Anita’s story from “Chedoke more than a Sanatorium”

In 1958 Anita Isaac left her home on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts for the sprawling, smoky, city of Manchester in northwest England. She was just seventeen and planned to enrol in nursing school.

With her head full of dreams and a desire to make her way in the world, Anita was given these parting words from her mother. “There are people who are better looking than you; more intelligent than you; have more money than you; but remember, no one is better than you!” Those words have guided Anita through her successful life and efforts in self-improvement.

After graduating from Whitington Hospital School of Nursing in Manchester, Anita completed parts 1 & 2 of a Midwifery Certificate and worked for two years as a midwife in Buckinghamshire. It was there that she learned about the acute shortage of nurses in Canada when Directors of Nursing came to England to recruit Registered Nurses and Nursing Assistants.

In 1964, Anita took advantage of an opportunity to join a friend who was working in a small local hospital in Niagara­on-the-Lake. However, after her experience in a bustling 1,500-bed hospital in England, the facility in sleepy Niagara-­on-the-Lake was too quiet. Catering mostly to retired persons, it offered few challenges to an ambitious young woman like Anita.

She considered returning to England. Then, by chance, she came across the name Chedoke Hospital in a story in the Hamilton Spectator. She thought that perhaps Chedoke could provide her with a better nursing experience.

In early September 1964, Anita was interviewed by Miss Evelyn Watts, the Director of Nursing at Chedoke and was hired immediately. Within two weeks, she had moved into the Long and Bisby Nurses’ Residence and began a 36-year association with a hospital that treated all staff as family. Anita recalls, “We lived and worked together. We socialized together. This was a new experience for me because in Britain there was a definite class structure within the hospital.” At Chedoke the Director of Nursing, Evelyn Watts, and the Assistant Directors, Shirley Shearsmith and Patricia Tiffney, as well as the Director of Nutrition, Elizabeth Murray, all lived in the same nurses’ residence.

After the Director of Nursing moved into one of the staff houses the nurses were less inhibited in residence. Despite the rules of no gentlemen and no cooking in the rooms, they organized all kinds of Saturday night parties. Walt Baylis, Director of Plant Services, co-operated and frequently turned a blind eye. Life at Chedoke was fun.

For 22 of her 36 years of service, Anita lived at Chedoke. The nurses and staff formed strong bonds with-their roommates. It was like a small United Nations in residence, with Australians, British, Sri Lankans, Germans, Dutch and people from most of the islands of the West Indies.

The family nature of Chedoke extended high up the chain of command. Dr. Ewan, the Medical Superintendent, would stop by the Evel Canteen each day when he went to pick up his mail and chat with staff. He would inquire about their families and was often seen driving staff to the local grocery store.

Miss Watts always ensured that there was someone following up on staff in times of illness or crisis. Once Anita was assigned to visit a staff member who had been admitted to the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital. It was an eye-opening experience. When She went to leave, Anita couldn’t get anyone to unlock the ward door. She had a hard time convincing anyone that she was a visitor. Despite that experience, Anita spent the last four years of her career as Director of the Mental Health Program at Hamilton Health Sciences.

Unlike many of the nurses, Anita never actually encountered any of Chedoke’s famous apparitions, although she came close when working the midnight shift as a Nursing Supervisor. One winter night after making two trips to the morgue with deceased patients, she had to make a third trip at dawn alone. As she unlocked the door to the morgue, it opened by itself. There stood this pasty-faced man grimly looking at her. She was frightened out of her wits. It turned out that the sleepless morgue attendant had arrived early that day.

Anitas first year at Chedoke was spent caring for the long-Term-care patients on Ward 1 in the Brow Infirmary, currently referred to as the Chedoke Continuing Care Centre. Both she and the Head Nurse, Marjorie Clifford, were new to the ward dealing with stroke victims, patients with multiple sclerosis and a variety of other severe disabilities. However, the nursing assistants, aides and orderlies knew the 40 patients well and provided good care.

After some short-term experience as an acting Head Nurse and Clinical Instructor, Anita was transferred to a medical ward in the Wilcox Building. It was here that Anita came under the supervision of Head Nurse Eileen Fagan. She was very strict about nursing etiquette and patient care. Miss Fagan encouraged nurses to be self-directed. Her response to most questions was, “Look it up nurse, look lt up.

Anita was appointed as a nursing supervisor in 1965, a position she held for the next eight years. In the nursing supervisory group, she worked with such mentors as Nancy Lou Bryson, Patricia Tiffney and Molly Willard who were Assistant Directors of Nursing. Other Supervisors included: Irene Johnson, Pauline Maskell, Doris Gripper, Shirley Miller, Ruth Elliot, Alice Robertson, Freddie Hasse, Judy Lever, and Sherry Hishon.

Since there were no doctors on-site during the evening, nights and weekends, the supervisors were given the multiple tasks of responding to patient care issues, pharmacy requests, maintenance issues, poison control and other emergencies.

While working full shifts, Anita took courses at Hamilton Collegiate Institute to qualify for university entrance. The hospital promoted continuing education and provided monetary support for courses and conferences. In 1973, with a bursary arranged by Dr. Allison and Evelyn Watts, Anita took a leave of absence to complete her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing. The only condition was that she must return to Chedoke at the end of the three-year program. She did and moved back into the residence, later renting staff houses on-site until 1986. With her new qualifications, she became Assistant Director of Research and Development responsible for clinical education. Anita continued to hold positions in nursing administration for Chedoke McMaster Hospitals and its successor, Hamilton Health Sciences until she retired in 2000.

Her co-workers often viewed her as a perfectionist. She was rigid on cleanliness and maintained high standards, which provided patients with excellent care.

Many, including Anita believe that amalgamation with McMaster University Medical Centre in 1979 changed the closeness and family spirit at Chedoke.

Anita lived and worked at Chedoke throughout most of her career. Despite all the changes that swept through the healthcare system, each summer, dozens of former Chedoke staff members gather for their annual reunion. For Anita, this Is like coming home. Chedoke was her surrogate family.