Wednesday, February 27, 2019

'I love it if someone needs help and I can help'

By Louise Kinross

If you're a parent staying at Holland Bloorview with your child, chances are you know Berthe Nabico. Berthe has been a housekeeper here for 30 years, and her ready smile and willingness to sit and chat with parents and kids makes the hospital feel more like home. Berthe speaks four languages, which comes in handy for some of our clients, and she's a master seamstress who adapts clothes for children with disabilities and in casts. In Holland Bloorview's accommodations for families, Berthe has sewn playpen mattresses, recovered furniture upholstery and made all kinds of positioning cushions. Her day begins at 6 a.m., when she puts in three to four hours at her sewing machines at home, before coming to her job here. In addition to adapted products, she makes all kinds of bedding, pillows and window coverings at Berta Beds. We spoke about her long history at Holland Bloorview.

BLOOM: How did you get into the field of housekeeping here?

Berthe Nabico: Thirty years ago I came from France. My husband was looking for a job, and somebody told him that Bloorview was hiring. I went with him to apply and we were told 'No, it's not for a man. It's for a lady.' At that time, there were jobs for men and jobs for ladies.

My husband said maybe I should ask about the job for me. I had been cleaning houses and all of the people I worked for loved me, and I loved them, too. But my husband said it's better for you to have a steady job. I thought he's right, so I asked for me. I got an interview with Mrs. Parker, and she asked me a few questions. I didn't have any English then, so I was trying to use sign language.

She said we'll send you a letter if you're not going to get the job, and we'll call you if you have the job. 

When I arrived home my phone was ringing. I took the phone, and it was Mrs. Parker, asking if I wanted to start the next day at 8 a.m., and I said yes. That was April 11, 1989.

BLOOM: What made you stay all these years?

Berthe Nabico: To tell you the truth, when I started, there was a 17-year-old boy who was a patient. The nurses told me 'If you see his door closed, don't go in the room,' so I always respected that. But one day the nurses were at the nursing station and I was cleaning another room and I heard this boy crying. Sobbing. I said 'I don't care what the nurses tell me, I can go inside this room because the boy is crying.'

I opened the door, and the boy's g-tube was wrapped tight around his neck. I screamed and said 'Come here, this boy needs help!' The parents were very happy and said I had saved their son's life. When their son went home, they asked me to go and work at their house every day. I said no, my place is here. 
Something inside me told me 'I think this is the right place for me to be.' 

BLOOM: Wow! What is a typical day like for you now?

Berthe Nabico: I'm working in the accommodations for families. It's a place I love. So many people, when they come, they're in a lot of stress. I let them sit, and every day I'm asking 'How is your son today?' or 'How is your day going?' I encourage them, and when they leave they wrap me [in a hug] and want to stay friends with me. I have many friends from work on my Facebook. 

I clean 10 rooms every day, and also do some cleaning in other areas. In the rooms I make beds and do everything perfect. 

BLOOM: What is the greatest joy of your work?

Berthe Nabico: I love it if someone needs help and I can help, and after I like to see their smile, or they thank me for helping them. 

BLOOM: What is the greatest challenge?

Berthe Nabico: At the end of the day I'm tired. It's very physical work.

BLOOM: What kind of emotions come with the job?

Berthe Nabico: I feel sad when I see suffering, and sometimes I like to teach people how to survive, how to do this better.

I remember one family arrived and the husband came in the room and said 'It's very hot. Do something!' I said 'Okay, I can open the window,' and I did. Half an hour later, he comes back and says 'Now it's cold.' I could see it wasn't him, it was his nerves. So I sit with him, and I touch him, and I say 'Can you say please, or give me a little smile?' A few days after he came to me and [hugged] me and said 'Thank you so much for understanding how we were feeling.' 

It's things like that. We have to see how people are feeling inside, and give them what they need.

I had a family and the first day they came, the mother told me that for two months she was in stress, because she was afraid the room here would be dirty and very ugly. She even brought cleaning supplies. When she arrived, the floor was spotless and everything was clean, and she was so impressed and said 'Everything is perfect.' After that she bought me a coffee and asked if we could be friends.

Sometimes I feel stress, but I calm down. 

BLOOM: Does anything help you manage stress?

Berthe Nabico: It helps me when I'm sewing, especially when I'm doing something new. Sometimes if a child here has a cast and it's very hard to pull on their pants, I will adapt their clothes so the parent can open and close them with Velcro. Creating something like that takes out my stress.

BLOOM: What kind of qualities are important in your job?

Berthe Nabico: You have to be polite, always with your smile. And if you have problems, don't show the people your problems. Make sure you are doing a good job. I'm very picky. 

BLOOM: What have you learned from families?

Berthe Nabico: Everyday I learn with them and they learn with me. Everyone is different. Every situation is different. All these years I've learned how to handle different families and help them. It's the same with the kids. I have so many stories you could write a book.

BLOOM: How do you compare the care we provide now, with the care we provided when you first began?

Berthe Nabico: Now we have kids with more complicated medical problems. More therapists are involved and I think it's good. Patients are better supported by a whole team of people. The other change is that when I began, children lived here permanently. 

BLOOM: You told me that many families abandoned their children at the old site.

Berthe Nabico: Yes, they did. But we also had some amazing parents. I remember when Emily Chan was a little baby. Every day, we were expecting her to pass away, but her parents were amazing.

Two months ago I was at an event in the cafeteria and I saw Emily, who is now working here, drinking a glass of wine. I went to her and gave her a hug and said 'Emily, you make me so happy. You make my day today.'

BLOOM: That's an incredible story! I remember Emily racing down the halls in her electric chair to go to the MacMillan site school.  She was part of our integrated kindergarten. Is there anything we could change to make our care better?

Berthe Nabico: I think they're doing a good job. Something that is very important is the summer camp.

BLOOM: Spiral Garden?

Berthe Nabico: Yes. The garden is very, very important for the inpatients. Think about if you were in your room, sick, and you don't have anyone to talk to. The volunteers come and talk to these kids, and when they are out in the garden, they're distracted, and they forget they are sick.


What a beautiful interview, capturing such a beautiful person both inside and out!

Berthe’s careful attention to our families is motivated by her kind heartedness, and genuine passion for her role. Not only does she ensure that the Accommodations Suites are immaculate, but she also makes our families feel comfortable and welcomed during their stay. Indeed, many of these families have kids who are inpatient clients for weeks, and often months, at a time. Many of them are going through an extremely challenging time, experiencing a complex mix of feelings, such as sadness, grief, fear, anger, and heart-wrenching devastation. One of the many families Berthe has supported submitted a Spotlight Award for her, stating that she taught them “how to hope.”

Berthe shows that she looks out for the families first – the entire family – every single day. She knows the true meaning of advocacy. The care and concern she shows towards the safety and overall well-being of our clients and families, are both soul-stirring
and inspiring.

While Berthe is technically Environmental Services staff, we have always considered her an honourary and integral member of our Client and Family Integrated Care team. As our colleague and our friend, we are privileged to know you, to work alongside you, and to learn from you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for being you!

Wow! Berthe, you seem like a very genuine and kind hearted person always striving for the well being of other as that is your passion. I am amazed at your commitment always putting other first and I am more than sure the families you are helping love you and you are a very valuable person in all of their lives. We need more individuals like you and we all can learn a little something from your passion and commitment, great work.

You seem like an incredible person, Berthe! You have an eye for caring for others and it seems like it's what keeps you going. Being at the same job for over 30 years shows great commitment. We definitely need more people like you in our field and I hope that one day I can leave my patients half as happy as you make yours. You seem to be a natural at your job, and people obviously love you. Keep up the great work!

Having known Berthe for many years (more than I care to admit) she is a certainly a beautiful soul, inside and out! As a clinician I am thankful to have her and many other caring and commited individuals in environmental services as an integral part of our healthcare team. Thank you for all you do!