The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the June 03, 2009 issue. Reprinted with permission.

From the Hill to Hwy 105, nurse loved it all

by Catherine Joyce

On June 7 Joyce (Deruchie) Richens of Gleneagle will celebrate the 55th anniversary of her nursing graduation from Ottawa's Civic Hospital. Inspired by her older sister to become a nurse, Joyce has always viewed her profession as a calling, loving every minute of it from the day she became a student in September 1951.

"It was different in those days. It was hard work and there weren't so many helpful machines. I remember the first time we were introduced to the main hospital to get used to the smells. Some couldn't cope. Others hated the discipline and didn't last. The training was hands-on, from learning how to talk to a patient, to scrubbing floors in the delivery room, to standing to attention when doctors or senior nurses came into the room, to keeping meticulous records and fulfilling everything we promised to do, with integrity.

"You develop this closeness with people you work with. You come to rely on each other because it is all a bit overwhelming when you first encounter sickness. I remember my first patient, Mrs. Goodfellow, I made the bed for her. She reminded me of my mother who had died at home when I was 13. Soon they began calling me off the floor to sit with patients who were dying."

The Way We Were
Joyce Richens in uniform 1964 and today (inset). Photo courtesy J. Richens.

After four years at the Civic, Joyce married Al Richens and moved up to the Gatineau Hills to raise a family. She soon became known as the "highway nurse" with the Quebec Provincial Police arriving to fetch her whenever there was an accident on the 105.

If it was close to home Al would come along to protect her against oncoming traffic while she bandaged and stabilized the wounded before sending them on to hospital with a detailed note for the Emergency Department.

To this day she still has her two first aid kits packed and ready - one, a soft fabric satchel the Red Cross sent to her brother overseas during the war, the other a Fred Flintstone lunch box that used to belong to her eldest daughter, duly painted white with a red cross and filled with bandages and splints, scissors and pins, a notepad and a pen.

As her two girls were growing up, Joyce looked after her neighbours and friends with their families. Always short-staffed, the hospital up in Wakefield often found her on the night shift in the delivery room as soon as Al could get home from work. Then she took to the roads as the traveling nurse for the doctors Geggie, becoming in Stewart Geggie's words, "the first VON in western Quebec". The Morningside Home for seniors required a registered nurse 'on call' to supervise nursing care - Joyce agreed to meet the need.

Next, the House of Commons came calling via a neighbour, Ray Stokes, who urged Joyce to take up a post as the only English-language nurse on Parliament Hill, "I've seen you look after everyone in this area for years. Now come and get paid for it." Jean Cretien, then a back-bencher; vetted her French, "Madame, you will do just fine!"

Unconvinced she should leave her family and community commitments, Joyce demurred. But her kids were all for it - "Mommy, we can visit you and eat there!" - Club sandwiches, french fries and dessert, all for 60 cents! Twenty years of late nights while the House was in session and Joyce finally retired in 1993.

This Sunday Joyce will don her original graduation "Pinks" as she has for the last 15 years at the request of the Alumni Association - to honour the profession she loves and to inspire those who are coming up behind her.

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