MARY LEAN is one of life's stayers. She's been loyal to the same employer for more than 40 years, has been married three decades, owned the same MG sports car longer than that and has lived in a pole house since 1979. She won't be moving any time soon. It came, she says, with a lifetime guarantee.
If Mary had had her way she wouldn't be moving from the job she's loved with a passion but her long tenure as a staff, then charge, nurse at QE Health (formerly Queen Elizabeth Hospital) has had an enforced ending. She's been made redundant, a casualty of the decision to mothball the women's rheumatology ward, her fiefdom seemingly forever.
Nurses aren't the types to wear their hearts on their sleeves but 44 years is a heck of a long time to have worked in the one place and she freely admits to being emotional to have been sidelined in the hospital's restructuring announced this week. Friday is her final day.
Speaking for Mary's colleagues, Judy Scott says Mary is QE. Her dedication to the place and its patients hasn't gone unrecognised. In 2005 she was awarded a Queen's Service Medal (QSM). She wears the order's badge next to the registered nurses' medal that was pinned to her chest at her Waikato Hospital graduation in 1965.
If anyone's been a dedicated nurse, it's Mary Lean or "Sammy" to her friends, derived from her maiden name, Sampson.
"Sammy" came to QE on the heels of a couple of years' OE."I liked Rotorua, had an aunt here and heard the QE matron [the late Rae Preston-Thomas] was lovely to work with. However there were no vacancies when I was interviewed but by the time I got home to Waerenga [near Te Kauwhata] Matron had rung to say a staff nurse had resigned and the job was mine."
Mary/Sammy began duty as a staff nurse in the hospital's then surgical ward on February 26, 1969. "In those days it was a really big event for us to have a joint replacement."
Two years on she was moved to Ward 3, the women's ward which housed 36 arthritis-ridden patients plus four in an area that's now toilets and more if the nurses' sick bay was pressed into service.
It was what Mary calls a "Nightingale" ward with the old-style open layout she favours.
"If you are in a four-bed room you're obliged to be nice to your fellow patients. In a Nightingale ward you can actually be more private. Also you see people far more disabled than yourself, which is a huge benefit with rehabilitation."
Mary became Ward 3's charge nurse in 1972 and's been based in the same office since.
"I say I'm married to this place, that my husband [Bill Lean] is married to this place." The couple met when he sold her "that" MG, a purple number which followed an earlier model in white.
In its hey day, Queen Elizabeth Hospital had a nursing staff that topped 50. Many were long-stayers. Mary's proud of a 2003 photograph of herself with three colleagues who, between then, racked up 122 years service.
"Those were good days, as a collective group nurses are very supportive of each other. Senior staff never had Christmas off, we'd work through because QE tended to be a 'carer place', where people left family members while they went off on holiday."
Which brings Mary to the tale of one particular Christmas Day seared into her memory.
"One of the nurses lost the drugs' cabinet keys ... oh dear, oh dear, those keys must always be attached to a registered person. We were panic stricken, couldn't go home until they were found. They eventually turned up under a folded blanket at the foot of a bed." They'd fallen there when the keys' keeper was changing a curtain.
Mary notes that in past years patients tended to be a lot more disabled than they are now. "Medication for inflammatory diseases has made great leaps and bounds which in a way has been the hospital's death knell for in-patient care."
When then Governor General Dame Sylvia Cartwright presented Mary with her QSM, she commented on how admirably she'd coped with change.
"I've certainly seen huge amounts of it. When the Bay of Plenty Health Board wanted to close us down in 1983 there was a huge outcry." Mary was on the inaugural community trust that kept QE open.
Mary is sceptical about QE's change from a residential care facility to a 9am-5pm operation, with emphasis on ACC referrals.
"What I think's so totally unfair is that people who've had accidents are having their treatment paid for when someone who, through no fault of their own, has a debilitating illness but gets no money to help them manage. Now you are going to have to be pretty well to come to QE."
For Mary, nursing's been a huge privilege. "I'm so lucky, so many lives have touched me."
- Born: Huntly, 1944
- Education: Waerenga Primary, Epsom Girls Grammar (as boarder), Waikato Hospital for nursing training
- Family: Husband Bill Lean; "all the nurses I've worked with"
- Appointments held: Staff nurse 1969-72, charge nurse Ward 3 since, regularly deputised for principal nurse over 21 years, acting nurse-manager 1991-94, nurse manager 1995-99 when became Patient Care Co-ordinator. During this time became a specialist rheumatology nurse and for over past 20 years has been involved in education and monitoring of patients with inflammatory arthritis, running clinics. Was QE's first research nurse involved in clinical trials and is an independent joint assessor. President of New Zealand Health Professionals in Rheumatology for 20 years, and visited Rotorua's Japanese sister city, Beppu representing QE, foundation member hospital's community trust.
- Interests: Nursing, playing golf at Arikikapakapa since 1973 - "My handicap was on single figures, I won't tell you what it is now" - gardening, animals (plans to volunteer at SPCA in enforced retirement), walking, "a certain old gentleman" (tongue-in-cheek reference to husband Bill)
- Royal Recognition: Queen's Service Medal
- Personal philosophy: Care about people.