplessness parents feel as they watch their child wheeling away to surgery. Having two children of her own, Stephanie says, “I feel so blessed that God is giving me the responsibility to watch over those children and care for them as if they were my own during their surgical procedure.” The parents of her small patients are literally trusting her with their child’s life!

Colon cancer is near and dear to Stephanie’s heart. She lost her grandfather to this horrible disease and another family member was diagnosed at an early age. If she is able to provide comfort during a screening colonoscopy and help prevent even just one case of colon cancer, it is a reward in and of itself. But perhaps one of the most meaningful interactions of her career was with a young woman and her husband who has just lost their baby to miscarriage. Stephanie was preparing the mom for a D&C, which is when the deceased preborn baby has to be surgically removed from the woman’s womb. She recalls holding the woman and weeping with her, praying for healing with her and consoling her. She was able to share her own experience of losing her first baby to miscarriage and the hope that lay ahead, as she had since delivered a beautiful, healthy baby boy. “It was such a healing experience for myself as well to be able to support another young woman during such a difficult time.”

Stephanie on the job

The hardest part of her job is when the outcome is less than ideal; when she’s done everything step-by-step, exactly how it was to be done, by the books, and there are complications, suffering or pain. This is when is it more important than ever to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. He is the Divine Physician.

We may not always understand the whys
behind his plan. We don’t have to. It is
our duty to trust and know and surrender.
Surrender to the will of God. Surrender
in the big things. Surrender in the small
things. When we are united to the cross
and in constant communication with him,
the surrendering comes naturally.

Stephanie knew God’s call without doubt. She serves him joyfully and relies on his grace, guidance and example when caring for her many patients. She has a servant’s heart and responds with peace, confidence, humility and love.

Stephanie Hanlon currently serves as a Nurse Anesthetist in Fayetteville and Cary, N.C. She lives in Spring Lake with her husband, Jeremy, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in the U.S. Army and their two young children, Hudson and Caroline.

Author Joanne Huestis-Dalrymple is a mother of seven plus two in heaven. She enjoys making her house a home, will never turn down chocolate, has a special devotion to Our Blessed Mother and finds joy in the small stuff, like natural child birth, spending time with family and friends and cozying up with a good book or movie.

Image of Stephanie and her family by Nick Finochio. Courtesy photos of Stephanie on the job.

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