“If I had to do it over again, it would still be nursing because nursing is not just a job or a profession, it brings spiritual fulfilment to me…and I can’t see another profession that could cause me to have such fulfilment.”
By Sharmain Grainger
There are many factors that can influence an individual’s career path. For instance, while many people may take into serious consideration the financial gains, there are others who opt for a particular career with the aim of helping to make a difference in the world.
Claiming a place in the latter category is a woman by the name of Linda Johnson. Johnson, who delved into the field of nursing about three decades ago, entered that field with a passion to help save lives.
Her desire to become a nurse sprung from a situation she experienced when she was yet blossoming into a young woman, but it was enough to change the course of her life. Indeed, it was her path to follow, as she has not only been able to save many lives over the years, but has been able to move through the ranks, and currently sits at the pinnacle of nursing practice here in Guyana.
With years of experience, supreme backing and evident dedication to a profession she hopes to see evolve, Nurse Johnson currently holds the position of Chief Nursing Officer of Guyana, and she certainly doesn’t intend to let nurses, patients or the nation down.
It could be easily deduced that even before she was born, Nurse Johnson’s existence would undoubtedly be special. You see, her mother, Ms. Rookmin Narine-Johnson, gave birth to her on July 19, 1966, despite the many warnings from health workers that doing so would be high risk. This was in light of the fact that she had already given birth to eight other children within a nine-year span and was already pregnant with her ninth child. Giving birth a ninth time would be especially risky, since the woman was would usually lose a great deal of blood during her deliveries.
However, neither Ms. Narine-Johnson nor father, Williams Johnson [now deceased], was prepared to have an outsider limit their family size. Unwilling to be scolded by the health workers, Nurse Johnson said that her mother sought the assistance of a birth attendant to help with the arrival of her newest family member from the comfort of her own home. Despite the many fears, both mother and baby recovered well.
In fact, Nurse Johnson confided that of her eight siblings, only one was born in a traditional health facility.
As the last of nine children, she vividly recalled growing up in the quiet community of Parika East Bank Essequibo. The Johnsons led a modest lifestyle and certainly hadn’t an inclination for socialisation.
“My mother didn’t do a lot of socialising and she didn’t allow us to socialise either. She didn’t allow us to visit friends’ homes and even when friends wanted to come over she was skeptical and would ask if they don’t have work to do at home,” recalled a smiling Nurse Johnson.
It was on very rare occasions that Nurse Johnson’s very protective mother would allow her and her siblings to even visit other family members.
“Daddy was a little bit more flexible…so we stole the opportunity when he was around to meddle,” an amused Nurse Johnson shared.
As such, the family was faced with an especially difficult time when her father travelled to the interior for work and never returned.
“We just got a message that he was missing from the crew and we never saw him again. We heard they had search parties, including soldiers and people from the area, looking for him somewhere in the North West, but they came up empty-handed…so we never had a body,” recounted Nurse Johnson in a sombre tone. She disclosed that it wasn’t until seven years after her father’s disappearance that the family was able to receive a death certificate in the quest to find closure.
She was 18 years old at the time and life was just beginning to unfold.
As a young girl she attended the Parika/Salem Government School where she successful completed her Common Entrance examination. However, although she was awarded a place at the Muslim Educational Trust College in Georgetown, her parents decided to have her transferred to the Zeeburg Secondary School which was much closer to home, because of a peculiar sickness she had developed while travelling.
But soon after she graduated from secondary school, the young and blossoming Linda struck up a relationship with a young man she’d been friendly with in school. It wasn’t long after she had become pregnant and the two started to cohabitate.
“I don’t think we were really prepared, we were playing dolly-house really,” said Nurse Johnson, as she recalled life becoming quite challenging. In fact things became even worse after the birth of her daughter who she named Oweesa. Not only did her relationship with the father of her child deteriorate, but so did the health of the baby, which saw the young Linda opting to head back to her mother’s home for support.
“I had to be running to hospital with my baby and my mother helped too, but the baby was vomiting, breathing heavily, had fever, and was not taking feeds. At the hospital they gave her treatment and sent us away,” recalled Nurse Johnson, who spoke of wanting to try just about anything to appease her baby’s suffering.
But at barely six weeks old, the baby passed away. It was an especially heart-rending experience for the young mother whose grief did not destroy her, but rather, propelled her to apply to do nursing. Her application was found favourable and so she was required to complete a mandated scholastic ability test which she was successful at, and therefore was invited to train as a professional nurse.
“At the interview, they asked why I wanted to be a nurse and I told them about the experience with my own baby and that I wanted to help make a difference,” said Nurse Johnson, whose training has helped her realise that had her baby been hospitalised rather than treated and sent away, she could have been alive today.
This has however been her driving force to help improve the delivery of nursing care in Guyana.
Reflecting on her years of training which started way back in 1985, Nurse Johnson recalled travelling from Parika to Georgetown to attend classes. But training to become a nurse certainly wasn’t an easy undertaking.
She recalled many days there were no finances to cater to many of her expenses. She moreover started to enquire about assistance for nursing students and learnt about the existence of the Guyana Nurses Association [GNA] which is housed at the junction of Charlotte and Alexander Streets, Georgetown.
“I found out that they had living quarters on the bottom flat and they would allow nurses to stay for six months until they could make alternative arrangements….” recounted Nurse Johnson, as she boasted of being one of the students who benefited from this service offered by the GNA.
By this time she had severed all ties with the father of her departed baby and was ready to really embrace a progressive life. During the course of her studies, she met and married the father of her children. Her eldest daughter Shenella has followed in her footsteps and is currently a Ward Nurse at the West Demerara Regional Hospital. Nurse Johnson’s other children are Lise, Kemol and Kayla. Although the union with the father of her children did not last, Nurse Johnson is currently happily married to Mr. Gregory McIntyre.
Complete with training from the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Georgetown Public Hospital, the young Nurse Johnson was first dispatched to the then Bartica Cottage College. There, as a young fledgling nurse, she was given the leverage to make impacting nursing decisions.
“When I was at Georgetown Hospital as a young nurse you were hardly seen as an individual, because there are so many senior nurses around, but your impact is really felt as a young nurse when you are sent to a small health facility and you are given an opportunity to practice what you’ve learnt,” said Nurse Johnson.
“You really get a chance to see how much you know, because at times you have to make initial decisions before the doctor arrives; you have to make an assessment quickly of what you are dealing with, and I think I got an appreciation for this during my time at Accident and Emergency in Georgetown. Emergency cases were just coming, and so you had to be on your ‘A’ game at all times,” Nurse Johnson related.
After spending 18 months at the Bartica health facility, Nurse Johnson returned to the Georgetown Public Hospital where she was assigned to the Accident Ward. But it wasn’t long after that, she was ready to undertake the midwifery programme.
She disclosed that her 18 months at Bartica was a prerequisite for the midwifery training programme.
“In those days once you would have completed your stint at an out-station, that gave you the go-ahead for another programme, and that worked, because people wanted to do another programme, not like these days where you find a lot of nurses make styles to go on another programme,” Nurse Johnson noted.
After completing her midwifery training, she was allowed to utilise her nursing skills in the Maternity Unit of the West Demerara Regional Hospital. A few years later she was posted to the Wakenaam Cottage Hospital as the Nurse In Charge. While the work there was more demanding, it certainly helped her to improve her managerial skills and boosted her confidence as a nurse.
As she evolved as a nurse, Nurse Johnson was able to work at the Leonora Cottage Hospital as a Staff Nurse/Midwife, after which she received training in order to manage the Quality Assurance Department of the West Demerara Regional Hospital.
But she longed to return to Parika and therefore opted to do public health training in hopes that it would give her an opportunity to work in the village where she grew up. But Public Health training turned out to be more than just an escape. According to Nurse Johnson, she found that her training in Public Health gave her an opportunity to become a nurse more dedicated to the community.
“When you are working in a hospital setting you may see a patient one time, but as a public health nurse you have to work in the community and you are given the opportunity to see children grow up, and you can interact more closely with your patients. You are able to do follow-ups, be their friend, confidante, and support them in so many ways…and that to me is fulfilling nursing,” Nurse Johnson quipped.
As she climbed the nursing ranks, Nurse Johnson served as a Health Visitor, and by 2010 was promoted to Senior Health Visitor, a position that saw her supervising the entire of Region Three. She retained that portfolio until January 2017 when she was seconded to the Ministry of Public Health to take up the position of Deputy Chief Nursing Officer [ag].
Given the reason she started nursing, this might have seemed the ultimate position for Nurse Johnson, since she was tasked with overseeing Maternal and Child Health programmes throughout Guyana. However, with the retirement of former Chief Nursing Officer, Ms. Tarmattie Barker, Nurse Johnson in April of this year was elevated to the position of Chief Nursing Officer of all of Guyana, which is in fact the peak of the nursing practice.
But accepting the position came with much caution and a whole lot of prayers since, according to Nurse Johnson, “I’d never seen myself here. I have always been the person to be more in the background all my life, but I think that God was preparing me for this along.”
According to Nurse Johnson, who is also a leader and Credential Minister of the Gospel at the Parika Full Gospel Church, “I saw the movement in my spiritual syncing with the movement in my secular life. I was doing children’s work for over 15 years in the church, but when the pastor singled me out to do more, I was singled out to become Deputy Chief Nurse, and things just kept moving from there.”
Having accepted the path which life has been taking her, Nurse Johnson has been travelling both locally and internationally in the quest to help improve nursing throughout the length and breadth of Guyana.
“I want to be there for the nurses; I want to be there for the people and this nation as a whole,” said Nurse Johnson as she divulged, “If I had to do it over again, it would still be nursing, because nursing is not just a job or a profession, it brings spiritual fulfilment to me…and I can’t see another profession that could cause me to have such fulfilment.”
For her unadulterated dedication to the nursing profession, today, we at Kaieteur News bestow our title of ‘Special Person’ to Nurse Linda Johnson.
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