For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a nurse who cared for children.
I believe this desire was highly influenced by my parents. My mother and father were very loving, caring people. They were kind and patient not only to their own children, but to all children. Since I grew up with nine siblings, it too was natural for me to have a great love for the little ones.
My name is Mary (Roche) O’Brien, and I’ve worked at the Janeway for 41 years in various nursing positions. I want to tell you my nursing story to help mark the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre’s 50th anniversary this year.
My story starts when I was just 17 years old – I was accepted into the St. Clare’s School of Nursing, graduating in 1974. At that time, jobs were scarce and, like a lot of my classmates, I left the province in pursuit of a nursing job.
My first job was at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. I worked on the adult hematology and oncology ward, and although I was happy to have a job, I often felt like something was missing. Longing to fulfill my dreams of being a pediatric nurse, I was drawn back to the old Janeway Children’s Hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador.
My Great Beginning
When I returned to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1975, I started my new job at the Janeway in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Unlike today, back then the PICU, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the recovery room and the cardiac recovery patients were all on the same 21-bed unit of the hospital. The unit felt like a beehive of activity on most days, and I loved it!
I worked alongside my classmates and many other nurses who taught me the lifelong lessons of patience, kindness and critical thinking. I finally felt that I was working in a place where I belonged!
Our head nurse at the time was Ramona Strong – she was an extraordinary teacher who willingly shared her knowledge with us. Taking us under her wing, she taught and cared for us young nurses as her own children.
Aside from the wonderful nursing staff, we also worked with some of the most hardworking and dedicated physicians. Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Hanna our pediatric surgeons; Dr. Cooper and Dr. Hobeika our pediatricians; Dr. Bridger and Dr. Heighnahan, the pediatric radiologists; Dr. Cornell, the cardiac surgeon; and Dr. Maroun, the neuro surgeon – they were all excellent physicians and wonderful teachers!
This was a time when computerized tomography (CT) scans were not available yet, and doctors relied heavily on nursing assessments and careful monitoring of vital signs, which alerted us to changes in our patient’s condition.
As I am pondering back on my early nursing years, some of the common injuries and illnesses I saw were head injuries, burn victims and diseases that did not have protective vaccinations.
I recall that in the 1970s, wearing helmets were starting to become more the norm to help prevent head injuries. Many patients I saw suffered from severe head injuries due to the lack of safety equipment and public awareness around protective equipment at that time. I treated so many injuries resulting from bike, ATV and car-pedestrian accidents.
My peers and I had to keep a surgical drilling tool, also known as a burr drill, charged at all times at the nurses’ desk for emergency situations when the physicians had to perform burr holes in the PICU.
I also remember that home smoke detectors were just becoming available in the 1970s. Since a lot of homes were still without smoke detectors at that time, I recall us providing care for many children healing from severe burns. Through the years, I still remember the faces and names of the children I cared for and I have always kept them in my heart and prayers.
In the early days of the Janeway, routine immunizations were available but diseases such as haemophilus influenza and meningococcal meningitis still didn’t have protective vaccinations. I saw many patients come to our unit very ill from those terrible diseases, and they required intensive nursing care and monitoring.
Thanks to life-saving vaccines we have today, diseases like meningitis have almost become extinct. After seeing the damage and death that those dreadful diseases have caused, personally, I feel very strongly about children receiving vaccinations to protect themselves and other children from these illnesses.
On the Float
In 1979, I gave birth to my first child. At this time, I decided to take a short break from the PICU and instead, took a position with the Janeway float team. This was an extremely good fit for me and one of the most amazing experiences of my life as a nurse! I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work on every floor and in every department at the Janeway, giving me great insight and understanding of how other areas functioned. After a few months on the float , I went back to PICU, where two years later, I had my second child. Then following the birth of my third child in 1984, I transferred to the Janeway’s emergency department (ED) – another wonderful journey in my nursing career.
In the ED, I had the privilege of meeting and learning from another fabulous nurse, Sheila Porter, who greatly influenced by career. I quickly fell in pace with the hustle and bustle in the ED. I never knew what situation was going to come through the doors. I also very quickly learned that teamwork and working at an extremely fast pace were key to working in the ED. After a while of working together, our team very quickly could anticipate each other’s next move when working on a trauma or medical emergency.
Out with the old, in with the new
I vividly recall that May 24, 2001 was a day of great change for the Janeway. We closed our doors at the “old” Janeway hospital in Pleasantville, St. John’s, and moved to our new home at the Health Sciences Complex. We were all very sad to leave the “old” facility, but we certainly were hopeful that we would continue on as the Janeway family. The “old’ Janeway hospital was a special place, donated to the children of Newfoundland and Labrador from the American Base in Fort Pepperell.
Looking back 50 years since its establishment and now known as the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, the hospital is still considered a place of hope, healing and happiness for many children, family and staff all around the province.
As for me now, I am still working in the ED as a care facilitator. To this day, I continue to enjoy my job at the Janeway. I am truly able to appreciate the changes and advances that have taken place over the many years that has gone by. From CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the wide range of safety equipment and immunizations available to protect children against deadly diseases. I hope the awareness and importance of wearing safety equipment and immunizing children will be carried through generations to come.
The Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre’s doors are always open to anyone who seeks care. All of the physicians, nurses and staff try to do their absolute best for each and every patient by providing safe and quality care – during some of the scariest times of a young patient and their family’s lives. At the Janeway, each child we care for has become like our own. As health-care providers, we care immensely for our patients, wishing nothing but the best outcome possible for them.
As the Janeway reaches its big 50th anniversary this year, I feel truly thankful for the extraordinary career it has given me and the patients I’ve had the absolute pleasure of treating. Happy birthday Janeway, and cheers to another wonderful 50 years!
To learn more about the history and fun facts about the Janeway, please visit www.easternhealth.ca/Janeway50. ■
This story was written by Mary O’Brien, a nurse and care facilitator with the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre for 41 years.