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DENVER OR BUSTED

IF HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, GEORGIA CAVEN ALREADY MEETS THE CITY'S RESIDENCY RULE.SAINT ELSEWHERE THIS NURSE TOOK A JOB NO ONE IN DENVER WANTED. BUT SHE MAY NOT GET TO KEEP IT.

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The red light on her answering machine was blinking frantically when Georgia Caven walked into the living room of her Lakewood home. She pressed the button.

"Georgia, this is Adam. I need to speak to you. Call me when you get in." It was the voice of her boss and friend, Dr. Adam Myers, director of Denver General Hospital's cancer clinic and founder of DGH's HIV clinic. The next two messages were also from the doctor.

Myers knew that she had been on vacation, visiting her family in South Dakota, taking a much deserved break from her work as a nurse caring for cancer and AIDS patients. But it wasn't unusual for him to check in after she'd been away. After all, they had been together since the HIV clinic opened in 1989 and he had been unable to find anyone else to take the job. Back then, AIDS was still pretty much of a mystery, its cause and transmission a source of fear among doctors and nurses.

Together they had learned a lot over the years. They weren't going to get the virus so long as they were careful about such things as needle pricks and contact with blood. But as the level of fear dropped, the stress of getting to know, and often love, people who were quite simply going to die increased. She and Myers had held a lot of the same hands and cried over the same partings. They counted on each other to go on.

Still, three messages. The only thing she could figure was that someone they were close to must have died. It would be like Adam to try to prepare her before she arrived at the clinic. She wanted to call him back, but it was late and she decided the news could wait.

In the morning Myers tried paging her, but by the time she returned the call, he was already off and running on his many rounds. They played beeper cat and mouse for the next few hours before she finally caught him in his office. "I need to see you right away," was all Myers said--but suddenly she was afraid.

The doctor looked up when Georgia walked in. He was always amazed that such a lovely woman, with such a wonderful smile, could be so modest. A lot of her beauty came from within. She took her role as a nurse far beyond the call of duty, visiting home- and hospice-bound patients in her off-hours to deliver medicine, check on their status and, more important, let them know that someone cared. Whatever time she had left over was usually devoted to helping homeless men, women and children at the shelters.

He had never met a nurse more loved by colleagues and patients, some of whom called her "saint" and "angel"--and many of whom counted more on her than they did on him. Now he had to tell her that someone had turned her in to Denver's Career Services Authority for "flaunting" a rule that requires city employees to live within the confines of the city and county of Denver. "Georgia, we have a problem," he said, his heart aching as he watched that wonderful smile fade. "You might have to leave Denver General."

Georgia Caven arrived in Denver in 1975, 23 years old and about as naive as a girl from a small South Dakota farming community can be.

Ever since she was a small child, she had been convinced that God sent her to earth because she was needed. In grade school she began writing stories about Nurse Nancy, a character she created who took care of four children who bore a remarkable resemblance to the Caven clan. When a priest at the Catholic school she attended told her about the hospital ship HOPE that traveled to all sorts of foreign places to bring medicine and peace, she daydreamed of walking down the ship's gangplank to waiting arms.

When she enrolled at Northern State College in Aberdeen in 1970, though, it was as a music major, mostly to please her father. She loved music, too; there was something about singing that made her feel closer to God. But after the first year of college, she was having second, third and fourth thoughts about music as a career. For one thing, she got sick to her stomach every time she was expected to give a solo recital.

But more than that, she felt another calling. "I want to help people," she told her parents after sitting them down in the room where the family had gathered on so many Sundays to sing. "I want to be a nurse." Her parents told her to follow her heart.

Three years later her heart led her to accept a job at St. Anthony's Hospital in Lakewood. She began work as an orthopedic neurosurgery nurse but soon transferred to the emergency room. She wanted excitement and experience; she got plenty of both.

She had been working in St. Anthony's emergency room for four years when she met Dr. Peter Rosen, then the head of the emergency room at Denver General. Impressed with her skill and effervescent personality, Rosen told her that she should be working at DGH. "You're ready to move on," he said.

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