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Acts of grace in ER

Working as a nurse in Canada today is challenging. “We have way too much to do,” Gaudaur says, since government-regulated budget cuts have replaced RNs with RPNs and increased the nurse/patient ratio. “Tasks and expectations” are impossibly high, yet “people who don’t know me need me to be kind.”

Acts of grace in ER

Gail Zwier, Gaudaur’s Oma, prays over a baby.

Bullet to the abdomen, no exit wound. OR

Chest laceration. Minor Trauma.

Head injury. CT scan and respiratory support.

Motor vehicle collision, full spinal. Trauma.

Sore throat & fever. ENT.

Imagine you’re a nurse in ER. You’ve been on your feet for over nine hours – three to go. It’s 4:30 a.m. Broken and beat up people are brought before you continuously. Your job is to assess and monitor them; to update and support family members. Some patients are carried in, but even the ones who can walk carry the burdens of their injury or illness. They bring these before you. How will you respond?

Terribly rushed, just days before the deadline for this editorial, I spoke with two nurses who are Christian. I asked about cutbacks, job satisfaction and where they see God’s hand in the hospital. (The pressure of my deadline, by the way, is nothing compared to the quick life-and-death decisions that medical staff have to make.) Here are a few of their stories.

Deep wounds
Heather Kooiman currently works in Abbotsford Emergency, a mid-size hospital just outside of Vancouver. Before that, she spent 10 summers in Cree First Nations communities on James Bay, as well as a year working in the fly-in community of Attawapiskat. She also trained other nurses in Moosonee, Ontario. She describes one rough day in Attawapiskat Hospital caring for a young man with mental illness and his distraught mother, who told Kooiman angrily that “white nurses don’t care about anyone here.” Long discussions about the options for this young man went nowhere.

A few days later, Kooiman was visiting the home of a friend in the community when the same mother walked in. “Look!” their mutual friend said. “This is Heather from the clinic. She baked these for me – stay and eat!”

“I think God worked in the timing,” Kooiman reflects, “for both of us to meet. There’s a lot of talk about reconciliation between Native and non-Native people of Canada, and I hope it is slowly happening in a situation like this one. Native people have been hurt by and have, understandably, hard feelings toward non-Native people. But it is in the stopping, listening and caring that we can restore those broken relationships.

“From that point on, whenever this woman brought her son to the hospital, she would ask for me. They have always stuck out to me as people who needed to feel heard and cared for.”

I asked Kooiman how working in ER shapes her perspective on life and death.

“Western medicine,” she says, “is primarily about making people better physically, and we are becoming better and better at this. We are able to save lives and prolong lives and that can be exciting. But the honest [truth] about life is that it will come to an end. I can’t prevent that, but I can work hard to ensure that patients and their families are listened to and cared for. I can be there to support them and answer questions.”

When a terminally-ill patient woke up in the middle of the night crying and longing for the end, Kooiman knows “there aren’t words for that. So I sat there and touched her hand to show I was there.”

Love multiplies
Yvonne Gaudaur recently took on a management role at a long-term care facility after working 11 years in the hospital as a nurse. At her new job, she enjoys seeing one resident in particular – her 98-year-old grandmother. Recently, Gaudaur witnessed her Oma, in the last stages of her own life, being a positive influence on others.

“Despite her changes in memory and ability, when a small baby was brought to her she immediately held her and prayed over her. It brought a room full of staff and co-residents to tears as she blessed the child. She’s still showing God’s love and ministering to others while in long-term care.”

Working as a nurse in Canada today is challenging. “We have way too much to do,” Gaudaur says, since government-regulated budget cuts have replaced RNs with RPNs and increased the nurse/patient ratio. “Tasks and expectations” are impossibly high, yet “people who don’t know me need me to be kind.”

All one person can do, she concludes, is “follow God’s will for that day with a heart full of God’s love, and hope that makes an impact. I hope I can be like the wonderful example my Oma has been – ministering to those around me – through the crazy workload and high stress that make up a nurse’s day.”

Physicians undoubtedly work equally hard – but exploring that would take another article. Today, I am thankful for the people called into the nursing profession. I was sick, and you looked after me (Matt. 25:36), even at 4:30 a.m. Even when you’ve been on your feet for nine hours – with three to go. Even when that list of five patients in your care stretches to eight. Faced with the burdens we carry in, you offer love in exchange.

About the Author
Acts of grace in ER

Angela Reitsma Bick, Editor-in-chief

Angela Reitsma Bick began writing for Christian Courier in 2002 as a freelancer. After finishing an MA in English Lit from Queen’s University, she taught English at Redeemer University College as an Adjunct professor and served as Director of its Writing Centre for three years. She became Editor of Christian Courier in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for Christian Courier to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today in our homes, churches and schools; in our neighbourhoods and across this country. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three young children