The Tale Of A Man With A Big Heart by Dr. Stacy Blythe RN PhD
I’m the adult child of a registered nurse and perfusionist. Nursing was my father’s second career. He studied in his thirties while navigating the unpleasantness of divorce. During that time, my two brothers and I used to visit him on the weekends in his little one-bedroom apartment that was walking distance to the hospital. As I reflect on that time in my life (I was around 12 years old), I have many memories… and have learned many life lessons. I doubt my father knows how much his example impacted me, and still does.
Dad’s small apartment was sparsely furnished; a second hand arm chair, a small un-matched ottoman we purchased together early one Sunday morning at a garage sale, a two seater glass-topped table and chairs in the kitchen… you get the picture. The one piece of furniture that was the most important was his desk. I don’t know how he could afford it at the time, but he had a beautiful mahogany coloured desk with a leather topped inlay positioned under the window in his small living room. I imagine he spent many, many hours at that desk studying to complete his nursing degree. After all, he graduated with a 4.0 GPA
After he became a Registered Nurse, Dad spent a LOT of time ‘on call’. My brothers and I often spent time alone in that small apartment that we affectionately called, “the jail”. It was a three story stone building, with six apartments and bars on the windows. Despite the nick name, we never felt unsafe. In fact, when Dad was called into work, we would often play in the other occasionally vacant apartments… after all we had to keep ourselves busy while he was out!
When Dad would get home – which was sometimes HOURS later, he must have been exhausted! But he rarely let it show. Instead, he’d take us out to one of our favourite restaurants or we’d head to grandma’s house for a big feed. We were always happy when he came home…
I must admit, we were less tolerant when he began running the heart pump… between ‘pump call’ and ‘scrub call’ he seemed to always be needed at work. The pager seemed to always ‘go off’ while we were at the movies!!! Poor Dad must have lost so much money taking us REPEATEDLY to the same movie so we could FINALLY see the whole thing! He never complained, even when we selfishly objected to leaving the theatre, he simply quickly made other arrangements for us and went to work.
Reflecting more on Dad’s career, I remember little things… like him coming home with big bags full of bottles of bubbles! Initially excited, I was somewhat disappointed to learn these were for the children at the hospital and not for me! I recall something about a new catheterisation procedure and him wanting to make it more pleasant with distraction. I also remember him desperately searching for adult-sized tennis shoes that light up when you walk… he said something about it making him less intimidating to the children at work.
As Dad’s career progressed, he was very respected by his peers, doctors and nurses alike. In fact, the cleaning and ward staff also thought he was a great guy. He was so humble. When embarking on the research aspects of his career, his office was literally in the boiler room. I KID YOU NOT! And he was just grateful for the space. As a parent myself, I completely understand how difficult it would have been for him to work at home with noisy kids wanting his attention. He was always very good at leaving work, at work.
Dad did lots of work over the years with ECMO, always trying to improve patient outcomes and develop skills in practitioners. In fact, he is still involved in this now that he is retired (although to a much lesser extent). I recall beautiful words written by respected surgeons about my Dad when he retired, but the words in the follow up letters from parents whose children had been in my Dad’s capable hands resound much louder. Their joy was so obvious as they provided updates on their growing and developing children that Dad would have known as neonates.
This is the tale of a man with a big heart. My Dad’s career has taught me so much. He taught me resilience; he never gave up, he completed his study, in the top of his class despite the challenging life circumstances at the time. He’s demonstrated to me a superior work ethic shrouded in humility. He never complained, nor did he brag about being needed at the hospital. Dad always put the patient first, never his career – focusing on patient experience and outcomes rather than promotion or reward. This caused him to go above and beyond, buying bubbles for the children being only one example. Although Dad’s knowledge and expertise was widely acknowledged in the perfusion and medical communities, he truly valued the privilege of working with vulnerable families and would have done so happily without praise.
I am grown now, living half-way around the world from my Dad. But I think of him every day and as I do so, I like to think I’m a little like him. I too, am a Registered Nurse. I’ve studied diligently despite challenges in my personal life and have achieved my PhD. I now work full-time in research… trying to achieve optimal outcomes for vulnerable populations. I’m not as good about leaving my work at work, and I’m much more vocal than he when I become frustrated with the work life balance… but just like him, I love my kids.
I’m so very proud of all that my Dad achieved in his career. I’m so very moved by all of the lives he helped to save, and those he touched as they left this earth. I’m so very glad that he is my Dad… a man with a big heart.