November 13, 2020
Last winter our St. Joseph’s Alumnae executive were excited, busily planning our 100th year anniversary in 2020 when COVID-19 hit. This got me thinking back to my early nursing days and realized how much a bursary can help a student nurse and how very important the established bursaries like St. Joseph’s are. In talking with RNFBC on how to promote our bursary, we thought what better way than celebrating St. Joseph’s SON 100th anniversary with a story about my personal nursing journey and legacy.
Many students know that nursing is going to be their chosen career, but that wasn’t me! As a teen, I was obsessed with my sports, ie. basketball and skating in the winter, and softball all summer! So, my dream was to be a P. E. Teacher. That all changed in a moment’s time at age 16 when I was a passenger in a head-on 3 car collision. There were 15 young people involved, with one dead and all but one injured, and most with fractures. This was in the days before seat belts so I was sent flying through the front windshield. The boy I was with, who was our driver, pulled me out of the car then laid down and died. He had severed his aorta. I had multiple injuries, internal bleeding, head injury, and over 130 sutures to my face and neck (apparently the nurses counted them. I wouldn’t know as I was still unconscious!). I’m telling you all this because, as a result of my time in the hospital, and all I saw and heard changed the course of my life! I got to really like most of my nurses, but there was one that was very impatient with me. I remember her forcing red Jello on me, and telling me if I didn’t eat it I’d have to have the IV back in! It took a lot of years before I could eat red Jello on my own! I also remember the staff talking about me but I couldn’t open my eyes or say anything! This was something I was very aware of when I was nursing and always remember the sensitivity of the patient’s feelings. Because of my injuries I was out of high school for 2 years before I was accepted at St. Joseph’s here in Victoria. I would always get the same thing told to me – “your marks are good, but we can’t take a chance on you, health-wise.” Thank God for the wonderful nuns who were willing to give me a chance! So I graduated in 1964, but did have to make up about 5 months because of having pneumonia in my last year, but I did make it!
My 1964 Graduating Class
>55 years later….that’s me in the centre in a striped sweater!
One of the things I like about nursing is that there are so many fields you can go into. I started out in a small hospital in Sidney. It had everything, even maternity, OR and an Emergency! It was great experience for a young nurse! After getting married I went back to St. Joseph’s and did 4 years in maternity. We moved to Kamloops and I went back to work (had a 2 year old by then!). I worked the night shift as the hospital float nurse. Later I made a change and got into mental health nursing, which I really liked, and did for my last 20 years, most of it at Glendale Lodge in Victoria. They asked me to apply for a shift supervisor position just 4 months after starting there and held that position until I took early retirement. And thus ended a very fulfilling nursing career!!
Being the oldest of 5 children and having survived that terrible car accident, I seem to have had an influence in our family and their penchant for nursing. A cousin went into St. Joseph’s the year after I graduated. I also have a niece who graduated from UBC Nursing in 1993, that being the first class after VGH’s School of Nursing closed. I did encourage her along because I saw the makings of a nurse in her. Around the age of ten, I got a frantic phone call from her because she and her twin sister had decided to pierce their ears, sterilizing a needle over a match then freezing their earlobes with an ice cube. They decided to do their younger sister, so held her down but could only get one ear done. They also bought the cheapest earrings they could get at Woolco—-I think it was 5 pairs for $1.00! Amazingly none of their ears got infected! This niece is now a Case Manager for Island Health in Saanich, in charge of home and community care.
The last of my string of relatives are my great-nieces, Karis and Tembi, another set of identical twins who are presently in their 3rd year nursing at Trinity Western University.
We called these girls our miracle babies because they were born with TTTS – twin to twin transfusion syndrome. Fortunately, the best pediatrician in Vancouver to handle this was in the Surrey Hospital at the time they were born. He took one look at the first baby and knew what was happening! He grabbed one, a nurse grabbed the other one, and got them into the nursery and dealt with them right away, These are the two girls that I encouraged to each apply for a St. Joseph’s bursary and was delighted to learn recently that they each had gotten one.
So now you’ve heard my story! Thanks for reading it.
Respectfully submitted by Linda Bitterman RN