Northern Wilds Magazine
Cindy Donek recently retired this year after working for 37 years as a nurse for North Shore Health in Cook County. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Grand Marais nurse reflects on 37 years at North Shore Health

Some people seem to be born knowing what they want to be when they grow up. Others stumble onto their career paths in other ways. For Cindy Donek of Grand Marais, nursing was something she stumbled onto—literally.

Donek retired this year after working for 37 years as a nurse for North Shore Health in Cook County. And her journey to becoming a nurse began with an injury. While she was attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth to study elementary education, she fell and broke her wrist. To treat the injury, she had to be put under, but she had a caring nurse who not only tended to her recovery but sparked a desire to go into the nursing field herself. Donek completed her nursing degree and began what would be nearly 40 years working as a nurse, the majority of it in Grand Marais.

Like many rural healthcare organizations, North Shore Health serves a wide geographic area, and as the only hospital and care center in Cook County, it plays a vital role in serving both North Shore residents and visitors alike. The hospital first opened in 1958, and Donek joined the team in 1983. While to some that may not seem like quite so long ago, the developments in healthcare and the changes that have been brought by ever-evolving technology have been astounding.

“Healthcare has changed so much with many new developments,” Donek said. “Take heart disease: back when I started if you came in with chest pain, there were medications that would be given but a lot of it was hoping for the best. Stroke care is also much better now. There are treatments to dissolve and remove blood clots, and someone could be airlifted to Duluth where specialists can get at a clot in the brain.”

Advances in technology and transportation—specifically the Life Link medical flights—have made Cook County more connected to specialized care and have improved the outcomes of serious illnesses and injuries. Paramedics are now utilized to respond to scenes and to be onboard for Life Link or ambulance transfers, something that used to be handled by nurses.

“Paramedics are heaven-sent,” Donek said.

Even the evolution of attitudes toward healthcare have changed over the last four decades, sometimes drastically. Donek recalls that when she first began at North Shore Health, there was only one female doctor, and that she was treated differently than the male doctors, with some even refusing to see her—something that has become unthinkable in 2020.

Through the many changes, Donek’s career as a nurse was at once challenging and fulfilling. She said working in death and dying care stands out when looking back on her work; being able to be there for the patient and also to work with families as they navigated a new loss was poignant and rewarding work. Other notable moments—from caring for children her own children’s age to getting flowers from people she helped—made nursing a memorable and touching career.

Overall, Donek said that what made working for North Shore Health so positive was the people.

“Our clinic doctors are wonderful to work with in a hospital setting,” she said. “You work as a team and they really listen. The first hospital I worked for was so different—there was definitely a hierarchy and you were treated very differently as a nurse. But here in such a small setting you know everyone, and everyone works together so well.”

Now, Donek is enjoying retirement and she is looking forward to having more time for her passions such as baking, canning, and taking care of her grand-dogs. But she is also interested to continue watching the new developments in healthcare and at the Cook County hospital and how things continue to change and grow in the years to come.

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