Over a 50-year career, Edmonton nurse found her calling (and her husband) at the hospital
Liz Baril, who worked at the U of A Hospital, knew patients needed sleep, visitors
For the past five decades, Liz Baril has worked as a nurse at the University of Alberta Hospital.
The 72-year-old officially retired as of Monday, a difficult decision to make as the hospital deals with the COVID-19 pandemic on top of its usual patient care.
"I feel pretty good about it and certainly glad I did it, but the process to come to this point has been quite stressful for me," she said.
A graduate from the University of Alberta's nursing school in 1970, Baril believes in bedside care. Over the years, the first few hours of most shifts were spent checking on patients and taking time — some occasionally said too much time — to talk with them.
But COVID-19 changed things.
"When you're in isolation, you don't have time at all to go in and speak to them. You go in and you do your vital signs and then you get back out. So it did interfere with the basic nursing care," Baril said.
Fifty years is a long time to stay at the same workplace. For Baril, it came down to loyalty to the hospital and its patients, alongside her own reluctance toward change.
But her life revolved around the hospital, taking evening and night shifts, which allowed her to interact with patients treating them like family while balancing her own.
Love bloomed in the polio ward
In the early 1970s, she met her late husband Henry Baril at the hospital when he was a resident and patient in the polio ward. They met while some of the nurses watched the Academy Awards on the ward's colour TV.
Eventually, he would live with Liz. When she worked a shift, Henry — who was paralyzed and used an electric wheelchair — would also go to the hospital to receive care.
"He would go to the same unit that he grew up in and they would feed him supper and move his hips if he got uncomfortable or whatever. And then at 11 o'clock, he was waiting by the elevator for me and we'd go home," she said.
"I gave him, you know, 10 years of life out of the hospital, kind of basic life. And we had a house built. We had these three kids."
Henry died in 1980 but the experience and compassion she gained from the relationship helped her to connect with other patients dealing with life-changing disabilities.
Debbie Sontag, who worked with Baril for more than two decades, calls her colleague's work ethic astounding, noting that even Baril claims she hasn't taken a break in 30 years.
But apart from that, Sontag said Baril's prioritization of bedside care and cleanliness stood out, as did her advocacy for patients who were frustrated by their communication with doctors.
"Liz would seem to ask herself, 'I wonder why this patient is so cantankerous and how can I break through that crusty armour and get to the real person inside?' She just seemed to always be able to know how to do it," Sontag said.
Baril was known for bringing earbuds for patients when the hospital stopped supplying them, and or offering baked snacks to lift their spirits.
"Most of them are lonely and they miss their families," Baril said. "That's one of my big theories about nursing our patients, is you have to let them sleep and you have to have let them have visitors. Two things that help patients the most."
As for Baril's life after retirement, she plans to focus on her garden and her pottery, along with being involved with an organization that promotes the education and advancement of women.