Margaret as Mentor

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by Valeri Harper

In 1974, when I decided to change my career from banking to nursing, I would never imagine I would meet the person who would become my role model, and later my sister-in-law.

I met Margaret when I was hired as a nursing assistant at Belmont Hospital. I was assigned to the fourth floor, Med-Surg unit, on the 3:00-11:00 shift, and Margaret Harper was my charge nurse.

She was fun to work with and she made sure that we gave the best care to our patients. She didn’t tolerate sloppiness; your duties were to be done properly with no shortcuts. As I progressed through nursing school, I used to share my newfound knowledge with Margaret, excited to explain to her something in detail that she already knew.

She was always happy to hear me out and give me encouragement; and I really needed her affirmations, since I was returning to school after working four years and had my doubts about being able to succeed. So, for the next four years, as I studied at Truman City College to obtain my nursing degree, I was already learning to be a nurse as I worked side by side with Margaret.

I observed and absorbed everything I could as I watched her care for our patients: gently rolling of a comatose patient when changing a bed sheet; combing their hair and speaking softly to them with respect; softening hands and feet with lotion. They were not awake and they couldn’t say “thank you” but it didn’t matter to Margaret.

Calming a confused and combative patient without showing frustration or anger. Loving them by understanding they were not in their right mind. Not taking personally insults or complaints made by someone just diagnosed with cancer. Hugging a patient going home after spending several days in the hospital. Finally, going home.

Margaret taught me to look beyond a person’s behavior and consider “what are they going through?” Try to understand. Go beyond the textbook.

I’ll never forget the sinking feeling and confusion I felt when Margaret walked on the unit one day, tearful, with Audrey St. Marie at her side, and complaining of a severe headache.

After her diagnosis of brain tumor, and decision to have surgery at Mayo Clinic, I wanted to show my love and care for her by visiting her there. I had never met Dan, but she asked him to call me and suggest I drive up with him and another friend. I agreed, and that was the beginning of what would become our marriage a year later.

Margaret gave me two precious gifts: the privilege of learning how to pass on the love of Christ while ministering to the sick and the dying, and secondly, the opportunity to meet her little brother, Dan.  I am blessed. Thanks be to God.

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