Why you want to know Maria Therese “Tessie” Bell: For 50 years, Tessie has worked at what is now CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock. For most of her career, she has been a surgical nurse, assisting the surgeon and focusing on patient care. Bell graduated from what was then St. Vincent Infirmary School of Nursing as a registered nurse in February 1969, thinking it would be an “interesting career.” She was honored June 5 for her service as the longest employee at St. Vincent and has no plans to retire. As a Christ the King parishioner, she has been a part of all but one of the medical mission trips to Honduras since they started in 1997.
Parish: Christ the King
City: Little Rock
Family: widow of Dick Bell (who died in 2011); two daughters, Christy and Sammie; and six grandchildren.
IN HER OWN WORDS
Arkansas Catholic’s theme this year is “The Truth will set you free.” What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
Luke Chapter 6, the rules of charity; “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, give to everyone who asks of thee. Do not judge and you shall not be judged.” I think that’s how I try to live my life. I try to live by example.
Your family emigrated from Venezuela?
We arrived in Little Rock on Dec. 31, 1960, 10 p.m. My parents were European, trying to get to the United States for years. We came to the U.S. with student visas (her and her twin sister Mary Ann; she has four siblings) to attend Mount St. Mary Academy. My mother was from Holland, my father from Latvia. My dad had a job waiting for him in Australia. Post World War II, travel was precarious. (They made it) only as far as Venezuela. My dad got a job there. My mother was expecting. Not expecting me, just one. I’m still a surprise.
What do you do as a surgical nurse?
I’m primarily a circulator, but I do know how to scrub also. When I started I did both every day. A circulator, in layman’s terms, it’s a gopher. I’m responsible for maintaining sterile techniques in the room and assisting the patient in every way … assisting with anesthesia, helping position the patient depending on what the surgery entails, getting the supplies needed … Some days it’s more challenging than others. All in all it’s mainly the care of the patient. All the duties I do are solely for the care of the patient. I go and interview the patient in the pre-op area.
Do you say anything to calm a patient down before surgery?
Every patient is nervous whether they want to admit it or not … I try to establish a rapport with the patient and the families, try to calm them down a little bit, explain what we’re going to do for them when they’re still awake … I do tell them before they go to sleep, especially the Hispanics because they are very scared, that “the Lord is with you, guiding you, watching over you.” It depends on the patient.
You are fluent in Spanish. How does that help in your work?
We have a lot more Hispanics coming in as patients … I can try to speak to them in Spanish and stay with them in the operating room until they go to sleep, talk to their family in Spanish and help give them some comfort as well. They’re as scared as everyone else, maybe more so if their English is limited or none at all, you can imagine … I feel consequently God has put me there for that reason.
You have gone on medical mission trips to Honduras to assist with surgeries like fixing cleft palates and orthopedic procedures. What spiritual fulfillment do you receive from that work?
I will tell you the Honduran people are wonderful, so patient and they appreciate the care we give because this is the chance to have whatever surgery they need and not get charged … They can’t afford to have surgery any other way. Early on we did cleft palate repairs and we’d have patients come back the following years to thank us for their surgery … I feel like God has placed us there to help in the care of these patients.
You are also part of the choir at Christ the King?
That’s another mission, a service we give to the parishioners and to myself. I enjoy singing and being a part of the choir. I’ve been there a long time. The music you have at church can certainly add to your prayer life while you’re there.
What are your hobbies?
We used to go to Lake Ouachita a lot in the summer months. I like to sew, crotchet, read books and take care of my grandchildren.
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