Always A Nurse

After 45 years of nursing, Cheryl (Patterson) Long is still working on the frontlines of healthcare.

  • Biography   Wednesday, March 24, 2021   Bill Gladding
Cheryl Long has been nursing for the past 45 years and is currently working in the emergency department at St. Marys Memorial Hospital in St. Marys.  Photo by Bill Gladding

Cheryl Long has been nursing for the past 45 years and is currently working in the emergency department at St. Marys Memorial Hospital in St. Marys. Photo by Bill Gladding

By Bill Gladding
After 45 years of nursing, Cheryl (Patterson) Long is still working on the frontlines of healthcare. A staff nurse at St. Marys Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, Ontario, Cheryl is using her years of experience, as well as this past year dealing with COVID-19, to help her patients through the pandemic.
"I wasn't really that frightened at first," she said about conditions one year ago. But when Italy was hit hard, she realized it was more serious. As a member of the more senior staff, Cheryl knew that statistics were not in favour of her age group.
"I was exposed to a positive person early in the pandemic," she said, "before we were wearing masks all day – and no one knew for sure if we would get sick or even die." Since then she has come to believe that if you wash your hands, cover your face, and follow government protocols, everyone will be much safer.
St. Marys is a small hospital with 23 patient beds and seven emergency room beds. Cheryl joined the staff there in 2009 and has become a valued member of the emergency room team. "Nurses in the small hospitals learn quickly to become a Jack of all trades," she said. They see all ages of patients and all kinds of problems, carrying out procedures such as registration, starting intravenous lines, taking blood, doing cardiograms and teaching good personal health.
Since COVID began, the biggest change in protocol is the process for assessments when a patient enters the hospital. They are greeted by a nurse in full PPE (personal protective equipment) and once screened are sent to the appropriate department. If COVID-like symptoms are detected, the patient is isolated and immediately transferred to the COVID Ward at Stratford General Hospital, their partner in the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance network.
Cheryl says there have been many times before when nursing has faced the unknown – Hepatitis, AIDS, MRSA and SARS1 – to name a few. But this worldwide pandemic and a virus that is so virulent has been unprecedented. "Every day can be exhausting," she said. The most difficult and challenging time is when she is unable to provide those personal touches she had been used to. Hugging to console a family member who has lost someone, for example, or having to refuse a family member from visiting, "is also very stressful," she said.
"I really believe, even when the job is at its most difficult, we make a difference," Cheryl said. The collaboration between health units has been strong and she is honoured to work with an amazing group of physicians, lab techs, medical imaging, environmental and support services! "It's a great team," she said.
As for the community, she is impressed with the resilience of people and the ways they, as healthcare workers, have been supported this past year. Ringing bells and banging pots as well as bringing treats to them has been uplifting.
Cheryl grew up in Tavistock, the eldest daughter of Jim and the late Doreen Patterson. A sister and brother now deceased are Tracy Bender (2010) and Michael Patterson (2018).
As a youth, Cheryl remembers spending most of her time at the arena; roller skating, figure skating and watching hockey games. She also enjoyed playing baseball and tennis.
"For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a nurse," Cheryl said. When she was little she would watch the nurses at the local medical clinic and recalls begging for a nurse's kit for Christmas when she was five. "I saved the pill boxes handed out at the doctor's office to give 'medicine' to anyone who would play along," she noted; "and carried my nurse's bag with pride."
Cheryl attended Tavistock Public School and Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School in Baden. She graduated with her Registered Nurse diploma from Conestoga College in 1976 with the majority of her training done at K-W Hospital.
Since then she spent her career working in dozens of hospital emergency rooms in southwestern Ontario and the Toronto and Hamilton area. She began at K-W Hospital in Kitchener and was hired full-time in Stratford from 1977-81. She returned to K-W, now Grand River Hospital, in 1983, and worked there until 2001 when she became an agency staff nurse in the Greater Toronto Area. In 2009, she returned to work in the area and was hired full-time at St. Marys, moving there to live in 2014.
"Early on I worked pediatrics and medicine, then after moving to Elmira, I started back at Grand River and went to critical care," she said.
Cheryl has three children. Chris and his wife Krista live in Collingwood with their daughters Gabriella and Tia. Cassie and her husband Ryan live in Parksville, British Columbia with their daughter Fiona. Carin and her husband Kevin live in St. Marys where they share a home with Cheryl. Carin is a clerical support worker for the Happy Valley Health Team, a clinic of family doctors in St. Marys.
With the vaccine rollout earlier this year, Cheryl was able to get her two doses of vaccine by February. "I'm less frightened about the virus now than I was early on," she admitted.
She is currently working part-time as half of a full rotation of two days of 12-hour shifts and two nights followed by five days off. She has had both knees and a hip replaced and feels better than ever.
When asked about retirement after four and a half decades, Cheryl said she's working on a plan. "I'm struggling with the decision. I don't know if I'm ready. Once a nurse, always a nurse," Cheryl said.
Thank you Cheryl for your dedication.