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Santa Rosa man, almost 60, begins nursing career after health scare

David Hobler's previous profession was that of an engineer. After a stroke that left him nearly blind and debilitated, Hobler worked his way back to health and studied to become a nurse, due to the care he received from two Kaiser nurses which strongly influenced his decision to change careers.

(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)
Published: Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 at 10:57 a.m.

There can't be many nurses who start to work at Kaiser's Santa Rosa Medical Center when they're quite new to the profession yet aged almost 60.

Even fewer, no doubt, go into nursing in part because of the quality of the care they received when they were bed-ridden and nearly blind at that facility, and fearful that the happy, productive, independent part of their lives might be over.

David Hobler is a rare sort of nurse.

He had worked quite contentedly as an environmental engineer for 25 years when his world went whacky early one morning in August of 2006.

He'd traveled from his home in Santa Rosa to Phoenix for yet another long, on-the-road assignment that involved assisting firms with the software programs that produce hazardous-materials reports required by government agencies.

At about 3:30 a.m., he got up to use the bathroom. He was wondering why the room was even darker than usual when he fell on his face.

Alarmed, he picked himself up and did what any sensible person would do. He phoned his mother.

Alice Hobler Turbiville, then a retired nurse living in South Dakota, where her son grew up, told him it was most likely a problem with his blood sugar. “She said to crawl to the kitchen and drink some orange juice,” he recalled.

He complied, but upon arising from bed a second time found that his vision was still impaired and so was his ability to control his left leg and arm. This time, he telephoned an advice nurse at Kaiser in Santa Rosa.

He recited the symptoms and she responded at once, “Get to the emergency room.”

Hobler called a taxi for the short ride to a Phoenix hospital. He said the staffers who received him thought he was drunk and suggested he go home.

They re-evaluated that advice when his left leg buckled and he collapsed.

Staffers who admitted Hobler found that he'd suffered a stroke and an MRI discovered an unwelcome surprise — lesions on his brain.

Additional tests convinced doctors the lesions resulted from a rare bacteria and Hobler was started on massive doses of penicillin to kill the bacteria.

After more than a week in the Phoenix hospital, he was loaded into a small medical-transfer airplane for a flight to Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center.

“I distinctly remember thinking, 'I survived a stroke and now I'm going to die in a plane crash,' ” he said.

Over the next month at the Kaiser hospital the lesions healed and he worked to regain the full use of his left leg and arm.

But his vision remained seriously damaged. Hobler said the lesions impacted the optic nerves and led to damage of the retinas.

A series of four eye surgeries and the process of recovering from the stroke pretty much derailed Hobler's life for two years. In 2008 he was feeling physically able to return to work, but found the stroke had cleared away much of the memory he would need to go back to engineering.

What else might he do? He knew his mother, Alice, had found great satisfaction in nursing, and he recalled how deeply impressed he'd been by the nurses at the Kaiser hospital in Santa Rosa — two of them in particular.

“I could tell that they really cared, that it was a job they wanted to be at,” Hobler said. “They gave you the feeling that you were the only person on the floor that they were taking care of.”

He said that being hobbled and nearly blinded had him feeling very low, and the attention and encouragement from those two nurses truly lifted his spirits.

He mentioned to his mother that he was thinking about a new career in nursing. She was thrilled. “She said I'm finally getting direction in my life,” he said.

At that time, in 2008, his mother needed some help at home in Rapid City, S.D., because of her advanced age. And her son had used up much of his savings after being out of work for two years.

So Alice said she'd pay for him to enroll in the nursing program at the University of South Dakota if he'd move in and give her a hand. It was a deal.

Alice cheered her son, then 57, at his graduation in 2010. She died a few months later at age 89.

Hobler found his first nursing job that same year in Casper, Wyoming. While working there he began to inquire about the likelihood of him getting hired at the Kaiser Santa Rosa hospital that had treated him so well four years earlier.

He was granted an interview in May of 2012 and in August was offered a job as a nurse on the medical/surgical unit.

Now about four months short of age 60, he said he's working hard and has no doubt he's in the right profession.

“I probably make about a third of what I made as engineer, but I'm probably four to five times more satisfied,” he said.

Not long ago he ran into one of the nurses — David Peck — whose care got him to thinking about changing careers. Hobler thanked him for the inspiration.

Peck, who's approaching retirement after 42 years in nursing, said, “It was so nice to hear that from him.”

“I do remember his situation,” Peck said. He added that it's most unusual for a former patient to come back and check in, much less to come back as a fellow nurse.

“You don't realize how your everyday work can affect others' lives,” Peck said.

His new Kaiser colleague has found he's especially fond of treating patients who are recovering from strokes or who struggle with impaired vision.

“And,” Hobler said, “I get to take care of a lot of little old ladies who remind me of my mother.”

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