Part five of our week-long series highlighting some of the amazing nurses of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Pennsylvania.
Mariagorathy Opokwu loves her stories. Well, not her stories, but the stories her residents tell her.
“So many stories!” she exclaimed.
As an RN at Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City, Mariagorathy (“Maria” to her friends) has access to an endless supply thanks to the dozens of veterans she cares for each day.
“I have 32 residents that I take care of every day,” Maria explained. “They live here. This is their home.”
When you care for someone in such an intimate setting, it’s no surprise that bonds form.
“I know them very well,” Maria said of the residents she cares for. “You get attached to them.”
And those attachments grow from all of those stories. Maria’s residents regularly share details of their lives with her – before their illnesses, their time in the service.
“Yes, oh my god,” she said. “So many stories.”
One of those attachments is one of Maria’s favorite storytellers.
“I’m taking care of an aero engineer,” she said. “Smart guy. He used to be a lecturer. He used to teach, but he was also an aero engineer. He flew planes during the war.”
But it’s not all stories and bonding at the veterans center. This is a medical facility and there are people who need caring for.
“It’s hectic,” Maria admits. “Very hectic.”
But that doesn’t seem to slow her down.
Maria cites her family as her influence when it comes to her nursing career. Her first role model for caregiver was her mom.
“I watched her when I was back home [in Nigeria],” Maria said. “She would take care of people even though she wasn’t’ a nurse. I learned that from her. I was taking care of everybody in my home before I came to the United States.”
Maria came to the states in 1986 and once here, she found additional motivation when her husband took ill.
“What pushed me to do it was my husband,” Maria said of her path to a nursing career. “When my husband got ill. He had kidney failure, and it made me study harder.”
While Maria loves her job, she concedes that nursing takes a toll on both body and soul.
“Not taking care of my own self,” she proclaimed, when asked about the downside to her chosen career.
In fact, Maria found it difficult to set aside time to talk to the Nurse Alliance for Nurses Week thanks to a brutal cold she suffered through for almost a week.
“We don’t take care of our own selves and we don’t have time for our families,” Maria said of her fellow nurses. “Even when you try to schedule for it, you won’t get it because we don’t have enough people working.”
“If we could have enough time for ourselves, that would be wonderful,” she added. “But we don’t get it.”
When she does find time to step away from the bedside, Maria enjoys her family life with her husband and four kids as well as a host of brothers and sisters who live in Maryland. Her mother passed away a few short years ago and she was able to take a trip back home to Nigeria last year for a memorial.
And if she did ever find that extra time to herself?
She would use it to see more of the world.
“I love to travel, but I haven’t done that for years,” she lamented. “I love traveling to different places. That’s my hobby. If I can get to do that it would be the best thing ever. I’ve been to Dubai, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to most of the United States – California, Huston, Detroit, Michigan, South Carolina, North Carolina, Atlanta. I love to go places!”
And perhaps when she returns, she can share her stories with the residents she cares for so deeply.