13: The Maintenance Man

13: The Maintenance Man

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

The Maintenance Man

Each person has an ideal, a hope, a dream which represents the soul. We must give to it the warmth of love, the light of understanding and the essence of encouragement.

~Colby Dorr Dam

I was wary of him. He hung around, repeatedly cleaning the kitchen area of the staff room as my students gathered their belongings at the end of their shifts. I worried he was checking out “my girls.” His head was usually down, but it seemed he was eavesdropping on their conversations.

As a clinical instructor, I worked with nursing students on a medical floor on the evening shifts. We wrapped up around 9:30 p.m. and then the students convened in a crowded staff room for a bit of their own de-briefing, joking around, exchanging e-mail addresses, or taking group selfies. As they’d pack up their backpacks, notes, and various electronic devices, laughter emanated from the small group.

I suppose it’s natural that we instructors watch out for our little flocks when students might be oblivious to who’s watching them. There was no reason to expect anything suspicious; the man had appropriate identification, but I tended to be on the cautious side.

The students were unique in that they comprised a group of Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs), all of whom had studied and qualified for nursing in their home countries and had immigrated to Canada with the intent to refresh their skills and practice here. They were a joy to teach, as most were extremely eager to complete this clinical portion, the last of the requirements that would allow them to write the Canadian RN exams and apply for positions.

One of my star students was a tall, outgoing woman from South Africa who had recently immigrated. She’d decided to resuscitate her nursing career after spending a number of years raising her children. Her goal was to polish her skills and return to emergency nursing, which was her specialty in South Africa. Since that was my first career, we had a common bond.

She was a white woman with an unusual streak of vibrantly dyed red hair in her otherwise ordinary head of sandy brown. Joyfully, she sung out her friendly greeting of, “Good morning, M’lady,” at the beginning of every shift in her lilting Afrikaans accent. She soaked up everything I could possibly offer. She helped the other students on the computers at the hospital and shared her clinical experiences. She got the most out of her clinical rotation because she gave as much or more than anyone else.

Our end-of-shift ritual continued and the dark-skinned maintenance man still hung about. I noted his sad gaze and felt a sense of loss coming from him.

Finally, one evening he approached me after the students had departed. In heavily accented English, he asked, “What program these students in?”

I told him, but wondered where he was going with this. He related how he and his wife had immigrated to Canada just a few years earlier. They had both been RNs in Africa. For eighteen years he was in charge of HIV/AIDS education programs throughout Kenya and other parts of Africa. He had hoped to practice nursing in Canada, but language was a barrier. He was taking English classes. He had heard a bit about the IEN program and was thinking of applying, but admitted his work and study schedule was already taxing. Once he qualified, if he did, his wife was going to try to regain her RN qualifications too.

I smiled at my own misconceptions about this experienced African nurse who had obviously made a huge impact in his homeland. Ever the ambassador for the college, I told him more about the IEN program and how to apply. I encouraged him to continue with his studies and I wished him the best in resuming his nursing career.

After that conversation, he seemed to relax a little more when the students were finishing their shifts, his eyes occasionally lighting up, although often wistful.

My group continued to expand their skills and share many successes. You could feel the excitement in the air as they neared completion of the clinical rotations and anticipated writing their exams.

On one shift in the final week I came in early to find my South African student deep in conversation with the maintenance man in a side conference room, her clear and encouraging voice melding with his quiet responses, his head eventually nodding in comprehension. He looked up to acknowledge me with a shy smile.

“I accepted into the IEN program,” he said with a smile. He held his head higher, his eyes lit up, and he carried himself tall with obvious pride.

He had sought out a fellow African upon realizing the first course was on medication. She was conducting a mini-teaching session on IV therapy calculations.

My heart swelled with pride to see the South African woman sharing her knowledge with the Kenyan maintenance man, proving that the language of nursing transcends race, colour, creed, and gender.

~Colleen Stewart Haynes

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