The bright fabric is a welcome antidote to the anxiety the woman is feeling. She's just had a temporary pacemaker placed in her chest. Thin wires snake out from her heart, attached to a small plastic box that rests close to her chest in a colorful handmade pouch. "Who made this?" the woman asks her nurse. A volunteer, she's told. "Please tell her thank you," the patient says. "I'm sure she'd appreciate hearing that," the nurse replies.
That's something the nurse, Grace Miller, knows for certain. It turns out she's the volunteer who made the pouch — and hundreds of others just like it. It was a project she took on in secret seven years ago, after a supply of pouches from other volunteers dried up. "I just love doing this," Miller, a cardiac nurse at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, tells us. She sews about 20 of the small bags each month, and had stocked them stealthily until recently, when a colleague figured out she was the secret seamstress. "I told her not to tell anyone," Miller says with a laugh. "I'm not into this fame stuff."
What Miller is into is sewing. It's a passion she tells us she owes to her mother. "She made me take a dressmaking class in high school," Miller says. "I wanted to take a cooking class. But my mom said, 'Cooking is easy. You just get a book and you can do it. Sewing is hard.' My mom had tried to learn to sew but couldn't. So she gave that to me." It is a gift that Miller, who grew up in the Philippines, has come to treasure. "The first thing I bought in the U.S. was a Singer sewing machine," she tells us. More than 25 years later, "I still use the same one."
Sewing isn't the only thing Miller's mother steered her toward. She'd planned to study business after high school. But then, "my parents dropped a bomb on me that I was going to be a nurse," Miller says. "Back then, in the Philippines, your parents told you what to do." Initially, she wasn't happy about the change of plans. "At first I was tantruming and crying," Miller tells us. "But I was dutiful. I poured myself into my studies." And she soon discovered that she was built for the bedside. "I truly love taking care of patients," she tells us. "It's like a calling for me. I love helping people. My parents knew my temperament and personality. I'm very grateful to them."
Now that she's a mother herself, Miller admits that she's trying to have some influence on her sons' career choices. Though she's taking a slightly softer approach than her own parents did. "I tell my sons that helping others is really worthwhile," she says. "I tell them to know at the end of the day that you were able to help someone is a wonderful feeling. I'm basically leading them into health care." (We suspect they'll thank her someday.)
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