Formerly homeless vet saves up to cook for caring nurses

2014-04-18T12:15:00Z 2014-04-19T00:00:05Z Formerly homeless vet saves up to cook for caring nursesBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Paying the bills is a delicate balancing act.

Jerry Schusted knows firsthand how hard it can be to stay in the black.

"Three years ago, I was buying a house," Schusted said. "Like they say, you’re only couple of paychecks away from being homeless."

Schusted had quit his job, and had found a new one, but by the time that first paycheck came in it was too late. 

"I was flopping on people’s couches that would let me," he said. "I was homeless about six months."

After getting a tax refund, he was able to get enough money together to live with a roommate for about six months, but lost his room when he ended up on the third floor of St. Vincent Healthcare. 

"I got very ill and wound up being put in the hospital for seven days," he said. He was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

"Now anytime a cold comes around, if I don’t watch myself and stay away from it, my breathing will diminish and I won’t get enough oxygen and I’ll wind up in the hospital," he said. 

While in the hospital, he found out about a transitional-living facility specifically geared toward veterans known as Independence Hall, which is operated by Volunteers of America Northern Rockies.

The staff helped Schusted apply for disability as well as providing him a place to live.

"It's helping me pay my bills so I can get back on my feet," he said.  

Last month, Schusted received his first disability check and wanted to do something nice for the nurses on the third floor who have cared for him several times. 

"I got my first disability check, and I took a pan of lasagna I had made and dropped it off at the nurses’ station," he said.

He said he thought bringing food to nurses would be a kind gesture. 

"I see how hard they work, and it can be tough to grab a meal," he said. "It’s my way of paying back the nurses who took care of me."

Choosing lasagna was a no-brainer. 

"It’s been one of my fall-to meals over my entire life," he said. "You can’t really screw it up too bad." 

He's got it down. He makes his own sauce, and liberally applies lots of cheese.

About a month ago, without any warning, he just dropped off a pan on the third floor for the nurses who took care of him. 

It worked out great, he said. 

The cafeteria where nurses usually purchase dinner was closed that night, "So it was just perfect timing," said Debbie Rang, the unit manager on Three Fortin.

According to Rang, the nurses on the floor that night said it was quite tasty. 

It means a lot to nurses when patients thank them, she said. "It’s like the biggest pat on the back ever." 

Nurses do their job because they want to make a difference, but sometimes they can get worn down by the day-to-day chaos of working at a hospital.  

"When patients come back after the fact, and show us that we really did make a difference, it really affirms why we do what we do," Rang said. 

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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