Nurses, support staff gather to reminisce

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From left, retired nurses Wilma Lammers, Anne Gilhula, Judi Aitken and Julie Smith were just four of nearly 60 former Chatham pediatric staff that gathered Oct. 21 at Smitty’s Restaurant to break bread and catch up.
From left, retired nurses Wilma Lammers, Anne Gilhula, Judi Aitken and Julie Smith were just four of nearly 60 former Chatham pediatric staff that gathered Oct. 21 at Smitty’s Restaurant to break bread and catch up.

It all started with a couple of photos on social media.

And it culminated with nearly five-dozen pediatric nurses and support staff from the former St. Joseph’s and Public General hospitals in Chatham gathering Oct. 21 to reminisce, catch up, and laugh.

The group met at Smitty’s Restaurant for lunch. Judi Aitken, who spent 30 years in the pediatric ward, said it was incredible seeing so many familiar faces, people who, regardless of how many years apart, easily recognized one another.

And to think it all began because one former nurse posted some photographs to Facebook.

“A bunch of us get together for breakfast regularly. One of us found some old pictures and posted them to Facebook,” she said. “When we got here, it was hug after hug after hug.”

People came from as far away as Barrie to attend the gathering.

Aitken said the bulk of those in attendance worked together at some point.

“Some are still working and some are long retired or have moved on,” she said. “Mostly, we’re comparing grandchildren now.”

Aitken said the majority of people who gathered were nurses, but there were also former housekeeping and maintenance personnel, plus ward clerks and even volunteers.

Aitken said the nursing experience gathered at one place is staggering.

“The number of years of nursing in that room – I wouldn’t want to guess,” she said.

A great deal has changed in local pediatrics over the years, Aitken said, especially in how services are delivered.

“We had two wings of pediatrics at St. Joe’s when we were in our prime,” she said. “Today, there are three beds.”

Some of the change is a result of technology, while cost restraints and a shift in philosophy to get people in their homes as quickly as possible are also big factors in the evolution of pediatric health care over the years.

“Today, most care takes place in the home. And high risk condition kids end up going to London,” she said. “It’s tougher today to deliver the same quality of care. Today, you get them over the hump and send them home. There aren’t as many staff in the trenches.”

Aitken said those gathered at Smitty’s talked about the old days.

“We miss the people we worked with and we miss being able to give quality, hands-on care,” she said. “You felt like you made a difference.”

She looks at today’s pediatric reality and shakes her head.

“We, the old-school nurses – are frustrated with the current health-care model. We chose this career when we were little girls,” Aitken said. “You didn’t got into it for the big bucks.”

One person conspicuously absent from the get-together, Aitken said, was Brenda Campbell. She passed away last year of ovarian cancer.

“We miss her so much,” Aitken said of Campbell.

 

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