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Nurse Jess: Tough Love, Tender Heart In Rehab

Blog Nurse Jess: Tough Love, Tender Heart In Rehab

They come to nurse Jess Matchett unsure and terrified. And then, her calm demeanor and gentle force changes everything.


He was a 16-year-old boy who’d been hit by a drunk driver on Thanksgiving morning. His family had been told he’d be in a vegetative state – forever.

“His personality would shine through even though he wouldn’t really open his eyes.”

She was a young girl who’d been through so many surgeries in her short life and, again, she would be back for a stay in rehab.

“She was so scared that she wouldn’t know anybody.”

He was a teen who had a stroke and dropped to the floor in the middle of class at school. He was anxious. He couldn’t talk. He could barely walk.

“I held his hand and looked in his eyes. I just said to him, ‘I know you’re scared. This is your new room. I’m going to take care of you and everything is going to be golden.’”

They all came to nurse Jess Matchett unsure and terrified. And then, her calm demeanor and gentle force changed everything.

And that’s why Matchett, a nurse on the rehab unit at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, is beloved.

Her patients are very sick. They are babies and toddlers. They are youths and teens. Many have had a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. Many have suffered paralysis.

When they get to Matchett, patients and families are overwhelmed, fearful and devastated.

It’s her job to give them tender care – as well as the encouragement they need to get through rehab so they can go home.

“It’s tough love. You have to gauge it. Is it too tough or is it not enough?” Matchett says. “Sometimes I have to tell them if you want to go home, this is your goal. And if you don’t do this, you won’t go home.” 

Families appreciate that greatly, says Rae Jean Clinton, whose son Zack Clinton went home earlier this month, after suffering from cardiac arrest and spending three months at Riley.

“We loved Jess. Zack loved Jess,” Rae Jean says. “Sometimes, I

 would just say to her, ‘Get over here and give him a speech.’ And he would listen to her.”

It’s not just Matchett’s medical care that endears her to families, though, it’s also her heart.

 “I try to put myself in the parents’ shoes,” Matchett says. “I’m one who likes to keep them in the loop. I like to answer all their questions before they have questions.”

When Matchett walks into a room, she tells exactly what the plan is for the day. If she is giving medicine, she lets them know what it is for.

“You just have to be compassionate, too” she says. “There have been plenty of times I’ve cried with my patients and my families.”

Matchett is always looking to make the bad days better. After all, every parent – with a child in the hospital -- is going to have a bad day every now and then.

She likes to remind them to take care of themselves. Matchett will offer to be with a patient so the parents can take a few minutes to get fresh air or something to eat.

“It’s really just about truly caring,” she says. “And realizing what they are going through.”

By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
 Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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