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Methodist Cath Lab’s Chief Comforter

August 16, 2017

He’s kneeling down, literally, on the floor. That’s how Jim Porter likes to talk to his patients. Not standing and hovering over them. Not barking at them.

On his knees on the ground next to them, looking up at them, talking in his sweet, kind voice -- telling them he is going to be right there for them and their family.

On this day, in the waiting room of the IU Health Methodist Hospital catheterization lab, Porter is talking to a young woman – a heart transplant patient. She is back at the lab for a check up, to make sure her body isn’t rejecting the new heart. Her mom is there, a sister and a toddler boy.

“I will keep you updated during the procedure, OK?” he says to the mom. “If you have questions, concerns or issues, I’ll be mad at your whole family if you don’t call me, OK? Don’t make me talk behind your back.”

Porter wants people to know that no question is stupid – whether it’s about the diagnostic equipment used in the lab to look at the arteries and chambers of the heart or about the stents or the balloons that may be put in. Porter could never be bothered too much.

His greatest joy is explaining procedures and keeping families updated as they wait for their loved ones. Porter gives every family his cell phone number. They can call any time. And they do.  

His official title is patient flow coordinator. And, oh, does Porter know the flow of things around here. He started nearly 40 years ago, in 1979, as an LPN and interventional radiology tech. He worked in hospitals, doctor’s offices and cath labs all over Indianapolis.

“I’ve scrubbed these cases forever,” he says. “I know what’s going on and I can educate them. Because I’ve been there.”

Porter came to Methodist to continue his work as an interventional radiologist in 2005. But about seven years ago, an idea emerged. This guy Porter was so good. He was so beloved by these families.

Methodist created a position for him. Porter is -- perhaps the best way to describe it -- the cath lab’s chief comforter.

***

The nerves of the elderly patient are visible. She is wringing her hands. Porter approaches her to take her back for her catheterization. He kneels down beside her. Her brother is there with her. Porter takes down his cell phone and gives the man his.

“You guys will be separated for about 45 minutes and then he’ll be right by your side,” Porter tells them. “I’ll keep you updated so you don’t worry about her unnecessarily.” 

As Porter takes the woman back, he tells her brother, who is wearing a military cap, “Thanks for your service.” Porter notices the little things like that. He’s sweet like that. He’s also ornery.

As he walks the woman away from her brother and back to get prepped, she tells him, “I am starved.”

“You know what I ought to do?” Porter says to her. “I ought to go get something to eat and eat it in front of you.”

She bursts out into laughter. Nerves settled.

***

Minutes later, Porter is running down the halls of Methodist to the cafeteria. He’s looking for that mom and the family of the young heart transplant patient.

“I got to get to them before they pay,” he says. “We might be too late.”

He isn’t. Porter arrives just as they are in the checkout line. The total on the cash register is $8.61.

“I’m going to give you vouchers good for $12,” he says to them.
“You might want to get something else, something to drink.”

Porter knows this family has driven hours to get to Methodist. And he knows that young boy might be hungry. He thinks, among the dozens of patients and families he is caring for, to pay for their food.

It’s hard to imagine a man can be so efficient (he has about 30 patients this day) and kind, but Porter won’t take all the credit.

“You’ve got to let me say this about our leadership. They saw the importance of a patient having a successful experience in the lab by keeping the tension down with their family members as they wait,” he says. “So support for what I do comes from the physicians, leadership and it comes from the staff.”

Of course, support comes because Porter is so good at what he does. His bosses hear about him all the time. They hear from patients and families who adore him.

***

“He is an awesome, awesome employee. This is the second time we’ve dealt with him and he is just amazing with people,” said Debra Brown, who was at the cath lab waiting for her brother. “He is exceptional because he really makes people feel good. He answers your questions and tells you all kinds of information.”

“Level of consciousness is a 2,” Porter tells Brown. “That means he’s groggy.”

Porter has a scale for level of consciousness that he gives families. It runs from 1 to 5.  

“So, 1 is awake, 2 groggy, 3 asleep but you can talk to them and they’ll wake up,” Porter says. “With 4 you might have to pinch them and 5 is general anesthesia.”

Brown asks Porter if her brother’s surgery is over yet?

“No, the doctor is still working,” he says. “You remember how they do this?” Porter whips out a piece of paper with a drawing of the heart on it.

“So, he’s already got a catheter in there,” he points out to Brown. “He’s attempting to get a balloon in there to see if he can’t open that up.”

Holly Cook, manager of cardiovascular level one emergency programs at Methodist, hears Porter’s name over and over. She receives “Because it Takes Heart” forms from patients and family members wanting to thank Porter and call him out for his good work.

Just a sampling of some that recently came in about Porter: “You are so nice and funny and you make everyone’s day.” “Jim has such a positive and friendly demeanor and explained everything so well.” “This gentleman was a joy. His positive, upbeat attitude lifted the heart and floated away fears.”

And, Cook says, one of her favorites: “Precious man, so helpful to every patient and family. God bless him.”

***

Where did the compassion come from? This knack for making people feel at ease?

“My standing remains the same. There is nobody in the world that I loved more than my mother and father,” Porter says. “And I want to be worthy.”

His father, Porter says, never had an advanced degree. He wasn’t known outside of the community. He didn’t make a six-figure income.

“But what he did do was go out and work 12 to 16 hours a day and he invested some of that money in me,” Porter says. “You don’t have to be important for you to be loved like that. All these people here, for that same reason, I remember that on each case.”

“Who’s here with you?” Porter asks a man sitting alone in the waiting room.

Nobody.

“OK then. I’m cousin Jim, OK?” he tells the man. There is no one there to update as this man goes through the procedure. It’s obvious that concerns Porter.

He asks the man for a close friend’s cell phone number so he can call that friend if need be. Then, he tries to put the man at ease.

“I’ve been an interventional radiology tech since shortly after Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the properties of X-ray in 1895,” he says. “OK, I lied about that part, but I’ve been there for a long time.”

The man smiles.

***

It is 100 percent clear. Porter truly loves Methodist. Any chance he gets, he talks to patients about what competent, amazing doctors they have.

Work is a huge part of Porter’s life. His wife died seven years ago. His family is small. He has one daughter, one granddaughter and a great-grandson born on his birthday five years ago.

Yet, those patients are a lot like his family. Porter certainly treats them that way.

“He makes a difference with our patients and families every day,” says Laura Thompson, director of cardiovascular services at Methodist.

And he doesn’t expect one thank you. In fact, it’s the other way around.

“Everything good, man?” Porter asks a man as he’s leaving the lab. “Yes. Everything’s great,” the man says.

“Thanks for letting me take part in your care,” Porter says. “Thank you.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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