Constable: How DuPage nurses rushed to the rescue at an overwhelmed Wahlburgers
Nurses save lives. It's what they do. A group of elite registered nurses from Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital stepped outside their comfort zones to save an overwhelmed hamburger chain that was on life-support.
"If there's any group of people who understand staffing shortages and being overwhelmed, it's going to be a group of nurses who have gone through a pandemic," says April Marrs, 30, an emergency room nurse from Winfield.
The nurses, who all work at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, were attending the prestigious Magnet Conference in Atlanta in mid-November for the top 10% of nurses, and hungry after a day of seminars. "We wanted to grab a quick bite, and we thought Wahlburgers would work," says Mandy Haberman, 37, the Magnet Program manager for the hospital.
It took an hour for the nurses to be seated, and the beleaguered Wahlburgers hostess took to the sound system several times with announcements apologizing for the delay.
"You could just feel the stress from these people, and we've all felt that," says Jordyn James, 32, who lives in Glen Ellyn and works in pediatrics.
With instincts honed as a step-down nurse handling cases in the intensive care unit, 27-year-old Sarah Steger of Carol Stream jumped into the fray.
"I'll just get a napkin and start writing down our orders," Steger remembers thinking. Then she got an actual waitstaff pad and told the hostess she could take orders at other tables.
"I thought that would alleviate the stress. She looked at me like I was crazy," says Steger, who notes the opportunity was almost as if she were a Make-A-Wish kid. "It's always been my dream to be a waitress. At age 12, I decided to become a nurse. Up until that point I really wanted to be a waitress at Red Lobster."
The hostess granted her wish. "Before I knew it, I was working," Steger says, comparing the rush to a popular restaurant-based video game. "I felt like I was playing Diner Dash."
Surgical care nurse Amara Costello, 28, of Elgin, and professional development nurse Jennifer Raitt, 44, of Montgomery, immediately joined Steger, James, Marrs and Haberman in the volunteer effort.
"I know my co-workers have my back. No one had any second thoughts about it," Steger says. "Let's just get them through this night. That's what we do."
Carrying trays of drinks and delivering burgers and chili cheese tots, the nurses worked more than three hours until the restaurant closed.
"We can empathize with being really busy. I know they're trying their best," Haberman says.
Among the best in their profession, the nurses turned out to be pretty good servers, too.
"I just dropped a lemon. That's the only thing," James admits.
"I did kind of mess up. Apparently, you are supposed to put the orders in the computer, but I didn't do that," Steger says. "It was my first day."
The restaurant staff and patrons, some of whom were nurses from the conference, appreciated the effort. The nurses bonded with a family celebrating the gender reveal of their coming baby girl and a couple on their first date.
"I gave dating advice to Rodney and Amy," Steger says.
"We want invitations to their wedding," Marrs quips.
What appeared certain to be an evening filled with stress, disappointment and anger turned into a fun night. The appreciative restaurant crew said they wouldn't have made it through the night without the nurses.
"When the nurses stepped in, it changed the energy," Haberman says. "The whole night got better. It was one of the best nights I've had in so long. I told my husband, 'I went to sleep smiling.'"
David Haberman suggested to her that most people, including him, wouldn't have thought to just jump into the chaos and start taking orders and delivering burgers.
"Well," Haberman says. "You're not a Magnet nurse."
The nurses all work in different departments, but got to know each other quickly by working together, which is what they do in their real jobs.
"I'm willing to put in extra hours on my shift," Steger says. "You just think, 'How can I help?' You want to make things better."
After finishing their shift at Wahlburgers, the nurses missed their scheduled appointment to have some fun at an escape room. So a bunch went karaoke singing instead, and still made it to the next day's final conference schedule on time.
"It was fun," says Steger, who notes that the stress of serving food on time is not the same as caring for patients who are sicker and offer more challenges because of the coronavirus. "Nobody coughed on me."