Forty years ago, my grandmother started a job as a visiting nurse for the Visiting Nurse Services of Newport and Bristol Counties, in Newport, Rhode Island. The year was 1973. She was 40-years-old, had given birth to all seven of her children, and got around town in a silver Volkswagen Bug. That little car quickly become a prominent feature on the streets of Aquidneck Island and the town of Bristol across the Mount Hope Bridge as she drove from one patient’s home to the next, measuring blood pressure rates, administering pain medications, or just checking in on the convalescents in her care.
Over the years, my grandmother became very close to many of her patients, forging relationships that lasted for years. The impact she has made on her community is apparent every time I join her on a trip to the grocery store, where it’s not uncommon to bump into a silver-haired lady whose husband she once cared for, or a younger guy whose mom she helped nurse back to health.
I wasn’t even born yet when my grandma started her job as a visiting nurse, but now, three years shy of the age she was when she relaunched her career after raising a family, I wonder if I’ll have the courage, strength, and drive that she had. My career as a writer sits simmering while I spend my days at the playground, the YMCA swimming pool, or gallivanting around town with a nearly-three-year-old snoozing away in the stroller. The fraction of the week I dedicate to my work assignments are like sacred moments that will surely act as a springboard into the next chapter of my life when Elodie starts school. When that time comes, I hope I’ll hear the same calling that I know my grandma did when she started that new job at VNS and continued a professional life dedicated to helping others.
Now at eighty, my grandmother still has the strongest work ethic of anyone I know. She has been the greatest female role model in my life. And I know that the pride she takes in her work and the loyalty she has shown to her profession has touched all of the women in my family. And that includes six daughters, one daughter-in-law, eleven granddaughters, and five great-granddaughters, three of whom became nurses themselves.
Last night, at their annual meeting, VNS recognized my grandma, Lucy Sunderland, RN, for her four decades of service as a visiting nurse. I wish I could have been there to see her beaming from the podium in the old nurse uniform from the 1970s that she told me she was going to wear. But even though I’m across the country, I can still feel proud. Congratulations grandma! Now I hope you take some time off this summer to relax.
Photo: Lucy Sunderland, RN, Laboure College Nursing School Graduate, circa 1951. Thanks to Tim for sending it along.