Allan McDonald

In the summer of 1977 I started working at HSC as an orderly on two busy medical wards: H4 and D4. Both wards were staffed by incredibly hard-working nurses who, with few tools at their disposal, dealt with an endless variety of patients’ medical problems with enthusiasm and empathy. I, on the other hand, had zero medical knowledge, relied on basic orderly training and was guided by the instructions and directions of the nursing staff.

Within months I witnessed my first code 99, a cardiac arrest. As the ward nurses initiated the code 99 protocol, I was instructed to start CPR. Those first 2-3 minutes of doing compressions seemed like an hour; then suddenly the room filled with a recognizably different type of medical staff, all dressed in OR greens. The H7 ICU code team had arrived!

The H7 code team consisted of an orderly, who pulled a large heavy red  cart and did CPR, the RN, the RT and the ICU physician. In less than two minutes electrodes were applied, IVs inserted, an airway established. The physician spoke, asking me to let the H7 orderly take over CPR. In that moment I thought I was doing something wrong but as I dismounted from the bed the physician instructed me to stay so I could relieve the H7 orderly. Temporarily I was part of the team. I wanted to be on this team!

After a year on D4/H4, an H7 orderly position became available. I applied immediately. Then I was informed that I must pass the upgraded orderly training plus a probationary period before I  would be given a permanent position. I started  my probationary period on H7 ICU in 1978.

That year was a whirlwind of daily challenges and personal growth. It was quite apparent I had become part of a team working at the forefront of medical intervention. My complete absence of basic nursing or medical sciences limited my comprehension of what patients, family, nursing and medical staff dealt with on a daily basis. My self described image would be a that of a curious toddler asking the nurses “why” or “what is happening” questions. They always made the time to answer my endless stream of questions.

My desire to be more involved had its genesis in a daily orderly assignment, caring for Kevin Keough, the only “permanent” patient of H7. Kevin and I had a common interest, modern music, which we discussed while I worked with him or took my breaks with him. I had recently passed my upgraded training so, with the support of the H7 nursing and medical administration plus extra training by the respiratory techs, I was allowed to transport Kevin to rock concerts in his newly converted van.  After concerts, like any other young guys, we would go for pizza or burgers. Once we finished our meals I would say we should go home to ICU. Strangely, I was starting to fly in the whirlwind.

In 1979 I entered the HSC Diploma Nursing program, graduating in 1981, with an honourable mention in clinical proficiency. After working for a year on the HSC Burn Unit, I was accepted into the 1982 HSC Emergency Nursing program which I completed with honours in 1983.

It is now quite obvious to me that my nursing career was influenced by my 1978 experiences on H7 Intensive Care Unit, where I observed medical, nursing and other ancillary professional staff collaborate on complex patient care issues; the pioneers of Multidisciplinary Teams. At the time this was quite unique. (Multi Disciplinary Teams were my primary focus as a case manager and project manager later in my career path.)

All the RNs had to have 2-3 years prior clinical experience on busy medical or surgical wards in order to apply, then they had to complete the first-ever Intensive Care Nursing course to become staff nurses. This seemed to attract only the most driven, professional, intelligent and hardworking clinical RNs, no desk nurses.

All the nursing staff wanted to be part of something new, innovative and groundbreaking. To be challenged daily, never slaves to routine. To thrive on solving complex patient medical problems. To provide empathetic care to patient and family. To be teachers. To be mentors. To build a team of like-minded care givers. To to be the best. These were my role models; this behaviour and attitude has driven my nursing career and my life.

My 35 year nursing career has included all the major adult critical care areas: burn unit, emergency, STARS (flight nurse) medical ICU, operating room, PACU (surgical recovery room) orthopaedic trauma, surgical trauma and general surgery units. I have completed special courses in emergency nursing, OR nursing, ACLS and others. I had the opportunity to work in two provinces and two American States. The final career years included teaming with the first group of RNs to work in tele-health in Calgary, then moving on to work as a case manager in orthopaedics and finally as a chronic disease program manager.

In private life, my wife of 35+ years is an RN who was also part of H7’s Coronary Care Unit. Outside of nursing I became an competent all season mountaineer; translated means I climbed rock or ice in all four seasons,. All climbs required hiking or using back country skis to access the mountain. My final adrenaline sport was as a parachutist.

I count myself very fortunate to have been teamed with such extraordinary RNs who, unbeknownst to them, modelled the best characteristics of professional registered nurses for a naive orderly.  Yes, for me, it all started with being an orderly on H7 ICU at HSC.

The experience of a single year on HSC ICU in 1978 was not just a job; rather, it changed the course of my life and touched the lives of my patients. The only words I can offer are thank you.