National Nursing Week is is a time to honour those who serve in the healthcare profession, and might not get as much recognition.
Libby Grainger grew up in North Bay, and eventually served many years as a nurse in the Emergency Department, and eventually the Renal Unit at St. Joseph’s General Hospital and the North Bay Civic Hospital. She would also make the transition when the two facilities merged into the North Bay Regional Health Centre. While retired now, she says her dad is the reason why she got into the healthcare profession.
“Nursing was a career path for me because my father was a chiropractor,” she explained. “I grew up with health care in the family, but I didn’t think I could become a chiropractor because I honestly didn’t believe I could stay in school that long so I thought nursing was my best option at the time.”
After graduating in 1977, Grainger says nursing led to a number of stops before settling back down in North Bay.
“There were some nursing jobs, but very few in Ontario,” Grainger said. “Certainly, even less for full-time nurses, especially if you were a new graduate. Like many new nurses, I ventured to the United States and worked in Houston, Texas.”
“We were well respected there and I became in charge of a pre and post-operation cardiovascular surgery floor on night shift after one month of orientation and I learned a lot,” she added. “In nursing you are always learning, and if the educational opportunities are available, they should be taken advantage of.”
Helen Curtis is another nurse who grew up in North Bay. Although she’s only been a nurse for eight years, much like Grainger, it has taken her to many stops in life.
“I graduated in 2012,” she said. “I got into it because of my Mom, although initially, that didn’t attract me to the job because she was in a VON (Victorian Order of Nurses) position, so she was doing more community nursing but then I started thinking that it could take me into different avenues.”
“I did some nursing in Malawi in school for six weeks so that got me into community nursing, public health, just travel nursing in itself,” Curtis added. “I worked in the operating rooms, then I moved back home to North Bay and worked in critical care, then I moved up north. That was probably the most impactful experience working with indigenous populations in northern Manitoba.”
Curtis now works at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto while completing her bachelors of science in nursing at Ryerson. However, most recently she has been redeployed to the COVID-19 assessment centre during the pandemic at St. Mike’s. Curtis says working in the assessment centre has brought a whole new set of challenges to the job.
“People are super scared to be out during this pandemic, but I think the fear has sort of lifted a little bit as things are slowly starting to open and our cases have gone down,” she said. “Our hospitals have not gotten the brunt of what we expected or prepared for, which is really good. Our Intensive Care Units are not full at the moment.”
“From what I see, people are really scared and there is a lot of misinformation out there,” Curtis continued. “A lot of information they are getting from the States, a lot of people think they can do drive-thru testing but we don’t have that in Canada. We set up these assessment centres where we give good information to our patients. They are anxious, they are not getting out and they have no one to talk to.”
However, Curtis says the vulnerable portion of the population needs help as well.
“In Quebec, they have been hit so much harder than we have, and I hope this pandemic shines a light on where healthcare is lacking,” Curtis said. “Staffing long term care facilities properly, or housing these people that are homeless and giving them the services they require so they are not left out on the street.”
“They come from shelters and maybe they have symptoms and maybe they don’t,” she continued. “Maybe they slept in a dorm room with someone who had a cough so that makes them vulnerable to the virus so they come and get tested, but they can’t go back to their shelter.”
Curtis says the St. Mike’s emergency room has become a makeshift shelter for the time being as some of the homeless population have to wait there for three to four days awaiting their test results.
“If they’re negative, they can go back to their shelter,” she explained. “If they’re positive, we have to find them housing for an additional 14 days. It’s taxing on the system. It’s been a huge impact since the pandemic for me because it hasn’t been a population I haven’t been exposed to working up north.”
As for working in the assessment centre, Curtis says the environment has been very supportive.
“I’m really lucky in the sense that I live alone so I am not bringing it home to a young family or other people that I live with that could be vulnerable like the elderly so I am very comfortable,” she said. “We have enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in the assessment centre so we feel supported that way, but I know there are nurses’ stories that will say the opposite. Some of my friends in Montreal say they don’t have enough supplies or PPE and they have been hit harder than we are.”
“For me, it’s not an additional stressor, but I know I am putting myself at a higher risk working at the centre, but we are protected well,” Curtis continued. “Everyone supports one another. You’re never working alone, there is always a doctor on hand. The way they set up the centre is really smart, they thought it through. Going home at the end of the day I feel very confident I am not transmitting the virus.”
As for National Nursing Week, Curtis says it fell at an interesting time.
“I think it’s interesting that this is the year of the nurse as the World Health Organization has deemed it, which during a pandemic we fall into nursing week which is so fitting,” she said. “I think the appreciation is great and the respect that maybe we have always looked for in our profession but don’t always get, but at the end of the day this is what nursing and healthcare is all about, we’re all in it for the patient.”
“I don’t think the pandemic hasn’t changed that, but it has shone a light on it,” Curtis added. “People have become more appreciative and maybe more respectful but it hasn’t changed our profession at all. We have always been caretakers, we have always advocated for the patient and looked out for their best interests, and I think that has been portrayed sometimes. During this pandemic, we’re the heroes and whatnot, but we haven’t been doing anything different than what we did before.”
As for Grainger, she says National Nursing Week is a time to reflect on her career.
“It means so much,” she said. “Giving up my nursing licence was a tough thing to do and now I have to look at it as a retired nurse, but I always look at my 40-year career as doing the best job I could. I am very proud of my career; I am very proud of my colleagues.”
“I think as a patient coming into a hospital, being vulnerable, being frightened, if you are greeted by a kind and caring nurse, that means more than anything, especially to that person that maybe doesn’t understand or know,” Grainger added. “There were times when it was hard, but if you remember that it’s part of your job, that’s the most important thing.”