If I look back on my career, I don’t think I have done anything wild and wonderful. I haven’t invented anything, I haven’t cured any diseases. I think nursing and probably all of healthcare is about building relationships—to know your people, and they get to know you. Working in a small town, I have had the privilege of working throughout the spectrum: seeing babies being born, seeing them in school, as adults, and then as parents themselves.

THE BEGINNING

At work, when it’s busy, it’s easy to say “it’s not an emergency, come back tomorrow,”
but when someone is sick, when your child is sick, it’s always an emergency. Even if we don’t have a doctor, that’s okay, they want somebody to listen. People used to phone and ask “is Esther there? Is Esther working today?” It used to be a bit of a standing joke around here, but I have been around for so long and I know them, and they know that I’m going to listen.


MALAWI AND HAITI

In the later years, as my kids got older, I just wanted to give back. I’m not exactly sure why, but I began nursing overseas. I went to Haiti when they had the Cholera outbreak and I went to Malawi and ended up going back three times. We first went to help a doctor from Calgary that had started a clinic there. It was an eye opener—an awakening thing. We packed a truck with basic medicine and supplies, and then we’d drive out to remote villages and set up a clinic.


I learned a bit of the language, “take one pill in the morning and one at night” kind of thing. People would come out, and sit under these trees in the shade, early in the morning, knowing we were going to come. When wee got to a village there would be, I bet, a thousand people. At the end of the night, we would have to turn people away, and you could see the disappointment in their faces, and all they would ask is “when will you be back?”

Working within the healthcare systems of other countries

At first, in Haiti, some people thought we were there to take work away from their hospitals. But the doctor always made sure we hired local nurses, and we just worked alongside them, to support them. Things like how to to run IVs, showing them better techniques and counting drip factors—they were able to see that we were there to offer them a helping hand and teach them.

Empowering the nurses there that they could do more - they have really embraced healthcare and are trying to take ownership of it.

I have so much respect for the people in Malawi and Haiti, they work so hard under the circumstances. There was some frustration that we have so much here, yet we complain. I don’t have a fancy house, or a big house. But even that is so much more than anybody in Haiti can dream of having.They don’t even dream of it in Malawi. It’s just so different.

My highlights were building those relationships with the local people there. Encouraging them, “You can do this, this is how it spreads, and I know you just had the earthquake, but this is something that can be managed.” Empowering the nurses there that they could do more - they have really embraced healthcare and are trying to take ownership of it.


STRENGTH & GRIEF

It’s really hard when you have family at home. It can be Christmas morning and you may have just finished sitting with someone at the hospital who’s dying, and now you have all that care and compassion inside that you’re supposed to switch off. All of a sudden you’re home and supposed to be happy, celebrate and have a wonderful time. It can be hard, and feel like you’re putting on a front.

I think one of the frustrations is that you can’t fix everything. In a small town, it’s hard. I’ve had to deal with a number of people that have come in and have had a bad diagnoses. At that point, you have to switch your focus, and you help them accept it, help them die with dignity. Our grief does heal. You learn to continue with life in a different way—you find a new normal.

It can be Christmas morning and you may have just finished sitting with someone at the hospital who’s dying... [then you're back at] home and supposed to be happy, celebrate and have a wonderful time. It can be hard, and feel like you’re putting on a front.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH HEAVINESS OF EVERYONE ELSE’S EMERGENCIES?

You have to have a total diversion. I have a wonderful husband that I talk to, and I volunteer. There is definitely a helping nature, but it probably is my faith that helps me the most. I think I have a very strong religious background. I also plant potatoes. When you’ve have a bad day, or you're frustrated. You can hoe a lot of potatoes.

My career is never my whole life. But it’s a big part.

Photos by Jacqueline Goodfellow. Expose Photography

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