“I do a lot of teaching, with patients, doctors, nurses and midwives, which includes counselling and coaching junior nurses as well as patients and their families, some of whom have a lot of problems. I also help to empower women, and being a Christian, I realize that my job is not only to talk about nursing, but also about things like current affairs that affect them.”
By Dennis Nichols
Nursing – it is both a science and an art, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Caring for a terminally-ill patient, tolerating
the rants of an ungrateful one, or assisting in the delivery of a newborn, is not for the queasy or the weak-minded.
But for a young woman, in fact a teenager in 1976, it was to prove a most challenging but gratifying career, one that has lasted nearly forty years, and continues even after her retirement in 2012 as Senior Departmental Supervisor of the Maternity Unit at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
Currently a Clinical Instructor at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Clinic, this week’s ‘Special Person’ is Mrs. Marjorie Arjune-Prittipaul.
Starting out as a student at the New Amsterdam Nursing School in October 1976, this Berbice-born stalwart has moved through the ranks of nursing and ministering, giving instruction in patient and family education, and bequeathing the skills she acquired and honed over the years, to younger generations of caregivers. In so doing, she has worked at hospitals in Skeldon, Lethem, Leguan and of course, Georgetown. And she says that if she had to live her life over, nursing would still be her career of choice, simply because she loves it.
Marjorie Arjune was born in Corentyne, Berbice, at Number 35 Village, on April 12th, 1957. Between 1962 and 1973, she attended first the Volivia Memorial Catholic School, and then the Central Corentyne Secondary School. During her high school years she passed a number of subjects at the College of Preceptors (CP) examination in 1972, and the General Certificate in Education (GCE) examination in 1973.
Leaving school at age 16, she remained at home for a while, doing a bit of housework and a lot of reading, one of her pastimes, before beginning her first stint of employment, as a teacher, at the Eversham Primary School, a short distance from her home.
Then at the age of 19, on October 3rd, 1976, Marjorie found herself among a group of shy, young students – Batch 41, comprising 12 girls and one boy, walking into the old New Amsterdam Hospital building that housed the Nursing School, and into the frontline of what was to become a holistic approach to health care delivery in Guyana.
She remembers how nervous they were, in their starched white uniforms, having to introduce themselves that first day. Classroom instruction was soon supplemented with practical application, on the wards; this included observing and communicating with patients, as well as minor tasks such as making up beds, bed-bathing, and taking patients’ temperatures.
Four years later she graduated as a Registered Nurse and began her first ‘real’ work at the Skeldon Hospital. While there, Marjorie also received training in midwifery – from 1982 to 1983 – eventually being appointed a Registered Midwife in the latter year.
This meant that she was then able to carry out the actual delivery of babies in the Labour Room/Ward of the hospital, with all the accompanying apprehension, angst, and if everything went right, the joy of helping to bring a child into the world. And it was during this period also that she added another surname to hers, having married Sookraj Prittipaul in January 1981; the union producing two sons, Bryan and Rian. She lives with her husband, a retired NIS Office Manager, at Chateau Margot on the East Coast of Demerara.
Following her stint at Skeldon, and now having the initials R.N/R.M appended to her name, Marjorie asked for a transfer to Georgetown to join her husband who, by then, was working as a Benefits Officer at the NIS Head Office.
She started off at the GPHC as a Staff Midwife in 1984, and over the next four and a half years, worked with medical consultant, Dr. Ramsundar Doobay, on the Medical Block. She recalls, “It was there that I met a lot of people who impacted on my career one way or another, including patients with chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes, and victims of attempted suicide.”
Her duties as Staff Midwife also took her to two relatively remote out-stations, first to the Lethem
Community Hospital from 1988 to 1989, and then to the Leguan Cottage Hospital from 1995 to 1996. She declared that her sojourn on that island was very enjoyable due in part to the love bestowed on her by the residents, and being nurse, doctor, midwife, and more, to them. She however had to return to the city to be with her husband and children, the elder of whom was studying for his CXC examination at Queen’s College. And so it was back to the Georgetown Hospital.
While working at the GPHC, Marjorie had been appointed Ward Manager, (the position she took with her to Leguan) doing duty mostly in the Surgical Block there, which included the hospital’s Orthopedic Department.
This trend in upward mobility continued, and over the next few years she was rewarded for her dedication and discipline by being promoted, first to Junior Departmental Supervisor at the Ambulatory Care and Diagnostic Centre (ACDC), and subsequently, in 2003, to the position of Senior Departmental Supervisor. She was honoured in 2004 with an award for Best Supervisor at the GPHC. This spurred her on to achieve greater distinction, and three years later she further qualified herself with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing Management from the University of Guyana.
In 2008 Marjorie participated in a PAHO/WHO programme called ‘Advances in Labour and Risk Management’ (ALARM), thereby becoming a certified facilitator in this field, and later training others in the various skills aimed primarily at reducing maternal mortality. She is still involved in this aspect of training. In 2009, she was presented with a special award by Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds, in recognition of her unstinting contribution to nursing in Guyana.
Between 2007 and 2012 she served as Senior Department Supervisor of the hospital’s Maternity Unit, after which she retired, having progressed to the highest position available to her at the time. Interestingly, six weeks after she had retired, Marjorie was recalled to the institution to assist with general duties, first on the Surgical Block, then at the OB/GYN Clinic where she is now employed as a Clinical Instructor. She is also the hospital’s Breastfeeding Coordinator.
She explained what all of this entails.
“I do a lot of teaching, with patients, doctors, nurses and midwives, which includes counselling and coaching junior nurses as well as patients and their families, some of whom have a lot of problems. For example, some of them are scared to have surgery, and they need to be both educated and reassured. I also help to empower women, and being a Christian I realize that my job is not only to talk about nursing, but also about things like current affairs that affect them, from budgeting and managing their finance to reading and prayer, and for the younger women, how to be good parents, including of course, the benefits of breastfeeding.”
Some of the things she teaches and speaks about are not to be found in any instruction manual
or nursing text, but come from her heart, and her conviction that women, especially the younger ones, need to be aware of their maternal and family roles if, or when, they become mothers. With respect to patients, she admits that many of them and their families are not really prepared for dealing with serious illnesses or death. She feels that she has been given the opportunity to ‘witness’ to them, and often reminds them that ‘life is there, but death is sure’ as she counsels them on the briefness of life and the uncertainty of the future.
I asked our ‘special person’ to respond briefly to the criticism that has been levelled against the GHPC, including harsh comments about maternal and infant mortality. She deflected much of it by observing that the hospital is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of maternity patients at any given time, and that there is still a shortage of skilled staff in the unit.
“This hospital is handling sixty per cent of the country’s deliveries,” she observed, adding that the staff is trying to do the best with the little they have, and that it is in fact improving.
To drive home this point, she recalls that at one time there was no theatre in the maternity unit, but now there is. She recalled the experience of a woman dying from a severely ruptured uterus after delivery, and declared emphatically that the death could have been prevented had there been a theatre there at the time, instead of having to transport her to the surgical block near the Lamaha Street end of the hospital, thus wasting precious time, at one ‘o’ clock in the morning.
She added that the unit is still trying to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by as much as two-thirds by the end of 2015.
“I think we’re getting there,” she says, adding however that the neonatal section is not doing too well, but “we are trying, doing our best in teaching, and ensuring that patients, including teenaged mothers and prospective mothers, attend the antenatal clinics, take precautions, look out for danger signs, take medication and supplements, and hoping that they will listen and learn.”
Because of the varied aspects of her work, she is many things to many people, including mother, mentor, teacher, social worker, friend and role model. And just as the aspects of nursing are varied, so too are the experiences associated with them.
A few of them stand out in her memory, including delivering a baby ‘by flambeau’ in Lethem, and one in which she became the main witness for the prosecution in a case where a man was on trial for burning his wife. The woman subsequently died, but was able to give the police some pertinent details as she was being nursed, which eventually helped convict her husband.
But the one she recalls most vividly happened in Leguan when a pregnant woman of unsound mind delivered a baby in a tunnel much to the amazement and apprehension of a gathering crowd. The woman had started cursing and pelting at the crowd as Marjorie and a doctor approached. Imploring the doctor to protect her, she entered the tunnel to ensure that the woman wasn’t bleeding and to check and clamp the baby’s umbilical cord. By then, she said, the woman had already disposed of the placenta in a nearby bush.
She was able to disperse the crowd, befriend the woman, and minister to her, in the process of which she gave her an injection to prevent excessive bleeding. Unfortunately, about three months later, the baby died from malnutrition. Again she was involved, this time in certifying the baby’s death, and because of the woman’s condition, making arrangements for the child’s funeral and taking on the role of officiating priest at the its burial. All in a day’s work!
With everything given due consideration, Marjorie feels that her job is indeed an extremely worthwhile and necessary one. She is also of the view that the GPHC is the best hospital in the country, and that it is doing ‘a marvelous job despite a lack of both human and medical resources’.
At her home, she still finds time for two of her hobbies – gardening and meeting people. And meet them she does. They call on the phone or come to her house for advice and care, such as getting blood pressure and blood sugar tests. And when Cancer Awareness Week comes round, she calls around and reminds persons in the neighbourhood when and where to go for screening. Gestures like these, she asserts, are her way of reaching out and giving back to her community. And undoubtedly, her community is better off because of it.
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