During a recent interview, Gail Stevenson positions herself to see both the nursing desk and the hallways of the acute care ward at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Seated in the waiting area next to the nurse’s station in the first floor ward, she is attentive but her pale blue eyes flick up and down the hallway. She pauses occasionally to listen to the whirring, shushing machines that monitor the status of as many as 21 medical, surgical, and intensive care patients. Ms. Stevenson is one of four nurses working the overnight shift.
The floor is quiet at 1:30 on a Monday morning when a green call light blinks, sending Ms. Stevenson, 58, trotting off briefly to attend to a patient. The licensed practical nurse is a member of the first graduating class to be trained on-Island early in 2008 in a program sponsored by Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at the hospital.
Ms. Stevenson came to the Island in 1976, worked the jobs young people work, later married, had a son, Jack, now at Wentworth Institute of Technology, and operated Cycle Works Bike Shop on State Road in Vineyard Haven with her former husband, John Stevenson.
She describes her life journey in terms of a growing commitment to service to others. She considers nursing to be her life work and behaves that way. She is grateful for the opportunity to become a nurse at this stage of her life.
Q: Tell us something about your job?
A: “It’s a cooperative effort, getting people where they need to go, treating them respectfully, with kindness. Obviously, there is some problem-solving. On a typical day, we get reports from previous shifts, and get up to speed with what’s happening. We check the status and schedule of medication sheets, and then I introduce myself to the patients and assess them as if I’ve never seen them before. Then I have a picture of where they are so I can prioritize and formulate a game plan for the day. I write everything down on my clipboard. Everything. There is a lot of multi-tasking. Later in the evening when everyone’s tucked in, hopefully for the night, I review what I’ve done, recheck the patients, and then document what I’ve done. Documentation is important.”
Q: How did you get started in this type of work?
A: “I’ve always liked people and I always wanted to be an EMT (emergency medical technician). When I was in the bike business, I organized rides, particularly for women. It only took one or two events — with people getting in trouble, needing food or water — before I knew I needed to be able to take care of them, needed to know more about lifesaving techniques. So I took the EMT course, then later became a unit secretary at the hospital and worked in patient transport. That was key; transport required my problem-solving skills and gave me personal interaction with people that I wanted.”
Q: What is the toughest part of your job?
A: (Pauses) “Not being able to fix everything. Not everybody is going to get better. When someone’s suffering, you don’t want them to suffer. Sometimes all you can say is ‘I’m sorry you feel badly.’ Sometimes, all you can offer is your compassion.”
Q: What is the best part?
A: (No pause) “People. I like doing this, being a team player. I’m well suited to being busy. I’m fortunate to have done lots of things that I’ve been invested in. This (career) is like a ‘do-over.’ I got a scholarship for the LPN program from Windemere, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the state. It took a community to make me a nurse. Who gives you a do-over like that? I’m grateful for the opportunity. Next week I get to work in the emergency room for the summer. When you love doing something it doesn’t always feel like work. I get a reward.”
Q: What would you rather be doing when you think that you would rather be doing something else?
A: “I’m already doing it. I have time to take care of my mother, to do my garden in West Tisbury. I’ve set up a woodworking shop for myself. I can get to a beach without crossing a road. I’m having a blast.”