Photos by Colleen Mertes
By Colleen Mertes
A couple months ago, a nurse at the Stony Brook University Hospital in 19-South, the Bone Marrow Transplant unit, had the idea to put together date nights for patients undergoing chemotherapy and transplants. Nurse Maggie Knight, who worked closely with Chaplin Elizabeth Meehan, searched for restaurants who would deliver a meal the patient wanted, gather plates, forks, knives and fake flowers, among other details all with her own money and time. The goal was to create a moment; a moment where a patient could forget about cancer and treatment; a moment that he and his wife could spend together and have a little taste of normalcy.
Tuesday, March 31st, marked the 10th “date night” Knight and the BMT unit have given. Luis Almedina had just received a transplant that morning, which meant he would be at the hospital for another 6 weeks. Almedina is a “bit of a frequent flyer,” Maggie Knight said, he has been in and out of the BMT unit for chemotherapy treatments. That day was a perfect day for a date night because “his [white blood cell counts] aren’t down yet, so there is not a risk for infection yet” Taylor Adamo, interim nurse manager as SBU hospital, said.
Paula Walker, who has worked at the hospital for three and a half years in the dietary department, was the couple’s waitress for the evening. She said “everyone loves it…people are waiting to get their night.” On the cart Paula brought up was a spread of lobster and shrimp scampi for Almedina and chicken alfredo for his wife. For dessert there was cheesecake and a special virgin pina colada. Although this date night wasn’t a surprise, the couple was touched and appreciative of the gesture.
“It looks splendid,” Almedina said while smiling, “It’s touching and unexpected…this is what is good about the staff…it’s a good place to be at. God bless them all, God bless our food.”
Maggie Kight said her favorite part was that it “just makes them smile.” She explained that when the patients are there they become your friends and family. “They’re in a crummy place, it’s nice to make them feel better.”
“It’s great for the staff to see,” Adamo commented how it gives the floor something to smile about. “It’s really cute.”
Who gets a date night? Knight said there isn’t a set method. Generally it’s patients who are at the hospital for a long period of time and has mostly been their transplant patients. It isn’t just couples who get to have date nights, the nurses had a Buds on BMT night, for one patient who worked at the post office and his friends who visited often. They also had a sister night with elegant dining.
Due to the media attention the date night has earned, the dietary department has gotten involved. Taylor said that “the dietary department now takes orders for exactly what the patient wants…it is a lot easier.” Whether is is shrimp scampi to onion rings or a virgin pina colada, “Mike West will get them anything they want, it’s amazing,” Knight commented.
Money is not the biggest challenge about the date nights. Both Adamo and Knight noted that the window they have to work with for any given patient is the biggest challenge they face. They have a small time frame wherein the patients can eat the food they want- and feel like eating it. Cancers that affect bone marrow and chemotherapy both can cause patients to become neutropenic, meaning their neutrophil count, white blood cells that help fight off infection, is abnormally low. This means the patient is more prone to infection and can’t have certain foods. Chemotherapy also causes nausea, among other side effects that may decrease appetite. Finding the perfect time is difficult between when a patient is feeling well and has an appetite and aren’t restricted in their diet.
Despite this difficult time frame, Knight assured that date night is “definitely continuing.” They have more ideas to bring to date night and the floor in general. Movie nights and musicians are in the future. Taylor Adamo contacted Netflix to see if they could get a patient wide account and Knight said they are fund raising to get a TV and to be able to supply patients with television along with their first Battle of the Bands in June.