HENDERSON, Nev. -- Except for the presidential candidate, newspaper reporters, TV crew and Secret Service agents tracking her every step, it was just another day on the job Monday for Michelle Estrada at St. Rose Dominican Hospital.
The nurse's 12-hour shift at the hospital's Siena campus started as usual at 7 a.m. but at mid-afternoon Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived. The New York senator spent more than two hours shadowing Estrada in the fourth-floor medical/surgical ward before heading to Estrada's home for dinner with her and her three children.
"I'm following Michelle around today to see what a nurse does," Clinton explained to the patient in Room 471. Kristine Arone, 65, was admitted to the hospital with blood clots in her lungs after a long car ride with her husband, Mike, to Las Vegas from Buffalo, Minn.
"It's something my husband and I think about a lot because we travel so much," Clinton told her, confiding that she had once suffered a deep vein thrombosis.
Then it was off to watch Estrada with other patients — drawing blood, flushing IV lines, checking blood sugar and trying to decipher a doctor's handwriting. Clinton wore a peach lab coat and an interested smile.
"It's a good opportunity to share with her how patients fare," Estrada, 50, said, professing little nervousness and drilling Clinton in the details of drug protocols as though she were about to take her boards. "We have a million people in our nation who work on health care, but we're behind the times" in ensuring insurance coverage and quality care.
More than casual conversation was at stake in the encounter between the Democratic presidential contender who leads in national polls and the no-nonsense nurse who has 26 years on the job. Clinton's participation in the "Walk a Day in My Shoes" program, sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, was also part of an effort to keep rival John Edwards from landing a big labor endorsement.
Edwards was the first of five Democratic contenders to put in a day with an SEIU member, in his case working alongside a nursing assistant at a nursing home in Westchester County, N.Y. — which just happens to be where Clinton's New York home is located. The former North Carolina senator has been the contender most likely to walk a picket line, and this spring he became the first to detail a health care plan.