Nurse Heroes: Linda Michna, RN, and the Old Dolls

Nurse Heroes: Linda Michna, RN, and the Old Dolls

Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Three decades ago, a group of nurses at Northwestern Memorial Hospital became known as the Old Dolls, even though they were only in their 30s. One of them, critical care nurse Linda Michna, RN, says a male nurse gave them the patronizing moniker when he told new nurses in their early 20s to ask the Old Dolls when they had questions.

“It was a common expression back in the ’80s, so it was no big deal,” Michna says. The group of about 20 nurses formed close friendships. Today, a core of 10 Old Dolls who remain didn’t hesitate to volunteer to care for Covid-19 patients.

Linda Michna quote “We’re all in this togther,” says Michna, 62. “We worked during the AIDS epidemic, which was even more frightening because we didn’t know how it was transmitted.”

Michna is on a rapid response team that is called when a patient shows symptoms of distress. If a patient’s condition deteriorates, Michna transfers them to the intensive care unit (ICU). There, the bonds between the Old Dolls still run deep.

“When I take them to the ICU, I can tell them that the nurse there is one of my friends who I have known forever and she is going to take great care of them,” she says.

Michna says it’s been challenging to care for patients with Covid-19. “You can tell they are terrified. I feel sad and a little bit angry when they get worse and they are not allowed to have visitors,” she says.

The Old Dolls are bringing their experience to new nurses at Northwestern, including Michna’s daughter and the daughter of another Old Doll. “We can be there when no one else can be,” Michna says. “We bring a human touch.” 

Originally published in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 print issue. Photo by Jim Vondruska