Some people find their work and their life’s passion to be one and the same. I’m not one of them but I know many who are—a writer who lives to create the perfect phrase, plays and books; spiritual directors with passion for sharing unifying truths; and a labour and delivery nurse who realized after years in her field that she’s doing her life’s work.
Michele is an obstetrics nurse who works in a large teaching hospital in Maine. She cares for women in childbirth, assisting them through the process of labour and delivery; giving emotional support; physical support through massage, positioning, medications, epidurals; teaching infant and postpartum care; assisting with breast or bottle feeding; advocating in various ways to respect patients’ and families’ wishes; assisting women through Cesarean sections; and supporting high risk pregnancies. She knows she’s doing exactly what she’s intended to do, although she didn’t always. Michele began her nursing career at a large tertiary care hospital in Montreal where she worked for eight years. Looking for a major change, she became a travel nurse for two years, working in New Hampshire, then in Massachusetts where she met and married her husband and stayed a few more years working there. Together they moved to Maine.
Then Michele met Amber, a woman in her 34th week of pregnancy who was “beautiful, glowing and always smiling”, and Robert her husband who was “right there by her side”. Amber had an aggressive and large inoperable brain tumour and, for her comfort and for consistency, a team of nurses was established for primary care until her delivery. Amber was Michele’s patient for every shift she worked. Michele says, “When I was asked to be part of this team I was hesitant because I knew how difficult it would be emotionally. I didn’t know that it would end up being one of the most important life-defining and life-changing experiences for me.”
The two became very close and Michele looked forward to seeing and helping Amber any way she could. Amber began having excruciating, intractable headaches where even the strongest narcotics gave minimal relief. Still, she smiled and laughed with Michele and shared her dreams of having a girl. Michele says, “I never heard her complain, not once.”
At 36 weeks gestation Amber delivered a beautiful healthy baby girl by C-section. Many of the nurses who had cared for her went in on their day off to celebrate the birth day! Baby Ava had blond hair and big blue eyes, like her mother. All Amber wanted to do was take care of her new baby but she was too sick – now barely able to walk. Her husband took care of the baby during the day and the nurses took care of her at night. “We fed her, rocked her, held her and loved her,” Michele says. After four weeks, Amber thought she felt well enough to go home, with nursing care. She told Michele that when she was feeling a little stronger they would get together. Michele says, “I knew that day would never come.”
Amber was re-admitted to Hospice care at the same hospital four days later where “a new team of nurses ultimately fell in love with her too.” One night, many weeks later, she died quietly with all her family around her. Baby Ava was five months old.
Michele thinks of Amber often. She feels the experience completely changed the way she sees her profession – where opening her heart and giving from her deepest self “fed and nurtured my soul like nothing else. I realized that I have the opportunity to do that with every patient if I choose – and I do. It fills me with love and with knowing that this is my absolute purpose. In fact, it’s every human’s purpose. I needed Amber to teach me this truth and I will never forget. I’m eternally grateful.”
I too am grateful – to have Michele as my sister.
Christine Goyer-Swift finds expression through writing and dance, and inspiration through long walks and solitude. She aspires to living consciously in the world, moment to moment to moment.