Audrey Harding at work
Photo by Jack Shea
At Work is about our neighbors and how they earn their livings. It doesn't matter what the job is, whether it's a big job or a small one, has a title or doesn't. We're interested in what you do every day and what you think about it. If you think your line of work is interesting, or if you'd like to suggest someone for At Work, please contact Nelson Sigelman or Whit Griswold, at The Times.
Audrey Harding has been a caregiver for her entire adult life.
That translates as a nurse for 44 years, including 17 years on the Island as an in-home caregiver, first with Visiting Nurse Service (VNS) and now with the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA). Ms. Harding also works at the Henrietta Brewer House in Vineyard Haven, where she provides medical care and, often, emotional support to elder residents.
But on a cold, sunny Saturday afternoon early last month, she was content in her Edgartown kitchen, marinating mushrooms for her holiday party and making soup from leftovers.
Caregivers often take care of themselves less well than they care for their patients and clients. Ms. Harding recently took care of herself, having back surgery, relieving the constant pain that has dogged her for years.
The surgery has changed her, brightened her aspect. Ms. Harding seems pleased she has been able to do for herself what she has done in hundreds of Island homes, helping residents mired in pain and the uncertainty of medical issues.
A Quincy native, Ms. Harding moved to the Island in 1949 as a four-year-old, living out by the Martha's Vineyard Airport on the family chicken farm, which included a wandering pig in its livestock population.
"The airport would call up and tell us to get the pig off the runway, a plane was coming in," she laughed, recalling a simpler, more informal time in Island life.
Ms. Harding was in the first graduating class from the "new" high school, and graduated from Newton-Wellesley School of Nursing. She then spent 22 years in nursing off-Island while raising her son, Chris, now in Salem, and daughter, Melissa, a nurse at Martha's Vineyard Hospital. Ms. Harding returned to the Island in 1993.
Tell me something about your job?
Well, I divide my time between the VNA and the Henrietta Brewer House. The VNA is very supportive: They give me assignments close to home and the Brewer House. I have babies and older people for clients. I take care of dying people. It's really a potpourri of people, and I like that. You never know what you'll find when you walk into the house.
I tell young nurses, "When you walk through that door, act confident, even if you don't feel that way." It's important because the patients and family are not confident. They're sent home sick these days. Everywhere.
Some people who should be in ICU are sent home with all this equipment and no button to call the nurse. I tell my patients "I'll be your nurse's button until you get back on your feet."
How did you get started in this type of work?
I never wanted to do anything else. I left the Island after high school and went to nursing school at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and then after graduation I was offered a nursing job by Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Melrose. They paid $4 an hour! Wow, that was great! Now I work per diem at VNA and on salary at the Henrietta Brewer House.
What is the toughest part of your job?
Making everything work, compressing 15 hours into 10. But it's a lot better now. I was working 60 to 70 hours a week before my surgery and now I only work 40 or 50. Sometimes I get home at 5 or 5:30 and think: "Why are you home so early? What did you forget to do?"
What is the best part?
This may sound strange, but it's when a patient has died and I know I've made their lives better in their last few days. It's difficult. I know I couldn't do it exclusively. We're trained as nurses not to get involved emotionally, but you're in someone's house. You can't help but get involved.
What would you rather be doing when you think that you would rather be doing something else?
Hmm...I love my job, and I've never had burn-out or wished I had done something else. My daughter's having a baby and I've thought that when I retire I could be a stay-at-home nanny. But that's in the future. I love my job.