Nothing beats the feeling of knowing that you’ve made a positive difference in someone’s life. For me, that feeling is even more special when I realize how I’ve grown or have learned to appreciate life just a little bit more.
As someone who was born and raised in one of the most culturally diverse cities in Canada – Montreal, Quebec – I’ve learned to recognize and respect diversity which comes in so many forms, including age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
I can honestly say that working with diverse cultures in health care has touched my life personally and professionally. I’m Brian Pinsent, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Eastern Health for over 27 years, and today I’m hoping to deepen your understanding of the types of challenges and pleasant life-changing surprises cultural diversity can offer when you fully embrace it.
My Three Passions: health care, helping people and food
My love for working in health care began when I was only a teenager. I recall that when school was out for the summer, I often picked up jobs as a painter at local hospitals in Montreal. I believe that it was then, immersed in the environment of medicine, that I made the conscious decision to work towards becoming a LPN one day so that I could help care for people. I am so lucky and thankful that my dream came true, as I graduated as a LPN in 1990.
As I’m pondering about my life both as a child and young adult in Montreal, I remember the wonderful, culturally rich food I was exposed to every day. Naturally, I think that Montreal has the best food in North America – besides of course a good feed of moose or “jiggs dinner” I’ve grown to love since moving to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1983.
When I first moved to St. John’s, I remember adjusting to my new surroundings, a brand-new culture, and although the food was not necessarily the same as what I was used to, I was lucky not to have had a language barrier to overcome – unlike some of the elderly residents who I currently care for at Pleasant View Towers.
Since working in the field of long-term care, I’ve had the privilege of working with so many different types of people, many of whom are from Newfoundland and Labrador, but also many who are from countries around the world. One very special resident I want to tell you about has changed my life, as I’m sure I’ve changed his – and it all started with food!
I remember the day vividly when I received Lachhuman Bhattarai as a new resident under my care– this gentleman is about five feet tall and has the warmest smile imaginable! Lachhuman is from Bhutan, India – he had spent the past 20 years in a refugee camp and does not speak a word of English. When he first moved here, his environment was unfamiliar to him and I could tell that he had a hard time adapting to his new surroundings, especially the food.
Figuring it out together
One day, I decided to sit Lachhuman in front of a computer – this too was a new experience for him! I would show him pictures of different vegetables and I managed to get him to say different vegetables in his own language. Through this process, I learned about 30 words in his language by writing them down as they were pronounced. For example, the word “potato” was pronounced “aloo” in Nepali. Learning some of these words enabled me to loosely communicate with Lachhuman.
Looking back, I think Lachhuman thought that I could speak his language fluently and it wasn’t long until I became his new best friend! Together, we have shared so many interesting and fun-filled memories – and for that, I am so grateful. Here are just a few of my favourite moments together …
I remember pushing my cart around the long-term facility and Lachhuman walking right behind me chatting away in Nepali. When it was time for me to take a break, Lachhuman would sit beside me to keep me company. One summer, and before residents of the former Hoyles-Escasoni Complex relocated to the newly built Pleasant View Towers, my friend and I would go for walks around Kent’s Pond. I still remember his first reactions and couldn’t help but smile as he showed his excitement for the outdoors.
On another occasion, Lachhuman took his mattress off his bed and conveyed to me that it was too soft. To accommodate his needs, we replaced Lachhuman’s mattress with a gym floor mat, which was still too soft for his liking! Now, he simply has a few blankets over the steel frame of his bed – this is what he prefers since he slept on cotton or bamboo beds for most of his life.
I also recall that one day, Lachhuman and I were walking outdoors and he decided to pick a rhubarb-like plant, peel it, and eat it! I couldn’t help but think that this plant wasn’t rhubarb. I tried to warn him through gestures that I thought he would understand. I remember thinking to myself, if anything happens to Lachhuman because of this plant, I’ll never be able to forgive myself! Thankfully it ended up being fine, and I found out that this plant was called a “mile-a-minute,” and that it was indeed edible! On our next outdoor outing together, I also picked one of these plants, peeled it and ate it. We both had such a good laugh, and I’ve learned something new out of the experience because of Lachhuman.
Recently, Lachhuman invited me to attend his Canadian citizenship ceremony. Knowing Lachhuman’s background and the obstacles he overcame to become a Canadian citizen is simply astonishing. I feel honoured to have been with him on this very special and important day of his life.
I think we are so fortunate to live in a country that offers an amazing, welcoming environment for newcomers, as does Eastern Health for its patients, clients and residents. Reflecting on my wonderful relationship with Lachhuman over the years, I’d like to commend my coworkers, particularly the social workers and dieticians, for working effortlessly with me to accommodate the dietary needs of Eastern Health’s culturally diverse residents.
With the influx of novel culturally diverse nationalities entering Newfoundland and Labrador, I feel that Eastern Health is adapting swiftly and considerately to accommodate so many different types of cultures and new comers who require much needed medical attention.
Change isn’t coming, it’s already here. In my experience, by working together we can be prepared for whatever comes our way! Next time when you notice someone who has differences compared to your norm, imagine the journey they must have gone through to get where they are today, and envision all the wonderful things you could learn from someone who has a different worldview than you.
Remember to embrace change, culture and friendship, and as my new friend, Lachhuman, would say, “Namaste.” ■
This story was written by Brian Pinsent, licensed practical nurse at Pleasant View Towers, a long-term care facility in St. John’s.