(CL’67) Eleanor – The Journey

As part of the 100th Anniversary of the Alumnae celebrations in 2003, graduates were asked to reflect on their time at HSC.  Eleanor (Brackenridge) Low, Class ’67, wrote the following:

“My most significant memory of HSC?  That’s a tough one.  My first memory of HSC is that of a young 4-year-old patient, walking down a long ward in the old College St Hospital.  There were children in cots along both sides and it seemed to go on for miles.  I was being taken to a small cupboard-sized room where I was to have an ECG.  I remember a small rubber doll suspended over the table – to amuse the patients, I suppose:  I remember being cold and frightened, but more importantly I remember the kindness of the nurse who was with my parents and me.  The year was 1949.  I had a congenital cardiac defect and this meant we had to travel to Toronto from my home in Ottawa every year until, finally, the doctors felt they had developed the capability of repairing my Ventricular Septal Defect.

I know now that I was very lucky to have survived at all.  I was 14 years old in 1958: Drs J. Keith and W. Mustard and a yet-to-be-perfected heart lung pump controlled my fate.  As Dr Trussler later wrote, “we were sailing very deep waters in very small boats”.  A second procedure in 1961 secured my future, despite my suffering a potentially lethal side effect from the pump.  No, as much as I appreciated everyone’s efforts on my behalf, I headed home to Ottawa with no plans to return to HSC any time soon!  I was finally going to get the chance to live a ‘normal’ life.

Time works in mysterious ways.  Only a few years passed before I was struck (and I mean ‘struck’ as in ‘hit by lightning’) with the notion that I must become a nurse.  I applied in secret to the Hospital for Sick Children School of Nursing, afraid I would be rejected because of my fairly recent surgery.  I thought everyone would count me out.  What if she gets sick?  What if she can’t stand the strain?  I remember writing a heart felt letter to those in charge, basically begging for a chance to prove I was good enough.  So I guess for me the most memorable moment at HSC was the day I opened my acceptance letter and finally shared my secret with Mom and Dad.

Of course, this was followed by hundreds of memorable moments during training and afterwards as I worked in ICU.  The warmth, caring and compassion I experienced at Sick Kids as a patient, at the hands of talented doctors and nurses, and as a graduate nurse will always fill my heart with pride and joy. Thirty-six years (as of 2003) later, I carry the Hospital for Sick Children, and everything I learned and experienced there, with me every day as I continue to work in nursing.  

Once while I was working in ICU, Dr Mustard took me aside to ask how I was doing.  He confided that after he had placed a patch over my VSD he was faced with repairing my “floppy” tricuspid valve.  “I just took a big tuck in it and hoped to hell it would hold.”  Well it has and I’m hoping for many more miles out of that ‘patch and tuck’!

(Note:  Eleanor continued to work in nursing, spending her last 20 years in palliative care.  She retired in Sept 2009 after 42 years)