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Four decades of collaboration: My life with nurses

So there are going to be names in this story, because it is a true one. But if your name is not specifically mentioned please know that it is only because there is not enough room to thank you all. You know who you are and you know that I owe you a great debt. You have taught me, helped me, scolded me when I deserved it and been next to me when we fought death together side by side. We have experienced the joy of birth together, and sometimes the crushing sorrow of unanticipated death. We have gentled people through the transitions of palliative care. We have fought together to get patients access to services they needed. We have worked together in the ER, the Case Room, and on the floors. We have collaborated in the clinic and in homecare. My dear friends and colleagues, I value you so much.

One of the first times I remember being taught a valuable lesson by one of the nurses was very early in my clerkship. Neonatology was a terrifying experience for a, wet behind the ears, med student. The patients were so tiny, so vulnerable, their needs so specialized, I felt completely out of my depth. One day the legendary assistant head nurse of the NICU, Deanna Taylor-Cline, sidled up to me. Speaking in a confidential low voice she said, “You know, Perle, that baby of yours looks a little floppy.” I immediately went to examine the baby, who was a 26 weeker, not much larger than a bullfrog. What did I know about premature babies? He did seem a little less active than he had been earlier. What I did know was that Deanna certainly knew what was up. She nodded her head at me encouragingly. I went over and spoke to my resident and the chief of Neonatology. “Baby K is looking a little floppy.” I told them. An hour later when sepsis had been diagnosed, I received the accolades. “Good pick-up, Perle,” said the chief, approvingly. Deanna smiled. She had given me this opportunity to shine and from that moment on the nurses in the NICU seemed to treat me differently. They knew I would listen.

Later, as a resident, the nurses in L&D, particularly the night nurses, helped me learn my chops. Rosemary, Margery, Marie-Maud, Sylvie et al, got me through those hard times, guiding me, handing me what I needed before I knew that I needed it. They helped me learn both my skills and my empathy.

I grew up into a real live family doctor and continue to work hand in hand with skilled and compassionate nurses and nurse practitioners. There is the whole cohort of L&D nurses, who are among the smartest, most compassionate and capable group of people you can find. There is Natasha, who can eyeball a patient in the walk-in triage, and know how fast you need to see them. She is also the one who can get blood from the most tiny and fragile veins. There is Emilie, who will go the extra mile for the vulnerable mothers and babies she sees in home care. There is Chantale, who pitched in with me to buy a mattress, so that her pregnant refugee patient would not have to sleep on the floor. In the early days of the pandemic, Marie-Louise called me on the phone. “You have to call Mr. Singh,” she said to me, “I called him to do a phone prenatal visit with his wife and he can barely breathe, but he doesn’t want to go to the hospital.” It took all my powers of persuasion to get Mr. Singh to agree to go to the Emergency Room. He was intubated within an hour and survived to see his baby daughter.

As much as the nurses have been there for me, I have tried to be there for them. When one of my nurses from the CLSC where I work was redeployed to the ICU at the during the pandemic, she called me when a pregnant woman lost her baby from the virus. I was able to listen to her as she cried, in the corridor outside the ICU and remotely held her hand as she mourned.

At best, health care is a team sport. I try to do my part and feel privileged to do so. This week is Nursing Week so I want to particularly acknowledge these special members of the team, the Nurses.