2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. In celebration and recognition, we will feature stories all year long of nurses and midwives from across the province and the great work they do for BC First Nations people and communities.
It can't be easy for Sue Griffin to sum up over 36 years of nursing experience in just a few sentences. But although the years stretch back through a long and distinguished career, one thing has never changed.
“I enjoy helping people," she says, confidently. “Being with people, listening to them, and learning about what makes them feel good, where some of the challenges are, where the barriers are. And I love problem-solving and being in groups to problem-solve and nursing is a lot of that."
The 1980s were a brand new decade when Sue went to nursing school at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), living in residence where she describes walking through the tunnels underneath 12th Avenue and “not seeing daylight for days."
If nursing was a language, Sue was in immersion right away, learning practical bedside nursing in the hospital. When she graduated in September of 1984, she was ready to take on anything. At first, she did just that.
“I think when you come out of nursing you think, okay, great, I'm going to intubate people, I'm going to start IVs, restart hearts, I'm going to debride wounds, I'm going to do all these really wonderful clinical things to help solve problems," recalls Sue. “But then I think as your career goes on you realize healing for people really comes from within and it's more about connecting and creating relationships with people."
In 1999, Sue moved to the Fraser Valley and shortly afterward she began focusing on long-term and transitional care. Although she knew the “clinic stuff" backwards and forwards, it was in this field that she discovered how important relationships are in the healing process.
“That relationship piece was something that you had to spend time at and concentrate on listening, learning, loving and being with people and walking beside them no matter what their choices were."
While working in long-term care, one of her patients was a First Nations woman in her forties from northern BC. For two-and-a-half years, the woman would come and visit Sue and they would talk. Over time, they became good friends.
One topic the woman kept bringing up was how desperately she wanted to go back home and see her children and her family. Clinically, it seemed impossible, says Sue, her voice emotional at the recollection.
“She had too many medical challenges and too many needs. Clinically, she needed to be where she was. But emotionally, spiritually, mentally - she was dying."
But then Sue did what nurses do. They problem-solve. She worked with the provincial health authority to get the woman on a private plane with a nurse escort, and sent along her belongings in a truck. Inside the truck were dozens of teddy bears she'd collected over the years to give to her children if she ever had to the chance to see them again.
The woman survived the flight and got back home, back on her land.
“I got pictures of her when she got home with her family, with her kids. The smile was from ear-to-ear. It was then that I could see she was alive."
Although she's since lost contact with her friend, she insists that “she still sits with me."
Today, Sue is a nursing supervisor with Stó:lō Nation, managing 18 other health care workers. Stó:lō Nation serves 11 Nation Bands in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Sardis, Deroche, Matsqui, Popkum and Abbotsford.
Every day, Sue has to prioritize patient support and care while evaluating the risks of dispatching nurses to different communities and keeping an eye out for the risk of COVID-19 exposure. When the pandemic first hit early in 2020, Sue thought she was ready.
“At first I was like, oh wow I've been training for this for 35 years. I've got this. And then about two-and-a half months ago I thought, okay, I don't have this. This is really hard."
Despite those challenges, Sue wouldn't trade her job for anything in the world.
“Yeah, there's some really tough times. But there's also some moments you just cannot replace anywhere else. Your heart just swells and you're left with goosebumps and tingles of joy."