Betty Rehnberg says she's learned to listen with her heart. What she hears, more often than not, comes from the heart of those in need of gentle understanding and caring hands.
“I guess what I've learned is you don't need to talk. You need to listen, just listen to what people have to say.”
Betty is the receptionist at Pullman Regional Hospital's Medical Specialty Clinic. As the first person to greet patients, she's the de facto face of the clinic – the one with the perpetual smile and the quiet, caring demeanor. Not that she isn't up for sharing a laugh when humor manages to supersede the seriousness of the clinic's mission.
“Sometimes there's a lot of laughter here.”
The clinic, at 835 SE Bishop Blvd., adjacent to the hospital, is really nine rotating clinics in one location. It speaks to the fact that finding specialty medical care in small communities can be challenging. To meet that challenge, Pullman Regional has reached out to bring 18 specialists from both Spokane and Lewiston to Pullman on designated days throughout each month.
“Today is oncology day,” Betty said, explaining that 16 people were scheduled to undergo chemotherapy treatments or see cancer physicians who traveled to the clinic.
In addition to oncology, eight other clinics are offered at the same site, including: respiratory, allergy and asthma, cardiology, congenital heart disease, eyelid and orbital, neurosurgery and spine, neurology, and dermatology and skin surgery.
“I have to say, I don't have a doctor I don't like,” Betty said of the physicians who rotate in and out of the clinic. “I love to get to know them and watch them interact with each other and their patients.”
The specialty clinic concept is built around the belief that outside specialists can help support primary care physicians and thereby offer patients more timely care closer to home.
“I get to meet wonderful people and doctors,” Betty said. “And I get to offer a personal touch with the patients.”
Betty was hired several years ago after spending more than two decades working at the Bookie, the Washington State University bookstore on the Pullman campus. Becoming a patient at Pullman Regional, Betty said, got her thinking about a career change. She was admitted for treatment of a systemic infection and found the care and entire staff to be outstanding. She loved working among students at WSU, but thought it might be even more rewarding to work in a medical setting.
“I wanted a place where I could continue to reach out to the community,” she said. Nearly a decade after joining the Pullman Regional staff, Betty said she looks forward to every day of work and has learned first-hand how important good health is to individuals and how necessary good health care is to a community.
“When people are so frustrated, because they're sick, and they don't know what to do, I'm able to say, let me find it for you, or let me help.” Betty said a number of patients have her on cellphone speed dial and will call her for help when they arrive.
“They'll say, I'm out front. Can you come get me?”
Her greatest challenge, Betty said, has been coping with the juxtaposition of happiness and sorrow during Tuesday oncology clinics. “This is probably my hardest day. This is the clinic where we lose people.” Cancer is an insidious disease that relentlessly challenges, not only science and the best medical treatments available, but also the human psyche. Patients, family members, friends and caregivers alike, Betty said, are sometimes left with little more than hope.
Doctors also struggle, she said. “I see their hearts too, when things don't go the way they'd like.”
But more often than not, Betty added, she'll celebrate with a patient who comes to the oncology clinic for the last time and declares, “My treatment is done. I'm in remission.”
Married to psychologist Timothy Rehnberg, Betty is the mother of two grown children and the grandmother of six. She said her work has underscored the importance of family and how elderly patients suffering from illness sometimes need understanding as much as treatment.
“I remember a man who'd just lost his wife. And he said, 'The thing I miss most is my wife used to rub my feet.'” So Betty sat with the man and, yes, rubbed his feet. “You just look in their eyes and you can see, it's the human touch each one needs.”
Another patient liked to eat muffins. So Betty baked muffins and took them to the woman's home. “But it wasn't about the muffins. I have learned and grown so much. Part of what I do is listen with my heart. And they (the patients) have given so much back.”
Betty recalled another patient who came to the specialty clinic for treatment on what happened to be her 80th birthday. So Betty called the hospital cafeteria and cupcakes were delivered. “That's what I love about the hospital. They were right on it, what do you need?”
As a receptionist, Betty said, part of her job is to make a good first impression on those who come to the specialty clinic for help. After that, the care offered through the clinic speaks for itself.
“It's wonderful for the community,” she said, “to have so many doctors come here and help.”