Degrees of perseverance -- One nurse’s struggle to overcome pain, death and disappointment

Langley, B.C.—It’s a muggy Tuesday morning in Agassiz, but Kathleen Lounsbury doesn’t mind. As the Home and Community Care Nurse on Seabird Island First Nations Reserve, she’s living out her dream. Kathleen chairs the case conference, a meeting designed to identify the best strategy for helping Raven (not her real name), her eight year old patient, cope with her disability.

Among those seated around the table are speech therapists, school representatives, and healthcare officials, all with one unified goal: to get Raven standing again. Kathleen’s vibrant personality eases group dynamics while her professional knowledge of the child’s condition gives clarity to the child’s unique situation.

Though this recent Trinity Western University nursing graduate is bright, competent, and full of life, there was a time when Kathleen’s life was so saturated with hurt and pain that she vowed never to set foot in a hospital again.

“When I was very young, I wanted to be a nurse. I have a very early memory of being taken care of in the hospital. I remember the nurse who took care of me; the way she smiled at me made me want to be a nurse too.” But Kathleen’s painful childhood quickly drowned those dreams.

At ten, her mom left their Coquitlam home, leaving Kathleen’s dad to raise his five daughters and one son. Though her mom talked of coming home, tragically, not even a year later, she drowned.

“We all took it really hard. For my older sister it was like the lights went out. My dad was the only one raising us and he became seriously ill. So I had to grow up really fast and take care of my younger siblings as well as him. My older sister moved out, and died a year after mom, choking on her own vomit while drunk.”

But it was the subsequent death of Kathleen’s father, while he was in the hospital, that had the most explosive impact on her dreams. “It was devastating. I hated hospitals. I hated the thought of hospitals. After that day I didn’t think I could ever be a nurse because I felt I had failed at taking care of my father.”

Despite feelings of failure, Kathleen began achieving academic goals.

Though aware of the impact of trading off her own educational efforts to raise her siblings and care for her father throughout her high school years, Kathleen went on to complete a degree in Biblical Studies at Central Indiana Bible College. At age 25, she became the first family member on her mother’s side to obtain a degree.

While completing her degree in South Dakota Kathleen married and began working in a nursing home as well as playing in a bowling league with a group of nurses. “When I started hanging around the nurses, I began to see a vision of myself and my capabilities that I had never seen before. I started thinking, ‘I can do this, I understand this.’

With a renewed passion for nursing, Kathleen applied for nursing school at Trinity Western University. “It became my dream to work among my native people and with the elderly,” she says.

To her relief, Kathleen was accepted. Little did she know that getting in would be the least of her challenges—it was finishing that presented the highest hurdle.

While in nursing school, Kathleen suffered a miscarriage and the deaths of a close friend and two close relatives (all within a month) while helping her husband lead her church when their pastor left abruptly. “During those times, there were so many challenges. Emotionally I just felt wrung out.”

In spite of her efforts to succeed, amidst all the tragedy, Kathleen failed her second year of nursing.

“It was the first time I really didn’t think I would make it,” she says. “I doubted whether I was cut out to be a nurse. And I can say this for certain: I would not have made it without Catherine Hoe Harwood’s (nursing professor at TWU) verbal and emotional support. Catherine and people like her would keep reminding me of my dream.” Kathleen successfully repeated her failed courses and pushed forward to her goal.

“It was a humbling hard road,” continues Kathleen. “But I remembered Dr. Emblen’s lecture on heartiness and how nurses needed to be able to overcome difficulty and bounce back, and that’s what I had to do. My confidence was shaken—but I got it back.”

Kathleen’s tenacity won and graduation eventually arrived. “If you’ve ever seen the video, I skip all the way. At the Nursing Pinning Ceremony my uncles grabbed the drums and went crazy pounding them and cheering as my grandma pinned me. It was really powerful for me. I remember the MC saying, ‘Yeah we can train ‘em but we’ll never tell them how to act once they get up here.”

Though Kathleen’s five years of nursing school were full of intense pain, they didn’t stop her from pursuing the dream to help people.

“I’m so excited with her vision,” says Harwood, Kathleen’s nursing advisor. “In her spare time, she was working with high risk aboriginal youth. It was so cutting edge I urged her to present her results at a professional research conference for nurses.”

“She’s TWU’s very first aboriginal graduate in nursing,” continues Harwood. “Her understanding and the fact that she’s in her culture is invaluable. If a nurse unfamiliar with the cultural nuances tried to do the innovations she’s doing it could be considered offensive. But because she intimately knows the aboriginal culture, she implements culturally appropriate innovations and teachings and they love her.

While still a student, Kathleen pioneered the first TWU nursing preceptorship at Sea Bird Island Reserve (it was her idea). The reserve staff was so impressed with the skill and care she demonstrated that she was offered a job before even finishing nursing school.

She’s been the Community Health nurse there since May, 2002, as well as at Skwah, a smaller native reserve on the outskirts of Chilliwack. Because of the doors she’s opened, Kathleen now passes on the torch to Trinity Western’s next generation of nursing students. Karen Neale of White Rock and Chelsea Cowan of Medicine Hat are two fourth year nursing students following Kathleen’s footsteps as they currently complete preceptorships at the Sea Bird reserve.

Hanging from Kathleen’s office window is her favorite graduation gift, an aboriginal ‘Dream Catcher.’ “The idea is that all the bad dreams go through and it catches the good ones,” she says. It looks like Kathleen caught the ones that count.

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Last Updated: 2015-07-13
Author: Keela Keeping