May 28, 2017 Special Person
“If you don’t like people, or you don’t like to be around people, don’t come and say you want to do nursing, because nursing means you are dealing with human beings; you are dealing with lives and you can’t take chances.”
By Sharmain Grainger
Even as Guyana celebrates 51 years as an independent nation, a daughter of this soil is also
celebrating 51 years in a profession that she has embraced with vigour and unwavering zeal. You see, although she has dedicated so many years of her life helping those with various ailments and wherever possible prevented their demise, Sister Marva Hawker even today is driven by this forte.
The profession she entered in January of 1966 was that of nursing. Nursing is listed among the noblest of professions and is premised on the notion of compassion, which goes hand in hand with a fervent desire to promote health and wellness.
This, however, wasn’t what propelled her to the profession. It was in fact seeing her older sister nattily attired in her nurse’s uniform that aroused her interest.
“She wore this blue and white-striped uniform and I used to help her pleat her [nurse’s] aprons… and I used to admire her. Sometimes when she would come home, she would tell mommy all kinds of patient care stories and they were so intriguing,” Sister Hawker recounted.
However, at the time the younger sibling had her eyes set on becoming a teacher. She had in fact taken up a teaching job at the Houston Methodist School, but simply couldn’t shake the aspiration for the health care vocation. She admitted during a recent interview that satisfying the ambition to become a nurse is certainly not one that she has regretted in the least.
Born Marva Callender, to parents Maxwell and Irene Callender, on February 12, 1946, she remembers growing up in Virginia Village, then a small community at Cane Grove on the East Coast of Demerara. She was the seventh of eight children for her parents. However, like her parents, two of them have gone to the great beyond.
Understandably, the name Hawker was bestowed upon her when she and her sweetheart, Desmond Hawker, decided to get married. Their union yielded two offspring – Kathy Ann and Nicolette. In fact, Sister Hawker is today also a grandmother of two, and great grandmother of one.
Even as she nurtured a tight-knit family, Sister Hawker was able to remain very active in religious work at the Trinity Methodist Church, even as she built her nursing career. According to her, always putting God first and having a very supportive family have been the main factors that have kept her going over the years.
Reflecting on her early days, even before she had an idea where life would take her, Sister
Hawker recalled living in a modest family home with her parents and siblings. Her mother was a housewife and her father, a carpenter, was the sole breadwinner. The area in which they resided at Cane Grove, she recounted, was an old sugar estate. Life was rather simple and straightforward for the Callender household.
She remembers attending St Stephen’s Primary, an Anglican School in the village. However, by the age of 12, she remembers that her father was able to secure a home for his family in the self-help housing scheme of East Ruimveldt. Having relocated to Georgetown, she recalled that she was placed at St Sidwell’s Primary School. There she remembers being very athletic and indulging a bit in some singing, and even poetry. Her secondary school days at Tutorial High were quite memorable too.
As a young girl, she remembers the sister she so admired leaving these shores to advance her nursing career in the United Kingdom. Sister Hawker reflected that her sister had left with a promise that she would make arrangements for her to follow soon in order to fulfil her desire of becoming a nurse too. But it wasn’t long after her sister departed that Sister Hawker noticed
an advertisement in the local newspaper for nursing training right here. She immediately applied and was accepted for the Registered Nurse programme.
As she reminisced on her entrance into the nursing arena, Sister Hawker said “the discipline back then was rigid but good”. She said that being in the classroom was as inflexible as being exposed to practical sessions which kicked off from the start of the programme. Her training, most of which was done at the Georgetown Public Hospital, spanned a period of three years. She also gained some experience at the Region Two Suddie Hospital.
But what was perhaps the most memorable experience was the day that she received the results of her final nurses’ examination. She was assigned to work a night shift on the Paediatric Ward, when she was advised that she needed to check a notice board for her results.
She was successful and to her surprise was immediately elevated to manager of the shift – this was in spite of the fact that she was slated to work under the supervision of a Staff Nurse.
“I was surprised, but I had no excuse. I just had to do it. All that was said to me was ‘congratulations, you are in charge of the night duty’. There was a Staff Nurse there who handed over to me and oriented me and she told me what I had to do and things just took off from there,” Sister Hawker recounted.
Nursing today, when compared to 51 years ago, has changed considerably, although the principles of the profession have remained the same. This is the informed observation of our ‘Special Person’ who pointed out that “medicine on
the whole changes every day. This is because technology has helped to advance things”. She however noted that here in Guyana “we are moving slowly in that direction, but we are getting there.”
One of her many concerns is that the close relationship that was once had between the nurse and the doctor and the nurse and the patient, back in the day, is not manifested and encouraged as much today. In fact, she has observed that nurses today are not even very involved in the process of diagnosis.
“We had to know what was going on; the nurse had to start caring for the patient even before the doctor arrived. Most of my time I spent on Paediatric and Medicine and we had to know what we were about at all times,” recalled Sister Hawker.
Her dedication over the years saw her being elevated to Junior Departmental Sister and might have been instrumental in her skipping the level of Senior Departmental Sister to become a Matron 1 at the West Demerara Regional Hospital in Region Three.
She was later appointed to the coveted position of Matron at the country’s premier health institution, the Georgetown Public Hospital in 1998.
“I think what helped me was the bit of experience that I gained in Region Three. In addition to working at the West Demerara Hospital, I also spent some time at the Leonora Cottage Hospital. All of these experiences really paid off,” she said. This, of course, was in addition to the support she was able to receive from her mentor and predecessor, Sister Unita Nelson.
As a Matron, Sister Hawker had the task of not merely delivering quality nursing care, but also ensuring that those under her were capable enough to administer such a service to the nation. With some 900 nurses working under her supervision in a 1000-bed institution, Sister Hawker admitted that “It was a challenge. I had to realise early that I was dealing with people, and all categories of people too…I had to show a lot of empathy, so that I could get the kind of results that I wanted.”
She said that the categories of nurses in her charge were staff nurse, staff nurse/midwife, nursing assistant and nurse aid.
During her profession as Matron both at the West Demerara Hospital and the Georgetown Hospital, Sister Hawker recalled that she had to manage nurses while facing strike actions. This, she disclosed, occurred on two occasions. Although the public service strike action which occurred while she was Matron at the West Demerara Hospital was impactful, she recalled that it was nothing compared to the 89-day nurses’ strike she endured while at the Georgetown Hospital. “It was a year-end…Christmas time,” said Sister Hawker.
But she was prepared to deal with the challenge. It did however help that she, at the time, was an Executive of the Guyana Public Service Union, the very union that initiated the strike action. By this time the hospital was a Corporation and Sister Hawker was a de facto member of the Board too. She was also serving as the Secretary to the Guyana Nurses’ Association.
But as an executive of the union, she’d received some vital training in industrial relations and, according to her, “that training is what gave me the wherewithal to cope.”
“The major thing was to have in place a skeleton staff, because providing nursing care is a 24-hour service at an institution caring for sick people. I ensured that I had that skeleton staff in place, and that made sure that there was no total shutdown,” said Sister Hawker with pride. She asserted, “That was one of the successes that I felt completely satisfied with…”
Sister Hawker retired as Matron in the year 2000, but has never severed ties with the nursing profession. “I just love helping people; I love patient care, it is in me,” she confided recently. However, Sister Hawker is perhaps currently performing the greatest nursing task of her life.
You see, since October of last year, her services, along with two other veteran nurses, were requested by the Georgetown Hospital to help revamp the nursing system.
This strategic move is one that is intended to help address some shortcomings that have been detected.
According to Sister Hawker, she is eager to help, since it has been found that proper supervision in the system is currently lacking.
“The fact of the matter is the supervisors need help. So the first thing we did was to have training sessions on basic supervision with the supervisors,” Sister Hawker related, as she added that the current state of affairs is that “there is nobody understudying the supervisors, so if you lose a supervisor the entire system can collapse.” Those who have been exposed to the training sessions are Junior and Senior Departmental Sisters and Ward Managers.
According to Sister Hawker, she is in for the long-haul to restore nursing to its former glory. “Things have been progressing at a slow pace…we are fairly pleased, but not fully satisfied with where we are as yet,” said Sister Hawker as she pointed out that many nurses in the system today “are just of a different breed”.
“You have to be gentle in dealing with them, otherwise you will not get the results you are looking for from them. You can’t be rigid with them like in my time as a young nurse,” she asserted.
However, she is convinced that many of the shortcomings in the system could be averted if from the inception only persons who have a passion for the profession are accepted.
“If you don’t like people, or you don’t like to be around people, don’t come and say you want to do nursing, because nursing means you are dealing with human beings; you are dealing with lives and you can’t take chances,” Sister Hawker stressed.
According to the veteran nurse, “there is nothing more gratifying to me as a nurse than to see a patient enter the ward on a stretcher or in a wheelchair and walk out on his or her own as a strong person. You get satisfaction when an unconscious or semi-conscious person revives and you had something to do with it. If our nurses can feel like that, then we are well on our way to having many success stories”.
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