When Janice Sellers joined her mother, Barbara Friichtenicht on the night shift in San Pedro Peninsula Hospital's emergency room, it didn't take the two nurses long to develop the teamwork needed to handle gravely ill or injured patients.
"We're so used to each other that we can just go ahead and do what needs to be done without stopping to talk or anything," said Friichtenicht, 62, an emergency room nurse for 12 years.
"Yeah, working with my mom just seems to come naturally," said Sellers, 26, who was assigned to the emergency room about a year ago. "After all, we've been together since I was born."
The deep affection between mother and daughter, often shown in laughter and jokes, also seems to rub off on patients and other staff members.
"They do bring a warm and friendly spirit to the environment here and that's a definite asset when you consider the kinds of problems we have to deal with," said Dr. Robert Le Sage, an emergency room physician.
Nurse Robert Simmons called them a "vibrant pair. One is a perfect clone of the other, and everybody loves them."
Sellers--her mother said she "tends to be a bit noisy at times"--yells out, "Mom!" whenever she needs assistance with a patient. And now other staff members and some patients are picking up on the name, Sellers said.
"It seemed weird at first to hear other people calling her Mom," Sellers said. "But after awhile, I figured, well, if she's their mom, then that makes them my brothers and sisters, and that's great."
Sellers said that as a recent nursing graduate she's more into the medical side of treating patients--her mother calls her a "real brainy kid"--while Friichtenicht mixes experience with the "Mom 101 approach."
"I can do all the right medical things for a patient, but sometimes they're still not comfortable," Sellers said. "So I call in Mom and say, 'Be a mom to this patient.' So she talks to them and puts a cold rag on their forehead, and they feel wonderful. Mom is something else."
Sellers said she did not always have such close rapport with her mother. "I went through those rebellious teen years like a lot of others," said Sellers, who married a year ago and now lives in Redondo Beach. "Whatever my mom said I should do, I wanted to do the exact opposite. For years, she tried to get me to follow in her footsteps and become a nurse, and I was absolutely determined not to be a nurse--not because I didn't love Mom, I always did, but I needed to rebel against all parents."
The rebellion ended, Sellers said, a couple of years after she graduated from San Pedro High School in 1978. "I knew she'd grown up," interjected Friichtenicht with a laugh, "because suddenly she became a decent, nice young lady again."
Sellers enrolled in a nursing course at Harbor College, the same school attended by her mother a decade earlier. Some people there still remembered the family name, Sellers said, but thought she was a sister of a past graduate. (Friichtenicht said the unusual spelling of the family name apparently came about when the original immigrants on her ex-husband's side tried to translate a German umlaut into English letters.)
Both women agreed that working together has added a new dimension to their relationship. "We really have become best friends," Sellers said, but then added with a mischievous grin directed at her mother: "But when she calls my name, "Janice Lynn!" her voice can still make me react in the old way, 'Oh, oh, I'm in trouble again.' But, of course, we're peers now, and it's Mom who needs my help when she calls."
Friichtenicht grinned back at her daughter. "Did you ever meet a girl who feels so good about herself?" she asked, indicating that she was willing to take some of the credit for her daughter's good self-image.
Friichtenicht said she decided to go into nursing after a divorce in 1970 left her with three girls and a boy to raise. She said her ex-husband, a physicist, continued to provide support for the family, "but I really felt a need to do something more with my life. Nursing is a chance to get involved with all sorts of people. In an emergency room especially, you never know what's going to happen next, so there's a lot of drama and excitement in the work. I don't think I'll ever retire."
Hospital spokeswoman Laurie Lundberg said San Pedro Peninsula has no policy on relatives working there and nobody seems to be particularly concerned about creating one. "In a close-knit community like San Pedro, it's inevitable that we have quite a number of related people on the staff," she said. "But I guess Barbara and Janice are the only mom-daughter combination that we have now."
An interview in the emergency room last week ended with the two nurses quickly checking notes on how to deal with a patient who was feeling depressed over a chronic, debilitating illness. They would do the standard things, using prescribed medications and mechanical devices. But beyond that, Sellers said to Friichtenicht, "I'll just walk in and tell him I love him, and you can be the mom."