COMING FULL CIRCLE
Kadra Mahamed began her career at Sunnybrook as a co-op student while still in high school. She continued to work at the hospital while studying for an undergraduate degree in nursing and a master’s degree in education, and is now a nurse in the very same unit she worked in as a co-op student over a decade ago.
In my final year of high school I did a three-month co-op placement at Sunnybrook in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU). I was already interested in pursuing a career in health care, but that experience helped me decide to be a nurse.
Just as I was finishing my co-op placement, there was an opening for a patient service associate in the CVICU. I got the job, and worked part-time in that role for the next four years. Being able to work in the unit while pursuing my nursing degree was invaluable. Taking what I was learning in the classroom and seeing it put to work with patients really helped prepare me for my career.
Two years after graduation, I was hired as a nurse in the CVICU, the same unit where my health-care career had begun seven years earlier. Coming full circle was no accident; I worked hard and made choices throughout my education that would help lead me back to the CVICU. I’ve always really enjoyed working with the patient population in that unit. Helping them recover from heart surgery and seeing the progress they make is so rewarding.
The staff in the CVICU have known me since the beginning, and they’ve supported me so much over the years. I love working with them, and they are proud of what I’ve accomplished in my career. I’ve learned a lot from them.
My passion for learning has evolved into a passion for teaching. In addition to my job in the CVICU, I’m a clinical instructor at a local college, where I teach students in the Registered Practical Nurse program. Teachers, both in the classroom and in the hospital, were so important in helping me get where I am today. I’m excited to pass my knowledge along to the next generation of learners. – As told to Sybil Edmonds
THREE GENERATIONS, ONE DREAM
Dr. Stewart Wright is a third-generation orthopaedic surgeon at Sunnybrook’s Holland Orthopaedic & Arthritic Centre. He joined the staff in 1982 and is currently an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
I remember being a kid going to hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens with my father. We’d come back to the hospital here on Wellesley Street and enter through the back doors where the kitchen was. A lovely lady on staff would make us hot chocolate.
This hospital has been my second home. It’s been the family business forever and a day.
Granddad (Dr. C. Stewart Wright) dreamt of building a hospital that would be devoted solely to the care of people afflicted with orthopaedic and arthritic problems: from diagnosis to prevention, treatment and aftercare. He believed in the power of orthopaedic surgery before it was even considered a specialized discipline in Canada. In 1949, his dream was close to reality when the government granted him the charter to build the new hospital. Sadly, Granddad died just three years before his dream came to fruition.
My father (Dr. Charles S. Wright), who had just trained as an orthopaedic surgeon himself at the time, took the reins and, along with Dr. James Bateman, fulfilled the dream. They opened the hospital in 1955.
Father always treated the patients and staff as if they were family. He even started a tradition of dressing up as Santa Claus at the hospital’s holiday party, giving gifts to all the staff to show appreciation for the work they did every day. I carry on that tradition. It’s just what the Wright family does.
Today, the Holland Orthopaedic & Arthritic Centre is considered one of the centres of excellence for hip and knee replacements in Ontario. Our techniques are always advancing. Pain control has improved. Rehab protocols are much better. Patients are in and out a lot quicker. They are often so appreciative of the care they receive, they come back as volunteers. It makes me proud to know they believe in this place as much as I do.
If Father and Granddad could see the care we provide today, they’d be smiling. – As told to Katherine Nazimek
FROM TRAUMA NURSING TO POLICY
Described as “a living page of Sunnybrook history,” Anne Thomson, Sunnybrook employee of 42 years, retired in September 2013. Here, she speaks of myriad tales, firsts, spirituality and human connections.
When I first came here as a nurse in 1971, I thought I was going to work in intensive care. Turned out, it was really extended care. I was fairly new to the country and never heard the term before. Luckily, it turned out to be wonderful nursing care with the veterans.
Six months later, I went to work as a nurse in emergency – my original plan. There were only three stretchers and an examination chair. It then changed in the mid-seventies with a new emergency department. I was given the title of head nurse and with Dr. Bob McMurty, medical director of the ER, we prepared to open the regional trauma unit, the first in Canada.
Our first patient was a 19-year-old who had been in a motorbike accident. He lost his left arm and right leg, both very traumatic amputations. We talked to his friends about the severity of his injuries. It was difficult for them to hear, but he needed their love and support. I was adamant that spiritual care be incorporated into the unit for families and loved ones.
In those days, we saw mostly recreational and motor vehicle accidents, and blunt trauma. Our first gunshot patient was a bank robber shot by police in Leaside, Ont. My first thought was: ‘Served you right for robbing the bank,’ but my feeling was quickly suppressed by compassion for his family. That was our first foray into the need for forensic evidence.
Emergency was the love of my life. I like to go into complex situations and simplify challenges down to the ABCs. I like the fast pace and the constantly changing priorities.
I went on to implement a nursing workload measurement system in the mid-eighties, wrote many corporate patient-care policies and created the first and second generations of emergency response plans. Twelve years ago, I transitioned to risk manager, a natural progression for me. If the wheels are sticking out, I have to kick them in. A spill on the floor, I have to clean it up.
Some of the most memorable parts of my career were empowering others and transferring knowledge. I taught nursing students during those years. It’s a joy to have students and to see their enthusiasm. They trusted me and came to me for help. It’s important to nurture our young, give them a good experience and empower them to be the best they can be. Help them not by solving their problems for them, but help them to strategize to deal with things. It’s true that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime. – As told to Nadia Radovini
NURTURING PATIENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Karen Smith has been the Patient Care Manager at Sunnybrook’s Ross Tilley Burn Centre since 1998, and was involved in the centre’s move from the Wellesley Hospital to Sunnybrook’s Bayview location on December 5, 1998.
I started my career as a nurse in 1985 at the Ross Tilley Burn Centre when it was at the Wellesley Hospital. I have always worked in burn care, because I believe it is a privilege to look after someone in his or her darkest moments. You take care of their eyes when they can’t blink. You take care of their mouth when they can’t swallow. You hold their arm while a complex bandage is applied. It’s extremely satisfying to help and serve other people.
I started as Manager of the Burn Centre at Sunnybrook in September 1998 and three months later we made the big move to Bayview. It was a highly co-ordinated effort that involved Toronto EMS and staff from across the hospital. We successfully transported eight burn patients that day, three of whom were critically ill.
While we settled into our new home, we had a lot of support from the hospital. I worked closely with everyone from Pharmacy to Labs to Shipping & Receiving to make sure they knew what our specific needs were.
The Burn Centre is a unique environment that cares for a challenging patient population. We’re a combination of an ICU, a ward and an emergency department (ED), because most burn patients are brought directly to us. They usually don’t go through our ED.
When I describe the job to people I say, ‘You could be looking after three burn patients – one is going to rehab that day, and two others require simple bandage changes. Then you get a tap on the shoulder and you’re told a patient is coming in with burns to 60 per cent of their body. Your work day can go from quiet to caring for the sickest patient in the hospital.’
It’s an environment that can change quickly, and you have to be highly involved not just in the beginning, but through every stage of a patient’s stay. Families can be with us for several months, so we nurture those relationships, keep communication open, and help them conserve their energy throughout the process. Patients will come back and say, “You didn’t just take care of me – the team took care of all of us.” – As told to Laura Bristow
CONNECTING WITH PATIENTS
Ilbiko Safian has worked at Sunnybrook for 40 years. Her first position was as a unit aid before she became a patient services partner (PSP). After retiring, she missed working at Sunnybrook so much that she decided to come back and work on a part-time basis, joining the Environmental Services team.
When in my youth and in my home country of Hungary, I trained as a chemist and worked with a pharmaceutical company.
Life as we knew it was changing and in 1957, I left Budapest and came to Canada with my husband. We had married only the day before. It was a difficult time. I was an only child and was forced to leave my mother and father behind.
Canada has been a wonderful home, and at Sunnybrook I have been surrounded by truly great people. Caring and connecting with patients to ensure that they have the best possible experience while in hospital has been in my heart since I began working here in 1973.
Coming from a war-torn country, I feel as though I understand the old soldiers living in the Veterans Centre. I never thought I could connect with a patient so easily. I can see how emotional they are and I love taking a moment to talk with them. What I see is living history: men and women who have lived their lives to the fullest.
I have worked in so many areas throughout the hospital: cardiology, the dialysis unit, the infectious diseases unit, surgical intensive care (now the critical care unit), the Burn Centre and the Veterans Centre. I feel so very fortunate to work with incredible people and so many high-level, dedicated professionals.
When I think back on my years at
Sunnybrook, the patient involvement is what stands out and defines so many of my memories.
One of my greatest highlights at Sunnybrook was having the pleasure of caring for A.J. Casson. At 90, he still had a great sense of humour and would tell us many interesting stories about his life and the other members of the Group of Seven [painters]. We were fortunate to celebrate his 90th birthday with him.
For me, I am most pleased when I know that I helped make life a bit better at a time when there was little hope. There is nothing more rewarding than when a patient recovers from their illness. To see someone walk again after an illness or traumatic injury cannot be measured. – As told to Sally Fur
A DEFINING MOMENT
Patricia Morin is a registered nurse in the Outpatient Medical Procedures clinic. She began her nursing career at Sunnybrook 36 years ago.
In 1996, I experienced at work what some may call divine intervention. Others may say it was sheer luck, or simply that I was in the right place at the right time. Whatever the reason, it saved my husband’s life and made me a better nurse.
I saw a bulletin for a lecture series at Sunnybrook on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing. Prostate cancer was the furthest thing from my mind, but I felt compelled to attend and convinced my husband to join me.
The auditorium was packed. We listened attentively about how this relatively new blood test has the ability to detect prostate cancer. On the way home, I insisted that my husband get tested at his next physical.
I remember the doctor saying to my husband, “You’re perfectly fine. There’s only one thing I’m worried about and that’s your PSA level. You should see
The cancer was outside of his prostate gland. I remember the urgency, the fear, the anxiety and the relief. It was an early diagnosis and a lucky interception. Sunnybrook saved his life. Seventeen years later he is alive and well.
That experience was a defining moment in my career.
Science hasn’t always been on our side. When I trained as a nurse in the late 1960s, we didn’t have the medical advances we have today. We relied on the art of nursing – the art of empathy and caring. What I didn’t know then was that the art of nursing is learned through experience and the role models around you.
As nurses, we need to engage the patient and their family, and establish trust in a very short period of time. The journey I shared with my husband gave me the ability to truly empathize, to say with sincerity that, ‘I know what you’re going through and I am here to help you.’ When I can alleviate the fears and anxieties of my patients and their families, that’s when I feel the greatest satisfaction. – As told to Katherine Nazimek
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