After her shift at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH), veteran nurse Betsy VanLandingham returned home and was met with a surprise birthday celebration organized by her close family and friends.
VanLandingham, a nurse at MVH for more than 40 years, said that after coming home from a particularly long shift, she was very pleasantly surprised to receive a call from her sister, Leslie Feil, who is a clinical psychologist in Rhode Island.
“It was a very busy day for me. I was late coming home, and right when I walked through the door, my cell phone rang,” VanLandingham said. “It was one of my sisters who said to get on my email and check for a Zoom link. I had no idea it was going to happen.”
When she signed on to Zoom (still in her scrubs) she was greeted by around 30 of her close family and friends, all shouting “happy birthday.”
Folks tuned in from Italy, the Netherlands, Vancouver, Palm Beach, Boston, and the Vineyard. Some were in their cars, some were in their living rooms and bedrooms, but all had smiles on their faces.
Ages of the Zoom participants ranged from VanLandingham’s 97-year-old uncle Ed to her 1-year-old granddaughter Emma.
One of the Zoom participants, VanLandingham’s cousin David Hellerstein, is a psychiatrist in New York City who wrote a book about the family, called “A Family of Doctors,” detailing a history going back five generations of physicians, some of whom were trained in Eastern Europe before immigrating to the US in the mid 1800’s.
“It was a really amazing surprise. My daughter-in-law had dropped off some cupcakes to my house, and I lit candles along with all the others on the call,” VanLandingham said. “We all blew our candles out together after they sang, ‘happy birthday’.”
VanLandingham comes from a long line of healthcare professionals. Her father, Dr. George Feil, was a physician in Vineyard Haven in the 70’s and 80’s, maintaining a practice in their family home. He was the third physician to have a home office in the house, which is now the Nobnocket Boutique Inn, previously The Doctor’s House.
“The history of healthcare goes back through the generations in my family. I was brought up in a household that helped and cared for others,” VanLandingham said.
Feil told The Times about one of VanLandingham’s most treasured memories, when she raced to respond to an emergency at the hospital alongside her father.
For some on the Zoom call, it was their first time seeing each other in decades. “It was just so amazing to see everyone,” VanLandingham said. “One friend on the call I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. We do have a lot of family gatherings, but I can’t recall a time all these people would be in the same room together, so it was incredible.”
For VanLandingham, living alone and not being able to see her family and friends in months has been difficult.
“I have been staying away from them for their protection. I wanted so badly to hug everyone, but I hugged them through the internet,” VanLandingham said.
According to VanLandingham, the Zoom call was healing and comforting to her, especially as she is isolating herself due to the current public health crisis.
“I definitely encourage people to get together virtually, it really does allow you to keep in touch with people and still be safe,” VanLandingham said.
She continued to say that it has been a stressful few months at the hospital, as workers prepare for the uncertainty of the coming summer months.
“We are doing so much to prepare, and we are anticipating a lot of patients. When you work in an emergency room, you never know what is going to come in, but you are always prepared to help whoever walks through those doors,” VanLandingham said.
At the end of the Zoom call, the entire group watched a home video of one of VanLandingham’s childhood birthday parties that her uncle took.
“It really made me so happy to see everyone,” VanLandingham said. “I look forward to when I can see them again in-person.”