Inspiring Stories

Cancer Patient Experiences 'The Meaning of Care' Through Ice-Cold Cokes

Published: Nov. 29, 2018

Corky Grimes walked into Methodist Hospital on Nov. 21 – the day before Thanksgiving – with his arms and heart full.

He and his wife, Eva, wanted to surprise the staff with pumpkin pie, whipped cream and a big thank-you. Two weeks earlier he had been discharged from the hospital’s oncology floor.

Before long the nursing staff spotted the visitors. There were beaming smiles, friendly embraces and jokes. Corky was especially happy to see Joel Sahulka, BSN, RN. After a big hug, Corky took a step back, reached into his pocket and pulled out $5.

Sahulka blushed and tried to decline the money, but Corky insisted. He had to repay the nurse for a small gesture that made a big difference during his hospital stay.


Corky and Eva Grimes. Above, Corky hugs Stacie Knehans, BSN, RN,
after he and Eva delivered pies to the oncology floor staff. 

The Right Team for a Complex Procedure

This wasn’t Corky’s first battle with cancer. Over a decade ago beat squamous cell carcinoma with the help of Methodist doctors.

“That previous diagnosis meant that I have a colonoscopy every five years,” the 63-year-old said. “I was actually having some very minor rectal bleeding, and that motivated us to not wait for the full five years. I went in about six months early. Thank God I did.”

This time it was rectal cancer – adenocarcinoma. After five weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, Corky returned to the hospital for a 10-hour surgery.

After meeting with his surgeons, he was nervous but optimistic about the complex procedure.

“You overlay that with the patient care, the pain management and all of those things. It’s very amazing,” he said of his experience from surgery to recovery. “I walked into the hospital, and I walked out of the hospital. It’s just a very impressive process.”

Joel Sahulka, BSN, RN

“Can You Get Me a Coke?”

Corky and Eva have decades of experience in the residential real estate business in Omaha. Not long into his five-day recovery at Methodist Hospital, something became clear.

“It became patently obvious that there's a culture there, and the culture is patient-centric, patient-first,” he said. “We're in a service-oriented business ourselves, and these things just don't happen by accident.”

A small gesture by Sahulka epitomized the Methodist culture, Corky said, laughing as he told the story:

“I'm a Coke freak. And I said, ‘Joel, can you get me a Coke?'

“And he said, 'How's Pepsi?'

“I said, 'No, that really doesn't cut it.'

“And what I didn't know was that Methodist really doesn’t serve Coke. It's in a vending machine. Joel was buying Cokes unbeknownst to me and bringing them in.”

Sahulka said he didn’t think twice about buying the drinks for Corky: “I’m a Coke guy myself.”

“It’s the little things that make a pretty big difference,” Sahulka added.

No Weak Links

Corky was so impressed by and grateful for the experience at Methodist that he wrote a letter applauding the team that cared for him during the first few days of his recovery. He stressed that everyone, even those he didn’t mention, had a role. Among those he praised:

  • Chelsea Novotny, BSN, RN, OCN: “The template to emulate.”
  • Behara Kendic, nursing assistant: “Complete dedication.”
  • Stacie Knehans, BSN, RN: “Patient care is not what I do, it’s what I am.”
  • Pam Hamre, nursing assistant: “Serious professional.”
  • Aysha Abrahim, nursing assistant: “Total embodiment of others before self.”
  • Anna Little, nursing assistant: “Runs a tight ship, so caring.”
  • Allie Heath, nursing assistant: “Total care.”

“There really wasn’t a weak link in the chain,” Corky said later when reflecting on his experience. That includes Sahulka, the “gentle giant” who went the extra mile to offer comfort. “He’s just a real sweet man.”

Corky Grimes repays Joel Sahulka, BSN, RN, for the Coke he provided during his stay at Methodist Hospital.

More Than Just a Slogan

Sahulka has been on the oncology floor for over two years now, first as a nursing assistant while studying at Nebraska Methodist College. He was in his final week of orientation as a registered nurse when Corky and Eva made their surprise visit.

Reading Corky’s letter, seeing him return to deliver pies, getting a few bucks back for the Coke – it all helps Sahulka know this is where he belongs.

“It's really cool to see that what I'm doing makes such a difference in patients’ lives,” he said.

For Corky and Eva, Sahulka was a special part of a larger story.

“Whenever I see the commercial – I never listened to it before – but now when they say, ‘Methodist: The Meaning of Care,’ it really does mean it,” Eva said.

Read the letter Corky Grimes wrote to Methodist Hospital thanking the staff for his care.

About the Author

Patrick Smith, a content strategist for Methodist Health System, has over a decade of experience writing and editing for newspapers and other publications. He enjoys meeting new people and telling stories that highlight Methodist's mission to deliver The Meaning of Care.

See more articles from Patrick Smith
Photo of Patrick Smith