The Gift of an Ordinary Day

It was the winter of 2014. A young mother just had her world turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis followed by an intensive treatment plan at the Health Sciences Centre. The treatment involved staying in hospital for a few weeks – and separation from most of her family, friends and regular support systems.

It also meant her regular “mothering duties” were temporarily put on hold. Not an easy thing for a young mom used to putting her children’s needs above her own.

At times like this, the care of hospital staff can make all the difference – especially when that care goes above and beyond the strictly medical.

During this woman’s hospital stay, I witnessed an act of kindness by the staff on the inpatient unit known as 4 North A that helped the hospital feel a little more like home – and left our patient with a mile-wide smile and a mother’s heart filled with joy!

One day, Nurse Mary Pottle entered her patient’s room to discover her in tears. She asked why she was upset and offered her support. The patient opened up to say her son was turning three in a couple of days and as a mom she was devastated that she couldn’t be with him that day – or plan a birthday party to make his day extra special.


Without hesitation, Mary told this mom not to worry about anything. She would arrange a party for her little boy – arrange for the family to come to her, since she couldn’t be at home with them – and with the support of the staff his day would be extra special.  She even asked about his favourite things so she could work them into his big day!

She quickly involved her co-worker Tara O’Keefe, another nurse on our floor, and they put their heads together to help both mother and son.

The day of the birthday they arrived at work armed with the favoured Lightning McQueen Disney party supplies – party hats, decorations, balloons and party food. Thanks to generous support from Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation – they also had an abundance of birthday presents…wrapped and ready!

Classroom a.k.a. ‘birthday party room’ on 4NA inpatient unit, at the Health Science Centre

Classroom a.k.a. ‘birthday party room’ on 4NA inpatient unit, at the Health Science Centre

They’d arranged to use a classroom on the nursing unit as the ‘party room’ and then the nurses handed over the supplies to Mom and Dad – to decorate and lay out the supplies exactly as they wanted. They even remembered the birthday boy’s sibling with a special treat as well.

This was all planned while their patient continued her treatment plan without any interruption or any undue stress on a young mom who, like any mom, wanted to make sure her boy had a happy and carefree birthday. So on the big day, as she normally would, Mom was able to spend it planning, decorating and filled with excitement, as she anticipated the arrival of her little boy.

And what a birthday it was! To see the smiles on the faces of this mom, dad and their children….well, let’s just say there wasn’t a dry eye in or around our nursing unit! In the midst of all the excitement, I realized that not all the gifts were ‘wrapped’ that day.

(l-r) Eastern Health nurses Mary Pottle and Tara O’Keefe

(l-r) Eastern Health nurses Mary Pottle and Tara O’Keefe

Our nurses Mary and Tara were able to bring the gifts of joy, compassion – and a big dose of ‘normal’ to a family facing a big health challenge. They are truly extra special people who went above and beyond the call of duty for someone else.

Under extraordinary circumstances, this mom was given the opportunity to join with her family and celebrate the gift of an ‘ordinary’ day!

This story was written by Christina Walsh, division manager of the 4NA inpatient unit at the Health Science Centre in St. John’s.

24 responses to “The Gift of an Ordinary Day

  1. What an amazing team! Brought tears of joy as I read this. Never give up hope, we have angels living among us dispite all the things you hear going on in the community. There are people continuing to do good to others in time of need. Bless you all!

  2. And this is why there are at the job they are at! Because they excel at it- YOU ROCK GIRLS !!!! In todays world where everything seems to be economically driven- you two ladies still have the “compassion factor” . So nice to see, I am honored to say I know you Tara OKeefe. One of my favorite sayings ” life truly is ALL about the LITTLE things.
    Or better yet- Live Differents motto ….. Life is about PEOPLE – not STUFF!
    The goodwill you have shown will come back to you a hundred fold ❤

  3. Absolutely beautiful story! What a true act of kindness. Way to go Tara and Mary❤️

  4. God bless those nurses for their love and compassion. This story brought tears to my eyes. I know this mom and have been praying for a full recovery for her. So glad there are caring people in this world that go over and beyond the call of duty to put smiles on faces and joy in the hearts of other. This world can use more people like this.

  5. This is such an amazing, beautiful story! I’m very familiar with 4NA where I’ve spent a lot of time fighting cancer myself, and I know firsthand that the staff there are exceptional! Well done girls and I wish the patient all the best in her treatments.

  6. I love this story for many reasons!! Number one I am a co-worker with this mom and she is close to our hearts. My wife, as well as one of my daughters, are nurses and I know what it takes to be a nurse. I am also a Pastor who has spent years visiting precious people in these situations. The nurses play such a amazing role in the lives of so many who battle cancer and it’s great to see this appreciation!! I appreciate so much the role of so many wonderful staff in our health care. Thank you for all you do!!

  7. Great job, ladies…what an amazing show of kindness and concern for someone in a difficult place. There are definitely angels among us…kudos to you both !!!

  8. This has brought tears to my eyes, knowing this mom and how she has tried to keep things “normal” since her battle… She is a wonderful mom. Thanks to those special nurses who care for her during her stay in the hospital. They truly went above and beyond their call of duty that day of my friends son’s birthday. You both are amazing nurses, praying God’s blessings upon your lives! BIG THANKS for all that you do!

  9. Amazing! Mary and Tara were also two of my nurses when I was going through cancer treatments on 4 north A.Wonderful nurses!What an act of kindness.The whole team was truly amazing and you should all be proud of the fabulous work that you do .

  10. I lost my dad last year to a battle with cancer. Mary was one of his nurses. I just want to say I’m not surprised by this at all because she was absolutely amazing during our hard time. She was a welcomed smiling face everyday. Also the whole team of nurses are amazing on that floor. Bernarde (not correct spelling of his name) was another great nurse we dealt with. Also on the day my dad was dying the nurses came and took my 6 month old niece so that my sister could be with us and our dad during his last hour. Truly amazing you guys are the best! Xo

  11. As a family physician I see nurses do many wonderful things every day, but this story is truly special. We are blessed to have a health care system filled with such outstanding individuals. Thank you for “going beyond”. The best gifts can’t be wrapped.

  12. It was touching to read this story – so much compassion and kindness shown to the mother, her son and family. Mary & Tara – you went above and beyond & you have my admiration.

  13. 4 North A can be very stressfull physically and mentally to both patients and staff but nurses like Mary and Tara make the work environment more pleasant everyday. I am very proud to say that I worked with these fine nurses and many more on 4NA. Listening to the patient and reducing their stress during such difficult times in their lives can be very rewarding to staff and helps them to become the exceptional nurses that they are today. Keep up the good work.

  14. Nursing is a beautiful gift. The ability to share this gift unselfishly, is even more beautiful. As a mom, she was able to spend this special day with her children, husband and family, together….the way it should be! Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story.

  15. I appreciate very much learning of stories where people go out of their way. I am sure this happens a lot in Eastern Health and I congratulate those who do it, and hope you will continue this good work!

    Sister Betty Morrissey
    Pastoral Care Associate
    St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital

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