Tuesday, April 16, 2024

89, but she keeps going and going


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“Where social life and different lectures are concerned, I go to all of them. I don’t particularly miss anything,” says Vivian Sealy, a familiar face at many an event around Barbados. Whether by bus, by taxi or a lift from kind friends, she is sure to be there.
Her friends tease “when you see Vivian missing from anything, you know she is stretched out. You have to go and look for her”.
Sealy agrees. People who know her marvel at the way she juggles attendance at several meetings, her constant presence at funerals and the active role she plays in the many organisations to which she belongs. They are confounded by the drive of this retiree, knowing she is weeks shy of her 90th birthday.
The seeming agility belies the petite, delicate body engaged in a raging battle with time and arthritis.
And she is the first to admit “arthritis is eating me up. As soon as I turned 70, the arthritis came down on me with a vengeance”.  Wittily she adds, “everywhere except my tongue because it does not have any bones”. Arthritis may have slowed her pace, but it certainly is not allowed to stop her from walking from one engagement to the next if friends are not available to give a lift, or when she does not hire a taxi. 
Asked how she finds the energy, she shoots back: “It is not the energy. It is enthusiasm. Not energy. I do not have that now.”
On June 1, 1938, just before her 18th birthday, Sealy entered the Nightengale Nursing Home to begin nursing training.
She told the Weekend Nation: “I taught school for over two years, but my father had promised to help and he did not. So when I realised that it would have killed my mother, I liked nursing, and I went from school and took the nursing examination and passed it.”
Concerning the training, she makes the observation it was “more a maidservant than nursing”.
“You did a lot of cleaning, a lot of scrubbing, sharing meals and sharing needles. Things that nurses learn nowadays we did not do in our day.
“It was anatomy and physiology, general nursing and hygiene, but on a very narrow scale.”
Five years of training, and Sealy graduated and began what she today describes as a fulfilling and rewarding career.
She worked at the St Philip District Hospital, and the Hillside Home before taking leave in 1959 to pursue advanced studies in England.
This is where she claims to have received the “real nursing training”, becoming a State Registered Nurse through the Royal Isle of Wight County Hospital.
Three years and seven months in England also saw her becoming a State Enrolled Nurse, studying and working at Wokingham Hospital until she was recalled home to work.
Sealy reminisces about a Barbados General Hospital on Jemmotts Lane where “there was not a lot of nursing . . . . You cared for people’s needs and wants and tried to make them comfortable, but where nursing was concerned, the girls nowadays have a better break – they do more nursing”.
In jest she remarks: “I hear people fussing nowadays when they are told that a machine is not working, but very often we did not have the machines.”
Today she proudly shows people the exact spot where she stood for the official opening of the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in November 1964. There Sealy worked in the Casualty and Outpatients departments, finally retiring from nursing as a Ward Sister in 1980.
She looks back on the experience and affirms: “I would do it all over again if I had to do it again.”
The depth of her commitment to the profession was reflected in the dedication with which she worked at the community level for the ten years she was in charge of the Barbados Registered Nurses’ Association’s (BRNA) District Nursing Service.
As a member of the BRNA (now the Barbados Nurses Association), she undertook this responsibility, going out into communities to apply dressings, give injections, bed baths and to counsel the sick. She continued to do this in retirement, until the BRNA closed the service with the advent of polyclinics.
But this was only one commitment coming to an end. Sealy still belongs to about 15 organisations, many in St Leonard’s Church, where she worships. She is also a member of the Barbados Association of Retired Persons, the Barbados Organisation of Retired Nurses, the Barbados Nurses’ Association, Friends of Guiding, the Barbados Labour Party Women’s League, the Business and Professional Women’s Club, and the Alzheimer’s Association.
However, the Caribbean Women’s League remains her “lifeblood”. This community-based organisation, started by the late Leotta Burke more than half a century ago, has survived because members like Sealy have continued to make their input. She is a former president and is now public relations officer, promoting the league’s activities.
Though it no longer attracts young members, the old brigade continues to keep the League alive and Sealy is in the forefront.
She does not possess a diary at the moment. Dates and times of the many engagements are therefore committed to a still sharp memory.
“I remember when the meetings are taking place. I don’t mix them up.” From a meeting at 10 a.m., she heads to another at 2 p.m. and still makes the 5 p.m. meeting.
The limited time spent at home once prompted a concerned workman on her street to make the observation: “You don’t seem to like your home because you are always on the road.”
Day after day Sealy is on the go, going about some business or other.
“Sometimes I leave home early, sometimes I leave late . . . Sometimes a day or two in a week I do not go out but that is rare. I am out every day. If I don’t manage to go early, I go late.
But everyone is warned not to call her before 7 a.m. That is the hour reserved for the CBC TV Channel 8 news, which is a must on her daily schedule.
For her tireless work and sterling contribution, Sealy was awarded the Barbados Service Medal. She is also a Justice of the Peace.


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