By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
DUNNVILLE— When Evelyn Veldman and Diane King attended high school together in the 1960s, neither realized the bond they would form together over a 50-year-long career spent entirely within the Haldimand War Memorial Hospital (HWMH).
Both knew from a young age that nursing was in their future, “My mother had a couple of friends who were nurses, and when I was a very young child, I was impressed with the fact that they got to wear a cape,” recalled Evelyn. “I thought ‘I’d really like to be a nurse someday so I can wear a cape.”
Diane reminisced on those early years, “When we were in high school, you really only had two choices. You could be a teacher, or you could be a nurse. That was about it… I always wanted to take care of people. I didn’t realize what it would entail, but yes, it was a good career choice.”
Sadly, by the time they graduated, capes were no longer in-style. Since then, Evelyn and Diane have walked their paths together, both graduating and getting married in 1971 and accepting jobs at HWMH.
Fifty years later, both are married with children, grandchildren, and a lifetime of memories.
“It’s not just a nursing career, it’s a friendship,” said Evelyn, who is now Director of HWMH’s Inpatient Unit. “We were right beside each other (in school), our rooms were beside each other, and we helped each other through the good and the bad.”
It should be noted how long, and how devilishly both ladies chuckled at the mention of ‘the bad’. Some stories aren’t fit for the newspaper, apparently.
“We’ve leaned on each other through our whole 50 years,” said Diane. “Evelyn went on and became a manager, but I’ve continued on with my bedside servicing, because that’s what I enjoy the most.”
Both ladies have seen some big changes over their decades-spanning careers, reflecting on how HWMH’s Emergency Department consisted of a single room in the basement of the hospital when they both started, nowhere near the department patients today utilize.
Perhaps the biggest change in their careers occurred in the switch from team-based nursing to primary care nursing, “There was one nurse who would primarily give out the medication and the other one or two nurses would be responsible for doing patient care. With primary care nursing, one nurse is assigned to three, four, five patients, and you are responsible for everything with that patient. The medication, the care, the appointments, everything,” explained Evelyn.
When the pair started their careers, finding a job was easy, with both receiving multiple job offers upon graduation. They have worried together over the years as staff layoffs threatened their jobs in the 1990s and have endured long enough to now be back in a position where nurses are in short supply once again, as hospitals face staffing shortages across the province.
“We constantly seem to be interviewing and trying to get more staff,” said Evelyn. “The patients have changed too over the years. We find now that the patients we’re getting are a lot sicker than they used to be. At one point in time, it wouldn’t be uncommon to have a social admission for the winter… now, anybody that’s in the hospital needs to be there.“
While they stopped short of calling the pandemic the most challenging portion of their careers, both Evelyn and Diane have been personally impacted as they have endured the past two-plus years.
“I took over the Director’s role at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Evelyn. “It was a very difficult and confusing time. When the pandemic first started, every day we were getting different reports, different directives. To try to keep the staff informed, we didn’t know what was going on, so how could we share that with staff. It was very difficult.”
Diane added, “The patients can’t see you smile, sometimes we had to wear goggles and shields, and you end up feeling really sorry for the elderly people who counted on us to take care of them because their families couldn’t visit. It was very hard… You always felt a little scared yourself, too. You didn’t want to bring it home. I have a husband who’s not well, and I didn’t want to bring it home to him. There was a lot of tension.”
Additionally, both expressed a feeling of sadness in seeing some of the divisive public reactions to hospital health care directives over the course of the pandemic.
“Nursing was a profession that people looked up to. Some of the things you read in the newspapers now, they’re not nice. It’s hard to see, hard to hear,” said Evelyn.
“They should walk in our shoes,” added Diane.
Regardless of those challenges, however, both feel proud of the work they have done in their time at HWMH.
Evelyn commented on one of her favourite memories, “We both worked obstetrics. It was so rewarding to be with these moms when they gave birth… It was that joy every time a baby was born. It’s so heartwarming being with the family and being able to share that with so many people over the years. Every delivery was exciting.”
Diane couldn’t pinpoint one single moment that summed up her feelings on her 50-year career, but mentioned the closeness she feels with her co-workers, and the unwavering support of the doctors at HWMH: “We knew they were there for us, and that meant a lot.”
“We’re proud to have worked there all these years,” summed up Evelyn on their shared journey together.
The Haldimand Press thanks Evelyn, Diane, and all the other nurses working across our community who provide tireless, quality care to the families and people of Haldimand.
Happy Nurses Week!