Thursday, April 25, 2024

Nursing a lifelong dream for Mary


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AS BARBADOS’ LONE trained forensic nurse Mary Thompson has been exposed to the pain of victims of sexual assault and soothed the bruised bodies and minds of battered women and abused children. 

The 48-year-old nurse explains: “Forensic nursing is where law enforcement and the science of nursing meet.” Her particular focus is sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking in a relatively new nursing discipline where parameters continue to expand.

Mary’s interest in forensic nursing was sparked in the Emergency Room of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where, as a young nurse, almost every day she encountered women who had either been beaten, suffering with a broken hand, a “black and blue”eye, manifesting serious bruises all over the skin or a chop in the head.

“It just used to hurt my heart,” said the woman who has a clear passion for her chosen profession. “I felt at the time it was just poor people who used to come to the emergency room.” But when she went to work for a private medical concern she was struck by the number of professional women who were being beaten too, the only difference being they had the resources to seek help privately. 

“I recognised this is not a poor people’s disease, this is an everybody’s disease and I felt the urge to do something that would make a difference.”

That urge went back even further, to school days at the Erdiston Primary School and the experience of seeing her older sister, a slow learner who drooled, being bullied by the other students. “They used to beat her and pinch her. I was small and I just used to cry and I remember saying one day ‘I am going to be in a position to help people like you’.”

Hence today she is a nurse, at the end of a journey with many diversions. She credits her teachers at St Leonard’s Girls’ School for keeping her on track.

“I think one of the most powerful things outside committing me to Christ was passing through St Leonard’s and those teachers like Sheila Alleyne, Louise Joseph, and Joycelyn Hunte who were always there for me.”

She believed it when Joycelyn Hunte would tell her and all the other third form St Leonard’s girls: “You are special.” It was the kind of encouragement that fed into her innate sense of purpose even at that young age.

As one of five children growing up in a “timid” family, Mary said she was the “bold and courageous” child. “I sometimes wonder where I get that fearlessness from, but I have a knack for handling difficult issues and challenging things.”

“I always knew that I was going to be a nurse,” Mary said. She was the little girl going around the neighbourhood cleaning the ears of other children and when her grandmother suffered a serious asthma attack, she was the one accompanying her to the hospital and hanging on to every word and action from the nurses who cared for her. “I just had this thing of caring for people,” she said.

She entered St Leonard’s with her nursing dreams foremost in her mind, but there were accompanying fears that she would never be able to pursue the profession since she believed she could not master the mathematics she thought would be necessary for nursing studies. 

She had already shifted her focus to agricultural science when fortuitously she was forced to make another switch to human and social biology. She was the only student at St Leonard’s to pass that subject in 1985.

Mary said God has always guided her towards the career after which she hankered. She had done so well in a First Aid course as well as a Home Nursing Course with the Red Cross, the impressed tutor supported her expressed desire to apply to the Barbados Community College to study nursing.

Three decades later, Mary is unapologetic: “One of the things that I say, personally, there are some things that I am not good at and I don’t work at making them better. I know what my gifts are and I work on my strengths to make me excellent at what I do.”

 “Early in nursing, I always knew that I wanted to be the best nurse
I could be. To say that I have always met that, I can’t say that, but I know that I have tried. So whereas early in my career I saw people jostling to be in charge and to hold the keys, I wanted to be by the bedside and to deliver good care,” she added.

In those early years at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, there were times when she felt frustrated at the many times she was called away from the Accident and Emergency Department where she spent seven years, to work in another areas of the hospital.

The feeling of being hard done by in this fashion made her cry out to God for relief as she walked away from work at the end of such a shift. Now, looking back on the difficult days she said: “I can’t help but say my faith in God has grounded me a lot in who I am and though often challenged by situation and circumstances, I always believe that I will rise, that I will stand again.”

She acknowledged those past challenging nights of trying situations as the “training ground” for the nurse she has become.

Mary said working in the Accident and Emergency Department she also learnt about the frailty of life. As an A & E nurse on duty on a Wednesday when cruise ships docked at the Bridgetown Port, she would often witness a passenger crying at a deceased wife’s or husband’s bedside, lamenting the fact that: “We worked all our lives for this and now look what has happened.”

It was then she vowed: “I will enjoy life. The little things that people take for granted, I am going to do them.”

So today when she takes off in her vehicle alone headed to Bathsheba to drink in nature’s splendour and savour a cup of yoghurt, or sinks her footprints in the sand of her favourite beach during an early morning walk, or ventures out for a swim, submerged in her thoughts, or even when she is spending family time, she is getting the satisfaction of basking in the things she considers important to her life.

She spent seven years as the nurse at the Barbados Light and Power Company and twice found herself having to wear the hat of chief consoler in tragic accidents. 

The opportunity to have worked at the former Glendairy Prisons enabled her to gain valuable insight into the thought patterns of perpetrators of gender-based violence while giving some idea of the scope of the problem.

Mary’s strong sense of service to her fellow man saw her enrolling in membership of the Business and Professional Women’s Club which she twice served as president during the last 13 years. The association provided the opportunity for exposure to the reality of the lot of battered and sexually assaulted women.

It was through participation in a human trafficking conference in England, facilitated by the B & P club, that her eyes were opened to the evils
of the multibillion dollar industry of human trafficking.

Mary received basic training in forensic nursing at the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and pursued a further nine months of advanced study after she returned to Barbados. 

She works as a nurse in the health unit of the US Embassy, and was recently recognised by the embassy for emerging as the first runner-up for the prestigious Marjorie Harwood Award for Excellence in Nursing, out of 300 nurses working in the US Foreign Service.

Meanwhile, Body Matters Inc, the business she founded when she left the Barbados Light and Power job, continues to provide care to acutely ill patients within their homes.

Explaining the motivation to start such a business she said: “I think sometimes as people get older or people get sick especially terminally, sometimes people think they don’t deserve or they are not entitled to the same care. I have
a different view.”

“Even though you might be terminally ill, it does not mean that you must not enjoy the remainder of the days that you have and I feel very strongly about that.”

And the indefatigable nurse who has achieved much concluded: “Everybody sees your glory but they don’t know your story.” (GC)




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