In Our Valley: Colin Spangl

Spangl is an ER nurse at Kitimat General Hospital and works hard to make patients comfortable

Colin Spangl photo
Colin Spangl got into nursing because he wanted a career where he could have a positive impact in people’s lives.

Colin Spangl photo Colin Spangl got into nursing because he wanted a career where he could have a positive impact in people’s lives.

Colin Spangl recently received a lot of attention on a Kitimat community Facebook page for all the right reasons.

Spangl is a nurse in the Emergency Room (ER) department at the Kitimat General Hospital and is incredibly good at his job, according to many in the Kitimat community.

“Shout out to Colin at emergency…you are a NURSE GOD!!! Thank you so much,” Sue Galbraith posted in ‘The Kitamaat, Kitimat, and Community’ Facebook page. Soon, there were over 150 likes and over 50 comments of people agreeing with Galbraith and sharing their thoughts about Spangl, too.

“Colin is absolutely amazing!!! I always felt bad bringing my infant son to the hospital thinking that I was wasting the hospital staff’s time. But he always made me feel at ease and assured me it was better I came in,” Wahnese Antonioni commented on Galbraith’s post. “Sometimes it’s not the expertise the hospital staff have but their genuine kindness and compassion that means the most. Colin has both! And I will always be grateful for that.”

“I absolutely love him!!!! There were a few nurses there that took such amazing care of my dad while he was in palliative care!!! Colin being one my dad love!!!” Rose Stewart commented. “After [losing] my dad, I had a panic/anxiety attack and with how scary it feels to have one of those, [Colin helped] me so quickly and made me feel the care he had for me in helping me!! Wasn’t just a job or title for him! You can truly feel the care this amazing man has for everyone he helps!”

Spangl said it wasn’t his intention to become a nurse, it was something that almost found him.

“I kind of stumbled into nursing, to be completely honest,” he said.

Spangl went to what was then Northwest Community College (now Coast Mountain College) in Terrace after graduating high school, working on a degree in general sciences, taking some criminology and environmental sciences courses.

However, a childhood friend of his, who was in his second year of the college’s nursing program, told him there was an empty seat in one of the physiology courses. And since Spangl has already been taking some basic biology, anatomy, and physiology courses, he decided to take the class as an extra biology elective.

As the class went on, however, and connected to a pharmacology course the next semester, Spangl began to realize that he was enjoying the classes and nursing started to seem like something he’d like to do.

“I’ve always wanted to do something that I could help people with. You know, I hoped my career could have a positive impact on people, and it just seemed to kind of be a good fit once I started looking at it.”

In his third and fourth years of nursing, Spangl did rotations in ER departments in Terrace and Hazelton and found he really liked working there.

“I just kind of liked the pace of Emergency. It’s, you know, it’s a lot of either calm or crazy, and you have to kind of do a little bit of detective work and, you know, work really closely with the physicians and the rest of the health care team,” he said. “You know, you get someone come in with a complaint and you just kind of have to figure out what’s going on. There may not be a clear-cut picture and you kind of have to put the puzzle pieces together.”

Once he got to Kitimat, he worked in Medical-Surgical (Med-Surg) nursing for a short time before getting a float position, bouncing between the ER and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

He worked for about a year in that position before getting a permanent position in the ER department, where he’s been working for almost two years now.

“I love emergency medicine. You know, I love all forms of nursing, I really do. I think it’s a really rewarding career and it’s a good place to work, but, yeah, the ER is definitely for me.”

Spangl said that teamwork is a big part of what he loves about working in Kitimat, as the ER team and the rest of the hospital departments work together quite cohesively.

He added that, especially given the ER doctors have full-time practices and are not in the hospital building 24/7, he and the other nurses have become quite good at anticipating what the doctors might want set up when they come to see the patients and what they might want to order treatment- and/or test-wise.

“Obviously, you know, you have to be mindful of your scope, and it’s something that you, you know, it might be tempting to overstep the things you can do as a nurse, but you just get to work together.”

Spangl said his favourite part about being a nurse is being able to help people with medical and other issues that may arise.

“You really get to, you know, develop genuine relationships with the patients and staff in a very short amount of time.”

He said one of the biggest challenges with being a nurse, especially in the ER department, is working to develop rapport with patients in a matter of minutes, so they feel comfortable in giving the nurses factual and in-depth information, as well as so they trust you and the team and know you have their best interests in mind.

“Just having that connection with people is very important to me. Yeah, it’s always good to know that, hopefully by end of your shift you’ve made a positive change in at least one person’s life when they’ve come through the door.”

Spangl was very shocked and humbled by the post and flood of comments on the Kitimat Facebook page, but said he doesn’t feel like he’s necessarily doing anything outside of what he was taught in school.

“I try to always consider the patient as a whole. In nursing, that’s what we’re taught, is to treat people holistically. As in, that, they may come in for, you know, let’s say if someone comes in for a broken leg it’s, you know, pretty apparent that the treatment is going to be to, you know, set it, put it in a cast, refer them to physio or refer them to the orthopaedic surgeon, if that’s what’s needed.”

“Like, that treatment side is really obvious, but in nursing we’re also trained to, you know, consider well, yeah, maybe it’s a broken leg and it’s a relatively, you know, all things told, a minor thing in terms of treatment and healing,” he continued. “But, you know, that could be devastating to other people. Maybe they needed to fly down to see their family and they’re not able to fly anymore because of, you know, the danger of blood clots and that sort of thing. So maybe they have to postpone a trip or maybe they’re not able to go in to work and they’re the sole breadwinner of the family. So, you know, it’s more than just what physically appears to be the injury.”

Spangl said his goal as a nurse is to give the patients the most beneficial care that he can, whatever that may be, to help them live life to fullest that they can with whatever medical issue they’ve come in for. He feels like his whole team works with this idea, which is another reason he likes working there so much.

“Everyone on our team does, I think a really good job of trying to foster healthy relationship with patients and to do as much as they can to help,” he said. “It’s in any job, like, you hopefully go into a job to do it to your best, so why wouldn’t you do that little bit extra to help people out where you can?”

And while Spangl and his colleagues do work hard to put in that little bit extra, Spangl said it’s also very easy to burn out and it’s something they have to watch for in themselves.

“Health care in general, unfortunately, continues to be a very understaffed and in some ways underfunded area of our society. So, it is really easy to keep saying yes to when those short call shifts come out or when there’s a sick call or when, you know, the amount of patients in the hospital exceeds our capacity. So it’s easy to keep saying yes and going in to hopefully help patients and also to help out the people I work with.”

Spangl said that, outside of work, he and his coworkers are friends, as well, which he said also makes it more difficult to say no to helping each other out and covering shifts, even when they’re feeling burnt out or close to it. But, he said they all just try to remember to help the team out as much as they can, but ultimately know when they need to stop for a while or take a break to look after themselves.

“It’s really easy to keep pushing until you don’t have anything left to push,” he said. “That’s what you go to work for, is to give that high level of care, so if you can’t do it, it’s kind of like you’re not there, anyways.”

Spangl said he thinks he’s been pretty good on himself with finding a balance so he doesn’t burn out too much, and he said the little things — like seeing that Facebook post — really help remind him why he loves nursing and decided to go into it in the first place.

“Something that maybe I think is, you know, relatively minor or something that I think is just part of the job and I don’t really think anything of it, to someone else it might be quite significant and to hear some people say how much of a change that’s been for them or how beneficial it has been, that is, you know, that’s huge to me and to the people I work with,” he said, “If you’re able to have that impact on someone, that’s — yeah, that’s really the reason to go into health care, hopefully.”

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