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!
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.
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.