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Lyle Carter column- Forever friends: intensive care unit nurses


BY LYLE CARTER

TRURO, N.S. —

Visiting the Great British Grub Café on Prince Street in Truro recently, a large number of people were enjoying a noon-hour outing.

And, if you’ve ever spent time in the intensive care unit of Colchester Regional Hospital or Colchester East Hants Health Centre over the past four decades, some of the faces may have been familiar to you.

There were more than 20 former or semi-retired area ICU nurses seated together in the local café. Their working together in a separate unit of the hospital had apparently built lasting friendships. It’s been said that critical-care nursing requires knowledge, teamwork, problem

solving, decision making, all while in swift and stressful situations.

As the nurses shared experiences from over the years, what stood out was this bond of friendship that can last a lifetime.

“After I retired, I lost contact with a lot of the girls,” said Helen Taplin, who spent 26 years in ICU. “It has been great getting together at the British café. It was so nice to see so many people I worked with over the years. These nurses became like family, we laughed and cried together, we watched our families grow up. Overall, we had a great team.”

Susan Carter – this writer’s wife and a retired ICU nurse – agreed.

“Yes, we shared our life experiences with each other, kids, problems, joys, losses and, in lighter moments, there was laughter and fun. Famous are the ICU retirement parties with skits and foolishness. Poems were read, nurses were roasted and we had lots of food. All of this made for a wonderful bond of friendship.”

It was Eileen Cole, another former 26-year ICU nurse, who came up with the lunch-reunion idea. Jane Rushton assisted with the organization.

“The response was phenomenal,” said Cole. “The Elgees and their staff at Great British Grub Café were most welcoming. We are going to meet again the last Wednesday in March – I hope we can keep the momentum going.”

Cole was two and a half years old when her parents immigrated to Canada from Northern Ireland. After growing up in Peterborough, Ont., Cole attended university, intending to become a veterinarian. At university, she met her future husband, Bill. After getting married, Bill’s career brought them to the Maritimes.

Sharing how they eventually arrived in Truro and about her nursing career at Colchester Regional Hospital, Cole recalled a funny story from the ICU around 1988-89.

“Seven of the ICU nurses got pregnant around the same time,” she said. “Can you imagine trying to schedule an intensive care unit that was missing 50 per cent of its staff. I’m sure, Barb Nelson, our head nurse, was really pulling her hair out. The whole joke was, there must have been something in the water.”

Charlotte White grew up in Malagash and Tatamagouche. From a young age she knew she wanted to be a nurse. She trained at the Ottawa Civic Hospital and nursed at the Montreal General Hospital and in British Columbia before coming to Truro and spending 35 years at Colchester Regional Hospital.

“I spent the last 20 years in the ICU,” said White. “Unbeknown to me at the time, these would be the best years of my nursing career. We had a team of great girls who helped each other professionally and we bonded as nursing friends. We became like sisters.”

Margie Douglas grew up in Truro and said she wanted to become a nurse even during her days in elementary school.

“The ICU friendships are for a lifetime,” said Douglas, who nursed for 36 years. “You go through so many emotions most shifts, we’d help each other get through it whether sad or happy. There became a special bond which is hard to find with just anyone.”

Douglas shared that it was difficult not to bring a mood home after getting off a stressful shift.

“But, I’d do it again in a minute,” she said.

Murray, who still works casual in intensive care, said, “From my experiences working in ICU, it seems to be a unique environment. The whole concept of teamwork is especially important when working with critically ill patients.”

Cheryl Geddes, Joyce Fraser Sears and other nurses I talked to, also shared their enjoyment, in getting together with friends from back in the ICU days.

Lyle Carter’s column appears every second week in the Truro News. If you have a story idea, contact him at 902-673-2857.

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