Nurses Find Love and Healing on the Job

For these trauma nurses, health care is a family affair

By Stacy J. Willis


He worked nights. She worked days. Both were nurses. He’d see her arriving in the hallways of Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center as he was finishing his shift, and she always had a Starbucks coffee and a scone.


Nurses Kelly and Joe Bourland make the rounds at Sunrise Hospital.
Photo by Elizabeth Buehring

“Where’s my scone?” he’d ask with a smile, amid a group of other nurses.

She was shy. She laughed but never replied. Then, one morning, as he was about to ask, she handed him a scone and walked away. It was 2001.

“After that, we started talking,” says Joe Bourland, 52, “and we’ve been together ever since.”
Joe and Kelly Bourland both work in Sunrise’s Trauma-Surgical Intensive Care Unit—usually, he works Sundays through Tuesdays, and she works Wednesdays through Fridays, and Sundays. On Saturdays, they’re both off—with their 6-year-old daughter.

At night, they tell each other about the kind of work that most people couldn’t even imagine: treating patients who’ve been in violent accidents, or have suffered acute illnesses, or have brain injuries or severe body wounds. They’ve nursed the human body at its most fragile—and frightening—moments.

“We understand each other, and we know the patients, so we can talk about it,” says Kelly, 45. “In a way, it’s a continuum of care.”

During their more than 15 years on the job, the Bourlands have treated thousands of patients. Time has slid by the way it does—the hospital has grown and changed around them, the city has grown and changed around them—but each day, the Bourlands are present in those critical moments that won’t be forgotten—life-and-death moments for patients and their families.

As we walk past rooms occupied by the severely sick and wounded, we can hear the emergency helicopter landing on Sunrise’s roof. Kelly and Joe are unfazed—it’s the background noise of their careers. They sit down in a small conference room to reflect on their lives and work.

He’s animated; she’s more reserved. His sense of humor—a necessity for a sometimes heart-wrenching career—is quick; hers is more subtle. He is physically fit with a trim gray mustache; she is an athletic, thin blonde. They got married Downtown in 2008, a quickie ceremony they both laugh about. Their conversation has a certain harmony, whether it’s recalling a stranger taking their wedding snapshot or the intense discussions they have with patients’ friends and families.

Sometimes, they receive thank-you cards and flowers from families; some patients even stop in to visit. One man, who had broken his neck in a boating accident and was initially expected to be a quadriplegic, drops into their unit every so often.

“He can walk now,” Joe says, smiling.

“But you usually don’t get to know the patient as well as the families,” Kelly says. “Because of the condition they’re in, the patients usually don’t remember us at all.”

“Yeah,” Joe says, “You get real personal with the families. You have to help them and educate them about the situation, or sometimes just make them laugh to ease the stress.”

But, Kelly says, even after all of their experience, they’re not immune to the emotional turmoil. “It’s not like you have a steel cocoon around you. You still feel,” she says. “People still get to me.”

They exchange a few quiet words about cases that were particularly difficult.

“So, yeah, we’ve had bad days,” he says. “But it helps having someone who understands,” she says.

He looks at her.

She nods.

A helicopter is landing on the roof.