Photo by Kristina Johnson – https://www.facebook.com/IntimateImagesphotographybykristina/

By Mikki Moscara

Some people are born with the gift of nurturing and caring for others. I’ve been told that it’s an instinct that gets stronger with experience. There are no greater heroes than those who’ve put themselves on the front line, without hesitation, to help others physically and emotionally during uncertain times. The beauty of selflessness is truly something to behold. It’s also beautiful to witness the manifestation of dreams for people who deserve it; it’s supremely satisfying to watch good things happen to good people. 

Shortly after this past Thanksgiving, I took the day off work and sat down to interview Catherine McMurran, a local nurse. 2020 feels like a lost year to me, so the idea of sitting down to understand the perspective of someone who gives unconditionally and devotes her life to the wellness of others felt like an opportunity to create something meaningful out of this uncertainty.

Before the interview, all I knew about Catherine was that she had just given birth to her daughter in September and recently bought her dream farm, and has been working throughout the pandemic. It wasn’t until I sat down with her that I learned about her journey, her brave contribution to others, and the miracles she had recently witnessed. My intent was to learn about the thought process of a front-line nurse; I believe I learned more than that.

We started the conversation with a chat about her children. Catherine has four beautiful children, ranging from a few months old to 15 years old. It was evident from the start of our interview that Catherine’s children are everything to her, and she’s so proud of them. Once the McMurrans purchased their new farm, her 15-year-old son landed his first job and bought a tractor using his own money.

Catherine grew up on a farm and was involved in 4-H (a youth mentoring organization) at a young age. She always wanted a wildflower field full of beehives; her husband has always dreamed of owning an orchard. In 2020, fate brought the McMurrans to a 19-acre orchard one month before the birth of their youngest daughter.

“It’s great, I couldn’t ask for anything more; at this point, my life is complete,” she said. 

Moving to the farm was a dream come true for the McMurran family, but the journey was a struggle. The family spent late 2019 and most of 2020 searching for a new home. They spent close to five of those months living in a 34-ft camper while Catherine was pregnant and holding her full-time job at a nursing home in Saline, MI in the midst of the pandemic. 

Catherine started her nursing career when she was 19 years old, just out of high school. She started as a nursing assistant. The company she worked for at the time paid her way through her nursing assistant certifications.

When asked why she chose nursing at such a young age, Catherine talked about how her  grandparents were a really big part of her life.

“I loved my grandparents,” she said. “From a young age, they taught me the value of caring for people. I just knew I wanted to help people and be there for them when they needed someone.”

Catherine finished her nursing degree at Kirtland Community College in Roscommon, MI after three years of working as a certified nursing assistant. She’s done a variety of nursing work throughout her career, including in-home care for nine years. She spent a lot of one-on-one time with people who had suffered major injuries from motor vehicle accidents. She looks back fondly on this time. “I definitely enjoyed it because I could really care for my patients in such an involved way, the way I really wanted to care for people in my nursing career,” she explained.

Reflecting on her time at work this past year, she admitted that she had her worries. “We were very blessed to not have any cases among our residents during my pregnancy, but the fear was still there.” She talked about how even now, scientists and doctors still don’t fully understand how COVID-19 can affect pregnant women. Fortunately, neither Catherine nor her daughter have been infected by the virus.

Some of her nursing friends told her that pregnant women weren’t allowed to work around COVID-19 patients in the hospitals where they worked. “It was very scary,” she said. “Whenever I went to work, I never knew if I was going to be exposed there or out in public.”

Despite her concerns about working in a nursing home during the pandemic, Catherine doesn’t regret her devotion. “It was a blessing to be there for my residents when their family members couldn’t be there for them physically. I tried to give them extra love and attention as much as possible. They were used to volunteers coming in and spending time with them, but we of course had to suspend that.”

“We were trying to work together to keep our residents happy, healthy, and not lonely. It was important to let them know that they’re not alone.”

Catherine continued working throughout her entire pregnancy, knowing the risks, but she kept going to the nursing home and being there for all of the residents.

“They add to your life,” she said when referring to her patients. “I don’t mind giving a person a shower, or going the extra mile to take care of their needs. We’re not just there to administer medication.”

We talked a little bit about what it was like to care for people in geriatrics during the pandemic. Catherine talked about how being observant and taking emotional cues from the residents is key, whether they’re verbal or not.

“People were still getting married and still getting together, and they [the residents] are the ones who created these people and their families, so for them not to be there is extremely hard. From a nurse’s standpoint, I would observe my residents’ emotional cues; if I felt they were having a bad day, I would do my best to go in and comfort them with extra-special attention,” she said. 

“It’s been difficult across the board, for absolutely everybody,” Catherine commented in reference to the pandemic as a whole. “But I can speak for all of the long-term care nurses and nursing assistants: it’s been especially hard on us.”

Catherine also talked about how grateful she is for her team of nurses and nursing assistants. “It doesn’t flow right unless you have good nursing assistants working with you, because they’re doing all the physical work,” she elaborated. “You can’t really take care of a group of people without working together as one. I really appreciate the nursing assistants I work with, because they’re very helpful to me. It’s really difficult to wear a mask all the time, to work hard to keep everyone safe, and the sheer physical workload of it can be draining. Across the board, I think that for long-term care nurses and nursing assistants this year has been especially difficult, because you’re the only person the residents see most days and you’re trying to give every single person extra time. It’s not just about the residents’ physical care; it’s also about their emotional care.”

“I’m looking forward to going back and seeing my residents, but I’m truly looking forward to everything opening back up so they can see their families,” she added. 

She spoke of how her administrator and director of nursing kept her and the other nurses going through their encouragement. All things considered, she’s very grateful for her job.

In her closing remarks, Catherine had this to say about her field: “Nursing isn’t for everyone. It’s not about opening a book and knowing what to do. Sometimes nursing is what you feel, and following that special instinct — and it doesn’t come right away. It comes with experience and with time. Patients are human beings, after all, and they need that extra special commitment — they depend on you to observe their body language and know what else they might need. That intuition may be the only clue you have that something isn’t right.”

Catherine’s story and wisdom brought me hope. I sought out to learn about what it takes to master selfless giving, and in return I heard a story about a hardworking nurse who humbly and bravely conquered every day while she was pregnant. Her nurturing nature granted her a fulfilling life and lead her to achieving her dreams. I wish her and her family well with the farm; may it be as nourishing as her and her nursing colleagues.

Mikki Moscara

BIO: 

Mikki Moscara is a writer with a degree in journalism from EMU. She has been a contributing writer and editor for Eastern Echo, Gothic Beauty Magazine, and Monroe News. She is currently the marketing manager at BELFOR Franchise Group.

She lives with her family in the King neighborhood of Ann Arbor. In addition to being involved in local women’s initiatives, Mikki and her family also frequently attend Ann Arbor charitable events.

Instagram: @mikki.moscara

Twitter: moscara_mikki