Moncton nurses reflect on the essence of their job

Nurses in New Brunswick are celebrating the work they do every day, despite growing concerns around what is known as "compassion fatigue."

Moncton nurses share their best moments caring for patients as the country wraps up Nurses Week

As Nurses Week wraps up in Canada, nurses in New Brunswick reflect on the 'essence' of their work. (CBC)

Nurses in New Brunswick are celebrating the work they do every day, despite growing concerns around what is known as "compassion fatigue."

The New Brunswick Nurses Union and the Nurses Association of New Brunswick have teamed up to offer workshops to help nurses recognize the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue.

A recent student by Stéphanie Maillet, a professor at the University of Moncton, found that secondary traumatic stress is higher for New Brunswick nurses compared to those in other provinces.

Cathy Bowness, a nurse in Moncton, has worked for much of her career in the intensive care and emergency departments where there is a high incidence of death.

She said health-care professionals must make a habit of talking to one another about how they respond to difficult situations, especially when a patient dies.

"We want to make sure we've done everything we could do to save someone's life … I think conversations and the debriefing time we spent was really an amazing thing to be able to help us resolve any emotions that we might have," she said.

They lose a patient and you find them in the break room crying and upset with themselves ... so that's when we take on the mentor's wings.- Sue Lavoie

"A lot of times you're in a situation where everything could not be any better and the patient still dies and it's hard. It's hard for families for sure but it's also hard for professional staff. We feel like we've lost a little bit."

For Sue Lavoie, another Moncton nurse, lunchroom conversation with a colleague was the best therapy.

However, when she does get to the point where she doesn't "have any more to give" to patients, she takes a vacation.

"I've even taken time off without pay to go home and play in my flower gardens or just to chill and get away from it all and then, when I was ready to go back, I went back full force and I was ready to go."

Lavoie said it's also crucial that nurses with experience offer support to those who are new to the profession.

"They lose a patient and you find them in the break room crying and upset with themselves. ... 'Did I not see, or did I not do right,' so that's when we take on the mentor's wings."

A Big Mac moment

Even with the stress that comes with nursing, both Lavoie and Bowness know that the care they have provided to patients over the years has been appreciated.

We're not far from Moncton and he says, 'Do you know what I'd love to have ... I'd love to have a Big Mac, french fries, a Coke and an apple pie from McDonald's.- Sue Lavoie

Lavoie still remembers a very ill 18-year-old patient who she transported to Halifax for a heart transplant.

"We're not far from Moncton and he says, 'Do you know what I'd love to have ... I'd love to have a Big Mac, french fries, a Coke and an apple pie from McDonald's."

Despite the rules and regulations, the crew in the ambulance decided to pull off the highway to get their patient his fast food order.

"We undid his straps, sat him up, opened the doors so he could smell the fresh air, and he sat with his meal in his lap, the biggest smile on his face," Lavoie said. "Just incredible."

She said that after two bites he was finished and she warned him he could never tell anyone about their detour.

"About a month later we get a thank-you card ... thanking us for taking care of his family, taking care of him and then, P.S. on the bottom — thank-you for the Big Mac and the meal at McDonald's."

Full circle moments

Lavoie said that to her, finding a way to care for a patient, even if it doesn't follow all of the rules, is the essence of nursing.

Finding a way to care for a patient, even if it means breaking a rule, is the essence of the job, a New Brunswick nurse, Sue Lavoie, says. (CBC)

Bowness shared a heartbreaking story that started in the early 1980s, when she worked in the hospital coronary unit.

A woman came in after suffering a heart attack and never woke up. Her children, who were in their late teens and early 20s at the time, had to make the difficult decision to remove their mother from the ventilator.

"Both the daughter and the son decided that they didn't want to be there at that time," Bowness recalled.

Twenty years later, Bowness was at a Valentine's Day dinner with her husband when the story came full circle.

"There's a couple at the table that I don't know and this woman, as soon as she heard that I was a nurse, she said, 'Well my mother was in the coronary unit there,' and I said, 'Really,' and she started to cry."

That woman was the daughter from many years ago.

"She said, 'All these years I've wondered why I didn't go in to be with her when she died — she was alone when she died,' and I said, 'No, she wasn't. I was with her.'

"So the two of us were sitting at the table and we were both crying — it was really sad but again, that's the essence of nursing."

Local nurses talk about the "essence of nursing" and share memories of their careers. 42:23