By Kirstin Grace-Simons (Madigan Army Medical Center)January 23, 2018
Lillian Flores, who goes by Penny, started at Madigan Army Medical Center 17 years ago. Learning the ropes of being a licensed practical nurse can be daunting in the best of circumstances. Flores' were not the best.
When Flores lost her preceptor early on, she wasn't sure what to do with her unanswered questions.
Then she met Ruth.
"You taught me," Flores told Ruth Knasel, a volunteer in a family medicine clinic in the Primary Care Service Line (PCSL). "I didn't know what had happened to you; I knew something was up," replied Knasel. "I just kept going … with your help," Flores added.
It was not until Flores told the crowd gathered to celebrate Knasel's 95th birthday at a party held in the Eagle/Falcon clinic Jan. 5, that the volunteer knew how close to tears Flores was that day until she let them flow in retelling the story these many years later.
Over the last 34 years, Flores is just one of many to receive Knasel's assistance, knowledge, experience, and compassion.
"She used to set up all the rooms, all the packs, get all the medications ready. She used to change the bed and get things ready for me so I could go from patient to patient," detailed Bilvir Radach, a neighbor of Knasel's who retired from working as a licensed practical nurse in the clinic a few years ago.
"I used to babysit too." offered Knasel, explaining that she would go to clinics to watch a patient's kids while they had a procedure done.
Decades of doing what needed to be done all started with a need to feel useful.
When Knasel's husband passed away from Alzheimer's in the early 1980s, she knew it was past time to offer her caring attention outside of her home. Her own doctor asked if she would volunteer in his clinic.
She spent time in a variety of clinics, but landed quickly in the family medicine world that is now known as the Eagle/Falcon team in the PCSL.
Over time, Knasel has reduced her hours in the clinic to just one day a week, down from a full-time schedule. Now, with eyesight weakening, she is viewing her birthday party as her retirement party as well.
The party drew retirees and other departed staff members, as well as a steady stream of current staffers from around the facility, to thank Knasel, give her a hug, and a couple of coins. Having heard of her years of dedicated service, some even came simply to meet her.
Speaking with the accent that still belies her German roots, Knasel imparted her beliefs to the gathered crowd.
"I miss all of you. It's something that kept me alive and brought me here now. And I hope that lots of people take note of that -- that when you keep busy, you will live a longer life," she said.
Col. John Kent, Madigan's deputy commanding officer, presented the commander's coin commenting, "I can't imagine how many patients' lives you've touched in 34 years here."
"The patients like seeing her," affirmed Jenifer Dow, a registered nurse with the clinic. "She brings a great spirit to the team."
Maj. Angelika Chiri, chief nurse of the PCSL, also presented Knasel with the line's coin saying, "All the little things you've done for our patients have made a big difference."
Knasel appreciated the gratitude. "Thank you to all of you for working with me and for having the patience to teach me whatever I learned here. And that was a lot, but not enough," she said.
Knasel repeatedly expressed her wish to keep coming to the clinic and keep helping. "I like it here; can you tell?" she asked Lt. Col. (Dr.) Scott Grogan. "I can, very much so," replied Grogan.
"I'm married to this place," Knasel concluded.